Marrakesh may be the best-known destination to visit in Morocco, but just three hours away lies a stunning alternative to the frantic rush of the city.

Called "little picture" in Arabic, the coastal town of Essaouira delivers laidback vibes against stunning ocean vignettes.

When to go
With temperatures soaring in summer, June is the best time to visit this seaside town when the famous alizes winds keep the scorching heat at bay. Music fans should arrive from June 29 - July 1 for the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival.

What to do
Essaouria has colourful museums and galleries to discover, but to experience the heartbeat of the town, head to the medina. Home to dozens of arts and craft stalls, fishing ports and eateries, the old town is also a Unesco World Heritage cultural site.

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Where to eat
Hungry for some traditional Moroccan fare? Look no further than Adwak. Dishing up piles of couscous, tender lamb tagine, fresh fish, market vegetables and dollops of yoghurt, it's no surprise this eatery has become a hot spot. Tucked down one of the medina's side streets, it's few tables fill up fast, dine early to beat the queue.

Where to drink
It doesn't get better than the rooftop bar Taros. With a small live music stage and two platforms that lift you above the city for optimal sunset views, Taros is a hit with locals and tourists alike.

Where to walk
With great coast comes great competition from neighbouring cities, so in the 18th century, Essaouira built the Skala de la Ville, a stone fortification complete with ramparts and cannons. Centuries later the impressive barricades remain, with a winding coastal track giving walkers a sweeping view of the ocean and city.

Traditional mint tea, Morocco. Photo / Supplied.
Traditional mint tea, Morocco. Photo / Supplied.

What to try

If you've ever dreamed of galloping on horseback along a golden beach, wind in your hair and sun on your skin, Essaouira is the city where dreams can come true. Whether you're in the mood for a casual trot down to the ocean, or an hour of cantering through steep dunes, local tour companies offer affordable deals.

Where to shop
Travellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to spending a little cash at Essaouira's markets. However, the exquisite blankets at Atelier de Tissage Omar Bahja are worth a special visit. Focusing on earthy, minimalist tones in exotic patterns, they're the perfect Moroccan keepsake.

Where to stay
Looking to stay in the most elegant place in town? Head to 2 Rue Ibn Batouta and check yourself in at the magnificent Heure Bleue Palais. Taking in the whole city from the rooftop pools, it's hard not to feel a little like royalty, even just for a day.

Off the map
Jump through a little hole in the city walls and clamber down to the old port to enjoy Essaouira's rocky tidal pools. Originally the site of an old port used by the Portuguese, this hidden spot, with its salty sea breeze, peaceful fishermen and wildlife is well off the beaten track.

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