The balcony at the Dar Beida Residence, which sleeps up to eight people

I snagged flights to Essaouira in the Summer at a bargain price the second I saw them. The Moroccan beach town has been a dream destination for me for years. It conjures up crumbling white buildings, roaring surf, dreadlocks and wrists full of jangling bracelets. Souks with winding streets and spice markets that make you sneeze. Jagged palm trees and desert blooms.

My holiday dreaming rarely involves being overprotective about the kids; I get carried away with the romance and don’t think about the potential pitfalls. With that cavalier spirit in mind, my husband and I carted a few carry-on bags stuffed with new toys onboard, along with our daughters Olivia, 5, and Ellie, 1, and set off on a family adventure.

If I was a worrying type, I would have worried about the stairs. Moroccan houses are vertical and have stone stairs right to the roof terrace, with no chance of stair-gates. I would have worried about rickety-looking railings on restaurant terraces. I would have stopped and thought: what if they won’t eat couscous? What if they stand in the dirty puddles in the middle of the street or get sick from the water?

In the end we found restaurants that served pasta alongside tagine, couscous and chickpea stews. We watched our little toddler start taking wobbly steps holding her sister’s hand down alleyways lined with Berber rugs and wood carvings. I wandered around the souk with Olivia’s little hand in mine, looking for a camel souvenir to take home. “I feel like I’m in a dream, Mummy,” she said. I did too.

Losing track of time one night, we found ourselves in a beach bar as the sun was going down… two guys were playing guitars. Instead of lurching into tantrums, the kids danced around the café to pared-back Pharrell while we sat and relaxed

We ate mango ice-cream in the Italian cafe in the main square, watching wandering minstrels playing gnawa music in djellabas and leather slippers, and scarlet silk-clad acrobats making human pyramids and cartwheeling around the square. We said hello to every alley cat on every street corner, and stroked tiny flea-bitten kittens.

Losing track of time one night, we found ourselves in a beach bar 20 minutes’ walk from the town, as the sun was going down. Camels were silhouetted against the surf and the peach-coloured sinking sun, and it started to get cold. It was going to be a long trek home with two little children. On top of that, the bar’s kitchen had closed, and the kids hadn’t had tea. It was approaching the witching hour – that time of day when you know your kids need some food and to go to bed, otherwise something nasty will happen.

Laura with her daughters, Olivia and Ellie

Something lovely happened instead. We found a bar still serving food and ordered the first thing on the menu, and sat down behind two guys with large afros and larger sunglasses playing guitars on a small stage. Instead of lurching into tantrums, the kids danced around the café to pared-back Pharrell tunes while we sat and relaxed. It occurred to me that beyond baby music classes, I haven’t ever taken them to see live music. That’s a new tradition I must start.

As we walked home along the seafront promenade, Olivia balancing on the sea wall, we bought candy floss on a stick and made our way back through the city gateway into the medina and towards our house. This ancient town is full of beautiful scenes, bustling with people and yet carefree and relaxing too. Like a man we met on our last day, I could see us coming back here time and again, to surf, write, play music and relax, or just hang out and soak up the colour.

 

Best things to see and do with kids

The port
For startling blue boats, men mending nets, fish stalls heaving with unidentifiable fish (and live lobsters) and views from the ramparts of crashing waves

The souks
Give the kids nutella crepes made on the street corner to keep them quiet while you browse rows and rows of babouches and wood carvings

The beach
With playgrounds, beach bars, camel rides, surfers and kite surfers, there’s always something to look at, and plenty of sand to claim for sandcastles

Histoire des Filles, 1 rue Mohamed Ben Messaoud
Not strictly a children’s attraction, this beautiful boutique has a room at the back where kids can play while you browse the city’s best handbags, jewellery and clothes

Café Vagabond, Avenue Lalla Aicha
Right at the end of the beach, a 20-minute walk from the town, this cafe has a kids menu, trampoline and seesaw and camels and ponies to watch from comfy day beds

Getting there
There are direct flights to Essaouira from London Luton airport via easyjet.com and regular flights to Marrakech from London Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow. It is a 3-hour taxi/car ride from Marrakech to Essaouira.

Where to stay
The Dar Beida Residence sleeps up to 8 and is in the heart of the medina, from £300 per night excluding fees. Book through Kid & Coe

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