Where do you go when Cannes is too chilly, and you have tired of Nice? Michael Edwards checks out Essaouira’s Le Jardin des Douars.
Remember that Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, was designed by a French architect. Essaouira is Morocco reimagined for French tastes. According to our guide Abdul, the name Essaouira originates from the Moroccan for a “little piece of paper”. Referring to the city plan, handed to King Mohammed lll, way back in 1765.
No narrow labyrinthine alleyways here, as in Fez and Marrakech. No medina beyond navigation. Instead, there are wide and airy Champs-Élysées thoroughfares, exhibiting the geometrical precision of a city planned for trade – and defence.
And Le Jardin des Douars, a 25-room and 6-villa hotel built on a high ridge, eight miles from Essaouira’s harbour, was the result of a French vision too. From afar, the terracotta walls look like the baked mud of an ancient kasbah, inland fortifications that had endured turbulent times.
Yet, less than two decades ago, the hotel, with a pétanque court, was built by a contemporary French visionary. A restful oasis, sheltered by cypresses and palms from the northerly trade winds that swirl the sands of Essaouira’s beach. And of course, the chef is French.
Our bedroom is inside a douarias, a Moroccan term for a terracotta house. Hence the name for this collection of houses. Our Pasha room is more than fit for a Pasha – a high-ranking Ottoman Empire official. Any Pasha would have been delighted by an ornate cabinet housing coffeemaker, fridge, kettle and minibar. As for the bed, that is sultan-sized. The aged furniture may look archaic but there is a grandeur to the decor. In the morning, the sun lights the rear patio. Come afternoon, a front alcove housing sofas and table is warmed by the sun.
With sunken bath, tasselled towels, Berber-style hooded bath robes and silver-topped glass phials of toiletries, the spacious bathroom has the air and aromas of a hammam. Housing a generously sized wardrobe, the bathroom also serves as a dressing area.
The bathroom offers a DIY hammam kit but in the hotel’s spa you can book a full authentic hammam experience of traditional black soap and exfoliating scrub. There is also a wide range of massages and treatments available too.
Entering the restaurant, rarely does the walk to breakfast, past indoor pools, and tree-planted courtyards, feel so orientally regal. Then, the Ksar restaurant’s tall windows give sweeping views across the argan tree-dotted Oued Ksob valley. Although there is a buffet, waiters take orders for eggs, crepes and French toast. After breakfast, guests can explore that rugged landscape by booking a quad bike or a walking tour.
At lunchtime, many guests opt for the restaurant’s palm-shaded terrace. Citrus zingy ceviche, created from the catch-of-the-day, is a favourite alongside other light options such as steamed sea bass, pan-fried John Dory or red chickpea curry. With a kids’ menu on offer, on both the terrace and in the Ksar restaurant, families are welcome. Further down the terraces, there is a family pool.
As the sun sets most guests return to the terrace for cocktail hour and a smooth jazzy soundtrack. Families either remain on the terrace for dinner or head into the casual dining Ksar restaurant. Couples usually book a table in the intimate red-walled, silver-mirrored adults-only restaurant.
A shades of jade tiled swimming pool is also for adults only. Surrounded by Le Jardin’s oasis-like lush foliage, the designer swimwear pool often finds itself starring on Instagram. Through the “winter” months, the pool is heated to between 26 and 28 centigrade, making swimming an all year-round activity in this 320-days-of-sunshine-a-year-climate.
Many guests see Le Jardin des Douars as a luxurious treat of a few days of rest and recharging on a grand tour of Morocco. Even then, the hotel is a base for enjoying the pleasures of Essaouira.
Guests can book a shuttle for the 15-minute drive to Essaouira. Northerly Tradewinds make the long beach a prime spot for both kitesurfing and surfing, providing entertainment for those riding camels or horses along the beach. Those very same winds challenge golfers who play the Gary Player-designed 18-hole golf course that hugs the coastline.
Now that RyanAir has recommenced direct flights from London Stansted to Essaouira, a small airport merely a 15-minute transfer from Le Jardin des Douars, the hotel could become very busy. In summer it is an escape from the heat of Morocco’s cities, while in winter it is a stylish retreat from chilly Europe.
Tell Me More About Le Jardin Des Douars, Essaouira
Le Jardin Des Douars, Douar Sidi Yassine, PB209 44000, Essaouira, Morocco
T: +212 700 083 233 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rooms, including breakfast begin from around £140 per night. Villas start from £530 per villa, per night.
Watch Le Jardin des Douars Video at http://youtu.be/psQBdneUxp4