Short stay: Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira, Morocco
Le Jardin des Douars is the traditional Moroccan kasbah stylishly reimagined, sitting high above Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. Purpose built, less than two decades ago, to provide 21st century indulgent luxury, Le Jardin des Douars, recalls the architecture of a sun-baked-mud kasbah.
And the name? In Arabic a douar is a small village, sometimes of just one or two houses. On this hill-top, douarais, terracotta houses, are dotted through the verdant gardens. Externally, Le Jardin des Douars pays tribute to the light-terracotta architecture of Morocco’s inland fortifications, whilst the interiors run through Morocco’s stylish design book.
This hotel of 19 rooms, 6 suites and 6 villas provides a tranquil retreat. Tall palms and needle-thin cypresses give shelter from the Atlantic’s trade winds.
In summer, those winds spare Essaouira from Morocco’s boiling temperatures. “We have two seasons,” confides Abdul our guide. “Windy and non-windy.” From September through to April, it is non-windy making Essaouira a 320-days-of-sunshine-a-year destination.
A driver is waiting for us, after we have quickly cleared formalities at Essaouira’s tiny airport. Quiet, almost empty rural roads take us to Le Jardin’s lantern-lit drive within 15 minutes. After check-in the receptionist leads us through the gardens to our room.
Named after honoured leaders in Ottoman times, our Pasha room is one of four set in a secluded house in the gardens. In the morning, sun graces the rear garden of sun-loungers, table and chairs. By mid-afternoon the sun warms the front alcove’s sheltered outdoor sofas. Discrete air-conditioning / heating is available if required.
A fireplace with bellows, brush and logs is more ornamental than necessary, taking its place amongst the desert-sand-coloured walls. On two sides tall fortress thin windows, one framed with bougainvillea, infuse light. On a third wall a glass door opens out onto the patio. Sultan-size, the bed is beyond large. Obscured by the bed a desk runs behind, just in case you have to work. No television or radio but will-fi is strong over much of the site’s two acres. Furniture is dark and distressed, simultaneously archaic yet sumptuously fit for a Sultan. A large cabinet houses the coffeemaker, kettle, fridge and minibar. For larger groups, Le Jardin has six villas with private pools, some hosting up to 14 people. Housekeepers provide daily services including preparation of meals.
Larger than some hotel bedrooms, the bathroom features a separate shower, his and hers basins, plus an indulgent sunken bath. With wardrobe and drawers located in the bathroom, it also serves as a dressing room.
Eco-friendly toiletries in glass phials are topped up daily by housekeeping. Berber-style hooded bath robes await, perfect for drying off after a swimming pool dip.
Entering the restaurant is like walking through the courtyards, pillars and pools of Granada’s Alhambra.
Guests graze from the breakfast buffet whilst looking out over the argan tree dotted valley of the Oued Ksob. Waiters quickly learn guests’ preferences for coffee and tea. Eggs, crepes and French toast are cooked to order.
Lunch can be taken at the restaurant or from the finger-food menu by the swimming pool. Light and citron-tangy, the catch-of-the-day fish ceviche is a highlight. Come evening, menus are inspired by both Moroccan and French cuisine.
A three-course menu of the day makes the most of local seasonal produce, perhaps a zucchini soup, followed by a lamb and fruit tagine, with a fruit crumble to finish.
As well as providing a range of relaxing massages, the spa features a dark cave of a hamman recalling the Ottoman’s love of deep cleansing rituals.
A black-soap wash precedes a skin exfoliating scrub.
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South of Casablanca, north of Agadir and west of Marrakech, many guests drop into Le Jardin for a few days of restorative rest and pampering on their grand Moroccan tour. Guests can book shuttles to Essaouira: 15 minutes to the beach, 18 minutes to the harbour and medina.
Designed by a French architect, the airy alleys are Champs-Elysse straight rather than Marrakech-labyrinthine. To escape into the hills, the hotel offers walking eco-tours and quad biking. Nor is it far to one of Morocco’s finest golf courses, 18 holes designed by Gary Player, hugging a spectacular shoreline.
On the fringes of the Medina, L’Atelier, a former almond warehouse, offers a cookery course where guests cook their own lunch – perhaps a tajine or pastilla.
Whilst lunch simmers, the culinary pupils visit spice merchant Mohammed to learn how Moroccans source and use spices.
Essaouira’s wide, wind-swept beach is a place for camel or horse rides, kitesurfing and surfing.
Other nice touches
Late afternoon, by the pool, waiters bring round complimentary mint tea and cake.
By the poolside bar, guests can help themselves to straw sun hats. On Friday evenings there is live entertainment around the restaurant and its terrace. Children were thrilled by the visit of Youssef the magician.
Spread over two acres, Le Jardin caters for both families and adults. Down a couple of terraces, a family pool is out of earshot of adults relaxing by their own jade zellige-tiled pool.
Al fresco tables on the expansive restaurant terrace suit families for lunch and dinner. While there’s a small and intimate adults-only restaurant for couples.
Bed and breakfast is priced from around £140 per room. Villas begin from £530 per villa per night.
The final verdict
“No news, no blues, no formal shoes” runs the hotel’s credo. Surrounded by vibrant gardens of bougainvillea, cypresses, daisies, ferns, palms and plumbago there is a relaxed oasis feel to Le Jardin des Douars.
Yet, it is a deceptive calm, for some guests Le Jardin is the peaceful base for adrenaline fuelled activities as they horse-ride, quadbike or kitesurf.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Le Jardin des Douars.