The Garden of the Douars is the elegantly reinvented traditional Moroccan kasbah, located above Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Purposely built less than two decades ago to offer indulgent 21st century 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 made up of one or two houses. On this hill, the douarais, terracotta houses, dot the green gardens. Externally, Le Jardin des Douars pays homage to the light terracotta architecture of Morocco’s interior fortifications, while the interiors run through Morocco’s elegant design book.
This hotel of 19 rooms, 6 suites and 6 villas offers a quiet retreat. Tall palms and slender cypresses provide shelter from the Atlantic trade winds.
In summer, these winds spare Essaouira from the boiling temperatures of Morocco. “We have two seasons,” says Abdul, our guide. “Windy and not windy.” From September to April, there is no wind, which makes Essaouira a sunny destination 320 days a year.
A driver is waiting for us, after we have quickly gone through the formalities at the small Essaouira airport. Quiet, nearly empty rural roads bring us to the Garden’s lantern-lit driveway in 15 minutes. After checking in, the receptionist leads us through the gardens to our room.
Named after honored rulers of the Ottoman era, our Pasha room is one of four located in a secluded house in the gardens. In the morning, the sun adorns the rear garden with deckchairs, table and chairs. By mid-afternoon, the sun warms the sheltered outdoor sofas in the front alcove. Discreet air conditioning/heating is available if required.
A fireplace with bellows, brush and logs is more decorative than necessary, taking place among the desert sand colored walls. On two sides, tall narrow fortress windows, one framed by bougainvillea, infuse the light. On a third wall a glass door opens onto the patio. The size of a sultan, the bed is more than big. Darkened by the bed, a desk runs behind, just in case you have to work. No TV or radio, but the will-fi is strong over much of the site’s two acres. The furniture is dark and aged, both archaic and sumptuously worthy of a sultan. A large piece of furniture houses the coffee maker, kettle, fridge and minibar. For larger groups, Le Jardin has six villas with private pools, some of which can accommodate up to 14 people. Housekeepers provide daily services, including meal preparation.
Larger than some hotel rooms, the bathroom has a separate shower, his and hers sinks, and a nice sunken tub. With wardrobe and drawers located in the bathroom, it also serves as a dressing room.
Eco-friendly toiletries in glass bottles are replenished daily by housekeeping. Berber-style hooded bathrobes await you, perfect for drying off after a dip in the pool.
Entering the restaurant is like walking through the courtyards, pillars and pools of the Alhambra in Granada.
Guests graze on the buffet breakfast while admiring the argan tree-strewn valley of Oued Ksob. Servers quickly learn customers’ preferences for coffee and tea. Eggs, pancakes and French toast are made to order.
Lunch can be taken in the restaurant or from the poolside finger-food menu. Light and tangy with lemon, the fish ceviche from the catch of the day is a highlight. In the evening, the menus are inspired by both Moroccan and French cuisine.
A three-course daily menu gives pride of place to seasonal local produce, perhaps courgette soup, followed by a lamb and fruit tagine, with a fruit crumble to finish.
As well as offering a range of relaxing massages, the spa has a dark grotto of a hammam reminiscent of the Ottomans’ love of deep cleansing rituals.
A wash with black soap precedes an exfoliating scrub for the skin.
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South of Casablanca, north of Agadir and west of Marrakech, many guests go to Le Jardin for a few days of restorative rest and care during their big Moroccan tour. You can book shuttles to Essaouira: 15 minutes from the beach, 18 minutes from the port and the medina.
Designed by a French architect, the airy alleys are straight Champs-Elysse rather than Marrakech-labyrinth. To escape into the hills, the hotel offers eco-walking tours and quad rides. It is also not far from one of the most beautiful golf courses in Morocco, 18 holes designed by Gary Player, along a spectacular coastline.
On the edge of the medina, L’Atelier, a former almond warehouse, offers a cooking class where guests whip up their own lunch — perhaps a tagine or pastilla.
While lunch simmers, culinary students visit spice merchant Mohammed to learn how Moroccans source and use spices.
Essaouira’s wide, windswept beach is ideal for camel and horseback riding, kitesurfing and surfing.
Other little touches
At the end of the afternoon, by the pool, the waiters bring mint tea and free cakes.
At the pool bar, you can help yourself to straw sun hats. On Friday evening, entertainment is organized around the restaurant and its terrace. The children were delighted with the visit of Youssef the magician.
Spread over two acres, Le Jardin caters to families and adults. At the end of a few terraces, a family pool is out of reach of adults who relax by their own pool tiled with jade zellige.
Outdoor tables on the restaurant’s expansive terrace are suitable for families for lunch and dinner. Although there is a small, intimate adult-only restaurant for couples.
Bed and breakfast is priced at around £140 per room. Villas start from £530 per villa per night.
The final verdict
“No news, no blues, no formal shoes” runs the hotel’s credo. Surrounded by lively gardens of bougainvillea, cypresses, daisies, ferns, palms and plum trees, the Jardin des Douars exudes a relaxed atmosphere.
Yet it’s deceptively quiet, for some guests Le Jardin is the peaceful base for adrenaline-filled activities like horse riding, quad biking or kitesurfing.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by The Garden of the Douars.