Neil Hennessy-Vass visits Le Jardin des Douars in Essaouira Morocco and finds himself at home in the space.
One instinctively knows when one has arrived, I mean really ‘arrived’, and it was no different at Le Jardin des Douars, Morocco. It occurred after eating an excellent supper on that first evening. It was the moment after the final plates had been cleared away, with a glass of superb Moroccan wine in hand, and sitting around a giant coffee table in a sunken area of the dining room, in front of a roaring fire of knarred logs of olive wood, an area I named the ‘Talking Pit’. After a few drinks the conversation flowed with those around. Many of the fellow guests were returners, with tales of how they had been lost in time on some previous sojourn and just had to return for more of the same. This secluded oasis certainly has a powerful draw with Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco only 13km away (and easily accessible via the hotel shuttle service).
Le Jardin des Douars
That night the conversation was varied to say the least, from Walls mint Viennetta ice cream desserts, were they any good, the consensus was obviously not (and don’t worry, you won’t find it on the menu here) to the understated luxe spa. There were mixed views concerning the hammam, the traditional scrubbing, steaming, exfoliating and an opening of the pores that seems to coincide with an opening of the mind, at least in my case, very pleasurable. People talked of staying in the desert in a tent to watch the stars (although the view of the stars from the gardens outside my room were spectacular and there’s zero light pollution) to letting it all hang out in the hedonistic Marrakesh for a few days.
What appealed to me though about this place was the simple fact that there really isn’t too much to do, sure you can play Scrabble, curate your iPod playlist (everywhere on site has strong wi-fi), but there are no distracting TVs, the rooms and my suite, consisting of two bedrooms and a living room, complete with a fire that’s made up every morning by the staff ready for the November evening drop in temperature. My suite, no. 16 was exactly halfway between the poolside bar and the restaurant, kind of perfect really. The place has its own rhythm and pace that almost forces you to consider relaxing through a path of least resistance.
But should the confines of what amounts to total luxury require a change of scenery then I’d recommend a day in Essaouira town itself. A vibrant north African hot bed of markets, restaurants and peddlers of every shape, it’s also a working harbour serviced by a beautiful fleet of blue fishing boats. The battlements, gazing sentinel like, adjoining the sea are a spectacular place to begin, built to protect the riches of the region and the Medina it flanks. The view after a short steep incline to the top is rewarded with the tempestuous Atlantic bombarding the rocks below. It’s mesmerising and humbling in equal measure.
There are plenty of seafood eateries as well as tea shops and cafés. The place holds a decadent poise against a changing world. I saw an elderly woman, shrunken with age and what life had thrown at her concoct a small fire, adding twigs, then branches and finally irregular logs she could barely carry creating a fire pit in a small oblong metal container. As the flames diminished, she placed fish over the embers, half smoking half cooking the local catch. I imagine this process hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. Essaouira doesn’t quite offer the fire eaters and snake charmers of Marrakesh, but it certainly comes alive as the sun sets. In a way it’s more accessible and enjoyable as it lacks that tension associated with the larger cities of Morocco.
The food at my Jardin was excellent. Offering mostly modern Moroccan dishes and a smattering of western staples all palates were covered.
The Jardin has two pools, one of which is for families, and this is a great place to bring one’s brood, safe, interesting, and frankly where else will you find anywhere nearly as exotic only three and half hours away by plane. There were quite a few families resident on my visit, but I never heard them at all. They were simply engrossed in finding the charming tortoises that stroll around the grounds, or marvel at the super green frogs that leap from pad to pad in the ponds near the terrace or the geckos as they scoop up the flies with their magical tongues.
The gardens are multi-layered and achieve that trick of seeming vast when in fact they are very manageable and it’s easy to find a quiet spot to read, or in my case put brush to paper. There is no shortage of subject matter, I chose the main doorway into the restaurant building. And if I returned (like all those Talking Pit returnees) I’d have another 99 options, such is Le Jardin des Douars, it gives you options, peace, and time to find yourself.
Le Jardin des Douars
B&B is priced from around £160 per room, per night. Villas are priced from around £580 per night including breakfast. For more information, click here.