In the argan-tree hills of Essaouria, terraced boutique hotel Jardin des Douars feels like an undiscovered secret. Shrouded by palms and bougainvillea, domed villas nestle in bountiful walled gardens; French chic and North African exuberance abound in the nooks and alcoves of this laid-back palace. Two jade-green pools, tantalising seasonal menus and a sensuous hammam complete this bohemian hang-out in the heart of the Maghreb.
Get this when you book through us:
A 30-minute hammam session and black-soap exfoliation for each guest
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £112.06 (MAD1,390), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of MAD30.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates include a Continental breakfast of flaky Moroccan pancakes, breads, home-made jams, cooked eggs, fruit salad and fresh orange juice, as well as tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
The hotel closes for two or three weeks between January and February.
At the hotel
Spa, botanical gardens with access to surrounding countryside and riverbed, boutique, terrace, lounge with fireplace, library, pétanque pitch, free WiFi. In rooms: Les Sens de Marrakech toiletries. Villas have a TV too.
Our favourite rooms
The hotel is a celebration of Maghrebin colour and craft, with zelige tiling, smooth tadelakt plasterwork, pierced metalwork and tactile Berber rugs. Rooms have a shabby-chic feel with original wooden doors, and objets trouvés and African masks on the walls; in the bathrooms, you’ll find a mini hammam kit and luxurious Balzatex linens. At the back of the main house, Relax Room 6 is cosy and cute, with lots of sun in the morning and a shower room; Relax Room 8 has stunning valley views. Set in two-storey houses in the lush grounds, Luxe Rooms have a private feel, with king-size beds, private outside terraces, seductive sunken baths and a corner fireplace. If you’re travelling en famille, the Mogador Suite is a two-level extravaganza with a double bedroom, another bedroom with three single beds, a living area and two rooftop terraces from which to admire the grove-dotted hills and riverbed below.
The adults-only infinity pool is a chic rectangular affair, tiled in blood-red and peacock-green zelige, surrounded by wrought iron day-bed and straw parasols. It’s heated from October to May and the perfect setting for some quiet sun-worshipping or purposeful laps. On the other side of the main house, the family-friendly pool is protected by a grove of olive and argan trees, with a shallow circular area perfect for babies, and some changing rooms nearby.
The region is famed for its precious argan oil, harvested by local women’s co-operatives and used in the marble-lined spa. Argan-tree bark is used to heat the eucalyptus-scented hammam, the pulp for scrubs; perfumed black-soap exfoliation, hot-stone massages and algae wraps leave skin prepped for the North African sun.
Staying at Jardin des Douars is very much about getting off the grid: there’s no internet, TV or phones in the room. In the common areas, WiFi can be slow and patchy – load a tablet with must-see boxsets before you go. You can leave bulky headgear at home – you’ll find baskets of attractive straw hats on the sunny terraces for guests to use.
In the bathrooms, you'll find a mini hamman kit stocked with local argan-oil products.
Welcome. Extra beds for under-12s (MAD110 a night) and free cots can be added to all but Relax, Romantic and Luxe Rooms; a children’s lunch menu is available. Babysitting is available with one day’s notice.
Family Rooms have a double bedroom and another room with two single bunk beds. Douaria Rooms are small self-contained houses perfect for large families. The spacious Royal Suite has two bedrooms, two terraces, and two bathrooms.
Jardin des Douars can organise quad biking, horse and camel riding, surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and cooking lessons for children. You’re unlikely to experience a rainy day in Essaouira, and the beach at Sidi Kaouki is just a 20-minute ride away; for a spot of at-home relaxing, the hotel’s atmospheric hammam offers 30-minute massages, manicures and pedicures for little ones too (MAD300).
The circular family-friendly pool is heated all year round, with a very shallow end within the main pool perfect for small children. It’s not supervised, but there are plenty of sunloungers from which to keep an eye on little ones.
Highchairs are available in the restaurant, as is a lunch menu for under-12s of classic child-friendly fare such as mini burgers, home-made bolognese or chicken skewers. Staff are used to dealing with families, so just ask if you need to heat up baby milk.
Babysitting is available with one day’s notice. The hotel charges a flat fee of MAD75 for up to four hours during the day, and MAD150 for up to eight hours during the night.
There are no baby monitors in the hotel, so you’ll need to bring your own; there is good WiFi throughout the hotel and villas so you can enjoy some alone time at the restaurant while your little Smiths are sleeping.
In the main restaurant, choose a window-side seat for the perfect valley view. Sweet-nothing-whispering couples should reserve a candlelit table in La Table des Douars.
Kaftans and tunics, linen and sequins.
There are two restaurants serving North African cuisine with French influences. Casual Le Ksar is a spacious room in sultry reds and deep orange, with full-length windows down to the river valley and a cushioned sunken lounge area. The terrace in front of the main house is where breakfast and lunch (including a magnificent Sunday barbecue buffet) are served. The menu changes daily: check the blackboard for light fare such as salads, grilled gambas or salmon tartare. Chalk your name on the board if you want to dine in that night; the à la carte menu changes every couple of weeks. Adults-only La Table des Douars – an intimate dining room of mirrors, cosy nooks and romantic lamps – is ideal for a tête à tête. The open kitchen is a bustling walk-in affair, where guests can watch the fragrant Morrocan cuisine being prepared: there’s roast beef fillet with a herb crust, crushed potatoes with Sidi Yassine argan oil, or tender salmon maki with preserved lemons and date pesto.
Set to a jazz soundtrack, cocktail hour is on the terrace: the drinks menu features classic negroni, caipirinhas and mojitos, as well as local and French wines. There’s also a pool bar, and a bar area in the main restaurant.
Le Ksar serves breakfast from 7.30am to 10.30am, and lunch from 12.30pm to 3pm. Both dining rooms are open from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
A 10-minute drive from Essaouira’s medina, hilltop Jardin des Douars is in the dusty hills off the road from Agadir, a few minutes from Mogador’s beaches and golf course.
Essaouira Mogador Airport, a 15-minute drive away, has connections to Paris Orly, Marseille, Brussels and Marrakech (www.onda.ma). Most visitors arrive to Marrakech’s Menara Airport two hours away, which can be reached from various hubs across Europe with British Airways (www.ba.com), EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com).
You may never feel the need to leave Jardin des Douars’ walls, but if you want to venture into the surrounding countryside, it’s best to hire a car to explore the area or make the most of the coast’s surf-friendly beaches. The hotel rents cars (€40 a day) and operates a shuttle to the medina, the golf course, or the beaches (€10 a room for single trips, or unlimited trips €25 a day).
Worth getting out of bed for
A few minutes’ drive from the bustle of Essaouira’s Medina, hotel Jardin des Douars sits on a hill off the road from Agadir. Sheltered from the winds of nearby beaches, the house enjoys vistas to the valley of argan trees and the river Ksob below. The temperatures here are warmer than in Essaouira: enjoy a few rounds on Mogador’s attractive golf course, ride quads, camels or horses to the voluptuous dunes, or ask the hotel to organise a picnic by the sea, where improbable desert waterfalls flow into the ocean.
Hike, or quad your way to the waterfalls springing from the desert rock near the village of Sidi M’Barek, then explore the stretch of unspoilt beach, Berber mule paths and traditional villages. Designed by Gary Player, Golf de Mogador is a five-minute drive away and has two 18-hole courses nestled against the Atlantic coast and its magnificent dunes. The hotel can book courses, caddies and buggies for you. In the city (a 20-minute drive away) you can haggle for ceramics, hippie wearables and homewares, browse the colourful contemporary works at Art Gallery Center d’art Le Real Mogador on Rue Mehdi Ben Toumert and stop by the fishing port to take snaps of the bobbing blue boats – a surefire Insta win.
Sandy walls, magnificent stone arches, bright orange hues and contemporary Arabic artwork make for rustic but refined interiors at lively and laid-back La Table Madada. Cooked in a clay pot with a medley of aromatic spices, their beef-shin tagine is a specialty. The tapas-style dishes (sardine dumplings, calamari tempura) are equally enticing. Pick a table tucked in L’Heure Bleue’s lush courtyard, somewhere by the pretty trickling fountain. Fabulously fresh seafood gets the Moroccan spice treatment – the salt-baked sea-bass is a must-try.
Taros Café’s atmospheric terrace is all sculptural cacti, woven parasols and pretty lanterns – just the spot to enjoy a cocktail with views to the bustle of the port below.
Morocco – land of the long-lashed camel, the piping tagine, the crackled tile, the rackety market, the haunting early-morning call-to-prayer across a scorched medina. Decidedly not the land of the cocktail. Our arrival at Jardin des Douars comes at the tailend of a Moroccan odyssey rich in insight but low on lubrication, and it probably reflects poorly on me and the parched Mr Smith that an encouraging specials board chalking out the tipples of the day is the first thing we notice – not the little terracotta buildings the shade of perfectly sun-toasted toes, nor the twinkling emerald swimming pool, as long as a lido, facing the sunset. It is the magic hour at last.
Once we’ve been furnished with an ice-cold, ever-so-stiff Americano (when in Essaouira, do as the Milanese), we settle by the water and watch the sun melt behind palm trees, bougainvillea and hot pink rhodanthemums, to a gentle soundtrack of frogs and donkeys honking with laughter at our good fortune. The day before, we were in Marrakech picking our way through Yves Saint Laurent’s famous Marjorelle. Monsieur, your gardens have nothing on the Jardin des Douars, and its secret nooks dotted with ponds and pools, linked by little paths of tiles made just around the corner. Our first evening by the pool is spent shaded by complimentary sun-hats and furnished with clinking glasses by immaculately attired, disarmingly handsome young men. There is only one thing missing – children! They are welcome at the resort, but not at this pool – there is a shallower one on the very far side of the hotel for smaller, noisier residents. We don’t see any nippers during our trip, and I can’t say this Mr and Mrs Smith are particularly regretful.
We do share the pool area with the kind of quiet, attractive couples with tans but no apparent tan-lines that must surely come from France. It’s easy to see why they like it – the hotel is managed by a French couple, and owned by a Belgian, and it shows in the cuisine and presentation – waiters pad around in crisp polo shirts and plimsolls, diners nibble neat slithers of fish scented with tagine spices, and sip from crisp rosé wines. Curiously, for a nation of non-drinkers, Moroccans produce and consume more than 40 million bottles of wine a year – much of it a dreamy ‘vin gris’ – a reassuringly un-grey blush rosé. We make our own solid contribution to that figure, and tiptoe back to the room – a cool, rustically furnished corner with an oil painting where a TV set might normally be. Mr Smith’s death-grip on his phone gradually loosens as it dawns on us that we’ve got more chance of buying an iPad in the Souk than getting WiFi in the room – there’s only one thing you’re meant to do in this room, and it’s not play Candy Crush.
Morning, and it’s difficult to tempt ourselves away from the hotel – the tryingly active Mr Smith, for the first time ever, admits he’d be happy to idle the whole trip away by the pool. But the windy city beckons – after a breakfast of Moroccan pancakes, dollops of jam and yoghurt, we make the 15-minute drive to Essaouira harbour, and watch boats bob about with our hair whipped into vertical fronds by the gusts that give the place its nickname. This pocket-sized port takes little time to navigate, its pungent souk at the heart of the medina, and sandal, spice and ceramics traders radiating outwards. It’s a gentle, slow sort of place – in the Seventies, the city that always sleeps attracted the likes of Jimi Hendrix to its exotic but lazy medina. It is now home to Game of Thrones pilgrims rather than Hendrix ones, and the old name for the city, Mogador, certainly has a Seven Kingdoms ring about it – but you won’t find any naff merchandise alluding to its location status.
After keeping up the European tourist tradition of falling in love with tiles and ceramics we can’t possibly get home, we paddle off the dust in the choppy waters, and then make our way back home for another visitor’s rite – the hammam. Hamma-mia, this is a good one. Treatments take place in a magical little cave, with tiny beams of natural light piercing through the black so you can see your other half through the darkness, and squelch towards each other when you’ve been soaped, scrubbed and oiled.
A word of warning: when you’ve slowly roasted your shoulders in the Moroccan sunshine, don’t get a hammam. The grainy scrubs, made in-house out of a knobbly bundle of stones and oils, leave you pearly skinned and smooth but they are unforgiving on a tender epidermis. After we’ve been massaged, scrubbed, rubbed, drenched in hot and cool waters, (a treatment session that is 95 per cent pure luxury, and five per cent ‘I’VE TOLD YOU EVERYTHING I KNOW’), we position ourselves back in the sun. We can see what the donkeys are so happy about.