Morocco could just be your new favourite year-round destination, as Liz Granirer reports from its sunny Atlantic coast.
What’s your idea of heaven? Maybe a lush garden, filled with flowering bushes and vines, all tumbling together to create walls of colour in every direction? Would it include smiling, soft-footed servers asking what you would like next in terms of refreshment, as you lie in the sun by a green-tiled pool, the only noise the birds calling to each other and an occasional ruffling breeze?
If so, then you’ll find it at le Jardin des Douars, a 15-minute shuttle drive from the ancient seaport town of Essaouira, about halfway down on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
There’s more to make you smile here, as you walk along the terracotta-tiled paths which lead to various pleasant prospects. There’s the spa, where treatments include hammam, massages, hot stones, facials, mani/pedis and more. There’s reception, where fresh towels and wifi codes can be collected, and shuttles or taxis arranged. Or, if you have any other questions (can a day trip to Marrakech be arranged? Will they mail your postcards? Where’s the best place to eat in town? Or maybe you’d just like a chat – the lovely receptionist, Esme, speaks at least English, French and Arabic and, we guess, German as well. Or you might like to wander to the main house, where you can have a drink or snack on the terrace whenever, or take breakfast, lunch or dinner with generous timings (breakfast, for instance, is served until 10.30).
Inside, it’s all open courtyards with trickling streams or lush gardens, wine-stain-red walls, big terracotta pots, rugs and cushions, candles and ceramic sinks, antique furniture and art on the walls. It’s all very bohemian looking but, also, very luxurious. This country, you understand immediately, is where the hippies took their design notes from. It’s also not even a little surprising to learn that Jimi Hendrix allegedly spent three formative days in Essaouira in 1969, no doubt soaking up the general feel-good vibe – and, according to legend, being inspired to write his song Castles Made of Sand when he gazed upon Castle Rock in nearby Mogador Bay.
When you’re ready to do more than lie about enjoying the Eden that is le Jardin des Douars, you can play golf at Morocco’s best course, just five minutes’ drive away or, if you’re feeling really energetic, you could learn to kite-surf, surf, SUP or windsurf on the 11km-long sandy Mogador Bay, which you reach just before the town of Essaouira. Sound like too much effort? Why not go for a camel or horse ride on the beach instead? Sunset makes the perfect backdrop to this activity.
You’ll certainly want to explore Essaouira. It’s recently been given a boost of money from the government, who are keen to exploit its tourism potential and, to this end, a promenade along the seafront is being built (though the sand is doing a good job of reclaiming it!). While it feels perfectly comfortable to walk around, this isn’t a place that seems much affected by its visitors. The medina, surrounded by 18th-century ramparts, carries on day and night much as, one suspects, it has for generations. The fish market, with its small and large sellers and intense aromas, makes a fascinating visit, though don’t expect to be given much attention – everyone’s too busy salting their catch, laying it out, hoping for a sale.
There is a main drag, if you like, through the medina, lined with shops all selling similar ware – vibrantly coloured cushion covers, handmade shoes, wooden boxes and trays, silver jewellery and leather goods – and plenty of restaurants to choose from, but do veer off from the well-trodden path to check out the less-seen side, where time seems to have frozen circa maybe 1890 and goods are piled high or sold from vendors who only have a little of whatever they are selling, but clearly need to make that sale. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no hassle away from the main streets, no approaches from unsolicited stallholders. They no doubt know you won’t be buying their second-hand flip-flops, but it’s a fascinating peek into parallel lives.
Finally, there is another, arty side of Essaouira – check the local free newspaper you can pick up in le Jardin des Douars reception to find out what local exhibitions are on or if there’s a concert or music festival coinciding with your visit. And, when the hustle and bustle of Essaouira get too much, simply retire to your very own paradise just outside of town.
Rooms at le Jardins des Doaurs start at £110 per night, including breakfast. For more information or to book, visit www.jardindesdouars.com or tel 00 212 5 2447 4003.