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I left London with an inch of snow on the ground. On my way to the airport I was worried that I would have a text from the airline saying my flight was cancelled due to bad weather, my last trip was cancelled a few weeks earlier. Thankfully this flight was all systems go and I was flying to Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
A short shuttle ride from the small airport to Le Jardin des Douars, a boutique hotel, with only 19 rooms, six suites and three bungalows it felt more like an Arabesque country house than a hotel. My bungalow was well appointed (two bedrooms) a splendid living room with a log fire. Although warm in the day the nights can be chilly in March so it was a welcome addition and it’s rather fun to build a fire of an evening after supper.
There is a level of seclusion and desirability at Le Jardin des Douard that cannot be found in the larger cities like Fez or Marrakech. Things are calmer here with a focus on service and guest satisfaction. The grounds are wonderful with plenty of space to get lost and find a quiet spot. Families are very welcome and to accommodate them there are two pools, one an infinity for grown ups and another for families which has a paddling area included. Both are spacious with plenty of loungers, parasols and palm trees to secure shade should you want it. They even bring round cake and fresh mint tea in the afternoon, very civilised.
The food is good and varied, most of it traditional and modern Moroccan with some excellent wines. Why Moroccan wine has not been ‘discovered’ is a mystery to me, I’ve never had a bad drop in my visits to the country. One of the lovely aspects of the large dining room (you can eat on the terrace if you like) is a large lowered area with a big fire. Guests can have a drink before dining, read a magazine or just gaze into the fire (as I did). It has that 1960’s Moroccan vibe to it, I half expected Anita Pallenberg to waft in with Keith Richards on her arm.
There’s a shuttle bus that can take you into Essouira that only takes 20 minutes. This is well worth doing as the town is a buzz with all Moroccan life but calmer than other cities like Marrakech. It also has the attraction of the sea. Surfing and kite surfing are big here with many schools happy to instruct and hire out equipment.
The shuttle dropped me off on Orson Welles Square. Orson made an impact on the town in the early 1950’s when he set about using it as one of the locations for his highly regarded version of Othello. The 19th century battlements can been see in the final cut of the film, which was also filmed in Italy. The production was rife with financial difficulties from the onset with the producer announcing he was bankrupt on day one of the shoot. Typically Orson ploughed his own money and ingenuity into it and over three years managed to complete the film. The murder of Roderigo for example was set in a Turkish bath as the costumes had been impounded and sourcing replacements would have cost implications. Jimi Hendrix was another legend that made his mark there in the late 1960’s, staying for a few weeks. More recently the town can be seen in Game of Thrones.
The Portuguese name for Essaouira was Mogador, many have tried to colonise the region but failed so the medina is authentic and still where all the action is. A visit wouldn’t be complete without a wander through the souks with all the traders selling their wares. The usual fare is on offer: rugs, silks, pottery etc but of particular note is the quality of the woodwork and marquetry. The harbour is an active fishing port so lots going on there, you can even eat in one of the tented pop up restaurants serving that morning’s catch.
A hammam is something Le Jardin des Douars does well. The darkened room with little star shaped holes in the ceiling letting in a little light, the warm water, flickering candles and purification of the skin with argon oils is something I recommend. The onsite spa offers many treatments to help punctuate your day.
On Sundays lunch is a communal affair with a help yourself BBQ held on a large terrace. The food is superb and the staff are on hand to attend to your every whim. Planning trips is easy as reception know everyone and everywhere of interest locally and can organise whatever you want, be it a golf excursion or a drive into the mountains.
Above all, the hotel is a place of relaxation and calm. The absence of TV’s and phones in the rooms all adds to the authenticity of the Moroccan location. Don’t worry though there is free Wi-Fi for those who need it. The garden is probably at its best at night with the lanterns casting shadows along the many paths and terraces. An evening can just slip by with a drink or two. I’m already planning which side of the pool I’ll sit at on my next visit.
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