Words Patrick Hamilton Courtney
Essaouira, Morocco’s windy city on the coast, is lauded for it’s chilled out, cosmopolitan vibe. Travellers come to find treasures in the medina’s colourful souk, eat freshly caught seafood down at the port, and soak up the cultural currency that has given Essaouira the hippest, friendliest, and most accessible energy of any of Morocco’s major travel destinations.
There are a number of luxurious hotels in Essaouira, from glossy, westernised resorts such as the Sofitel to quaint family-run riad guest houses within the city walls. None of them, however, have quite the same magic as Le Jardin des Douars. A few miles from the city centre, the quiet retreat is built around luxuriant, exotic gardens that defy the barren ground on which they are planted.
Perfect for long weekends or even an extended stay, Le Jardin promises an elegant, peaceful, naturalistic escape well removed from the bustle of city life in London.
Le Jardin is a warren of beautifully planted paths and walkways that connect its various buildings. The architecture, though fairly newly built, echoes the red earthen Kasbahs of the Atlas Mountains, giving the property an authentically Moroccan feel. The hotel’s indoor facilities, including two restaurants, a spa, accommodation, and various lounges and hallways, are spread across these buildings. Other facilities include a terrace restaurant, outdoor bar area, and two pools.
Given the fairly small size of the hotel the presence of two pools is particularly welcome. One of them is a bar-serviced, adult only affair, with well-spaced sunbeds and a gently heated pool long enough to swim lengths undisturbed by younger guests. Between four and five o’ clock waiters bring round trays of sweetened mint tea and cake; a lovely touch. The second pool is far removed from the first and caters to families and younger guests, where children can splash and frolic to their heart’s content.
The hotel’s spa offers a range of very reasonably priced treatments. For example, a moisturising facial for around £25, a one and a half hour hot stone massage for £60, or one of the exhilarating hammam treatments for £20. The spa’s standout feature is its traditional Moroccan hammam; decorated by candles and lanterns it is one of the most attractive I’ve been in.
Le Jardin has a wide range of competitively priced room categories. They range from simple double bedrooms up to the absolute luxury of the Royal Suite. We slept in a Luxe Room, complete with a large terrace overlooking the pool – offering the opportunity for private sunbathing – and a high domed ceiling with pretty cut out stars.
For those travelling with multiple friends or desiring total and complete privacy Le Jardin has three private villas. They sleep between eight and ten people and include their own swimming pools, lounge areas, terraces, kitchens, and bedrooms. All of them come with a chef who can provide breakfast and other meals in the comfort of the villas’ own dining areas. Priced at around 500 euros a night, they offer a glamorous private holiday for indulging couples or groups of friends.
Le Jardin has three restaurant spaces serving from one a la carte menu. There’s a large main dining room which has a lively atmosphere and caters to families and groups. For more intimate tête-à-têtes a smaller, narrow dining room with deep patterned tub chairs, white linens and twinkling lanterns is reserved exclusively for adults. Outdoors there is an informal terrace restaurant that serves lunch and, on Sundays, a traditional Moroccan barbeque.Cuisine at Le Jardin des Douars is hybrid of Moroccan, Mediterranean, and some Asian influences. Native dishes such as Tagines and couscous are available – we tried a spiced monkfish and lemon chicken with olives – but the menu focuses on lighter, more international flavours. The menu reflects Essaouira’s coastal setting with many fresh seafood options, all of which were exceptional.Breakfast is served in the main dining room and features a buffet of cereals, fresh and dried fruits, meats, cheeses, breads, jams, and juices. A la carte options include excellent made-to-order French toast, Moroccan crepes, and a truly superb fried omelette.Le Jardin des Douars is priced from around £100 per room per night. Flights to Essaouira run direct from Luton Airport, with a transfer time to the hotel of around 15 minutes. Alternatively Marrakech is served by most international airports, with a further transfer time to Essaouira of around three hours.