Looking for Essaouira hotels? We review Jardin Des Douars hotel in Essaouira, Morocco, a boutique hotel above Essaouira medina…
What is Jardin Des Douars’ USP?
Essaouira, on Morocco’s often-blustery west coast, pulls in kite surfers from across the world, along with free-thinking expats on the trail of Jimi Hendrix and tourists looking for a bargain in the souks of the town’s bustling medina.
Set in the hills above the city, Jardin des Douars is an oasis of palms, plants and monkey puzzle trees. The French-owned hotel is a calm retreat of 25 rooms, spaced out between a main ksar building and various terracotta villas in Jardin des Douars’ tropical gardens.
And the general vibe?
There’s a laid-back, mellow feel at this tranquil hideaway, with an air of French chicness weaving through traditional Moroccan features – secret courtyards hide fountains decorated with classic zellige tiles, palms brush against walls lined with African art, and Berber rugs warm up earthy tiled floors.
French couples mooch along the cobbled paths and well-behaved kids chatter to polo shirt-clad staff. There are two pools; one caters for kids who want to splash, the other adults who want to enjoy a swim while soaking up the serene surroundings. The latter is only a few pads away from the hotel’s atmospheric spa, where a traditional hammam is heated with bark from the property’s argan trees (here are our favourite foodie spa hotels to check out).
Which room should I book at Jardin Des Douars?
Behind heavy wooden doors are luxurious rooms that stick to a traditional Moroccan style – squishy beds are covered with colourful throws, French doors with intricate carvings open out onto private patios and antique furniture fills up atmospheric alcoves. There are even mini hammam kits in each bathroom to use in the turquoise-tiled power showers for extra luxury.
Choose one of the rooms in the main hotel building for easy access to the restaurant facilities, or if you’re there with family or a group of friends, hide out in one of the more secluded 10-person villas dotted around the grounds (these come with shady terraces, private pools and chefs).
What’s good to drink?
Morocco may be a largely Muslim country but it has a long history of winemaking. Essaouira boasts some top-notch wines and even an award-winning vineyard, Val d’Argan (a 20-minute drive from Jardin des Douars). The hotel offers the vineyard’s speciality organic ‘gris’ (grey) wines (actually pale pink in colour), our favourite being crisp, refreshing La Gazelle de Mogador with hints of rose, white peach and lychee.
And to eat?
Make sure you do a safari of the restaurant spaces during your stay at Jardin des Douars, as each provides a unique experience. Book a couple of plush armchairs in La Table des Douars’ intimate little room, off the main courtyard, for a hushed candlelit dinner reflected in the 30-or-so gilt-framed mirrors down one wall. For a more relaxed affair, sprawl out in the sunken, cushioned area of the hotel’s main restaurant Le Ksar, a palatial room decked out in burnt orange and red hues, boasting spectacular views of the gardens and the argan tree-filled valley below.
The menu caters to Western tastes (with burgers and beef wellington), but we suggest sticking to The Moroccan Corner for traditional tagines, stews and couscous. The standout dish from our stay was citrusy, creamy Beldi chicken tagine; slow-cooked chicken soaked in an intensely zesty and sweet orange reduction, with freshly picked olives and a hint of saffron.
Meaty monkfish tagine was a touch lighter, cooked in a punchy reduced chermoula sauce served with perfectly spherical carrot balls and umami green olives. The vegetable tagine came packed with veggies (carrots, courgettes, swede) and a side of semolina.
On Sunday lunchtimes, the BBQ on the palm-shaded terrace is unmissable. Take your plate and serve yourself from pretty Moroccan platters piled high with stunning salads (aubergine marinated in Moroccan spices, saffron potatoes, blistered red peppers) along with a whole array of meat and seafood skewers, chicken drumsticks in a sticky honey balsamic glaze, and crisp parcels filled with goat’s cheese.
What’s the breakfast like?
Breakfast is taken on the terrace or in the main restaurant. We suggest the latter, as it makes return trips to the heaving buffet table more manageable. Tonnes of little bowls filled with dried fruits and nuts, and fresh fruit salads, span two large wooden tables.
Spread fresh goat’s cheese onto toasted bread with a drizzle of local honey for a light start to the day, or go all out with made-to-order French toast and syrupy poached pears sprinkled with a hint of cinnamon.
Mint tea comes free-flowing from tisanes that wouldn’t look out of place in Aladdin’s cave, and traditional Moroccan pancakes provide extra sustenance for a day of exploring the souks.
Is Jardin Des Douars family-friendly?
Even though the hotel has a quiet, hushed vibe, there are areas catering specifically for families. The dedicated children’s pool, for instance, is large and heated – and still luxurious enough for parents to enjoy – but there is also a separate paddling pool for toddlers. The main restaurant caters to families and groups, and there’s a ‘kid’s corner’ on the menu with options for both toddlers and older children.
Bedrooms include several family rooms, sleeping up to four (children’s beds are made up in a living room space, off the main bedroom), or there are larger, self-contained villas in the gardens. On the flip side, guests who are seeking absolute serenity are advised to visit outside school holidays.
What can I do in the local area (Essaouira)?
Jardin des Douars provides a shuttle service into Essaouira medina and we highly recommend making the 15-minute trip into this lively town. Meander through narrow streets, past hole-in-the-wall boutiques and carts flogging fresh bread, and barter for souvenirs in the souks before ducking in to one of Essaouira’s restaurants for tagines and hearty salads.
Don’t miss Patisserie Driss, a small bakery founded in 1928. Queue up with locals to grab a pain au chocolat from the counter, behind which hundreds of framed photographs of the bakery’s visitors line wood-paneled walls; or duck through an arch to the adjoining tiled café for a nous-nous (half espresso, half steamed milk) and a sticky bun.
For a quick lunch, head to the port and the gargottes stalls that sell flash-fried sardine sandwiches fresh from blue wooden fishing boats, or hop on a camel to plod along the beach to Ocean Vagabond, a cool daytime hangout where you can sip on a freshly squeezed orange juice or a zingy cocktail and watch colourful kites dart through the skies while camels soak up the sun on the dunes.
The concierge says…
For a casual lunch in funky surroundings, head to cool, vegetarian-focused café-restaurant Mega Loft, tucked round the side of the medina. Or, go more gourmet under the stone arches of restaurant La Table de Madada, which specialises in fresh seafood (sautéed tiger prawns with chermoula and saffron rice, spider crab gratin, monkfish skewers with ginger and green lemon) and seasonal Moroccan dishes. It also has a tapas and cocktail hour every evening from 7pm.
Make the most of aperitifs at Jardin des Douars on the pretty lantern-lit terrace outside the main building. Order a cocktail or local wine and you’ll get a little tray of homemade biscotti with freshly made black tapenade and silky bean dip.
Double rooms at Jardin des Douars start from £140, b&b (jardindesdouars.com). Return flights from London Luton to Essaouira cost from £50 (easyJet.com). Search for #oliveeatsessaouira on social media.
Written by Alex Crossley
Photographs by Alex Crossley and Jardin des Douars