What is crucial to stress is the Atlas Mountains are huge and so many areas even in the mountains (never mind elsewhere in Morocco) are entirely unimpacted by the earthquake.The airports are operating as normal. The travel advice hasn’t changed. Moroccans are happy to reassure travellers about the safety of travelling to Morocco to prevent this tragic natural disaster from also becoming an economic one. The worst thing that can happen is if tourism stops. The High Atlas mountains will take time to recover and must be supported while they do so. Clean-up efforts are in full swing.
Le Jardin des Douars is an independent hotel located in Morocco’s coastal city of Essaouira. The hotel is set within its own botanical gardens and offers 19 individually designed bedrooms, six suites and six luxury private villas, each with their own private outdoor heated swimming pool. The hotel is home to three dining areas including an intimate ‘couples’ restaurant, a sunset bar and all day terrace lounge and two outdoor heated swimming pools; one for adults only. The hotel also showcases a luxury hammam and spa offering traditional hammam treatments. Here the new team behind the hotel tell us all about running a hotel in Morocco. Meet Rudy and Sandrine van Dongen.
Hello Rudy and Sandrine, you started managing Le Jardin des Douars in late 2022 as the pandemic calmed down. Tell us about how travel has returned in full swing.
The year 2022 was still partially impacted by the post-pandemic effect. Very quickly we realised that it was imperative to prepare well for 2023, because quite quickly we understood that 2023 was going to be a record breaking year.
Looking back at 2022 today, it’s clear that the pandemic has left its traces, and not in a very pleasant way either. We felt some uncertainty as nothing was certain at that time here in Morocco and the commercial trends were not very clear. There was a lack of consistency. In these conditions, it was difficult to forecast. We would like to thank the entire team at Le Jardin des Douars for their flexibility and confidence during this time. We have a fantastic team that has remained close-knit and loyal to the hotel.
You implemented changes at the hotel after your arrival including some exciting outdoor spaces. Tell us about these changes.
We took advantage of the quiet moments in 2022 and our annual closure in January 2023 to embellish the various outdoor spaces, the facades of the different “douarias” and the “Ksar” (the main house).
We refurbished all the little paths that our customers love to wander through to explore our famous botanical gardens. These paths were resurfaced with beigemats (typically Moroccan hand-made tiles). This gave a fabulous boost to our already splendid gardens.
We also took the opportunity to create three beautiful new shaded terraces near our family pool, which are well integrated into the natural surroundings.
And then the big project of 2023 was the creation of a brand new terrace to extend the existing terrace of the main bar, in front of the Ksar. To do this, we asked our architect to imagine a terrace between the palm trees, while populating a space of greenery. This was a true technical feat as we managed to keep our very old palm trees and integrate this terrace into the harmony of the gardens and the Ksar.
From this terrace, where it’s a pleasure to simply daydream or read a book during the day and sip a cocktail in the evening, our guests enjoy an exceptional view over the Oued valley and admire magnificent sunsets.
What do you both love about Morocco?
It was Sandrine, who has been in love with Morocco for many years who introduced Essaouira to our family, then to the magnificent Le Jardin des Douars.
For the record, Sandrine and I got engaged in Morocco, at Club Med Agadir in 1993, where we were GOs. It was then that we were bitten by our love for this country.
Since then, we’ve been there several times on vacation. In October 2021, we received a message from a friend who knew of our passion and love for Morocco, telling us that the management position at Le Jardin des Douars would become available in 2022. We jumped at the opportunity and applied.
Although we had a family meeting with our three children, Maxim (29), Louise (26) and Oscar (20), before embarking on this new life adventure, all our professional projects have always been family projects first and foremost. Now that our children are grown up and independent, it was the right time for us to change our lives, to disrupt our lives completely.
What we love most about Morocco, and what we love to share with our customers, friends and families, are the incredible Moroccan people. We have discovered a culture of sharing, generosity and mutual aid. All the members of our team at Le Jardin des Douars have an incredible sense of hospitality. The meaning of hospitality really comes into its own in Morocco.
Kindness, availability, generosity and smiles are their watchwords. We also fell under the spell of all these craftsmen and women, a multitude of small trades that no longer exist in Europe. Morocco is a country of strong contrasts, where all your senses will be filled with wonder and emotion. And finally, there’s the culinary culture, a rich and subtle cuisine. Tastes are incredibly accurate, thanks to a perfect mastery of spices. Simple, seasonal and short-run produce.
Tell us about the appeal of this coastal destination which remains new to many people.
Essaouira is a former “hippie” stronghold, and even today Essaouira exudes slow-life and a very chilled atmosphere. One appreciates time here. When you come to Essaouira, you breathe in the sweetness of life. In the past, the town was the largest fishing port on the African continent, and today Essaouira remains a large fishing village, sheltered by magnificent ramparts. It’s also known as the little Saint-Malo.
Today, it’s still a bit of a secret destination. The Atlantic Ocean and long, wide, deserted beaches just 2.5 hours drive from Marrakech make it a much-appreciated destination after a few days in bustling and beautiful Marrakech.
The medina has been completely renovated and is very beautiful and welcoming, so it’s easy to get lost and explore the narrow alleyways. Our hotel is open 11 months a year and our guests enjoy a mild climate all year round. The average temperature over the year is 26°c. And even during the Christmas and New Year periods, you can enjoy a swim in our heated outdoor pools. And I’ll share how we heat our pools…, we heat our pools with the pits of olives, almonds and other fruits whose pits or shells are destined to be unusable waste. We also use the shells of the famous argan trees.
Another advantage for our guests is how easy it is to get to us. We have direct flights from London, Paris, Marseille, Brussels and Madrid. All these cities are within a maximum 3-hour flight of Essaouira, with the advantage of arriving at a very small airport. You can be poolside in around 45 minutes from disembarking the plane!
Food and drink are a huge part of the operation at Le Jardin des Douars. What should guests consider when dining at the hotel?
Food and drink are a significant part of the experience we offer at our guest palace. Our menus are carefully crafted to showcase a blend of local and international flavours, ensuring that our guests have a diverse and memorable dining experience.
If I had to pick a few favourites, I would recommend trying our signature lamb tagine with preserved lemons and olives—it’s a delightful burst of flavours and typically Moroccan. And for dessert, the almond-stuffed pastries are a must-try. They encapsulate the essence of Moroccan cuisine. We showcase seasonal Moroccan dishes and have a daily specials board of changing dishes. The guest experience is further enhanced by the places where one can dine including alfresco, in the ‘couples’ dining room or in a large open plan dining room with wonderful views of the gardens. We also serve a selection of excellent Moroccan wines.
-The hammam experience is one of Morocco’s signature attractions. Tell us about the hammam and spa and why it is so special.
Essaouira is known for its traditional hammams, and the use of local argan oil enhances this experience in a special way.
Here’s what makes the hammam and spa experience special in Morocco, particularly at Le Jardin des Douars. Moroccan hammams are known for their rich history and cultural significance, making them an essential part of the local way of life. The experience typically involves a series of steps, including steam sessions, exfoliation and massages. The steam and heat open up pores, allowing toxins to be released from the body, while exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells, leaving your skin feeling refreshed and radiant.
Essaouira is situated in a region of Morocco where argan trees are abundant. Argan oil, derived from the nuts of these trees, is highly prized for its numerous beauty benefits. It is often used in Moroccan hammams for massages and treatments. Argan oil is rich in vitamins and antioxidants, making it excellent for moisturising the skin, reducing signs of aging, and promoting hair health. Its inclusion in spa treatments enhances the overall experience, leaving you with silky-smooth skin and shiny hair. In Essaouira you can experience authentic traditional hammam rituals. This includes the use of black soap, a natural exfoliant made from olive oil and crushed olives, to cleanse the skin. The hammam attendants, known as “kessas,” skillfully use a scrubbing glove called a “kessa” to remove dead skin cells and impurities. Our hammam and spa offer a unique way to relax, cleanse, and rejuvenate while immersing yourself in true Moroccan culture and hospitality.
Le Jardin des Douars is undeniably unique as it sits within its own botanical garden. How does the garden enhance the guest experience?
Our botanical gardens provide a peaceful and aesthetically pleasing environment which many hotels simply don’t offer. Guests can stroll through the gardens, enjoying the beauty of various plants, flowers, and trees. This serene setting creates a sense of relaxation and tranquility, allowing guests to unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Our gardens allows guests to connect with nature, which can have a therapeutic and rejuvenating effect. It provides an opportunity to appreciate the local flora and fauna, offering a glimpse into the region’s biodiversity. The gardens create a unique and memorable backdrop, imagine waking up to a blooming botanical garden all round your bedroom? for photos and provide a pleasant view from guest rooms and common areas.
You offer several luxury villas with their own private swimming pools and secluded private gardens. Tell us about these and who stays in them.
Luxury villas with private swimming pools and secluded gardens typically attract a diverse range of clients who are seeking an exclusive and high-end holiday experience. The guest profile is more diverse than ever from HNWIs to families to small groups of friends. Privacy is guaranteed here and you can essentially spend the entire holiday within the villa and its own grounds. The villas are luxurious and offer a maid service including meals prepared in-house. All in all the villas offer a bit of paradise and escapism from pretty much everything.