Exploring more of Morocco, focused on the countryside, the ocean and hidden gardens, my Camel Caravan Chapter Two departed Marrakech on a cold drizzly March morning, headed to Dar al Hossoun in Taroudant. Taroudant is a former capital of Morocco, built by the Saadian dynasty as a base to attack the Portuguese on the Atlantic Coast, eventually the capital was moved to Marrakech. The thick city walls built in 1528, are almost completely intact. Geographically, it’s directly south of Marrakech, and about a 3-hour drive. From the coast of Agadir, draw a line directly east to run into Taroudant. A little unhurried Berber town, it can be over-looked by many tourists, perfect for me! Imagine the caravan route dotted with surprising enclaves, don’t dismiss these little hidden gems.
On a rainy muddy day, the outlying area did not appear promising, it was already mid-day, and as we hesitantly drove through a rutted flooded dirt road, my protests became more animated. We must be lost, hoping my never to get lost driver might concede. There is nothing suitable here for anyone, I lamented. We should turn around. And then like so often in Morocco, we came upon a massive metal gate with a small sign Dar al Hossoun, pressed an obscure button, waited and the gate rumbled open to a concealed riad.
A Seventy-two-day Caravan traversing winter and spring, a camel would collapse with my massive baggage! In the cozy office I asked if there was an extra room for my trusted driver, he who would be touring with me the next few days. I’ve learned its best to keep driver nearby and viewing the bleak muddy neighborhood, I was adamant. Plus, I am often the only person who doesn’t speak French…driver wears at least 24 hats, translator is merely one hat. Case in point, one of the two men in the office only spoke French.
Lunch – please! Amble over a stone path to an upstairs glass salon amid an amazing garden. A welcome fire burned, cozy chairs, fluffy window seats propped with colorful pillows. Pure white tablecloths sprinkled with white bougainvillea blossoms; it was enchanting! Who was sniveling to turn around just moments ago?
Moroccan hospitality is legendary, platters of olives, baskets of warm bread and house olive oil were artfully placed on the white blossom strewn tablecloth. Mushroom Risotto is the perfect rainy day comfort food, combined with Champagne, water-logged roads forgotten!
I counted at least 5 cats mewing and peering in the glass walls, sunshine and birds appeared. The garden appeared massive, the cobble stone walk was lined with immense pots of greenery and quirky sculpture, a long narrow pool reflected swaying bamboo, exotic palms, banana plants and brilliant red blossoms. An abundance of tropical greenery intermixed with ancient cactus.
At first glance, this was an overgrown jungle of sorts. Later to discover it is a well-defined ancient garden created by two French garden masters. Designed by the world acclaimed landscape architects Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières, Dar al Hossoun’s prestigious gardens are bursting with all types of unusual and rare desert vegetation. The two landscape architects collected plants in their extended travels in many deserts and dry areas around the world. The garden holds some of the most rare and interesting plants in the world. International Garden Club members flock here in caravans.
Dar al Hossoun has an extensive assortment of kalanchoes, agaves, aloes, cacti and euphorbias, a truly unique collection – some of the enormous cacti are 40 feet high, reaching to the sky like giant wild sculptures. The property is divided into several gardens, the sunken garden teeming with palms, shade the heat sensitive plants below, it’s a natural form of low water gardening.
The sixteen rooms and suites are dotted throughout the rambling property, from the central overgrown terrace to the fragrant citrus garden. Each room is unique, all are decorated with locally made shaggy rugs, vibrant woven Moroccan kilims and thick blankets in bright hues and prints, original art, and handcrafted local celadon glazed ceramics. Multiple areas of secret garden seating in courtyards and elevated terraces, bins of logs are stocked for warm fires in the chilly evenings.
The rooms and rambling buildings blend traditional and modern aesthetics, the property was crafted by local artisans utilizing raw natural materials and ancient building techniques. The owner, a collector of everything and a master of staging. There is something interesting to catch your eye in every corner inside and outside.
Many of the rooms have shallow fireplaces which are tended to every night and morning by a man who just builds fires, he visited my little fireplace often which kept my living room cozy and warm.
My upstairs suite had a massive terrace overlooking one of the two pools. Furnished with loungers and chairs, it would be a delightful haven during warm weather. Cats curled up outside, a pride of peacock’s strut and called out from an upper rooftop. Initially, I was convinced a mewing cat was stuck in my suite, until I realized it was the call of the peacocks.
Touring nearby: the city of Taroudant has the feel of a small fortified market town on a caravan route and is known for its local crafts, including jewelry and carpets. Unlike Marrakesh, almost the entire town is located inside its walls. Visit the medina and ramparts in a horse-drawn carriage before returning to the riad for an afternoon nap. Moroccans love their naps and I’ve become a convert!
The late Chilean hyperrealist artist Claudio Bravo built a superb palace Palais Claudio Bravo Camus, in the countryside near the riad. The palace features Bravo’s work, multiple collections as well as pieces by his artist friends, including Picasso. We visited the beautifully furnished interiors and the courtyard with gardens meandering to the lake for tea and exquisite views. As if it were another century, two very large, majestic horses trotted around the lake.
With its stunning gardens, Dar Al Hossoun is a haven of tranquility near the medieval town. The age-old ochre ramparts of Taroudant are a mere five-minute drive away. Surrounded by swathes of ancient olive groves the quaint riad blends with the landscape.
The property has a wonderfully serene atmosphere, with multiple indoor and outdoor areas to relax and contemplate your Journey. Alfresco naps amid the fragrant jasmine, or on the edge of one of the gin-clear swimming pools, or in the interconnecting garden of the enormous, rare cactus. There is a spa onsite offering clay wraps and massages, while those feeling more adventuresome can venture outside the gates for hikes, bike rides or visits to authentic Berber villages.
Meals: Breakfast is served until a leisurely 11 am in an upstairs dining room or alfresco on the terrace, or as I do, in bed. Seasonal fruit, warm from the oven bread, homemade jams, pastries, crepes and fresh eggs. The Moroccan-meets-Mediterranean lunch and dinner menus offer seasonal produce from the organic garden, grilled meat, fish, and Moroccan specialties such as tagines and couscous, steak and fish. The young chef was formerly at Morimoto’s. Have a poolside cocktail or champers in the garden under the sun or amid the palms under the st
I never dined in the same space. Arrival lunch was served in a glass box warmed by a wood fire, rain dribbling down the glass overlooking the sunken garden. Cocktails served every evening in the cozy bar, where we taught the bartender to make my summer sipper, an Aviation! One late night supper was served in a glorious salon warmed by a wood fire, the room decorated with antique African masks and pottery. It inspired hours of intimate conversation, the chef popped in to describe the menu, the owner visited to say hello, I didn’t want to depart!
Dar Al Hossoun is a magical hidden oasis, an hour’s drive from the Agadir international airport and three hours from Marrakech. No stoplights, no big-name hotels, no tiring tourist traffic, just a sleepy haven for relaxation amid a landscape of over 900 plant species, birdsong, strutting peacocks, and an abundance of friendly cats.
A plethora of outings, including the medieval forgotten fortress Iguiliz, an architectural heritage site, can be arranged by staff. Nestled in the foothills of the Anti-Atlas chain , an excursion offers you an opportunity to hike for hours on a mule track that leads to the bottom of a beautiful canyon. Palm groves of over 20,00 palms are located in Tiout, where Biblical landscapes, a rural pace of 7 hamlets and 300 families living nearby, in these centuries old groves. Enjoy a traditional lunch of Berber cuisine on carpets under a nomadic tent in the heart of the palm grove.
Don’t let a rainy muddy day dissuade you, there is a Garden of Eden paradise behind the bulky gates! Highly Recommend Dar Al Hossoun!