Dar al Hossoun – Hidden Garden Oasis

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.

Dar al Hossoun Pool

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.

Dar al Hossoun

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

Dinner in a private salon at Dar Al Hossoun

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!

Dar al Hossoun Spring Blossoms

Flora Farm, San Jose del Cabo

Another serendipitous travel discovery…surprisingly some believe the ancient impression that Mexico is dangerous and you can’t enjoy fresh fruit and produce. As I once declared in a post, I am the new ambassador for Mexico. The destinations we recommend are safe communities; in regard to food, many organic farms have been on the local scene for a few years. Additionally, many five star properties raise organic produce or buy directly from organic farms.

One sensational example is Flora Farm, a ten-acre organic farm in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. When you veer off-road to a rutted dirt lane, and climb amid dry desert terrain up to the verdant green gardens, you realize taking the road less traveled provides a marvelous surprise!

Patrick and Gloria Greene began ten years ago by founding the Farmers Market and expanded to grow for Floras Field Kitchen, Floras Grocery and the recent Culinary Cottage owners. Farming without pesticides or using genetically modified seeds and working the farm largely by hand yields over 100 varieties of heirloom vegetables and herbs. Chef Greg Breeback began in the first season as a Sous Chef and he has taken on the role of Executive Chef this season.In addition to produce, they began ranching to supply the Field Kitchen and Grocery with high quality humanely raised chickens, eggs, and pork. Their longtime partner, “Jefe” Guadalupe Espinoza, has been raising animals his entire life in Santa Anita on the 150-acre ranch his father Don Manuel purchased in the 1960s. Their dedicated local fisherman supplies Catch of the Day.

The philosophy of Flora Field is to create handmade food utilizing farm fresh ingredients. Working day begins at four am in the bakery when Jose arrives to fire the wood oven. He lovingly bakes loaves of Pain L’ancienne baguette, ciabatta, sourdough, focaccia, whole wheat and herb breads. Occupational hazard, one is required to taste each: all are excellent; the herb bread was my favorite. Fresh butter served in small Kerr mason canning jars support the model, a return to an era when preserving farm fresh produce was the norm. The menu fluctuates with the change of seasons.

Along with traditional cocktails, wine and beer on tap, the Farm Bar serves up a full-range of fruit and vegetable infused specialty cocktails such as the heirloom carrot Farmarita, Flora Farm’s spin on the traditional Margarita, and the Farm Julep made with fresh watermelon juice.

Indulging in a healthy carrot infused Farmarita, also served in a wide mouth-canning jar, I was entertained by graceful butterflies and buzzing bees performing a pollination ballet. My favorite table is on the edge of the garden beneath an umbrella, orchestra section for the insect and bird activity. And people watching – sightings of renowned chefs and movie stars who flock to Flora. My recent Cabo visiting clients were so entranced, they dined twice!

An assortment of salads fills the menu; wander the Grocer area and choose from the dainty French radishes, heirloom tomatoes (the largest I’ve ever seen), wild arugula…an endless selection of perfect produce. Dine family style and share a bite of many divine and delectable offerings. Perfectly prepared seared sage chicken cutlets; hand crafted pappardelle pasta served with slivers of carrots, zucchini and ribbons of freshly grated Parmesan…save room for dessert. Garden carrot cake, a slab of scrumptious chocolate cake?

Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday Brunch and live music on weekend evenings. Private parties are graciously welcomed. Reservations essential.

Our clients, of course, provided VIP pampering!