Dar Al Hossoun
I’m not sure what first attracted me to Dar Al Hossoun. Perhaps it was the impressive garden landscapes, the promise of peaceful luxury, and the fact we might see baby peacocks. Or maybe it was because the famous ‘open sesame’ cave scene from the 1954 film Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was filmed just outside the property walls. Whatever the reason, we decided to stop here for a night during our tour exploring the Anti Atlas Mountains with Wild Morocco.
Located a few miles out of Taroudant, Dar Al Hossoun is a unique boutique lodge originally designed as a conservation experiment by renowned landscape architects Arnauld Maurieres and Eric Ossart. The lush gardens boast over 900 varieties of rare and exotic plants, collected during their travels through the many deserts of the world. Now that’s my sort of gardener!
The property extends over one hectare, with bedrooms and patios discretely nestled amongst the foliage, a haven for wildlife as well as visitors. The piece de resistance has to be the 30 metre swimming pool running through the middle of one of the gardens, and nearby ponds are home to a symphony of frogs. The public living space surrounding the pool includes a covered terrace and patio where meals are taken, as well as a cosy lounge and pavilion overlooking the gardens.
In our not insubstantial experience, a Moroccan welcome is usually something to remember, and one rarely surpassed, even in the smiling lands of South East Asia. We’re always made to feel like honoured guests, whether it’s our first visit or our sixth. So it would be fair to say we were expecting more of the same at Dar Al Hossoun.
Yet our arrival was somewhat of an anticlimax. The outer gate was locked and as there was no-one there to let us in, our driver had to leave the vehicle parked across the lane whilst he ran inside to try and find someone. When we finally made it inside, we were rather confused that the lad on duty didn’t seem to know anything about our reservation. After some explanations he eventually showed us to a room (which we had to wait outside whilst he went back to fetch the key he’d forgotten), although our driver ended up carrying two of our cases which he was rightly not too pleased about.
Once installed in the room we were left alone, without any explanation or tour of the hotel and grounds. This meant we spent the rest of the afternoon not knowing which areas were private and which we could use. There was an old faded black and white map in the room information folder, but this didn’t even have our bedroom on it so wasn’t much use. We felt forgotten and a bit forlorn.
Half an hour later the guy came back with some mint tea and cookies, and whilst the latter were very welcome and tasty, the tea was the bitterest we’ve ever experienced, even with piles of sugar from the tea tray in the room. Again barely a word was exchanged and we were left feeling rather baffled and like we shouldn’t really be there.
There are ten rooms and five suites at Dar Al Hossoun, all individually decorated with stylish contemporary fixtures and traditional pottery and textile furnishings. I loved that the duvets were made from wool from the local Taroudant area, and everything seemed both sustainable and ethical. Natural materials were in use throughout the lodge, it was all about earth, stone, wood and bamboo, along with solar water heating and clever use of natural lighting.
We were in the Olive Tree room, located in a smaller garden away from the main house. This meant it was very tranquil, we had no neighbours and really enjoyed the peace and quiet.
However, even though we checked in after 4pm, it turned out that underneath the throw, the bed didn’t have any sheets or pillow cases, there were no towels in the bathroom and the room clearly hadn’t been serviced since the previous occupants. The glass bathroom doors were filthy and even had a footprint on. We eventually managed to find a member of staff who rectified the problem immediately, although we only ever had one bath robe between us and the footprint remained.
The room itself was very tastefully decorated and photogenic, and I loved that we had an outside shower in the bathroom, as well as one inside. I’m a sucker for outdoor showers, even if it’s freezing I’ll be standing out there under the water enjoying the breeze on my skin, feeling a bit naughty to be naked outside, despite the fact no-one can see! The water temperature and pressure were excellent, which believe me, in Morocco is a bonus!
The bed was comfy, and the subtle use of natural light meant at night it was really dark and a good night’s sleep was had. It was also a lot cooler than back in the cities, and it was great not to have to rely on air con the entire time.
Rooms start at €110 and suites are from €150 for double occupancy including breakfast.
The magnificent gardens are quite rightly the main attraction here at Dar Al Hossoun. I’m not a gardener, and can kill off even the hardiest of cacti, so I really admire those manage to create such natural pockets of paradise.
Hubbie had been looking forward to pounding out a few lengths in the longest pool we’ve ever seen, and I’d been dreaming of serenely gliding along beneath the jungle-esque foliage ever since we set foot in Morocco. Yet it seemed that hundreds of dead leaves and multiple bugs had the same idea and the thought of swimming in what could soon become a bit of a compost heap just wasn’t appealing. So we didn’t. I get that Dar Al Hossoun is all about nature and organic living, but a simple sweep with a pool net once a day wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Whilst perhaps not the gourmet culinary experience we’d expected, the food was nonetheless decent and tasty, and I have to say I could have easily polished off the entire terrine of courgette soup at dinner. The seafood pastilla was a welcome respite from the tagines we’d been eating all week and I absolutely loved the Moroccan take on the hors d’ouevres tray. I think it’s a tradition we’ll have to introduce in the Conversant Traveller household! Spoiler alert…hubbie says we already have enough tagines and that they are now on the ‘disallowed souvenirs’ list. Humph.
After the scrummy dinner, breakfast was a tad disappointing the next morning. We were given fresh pancakes, but the bread was rather dry, the cake clearly leftovers from the day before, and the home-made jam smelt a bit odd. Just a good job I’m not really a breakfast person.
Lunch is €16 per person and diner is €20 per person. For a small supplement you can enjoy secluded and private dining elsewhere in the grounds, but we felt it was lovely sitting on the dining terrace by the pool.
What we loved
Listening to the chorus of frogs over dinner, and then seeing some hop across the terrace between ponds was something special. Add in several baby peacocks and a miniature Kew Gardens at your disposal and it is indeed a horticultural paradise.
What wasn’t so great
We’re all for a laid back atmosphere, but during our visit it was all rather too relaxed, to the point where we felt uncomfortable since we didn’t know which areas we could use, and even when and where meals were to be taken. Having seen just one large dining table in the main house we spent the entire afternoon worrying it was to be communal dining (the only other people there were a large party of French). As it turned out dining is wherever guests like to sit, and is never communal unless requested. We ended up having a wonderful evening meal outside on the terrace by the pool, just the two of us, and one of the friendly house dogs.
Dar Al Hossoun in some ways felt like one of the many kasbahs we visited in Morocco. Slightly crumbling with traces of former splendour, and now in need of a bit of care and attention to regain its luxury status. Green credentials and eco living have also clearly been prioritised over service which in my book is a huge mistake. There is nothing so important as decent service.
Having spoken to owner Ollivier, and read countless other reviews of the place, it does seem that perhaps we were unlucky with our experience. Apparently there had just been a large wedding party at the property and staff were all still recovering from that. Whilst this perhaps explains the poor service on arrival and lack of communication between staff, it does not excuse it and I have to admit I was sorely disappointed as our experience fell far short of our expectations. Perhaps if the website hadn’t promised luxury we would have been more prepared to settle for less.
However the gardens are indeed beautiful, and the colourfully decorated bedrooms do have the potential to feature on the cover of many a glossy travel magazine. So if the welcome and service had been better I believe our stay would have been a completely different story. A story I would be willing to rewrite should we stay there again, which we would be happy to do. Just so long as there aren’t any weddings the day before.
We received a complimentary stay at Dar Al Hossoun but as always, words and opinions remain my own.