Traditional Moroccan guest house – a stay at Dar Liouba in Essaouira
I’d had my eye on Dar Liouba for years. In fact staying here was the main reason I wanted to visit Essaouira, not particularly unusual given that I often choose a destination based on the accommodation. A slightly odd yet entirely satisfying way of doing things! It was the distinctive architecture of Dar Liouba that first caught my eye, and the promise of a stay in Essaouira that blended traditional Moroccan hospitality with a uniquely coastal vibe. I love Morocco, and have always been drawn to the sea, so what could be better than both at once!
Hubbie and I were at the end of an exhilarating yet exhausting two week trip around the country, and Essaouira seemed like the perfect spot to finally stop and relax for a couple of days.
Tucked away down a quiet alley in the east of the medina yet just minutes from the souks and main square, Dar Liouba couldn’t have been more perfectly located. It’s really easy to get there to! The best way to reach the guest house is from Bab Marrakech (one of the medina wall entrances). It’s a great place to get dropped off or catch a taxi, and there are plenty of guys with luggage carts (carossas) hanging around ready to help you negotiate your suitcases over the cobbles.
Nowhere takes very long to get to in Essaouira and it was great being able to pop back to the guest house to freshen up, have a siesta or drop off our shopping part way through the day. Not something that is easy to do in the larger cities like Marrakech.
Formerly the house of an Imam (a religious leader of Islam), Dar Liouba is a guest house of unique design. Running through the centre of the building is a three story high, hand-crafted cedar wood pergola. Festooned with geraniums giving a warm splash of colour, the octagonal structure creates a little internal balcony in front of each of the rooms, overlooking the garden patio far below. It’s a fair old hike to the upper floors, and we didn’t envy the staff carrying up suitcases or breakfast trays each day. Must keep everyone very fit though!
The lofty design means that the house is unusually bright and airy for a medina property, and it was a refreshing change from the enclosed riads that we tend to frequent. At the base of the pergola lies the inner courtyard and small internal garden, a miniature haven of tranquility tastefully decorated with quirky ornaments and continuing the colour theme of the climbing geraniums.
In keeping with the atmosphere of Essaouira, Dar Liouba manages to be relaxing and uplifting at the same time, and we really felt totally relaxed and at home here from the moment we arrived!
Like the sea birds that circle overhead, hoping for a bit of breakfast croissant in the mornings, Dar Liouba soars above Essaouira, with 360° panoramic views across the whitewashed medina roftops. The height means the guest house isn’t overlooked by it’s neighbours and we felt like sultans of the skies!
The roof terrace is a great spot to relax with a book, eat breakfast or even do a little sun bathing, yet it isn’t known as the ‘windy city’ for nothing. If you want good lungfuls of fresh air and to blow away some cobwebs, this really hits the spot!
The location meant that at night it was really peaceful and we slept with the windows open, and just the reassuring sounds of seagulls settling for the night to break the otherwise silent darkness. There were no beeping scooters, lads kicking footballs or sports results booming from radios. It was just us and the occasional call to prayer beckoning from beyond our dreams.
The bedrooms are on three levels, centred around the pergola, and range from small ‘comfort’ rooms to larger ‘deluxe’ rooms higher up in the building. We loved that each was named after a colour, and decorated accordingly and with Moroccan artefacts and local crafts.
We stayed in the ‘Ciel’ bedroom – a superior double on the second floor of the guest house and plenty big enough for a few days stay. I loved the blue theme (my favourite colour!), which gave it a proper ‘seaside’ feel, and the ample bed was super comfy, always a bonus!
Houses in Moroccan medinas usually look out onto the central internal patio and have no external windows, yet at Dar Liouba the unusual height of the property means that most bedrooms have views out across the city, and enjoy the flow of cooling breezes not afforded down in the narrow streets below. Pure bliss in the heat of the summer, and the first time we didn’t need air conditioning in 2 weeks! We felt privileged to have a duel aspect view over the medina with our two arab-andalus style windows, and it was rather luxurious to wake up to the morning rays of the sun after spending so long in traditionally dark riads.
Small but prettily tiled, the bathroom was functional with decent shower pressure. The only niggle was the door stop which, being directly in front of the toilet, we kept accidentally stepping on, kinda painful if you’re barefoot!
The only niggle with the room (and I guess any room there will be the same) is that walls and ceilings are pretty thin. We were disturbed on several occasions by our neighbours and the guests in the room above who sounded like they were constantly dropping things on the hard floor.
Hubbie loves his breakfasts, and wasn’t disappointed with the continental spread at Dar Liouba. We had everything from bread, meats and cream cheese to fresh juice, jams and fruit. Certainly didn’t need lunch that day! We ate up on the roof terrace to enjoy the morning sun and have a spot to ourselves – you can also eat down on the patio around a large communal table, which being anti-social travellers isn’t really our thing.
Home-cooked evening meals at €17 per person are also available with prior notice, and can be taken downstairs on the patio or up on the terrace.
We have always found Morocco to be such a genuinely welcoming country, and our experience at Dar Liouba was no different. Friendly French owner Patricia treated us almost like family, and we felt privileged to be staying in her beautiful home. She was full of recommendations about what to see and do in her adopted city, and it’s easy to see why she has fallen in love with the place. All the house staff were truly lovely, in particular Latifa who went out of her way to ensure we were always comfortable during our stay.
Whilst hubbie and I sat guzzling our refreshing mint tea in the lounge, Latifa somehow managed to lug our ridiculously heavy cases up the steep stairs. We didn’t know whether to feel guilty or impressed, as they were nearly as big as her! Then she spent a long time patiently showing us different walking routes on the map, and how to navigate the medina using the old stone gates. Certainly very reassuring if you are a first time visitor to Morocco, and you’ll definitely feel confident about venturing into the streets after a few minutes with her!
We absolutely loved our stay at Dar Liouba, and after years of having it on my hit list, I can safely say it lived up to all expectations! If you’re looking for a chilled out, tastefully decorated guest house with bags of charm, sea breezes and caring staff, then this is the place! I’m sure we’ll return to Essaouira and although we rarely stay in the same place twice, I truly think Dar Liouba has made it onto my list of exceptions!
- Rooms cost between €49 for a comfort double to €69 for a deluxe double. This includes breakfast.
- The comfort doubles on the first floor have internal rather than external windows.
- The stairs may be a problem for those who are less mobile.
- If you use a carossa (luggage cart chap) a tip of Dh2 will be sufficient. Make sure he knows exactly where the guest house is before setting off, so he doesn’t try to convince you to stay somewhere ‘better’ that just happens to belong to his brother-in-law!
Thanks to Patricia and her team for our complimentary stay at Dar Liouba. All words, images and opinions as always, are my own.