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Dar Al Hossoun, Taroudant

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Beyond the snow covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains, between Marrakech and the Sahara lies a quiet town - older, yet less famous than Marrakech. And that is how its residents like it. Away from the glam, flamboyance and millions of tourists of the red city, Taroudant is a quiet provincial town. Although quite a popular stop for those on a private tour across Morocco, it is a little far to reach on just a day trip from Marrakech. After a caleche ride around its 6 miles, 16 century ramparts and a visit to the silver jewelry souk, you haven't got much else to do. Or have you ? The surroundings are spectacular: the Altantic coast just 1 hour away, the Atlas Mountains nearby, a heaven for trekking, Sous Massa national park is a bird watcher's paradise. Fancy cooking bread with the locals or picking the olives in September ? All is within close distance. To not mention the all- year round amazing climate. It is perhaps what has seduced Ollivier Verra to settle here and create his dream of a guest house where his love for exotic plants and organic local architecture have given birth to Dar Al Hossoun, the luxury eco- lodge to stay at, this side of Marrakech. He was kind enough to share with us the drive  behind this untypical yet most accommodating guest house.
Sun Trails: How did you get the idea of creating Dar Al Hossoun ?

Olivier Verra: I guess by chance ... After 20 years of work in commerce and international relations, I felt I needed a change of pace, environment and career… Before I decided on something , I wanted to fulfill a dream : having one foot in Morocco, not going back to being a tourist traveling across Morocco as I had been for the ten years before.  I was looking for a small house for mostly to 

Dar Al Hossoun general view
dar al hossoun double room    entertain and host friends and family ... I discovered Dar Al Hossoun and I literally fell in love !
  Obviously, the property was much larger than what I needed for my private use and I soon realized that a place like this takes work, staff and had to be shared with people that were moved by those same things that moved me.
I had acquired a taste for hospitality and human relations and so I thought "why not a  

guest house ? ". There were only 6 or 7 of them in Taroudant when I took on the project. 

ST: . Tell us a little bit about your previous experience. Have you ever had a guesthouse before or worked or in the field ?

OV: I was both totally alien to the world of plants/ gardens and the hospitality and catering... I applied basic management practices and organization, I implemented what I loved about all the different places throughout my travels, I researched what

  dar al hossoun outside bhou   pool by night @ dar al hossoun
  dar al hossoun dining room

was available elsewhere and I obviously sought advice with hotel and restaurant managers and experienced travelers.

ST:Where did you travel in the world and what was the destination that has moved you the most ?

OV:My pre-guesthouse owner ‘career’ gave me the opportunity to travel quite extensively.
Many destinations have touched me in my travels : India, China, Australia, United States... Each time, I had the pleasure of the exchange with the local people, the discovery of local traditions and gastronomy. Luxury, for me, was authenticity, calm and being original ... And that is what we have tried to recreate with Dar Al 

   fireplace salon @ dar al hossoun Hossoun. 

ST: Why Taroudant ( and not another city) ?

OV: I must confess that Taroudant was not our first choice ... I first tried to set up in Meknes , another city that I love ... Perhaps because it is a city that has been forgotten for a long time. But, certainly, also because the area is very beautiful. It reminded me of my original Provence ( region in France) .
The climate is the same in Meknes as it is in Provence in fact ... Very nice winter days , the 

  dar al hossoun inside lounge  

sun ... But only 15 or 16 degrees in winter ! That wasn’t good enough for me as I wanted good temperatures all year round. That is why I decided to go ‘further south’ and found the sleeping beauty which is Taroudant, whom I had discovered 3 or 4 years before while on a trip with my good friend Antoine Bourseiller , a theatre director. We were then looking for a place to create a festival of theatre and other performing arts !

ST: What makes Dar Al Hossoun different of other guest houses in Morocco in your opinion ?

OV: Well, most of all its ambiance. The comfort is there, but not in excess or unnecessarily so, the authenticity of the building ( traditional adobe structure ) , the exceptional gardens who have been since classified among the 20 most beautiful contemporary gardens of Mediterranean... You feel at home very quickly ... Or staying at a friends place, but certainly not "at the hotel." We wanted above all to avoid that and I think we have managed pretty well.


dining room @ dar al hossoun   

ST: Tell us a little about your botanical garden. Was it easy to plant and grow these species ? Did you have any plant of your own or some plants had to be transported from other countries? 

OV: Our beautiful gardens host more than 900 varieties of plants from arid deserts and five continents ! Most plants have grown from seeds collected and brought to Morocco by Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières, the garden architects who created these gardens.

The gardens can be interpreted in a few different ways: you can see them as ‘mere ornamental gardens’ or as experimental gardens since we introduced many species unique in the world or at least in Africa. They can also be seen as preservation gardens since we preserve some endangered species or a few already extinct in the wilderness.
It is a huge responsibility and a permanent training, maintenance and support job, but it is a source of inspiration and pleasure if one is passionate about it.

ST: Do you use in your kitchen products from your own terroir ? Give us some examples. Is the cuisine strictly Moroccan or do you sometimes mix different countries? What is your favorite dish at Dar Al Hossoun ?

OV: This is true ... and let me start with the products of our gardens : cactus, cactus fruit or plants unknown in this part of the world ( Casimiroa from Mexico , dragon fruit ,papaya,etc. ). I am constantly searching for new recipes and I enjoy tasting whatever we prepare fresh. Obviously, some of the vegetables come from our own organic garden and the rest from small local producers.
Our kitchen is naturally Moroccan adapted to Western tastes (less sugar, less fat), but we do not impose couscous or tagine at every meal. We also have fun ‘twisting’ classical dishes from French or Mediterranean cuisine and adapt them with ingredients grown locally.
For example, we make homemade ravioli with beet leaves or minestrone with Taliouine saffron, camel stew... Lebanese, Greek or Egyptian menu are also regulars !

The dishes are sometimes inspired by friends or guests visiting and some have proven quite successful. The turkey fillet with apricot and orange sauce tagine is such an example.

  lounge @ dar al hossoun

ST: By its architecture and gardens Dar Al Hossoun is more than a guest house . You spoke of 'garden lodge' ? What does this mean for your guests ? What are the benefits of staying with you ?

OV: In fact, Dar al Hossoun is a REAL guest house ... in the sense that it was originally a private house that was then open to hosting guests passing through or staying...it is not a "hotel disguised as a guest house."

The house was built gradually, linking together several pavilions with contemporary lines, but built in pise ( adobe ) and following traditional methods.
All rooms give onto the outside and the gardens therefore, architecture and vegetation are related . We live “inside-out“ throughout the year and our guests sometimes can’t tell whether it is a house in a garden or a garden in a house!
What people staying with us are saying they enjoy the most , beyond the food or 
tadelakt bathroom @ dar al hossoun   
  outside tables at dar al hossoun

the beauty of the place is the atmosphere. "It feels like visiting friends , not a hotel " is what we hear most often .

ST: In the rooms / suites you are trying to maintain an 'organic' architecture / design while providing a level of comfort and high end finishes. How did you manage ?
OV: In fact , our goal was to provide everything that can be practical and can make a stay here more enjoyable... but more importantly, we wanted to avoid the superfluous load decor and avoid the glitz and bling bling. This is what gives the place its zen ambiance.

ST: The rumor is some of your neighbors in the small palm grove of Taroudant are celebrities: shahs, princes, etc. Is it true ?

OV: Yes, that’s right... Some of them had their " Marrakech period " and got quickly exhausted: too many tourists, too much noise and pollution, too commercial, too " Paris ", too expensive... we heard all sorts !
Many of those who chose Morocco to spend all or part of the year because they like the "real" Morocco have opted for Taroudant area: the former Empress Farah of Iran is our neighbor and so are Belgian royalty and designers, collectors and art dealers or even TV personalities and politicians... The Chiracs also come on holidays regularly.

   double room at dar al hossoun

ST: What are the attractions of the city and surroundings of Taroudant in your opionion ? If a person visits Taroudant, what is a thing not to miss ?

OV: I’m known for saying that Taroudant is not a city to visit, but definitely a city to live. Even for a...few hours or days ! It’s true, besides the 9 km adobe walls , there are no outstanding monuments or exceptional gardens... but the atmosphere of this small provincial town and souks is worth spending a few hours around it.


The real attraction in Taroudant is the surroundings: the countryside, the Anti-Atlas to the South, the High Atlas to the north. We organize day trips to discover the Berber mountain villages, lunches or dinners within exceptional natural sites. There is really plenty to do for several days... but our hosts sometimes have trouble leaving the house to see what goes on outside. And then, years after, they come back to ... see everything else !

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now ? 

   pool by day @ dar al hossoun
   garden by bathroom @ dar al hossoun   48845
suite @ dar al hossoun

OV: Probably still at Dar al Hossoun !
This is actually our workplace, but we are not fully aware of that: life is sweeter and the pace is slower here. The guests we receive are always friendly and make up for the otherwise busy social life we used to have back in Europe.

ST: What is your favorite place in Morocco (outside Dar Al Hossoun ) ?

OV: I have a real soft spot for places still ignored by mass tourism... natural sites as Tafraoute. This is another gem that can be discovered and explored on a day trip from Dar Al Hossoun. Then, I really like the mountains and the desert... in Morocco we have it all !

Dar Al Hossoun is currently offered on our 'Caravans Dust' tour and other tailor- made tours in the Privilege level option of accommodation. 

© Sun Trails. All rights reserved . No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Translated from French by C. Martinus.  


Caravans Dust ( 4 - 6 days)

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This 5 day private Morocco tour leaves Marrakech over the Atlas Mountains and reaches Sahara, returning via the Atlantic coast, packing in just 5 days more landscapes, activities and local traditions than any other similar length tour. 

The itinerary follows the old caravan  route from Marrakech into the Sahara's dunes, returning via an off the beaten track route over the majestic Atlas Mountains or by the Atlantic coast via Agadir or Essaouira.  No other tour packs so much diversity in just 5 days as we take in breath taking wild nature and the local culture of the Berber, Jewish and Bedouin people.  Our route will take us past valleys, canyons, palm groves, lakes, rivers, woodlands and mountains. We will explore mysterious Ksours and kasbahs, Berber granaries and grottoes, have tea with the nomads in the Sahara, walk in the shade of palm leaves, cross the Sahara desert, uncover 12the century old Tinmel mosque and shed off the desert sand on the Atlantic coast.

Click here to see detailed map

Day 1: Marrakech- Tizi n Tichka- Telouet- Ait Benhaddou ( 4 hour drive)

As our 5-day tour leaves Marrakech, the distant haze begins to resolve itself into a jagged mountain range - the High Atlas mountains, jutting abruptly from the plain. Our route follows the same one caravans used centuries ago, to bring into Marrakech slaves, gold and precious wood from the other side of the ocean of sand, Sahara.

[... in the sands of that country is gold, treasure inexpressible. They have much gold and merchants trade with salt for it, taking the salt on camels from the salt mines. They start from a town called Sijilmasa... and travel in the desert as it were upon the sea, having guides to pilot them by the stars or rocks in the desert. ] ( Tohfut-ul- Alaby by anonymous author, 12th century)

Beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeed among oak trees, walnut groves and snow patches before arriving at the Tizi n Tichka pass, at 2100 meters high.  Once over the pass a totally different picture is unveiled: the lunar landscape of the Anti Atlas. Scent of thyme from the bushes around fills the air.

Just after the pass, the tour leaves the tarmac and goes off road to then reach Telouet and former pasha's palace dominating the village, a fortified citadel that is both a microcosm of an empire and its demise. Pacha Glaoui overshadowed the sultan by controlling most of nowadays Morocco and  decided to erect a palace in the middle of nowhere, where his family had originated from. He had employed the most skilled artisans to build and decorate his main residence and, in its golden age, armies, stables and Christian slaves were confined within its walls while a flourishing Jewish community was managing the nearby salt mines.

Leaving Telouet behind, our Moroccan itinerary crosses spaghetti western backgrounds to then follow the canyon. The gardens by the river bed melt into a gigantic green serpent imprisoned between the barren light brown walls of the canyon, only to escape out into the horizon. Here and there, decaying kasbahs stand witnesses of an age soon resolute. Late afternoon. The right time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe citadel. A fat, red sun, only underlines the beige tones of the mud and straws mixture and through the covered passages and stone walls, the past filters itself into the present. In spite of the local ‘guides’, the best is to just lose yourselves in its alleyways. There is always a new way to reach its peak, from where the snowcapped Atlas Mountains framed by the denim blue sky will steal your breath away. If the climb up hadn’t already. Dinner and accommodation next to Ait Benhaddou. 

Day 2: Ait Benhaddou- Ouarzazate- Agdz- Zagora ( 3 hour drive)

After breakfast, our trip crosses Ouarzazate, made famous by its film studios where scenes of 'Game of Thrones' and 'Gladiator' were shot. As we leave Ouarzazate behind, the road skirts through desolate arid landscapes.  Soon after, the road climbs, twists and turns its way through bleached volcanic ridges, before breaking through the scarp at the pass of Tizi n'Tinififft and descend onto the lush palmgrove of Agdz. Right after the pass you catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases, the green swath of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs, adobe guardians rising as if from the earth where the green gives way to the desert. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, Le Grand Sud.

Draa Valley, with its numerous oases, Biblical adobe villages and kasbahs, used as overnight stops by the caravans until not too long ago is the beginning of the 'caravan highway' connecting for centuries Timbuktu, Gao and the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali to Morocco. 

[Until the beginning of the 17th century the Taghaza- Timbuktu road, pre- eminent in the gold trade and still more important as a cultural highway appears to have been the greatest of the routes across the desert. At any rate, up to the 1880's the Saharan trade was a factor of considerable importance in the economy of Morocco] ( E.W. Bovill - The Golden Trade of the Moors)

We will stop at Tamnougalt and roam through the eerie kasbah before crossing over the palm grove and stopping to see a small untouched community of Harratin, likely descendants from traded slaves. Further on, you can also admire megalithic rock paintings depicting animals and hunting scenes. Our itinerary today concludes with reaching the tranquil town of Zagora. A mock serious road sign spelling 'Timbuktu – 52 days by camel' still greets the visitors. The first real dunes a 2 hour drive away. We will stop for accommodation and dinner in a beautiful guest house nested in the palmgrove nearby.

Day 3: Zagora- Tamegroute- Mhamid- Erg Chigaga ( 3 hour drive).

In the shade of an ocean of palm trees, locals get the best out of their fertile land as olives, pumpkins, quinces, apples, pomegranate, wheat  and barley all grow aroused by the ancestral system of irrigation. We more than recommend a guided tour of this unique habitat. The nearby village of Amezrou, carries on the Jewish tradition of silver crafting and the local adobe Jewish synagogue still stands. We will stop for a break in Tamegroute where century old Qorans and Arab treaties on astronomy and sciences are neatly arranged behind glass windows at the local library.  The same village carries a pottery tradition known throughout Morocco and it is of interest to witness the shaping and baking of the emerald pots and dishes inside traditional earth ovens. Crossing Jbel Bani, we wave hello to Mount Tagine on our right and, before long, we reach M’hammid, where the tarmac ends - the last village before the Sahara. 

The next two hours of our tour make full use of the four wheel drive as rocky desert gives way to gravel and then sand dunes, past the occasional water well and oasis. The anticipation built doesn’t quite prepare you for the spectacle ahead of you: sleepy yet shifting leviathans of sand as far as the sight can stretch, dotted by the occasional desert camp. These are the dunes of Erg Chigaga. Here, we can arrange for you to be met and taken by camel ride to the camp for the last bit of the way. While the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage and preparing your dinner, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. And lose yourself in the moment. As the sun slowly sets over the dunes, there is nowhere else you would rather be. At night, dazed by the millions of stars glittering above, the silence is so thick you feel you could cut a strip and wear it as a scarf as you fall asleep. Dinner and accommodation in a private tent.

Day 4: Erg Chigaga- Foum Zguid- Tazenakht- Taroudant ( 7 hour drive).

(If you have an extra day at hand, it is worth spending an extra night in Tata inside a 500 year old noble house to then reach Taroudant on the evening of the next day following one of the most dramatic and off the beaten track roads in Morocco).

Should you have missed the sunrise… well, try not to. If yesterday was about getting away from civilization, today is about getting back to it. After toddling across sand dunes, our trip reaches the perfectly flat Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, where the Draa river used to form its estuary. Later on, we will have tea with a family of nomads and search for fossils. Then, we take on the hamada, the much dreaded stony desert, to finally reach Foum Zguid. Farewell Sahara, hello tarmac. On the way to Taroudant, we pass through Tazenakht, a carpet weaving center and center of Berber carpets trade and then Taliouine with its magnificent Kasbah. This is also where the best saffron is grown throughout Morocco.

Arriving in Taroudant, there is hardly anything more relaxing after the desert trip than a plunge in the refreshing pool and/ or ridding off the sand inside the in- house hammam ( steam bath) at the local guest house. As the lights start to twinkle, in the gardens the scent of jasmine perfumes the air while dinner is set. Dinner and accommodation inside the medina of Taroudant or in the palm grove nearby.

Day 5: Taroudant- Taghazout/ Chichaoua- Marrakech ( 4- 5 hour drive).

Taroudant lies in the middle of a fertile agricultural plain that crashes into the foothills of the Anti Atlas while nudging the Sahara in the south. Also called sometimes ‘Petit Marrakech’ due to its similar looking walled old town, it is in fact older than its northern sister. Its walls were built by the Saadi sultans back in 16th century when the city was their capital and the main base to attack Portuguese invaders on the nearby Atlantic coast. In this quiet town where most folks go around on their bycicle, hop on a caleche and have a tour around the city walls or wander the souks best known for silver, honey and argan oil and imagine how Marrakech used to be 30 years ago. 

There are at least two ways to return to Marrakech. You can return via the highway from Agadir, after having enjoyed some time on the beach in Taghazout. Or, you can choose to take the highway to Marrakech and stop on the way to visit a 500 year- old apiary where the owner will introduce you to traditional bee- growing, have you taste the different sorts of honey (our favorite must be argan honey) and invite you for an organic lunch in his home. Arrive in Marrakech late afternoon. 

You may choose to follow the original tour itinerary as described on the website or have us create a customized Moroccan itinerary around you. Please note that all our tours of Morocco are private and that stops are accommodated along the way as often as you desire, for you to visit a site, take a stunning photo or stretch your legs. 

We believe our guests deserve to be spoiled and stay only at the best properties while on a customized tour of Morocco. We spend a great deal of time and effort to anonymously test and hand- pick the best boutique and luxury hotels, Riads , eco lodges and Kasbahs across Morocco. These select properties are constantly monitored and updated. Each one of them is inspired by and reflecting the culture, architecture and cuisine of its location. They do not fit into a rigorous star rating system, so we have named them Dreamers, Privilege and Divine, to best resume their nature. A day- to- day customized Moroccan itinerary with the names of the accommodations suggested at each overnight will be provided at the time of the enquiry.

Please find below the resumed itinerary ( driving times exclude stops ):

Day 1: Marrakech - Tizi n Tichka - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou (4 hour drive).
Day 2: Ait Benhaddou- Ouarzazate - Agdz - Zagora ( 3 hour drive).
Day 3: Zagora - Tamegroute - Mhamid - Erg Chigaga dunes ( 3 hour drive).
Day 4: Erg Chigaga - Lake Iriki - Foum Zguid - Tazenakht - Taroudant ( 7 hour drive).
Day 5: Taroudant - Agadir - Marrakech/ Essaouira ( 4 hour drive). 

Feel free to let us know if you would like to include a site/ activity of your own in the itinerary. If you don't know where to start some ideas may be:

- organic honey tasting experience;
- visit the nomad grottos;
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's street food;
- the architectural genius of the Anti Atlas granaries;
- take a class in Moroccan pottery;
- trekking/ mountain biking in the High Atlas/ Anti Atlas;
- learn about life in the palm grove, the khetarra irrigations, the pottery craft, the olive oil press;
- bake bread with the village ladies on almond corks.

Below you will find our rates based on two persons travelling together, with the relevant accommodation option:

Dreamers: 695 €/ 745 US $/ 600 £ per person (double room and basic tent);
Privilege: 1090 €/ 1170 US $ / 940 £ per person (double junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: rates are available on request.

Pricing is tentative and can vary slightly at different times of the year. If you book your tour to take place in December, January ( outside end of the year holidays), February, July and August, you will be charged our low season rates. We can only quote an exact rate once we have agreed on the precise itinerary, accommodation option preferred, the extras you would like to include and the duration of the journey. Discounts apply when 3 or more persons share the vehicle(s). You can also choose to mix different accommodation ranges within the same circuit.

Our rates include:

- private use of the English fluent driver-guide and modern air-conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 3 nights;
- Sahara camel trek & private basic/ luxury tent for 1 night;
- 4 three- course- meal dinners and 4 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop off;
- caleche ride and/ or visit to the souks in Taroudant;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hours travel assistance ( with Privilege/ Divine option);
- gasoline and highway tolls;
- transport insurance, VAT and visitors tax.

Most of our guests prefer adding an extra day to either allow for some relaxing time by the beach in Essaouira or trekking in the Atlas Mountains. We can also break the distance in two on Day 4 if you think the drive is too long.




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Boutique tours of Morocco

What better place than Morocco for a private tailor made tour ? It can be a day trip from Marrakech into the Atlas Mountains. Or a 14 day private luxury Morocco tour. And everything in between. With such a different culture and language, a boutique 4x4 Morocco tour with an English speaking local driver- guide guarantees the best holidays in Morocco. Choose one of the many 4x4 tours from Marrakech or another imperial city and you will discover the off the beaten track Morocco. Much more than excursions from Marrakech or Morocco desert tours, our 4x4 custom tours travel all across Morocco, covering Berber villages, majestic Kasbahs, enchanting palm groves or Touareg desert camps. From Ait Benhaddou to Chefchaouen, from Erg Chebbi to Taroudant and from camel rides in the Sahara to hardcore trekking Morocco can only offer. Browse among our 4x4 boutique tours of Morocco and book your favorite today !