The stylish, spacious and light-filled interior is laid out over three floors to accommodate up to ten guests.
Abdaul & Aicha, the live-out staff come in to serve breakfast and clean six mornings a week. Help with local arrangements is part of their service and they can even cook a fantastic dinner or baby-sit - for a small extra charge. Aicha was the first person we ever left our daughter with (when she was 8 weeks old) and she's like a second mother to her so if you are parents looking for a break...
Essaouira itself is known as "Windy City, Africa". A laid back fusion of Portuguese, French, Arabic and Berber influences since the current walled city was founded as a trading post in the 18th century.
Now you can wander the car-free medina, browsing the souks and soaking up the atmosphere without the hectic crowds and pressure that is part of the Marrakesh experience. Plus just five minutes walk from Dar Leila is the 8km curve of beach, for kite surfing, wind-surfing or catching the rays.
Whatever type of holiday you're looking for - relaxing, adrenaline filled, winter sun, summer heat, family or friends, Dar Leila is perfect - we've certainly done all of the above over the last 8 years!
The Marrakech/Essaouira region
Essaouira is one of North Africa's most beautiful cities and offers a mixture of Portuguese, French and Berber architecture.
Most of all though is a friendly, laid back town with lots to do. There is very good wind and kite surfing and horse or camel riding on the beach. The touts hassling for horse and camel rides do listen to a polite 'no thank you' but if you want to take up their offer don't pay more than 100DHS / €10 per animal. If you fancy something a bit faster, an afternoon's excursion down the dunes by quad bike is a must.
The beach is 5 minutes walk from Dar Leila. At some times of the year it can be a bit windy for sunbathing, due to the Atlantic breezes that make for such good wind & kite surfing – the best place to catch some rays at this time is Dar Leila's sheltered terrace. During the summer there are a large number of sun loungers on the beach available to rent for 25DHS / €2.50 per day. The walk down the beach to the ruined fort that dates from the Portuguese occupation, which you can see in the distance, takes about 45 minutes. Apparently the bird watching is good at the mouth of the river near the ruined fort but our twitching skills only run to seabirds and landbirds. The best time to walk on the beach is when the tide is going out leaving firm sand to walk on.
The medina is a Unesco World Heritage Site and no cars are allowed within the city walls. You can spend hours wandering the back streets of the medina, stumbling across little artisan Thuya inlaid woodcarving workshops and admiring the eclectic architecture.
Take time to wander around the fishing harbour and see the boats come in with the day's catch and head down towards Rue Skala (the ramparts), to the right of the fishing harbour, to watch the sun set.
Our guests receive a detailed information pack, all researched by us and updated every 6 months. From what to do and who with, where to eat and shop and how to get the best spices and oils, one set of guests were so enthused they said "forget Lonely Planet - just book Dar Leila and get the best guide to Essaouira"
A small sample of it is reproduced below.
WIND & KITE SURFING
Club Mistral at Ocean Vagabond's beach base has everything you will need, from equipment hire to lessons to recommendations on where the best surf is found. Sebastien and his team, Mounir & Rachid, are very friendly and open for business 7 days a week.
If you prefer swimming in a pool, as opposed to the Atlantic our suggestion would be to spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina and beach at one of the number of countryside hotels within a 15 minute drive of Essaouira.
As well as the horses on the beach there are a number of proper trekking outfits such as Ranch Diabat, who have been around for many years and get good reports. And if you get the bug you can come back for a full on riding holiday.
This is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon. For 550DHS / €55 per person Sahara Quad, will pick you up from by Bab Sbaa gate, drive you to their base on the edge of town and take you out for 2½ - 3 hours on quad bikes. You head down the dunes to Sidi, led by an experienced guide, slowly at first until you get the hang of it. The return journey is a full on blast back down the beach. Well worth the money if you like this sort of fun and they throw in a CD of photos as well.
You can either go solo from a turn down the beach before lunch or the whole 25km to Sidi Kaouki or go for a guided experience. Edouard Pottier, the charming host of La Decouverte Restaurant, also runs Ecotourism Walking Tours. They offer half and full day walking tours through the Argan forests, the dunes and the riverbeds and taking in country markets and mint tea in a Berber village. The aim is to show the genuine rural Morocco – both the scenery and the people.
The first phase of the Golf de Mogador development, a Gary Player signature 18-hole course is now open. The website is only in French and we are not golfers so please bear with us if we have mis-understood, but Green Fees for 18 holes appear to be 750DHS / €75 or 475DHS / €45 for FMRG members. The setting is stunning and, according to the reviews, ongoing development of the site doesn't detract from the experience. The clubhouse with restaurant, bar and terrace is now. The course is situated below the neighbouring village of Diabat and now that the new bridge has been finished is an easy 3km taxi ride from the Medina.
You are in the home of the Hammam (Steam Room) so there is little excuse not to indulge. From a full on local scrub to a more European spa-type experience Essaouira now has it all.
Dar Leila is situated in a no through street in the heart of the medina, minutes from all of the best restaurants in Essaouira.
These are our current favourites in three different price categories.
- 150DHS / €15 per person - Ocean Vagabond:
The last surf shack café on the beach. After a long period in the wilderness where the growing pains associated with the move to its current location seemed to overwhelm it, Ocean Vagabond is back better than ever. Painted in Caribbean colours and with the landscaping now matured it is the perfect place to sit in the sun (or shade), have lunch and chill out reading a book. Their food and the service are top notch. Their wood fired pizza oven produces pizzas an Italian would be proud of; their salads are huge and delicious; burger and chips a tasty treat. They also serve more sophisticated specials such as “carre d'agneau”, “pan –fried foie gras” & great sushi. Put simply don't bother with anywhere else on the beach!
* Licensed. Open until 18:00 only. Plenty of vegetarian options.
- 300DHS / €30 per person - La Cle de Voute:
Simpler, lower priced sister to “d'Orient et d'Ailleurs” it has the same understated but very well judged touch. Friendly, multi-lingual service, a short but good selection of excellent food – Moroccan with a lighter, more contemporary touch. What more could you want?
* Open for lunch & dinner.
* No wine list but appears wine is available. Some vegetarian dishes.
- over 300DHS / €30 per person - Elizir:
It's now official: Lonely Planet have printed what we have been saying since 2 days after it opened. Elizir is the best restaurant in Essaouira and just as in New York or London it is now packed out every night.
Latif owned a restaurant in Italy for nine years before returning home to Essaouira. His stated aim at Elizir is to offer something a bit different to the traditional tagines. And boy does he succeed. The décor is bang up to the moment, contemporary Moroccan with an enviable range of fifties and sixties design classics that will have aficionados salivating before they even see the menu. The food lives up to the décor – made from organic ingredients it fuses French, Moroccan and Italian flavours. Light and airy rooms plus a large, bright terrace. Latif and his wife Samira are great friends as well as wonderful hosts so please mention you are staying at Dar Leila. Wonderful artwork as well – most of it for sale.
* Open for dinner from 19:30
* Reservation essential - at least 24 hours in advance. Sometimes closed the first week of each month
Paintings: La Petite Galeríe
The “stick” paintings hanging by the library nook in the Grand Salon are by Drissi Slimane, who sells his work here. Almost all the friends we have taken here have ended up buying something! Although the prices are more or less fixed, it is still worth asking – you might get a bit off!
Carpets: Bazaar Mehdi
Mustapha has some of the most wonderful rugs around. His prices are not the cheapest so you may feel the need to bargain hard.