The seaside is no longer the 18th-century port town’s biggest draw. Today, Essaouira is the place to go for wellness treatments. My Chic Africa went to check it out.
There’s something in the air in Essaouira. Negative ions, apparently. Those electrically-charged atoms or molecules that either lose or gain electrons on their outer layers. When an ion is negative, a regenerative energy is diffused. For years, the city was famous for watersports like windsurfing and kitesurfing, but recently it has tuned in to its healing side, becoming the ultimate spot for well-being, with numerous douars and spa centres popping up to meet the growing demand.
For French ex-pat Nanie, manager of the high-end hotel, Jardin des Douars, the recent increase in Essaouira’s wellness offer was always on the cards. “One of the first times I came was for windsurfing with my parents. I met a kinesiologist who told me that the atmosphere here was conducive to relaxation. It helps with sleep, makes you feel rested,” she explains.
Nestled in the hills, 15 minutes from the medina, the Jardin des Douars (with its natural swimming pool and upscale spa), has held yoga retreats for the last three years. “We have also adapted our menus to include vegan and gluten-free dishes, and we’re planning on introducing yoga-friendly ayurvedic menus soon too,” she adds.
DIY organic cosmetic classes, and fasting weeks
Nanie says she is proud of “of helping to kick-start the well-being business here,” but she would like to see people from the continent, rather than Europeans, shaping the market. “Wellness is in Morocco’s DNA, with the culture of hammams and daily exfoliating. Essaouira’s offerings are growing, but there’s still a lot to be done“.
Like setting up a naturopathy, yoga and healthy eating centre, for instance. That’s what Anne Gaëlle has done at the Riad des Deux Mondes, hidden away along a rocky road just outside the town centre. As soon as you arrive, the permaculture garden, the henhouse, the solar panels and the photocatalytic purification reeds give a hint as to the spirit of the place.
“We’re not a hotel, we’re just an organic establishment. This riad is first and foremost about sharing our family’s lifestyle,” says Anne Gaëlle, a naturopath and mother of four who aims to teach locals about permaculture. “Well-being means many things: what you put on your skin, what you eat, how you breathe, your relationship with the earth. Here, we organize workshops so you can make your own organic cosmetics, we provide ayurvedic food for yoga retreats and we organize fasting weeks“.
The natural pool at Douar Noujom, a unique energy experience
At Deux Mondes, beauty is all about what’s on the inside. You won’t see anything flashy or fancy outside. What counts is the essential – a message that appeals to an ever-growing Moroccan clientele. “The middle classes in Rabat and Casablanca are starting to take an interest in our lifestyle. It’s still early days so there’s lots to teach. Our yoga teachers are Moroccan,” she adds, before inviting us to take part in a lesson.
There’s plenty of yoga at Douar Noujoum too. In this atmospheric, almost mystical place, each area has its own energy thanks to the Feng Shui layout of its buildings. Bernard, the owner (a biodynamic psychotherapist, and an energy therapist in quantum and Chinese medicine) likes to present it as a place of rebirth. When he bought the terrain in 2005, he built something that “resembled who I am”, a place that pays tribute to the Gwana therapeutic culture omnipresent in Essaouira.
Thirteen years later, in addition to energy balancing and Chinese and quantum therapies, Noujoum offers yoga, tai-chi and chi kung. His courses are mostly reserved by groups, but an increasing number of individuals are being drawn to its hammam (where lying in a foetal position, you are encouraged to regress to the time spent in your mother’s womb) and its natural, lily pad-filled swimming pool, which has a unique energy to it.
Letting go for a weekend or a week
Bernard’s centre is befitting for Essaouira where an atmosphere of peace and calm appeals to those looking for authenticity. “It’ll be a buoyant market if we get it right,” he says.
Philippe and Sofia are inclined to agree. Having worked in Kazen Garden in Essaouira for the last two years, the couple now also offers a second establishment, the Douar Ait Lahcen, an eco-lodge 10 km inland on a hillside, with a permaculture garden and 400 olive, almond, nut and citrus trees. Their 5 to 6-day stays have themes such as “releasing your potential”, “Wellness, sport and nutrition”, and “Yoga, Pilates and new energies”. You can also experience Reiki, hypnosis and Thai chi at Kazen Garden on 1- to 3-day retreats.
It’s time to test Essaouira’s healing air for yourself.