Owner and Manager of Dar al Hossoun Ollivier Verra was born, raised and educated in Provence. After studying international business and foreign languages he moved to London in the early 90s to work for an American bank, before joining his father at the family enterprise selling retractable bollards.
Within 15 years Ollivier had successfully taken the company global. So how did he end up in Taroudant as the owner of a luxury boutique hotel? We get the lowdown from Ollivier.
What inspired you to buy Dar al Hossoun?
Through my work I used to travel a lot. I’d choose holiday destinations based on what I lacked the most: peacefulness and relaxation time. Morocco had that to offer, and was quick and easy to reach from Europe, even for just a few days. I fell in love with the colours, silence, light, weather, authenticity, and the smiling welcoming locals with their simple, sometimes basic way of life.
I was also seduced by the handmade products that had almost completely disappeared from our Western world. I ended up feeling that a holiday home in Morocco could be a nice solution. A place to escape to for a few days, where I could welcome and accommodate family and friends and share my passion for the country.
I began searching for a house to buy not too far from an international airport or civilization, but not too close to a modern and developed town either, in a region where authentic Morocco – its values, culture, cuisine and know-hows – were still part of everyday life.
And in a rural environment, with the idea of developing traditional, organic agriculture to give work to a few families in return for their commitment to send their kids (girls in particular) to school for as long as possible.
During that period we had the opportunity to sell the family business, meaning I’d potentially end up with more time and money to think a bit bigger. I ended up in Taroudant, about one hour from Agadir, where I fell in love with Dar al Hossoun and its unique gardens, adobe architecture, and decor.
What’s the history of the property?
It all began in 2005: Ossart & Maurières, a pair of renowned French landscape designers and architects chose Taroudant as their base. They bought land, started building and planting, and carried on until I purchased the place at the end of 2009 – over 10 years ago!
Dar al Hossoun is a carnet de voyage of over two decades of extensive travels by Ossart & Maurières as they journeyed around the world discovering different cultures and collecting seeds and cuttings, with the idea of creating a garden in the future. Here are those green souvenirs, now.
And its moniker?
Hossoun is the name of the neighborhood; no one is sure of its origin. In Arabic, the word is related to beauty, a strong house with high walls, labyrinths, and goldfinch (by the way, we have 14 species of birds living on or visiting the property). Basically all of the options suit us in one way or another.
What happened after you bought Dar al Hossoun?
I realized that friends and family visiting was actually a fantasy. They did come, but rarely in numbers, and not as often as we would have liked. It was clear to me that the property needed to be kept lively, it required time and energy to look after it, and it would be nice to share it with other passionate people.
I decided to give two friends the opportunity to work on it as a hospitality and restaurant project. But I soon got involved to develop ideas, based on good (and bad) memories I had from my professional and leisure trips around the world.
I wanted to create a place matching the idealistic vision I had of where I would like to stay for a holiday. It was a bit crazy as Taroudant is far away from the classic tourist routes, the property had not been designed to be a hotel, and the staff were not trained for that either. But I had ideas, energy, optimism, passion, and time!
Who created the interiors?
The existing nine rooms were already decorated with artefacts and recycled objects; enough to set the tone. I started visiting markets and little shops, and buying anything that was a tribute to the manual and solution-oriented skills of the locals.
Tell us about your food and drinks offering.
Our cuisine used to be exclusively Moroccan, based on a menu of the day; we decided to adapt it to more contemporary tastes, with less sugar, fat, and meat products. I even began to invent dishes such as orange or apple chicken tagine, slow-cooked on charcoal.
We now offer a wider choice including Mediterranean specialities. We’re French: food is important to us, and for that reason we also have an organic vegetable garden and orchard nearby where we can produce what is not available from the local markets, such as types of tomatoes, chard, spinach and artichokes.
As far as wine is concerned, we select good Moroccan ones; the weather conditions and soil are excellent for making strong bottles just like ours in Provence! It’s a nice opportunity to discover varieties rarely exported outside of Morocco.
What’s your bedroom of choice?
My favourites are the last ones we created, like junior suites Melia, Euphorbia and Toubkal. That’s possibly because I personally designed them from scratch. But each of our 18 rooms has something enjoyable: central or remote, more or less open to the gardens, larger, wider, longer or with very high ceilings…
Because the property developed organically, they’re all different. But they have in common the natural materials they’re made of, fireplaces (with daily complimentary wood supply and setup), and direct access to the grounds and terraces – just like riads where the outside is an extra living space for guests.
How do you make the experience special?
We make sure, as much as we can, that our guests book the best room to meet their expectations or requirements. We offer one-to-one information and a booking service (besides the automated option via our website), and take time to listen and make suggestions. Then, when they’re here, we make ourselves available to give advice.
What makes Dar al Hossoun individual?
The basis of our uniqueness is that the property was not designed nor taken over by myself to be a hotel, and it all started without a hospitality-trained team. Hence it doesn’t look or feel like a hotel, and our dedicated personal touch gives a homely atmosphere.
As far as the place itself is concerned, it’s the rammed earth architecture and the comfort it provides, the peacefulness, and the pets (cats, peacocks, dogs, tortoises, turtles, chameleons, birds…).
And also our unique dry gardens with several hundred varieties of desert plants from all over the world; ideal for garden lovers, botanists, and those who like to meditate, write, paint, and photograph. Dar al Hossoun reveals secrets and surprises that require attention and sensitiveness to discover.
What type of people visit?
We welcome and accommodate all sorts who are in need of nature, silence and peacefulness. We also get more and more Moroccans from abroad wanting to rediscover the traditional way of life of their grandparents.
Those conscious of the environment are happy to have the opportunity to take green holidays with us – we’ve been green key certified since 2012.
We also get a lot of garden lovers who visit us to discover new plants, concepts and designs. Many come to escape their hectic lives in the Western world; Taroudant is off the beaten tourist track and the atmosphere is laid-back, making it the ideal place.
For that reason we accommodate famous people from time to time: actors, singers, former presidents and prime ministers – French President Chirac relaxed in our gardens and Empress Farah of Iran is fond of our cats.
What activities do you recommend?
Taroudant is about discovering nature, customs, and the way of life of the locals – in town, a short drive away in the surrounding mountains, or at the Tiout agricultural palm grove. Attending a cooking demo and feeling the positive effects of treatments at our spa are also options. Or doing nothing lazing around our pools (one of them is heated in winter) may well be a full-time activity for a few days.
Is there a particular member of staff to look out for?
Mohamed, Kareema, Berry, Hoda, Youssef, Abdu – over 35 work for our guests’ satisfaction.