An exceptionally peaceful cliffside retreat (sleeps 6-10) with unforgettable views across the Oualidia lagoon to the Atlantic
The small fishing village of Oualidia and its tidal lagoon, home to
Morocco’s best oyster beds and some of its most diverse
birdlife, remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets. In
recent years it has begun to attract visitors during summer but for
the rest of the year you could find no more beautiful nor peaceful
a place to commune with the ocean.
James von Leyden was smitten by the place’s rare beauty and, on impulse, bought what must be the best positioned house in the village, on a high bluff looking out across the lagoon. He has given the house and its four bedrooms a new lease of life thanks to a masterful refurbishment which placed the accent on stylish simplicity, solid comfort and the celebration of those exquisite lagoon views. To sit in La Diouana’s cosy sitting room, perhaps listening to one of James’ many CDs with a fire burning in the hearth, watching the fishing boats returning with their catch, is simply inspirational and is the reason, perhaps, why we return year after year to this unforgettable house.
There are three guest bedrooms in the main house and a
fourth in the small annex which is to one side of the
palm-lined drive leading up to La Diouana’s main entrance.
The master bedroom, with all white walls and bluey-grey
coloured doors and windows, shares the same lagoon view as the
study and sitting room and has an enormous tadlakt bathtub,
big enough for two, from where you can watch the sun sinking over
The other two rooms in the main house, which have showers rather than baths, look out to the garden. One is a twin, the other a double with a second mezzanine bed reached via a steep ladder: kids would love it. The subdued decorative style with a predominace of white colours and fabrics, the black-and-white photographs of Moroccan people and places, the subdued lighting and the high ceilings, all impart a feel that is both peaceful and uplifting.
The fourth bedroom, in an independent annex just 30 metres from the house, has its own sitting area and roof terrace. There is plenty of wardrobe space, as in all of the bedrooms, and the same attractive use of natural-coloured tadlakt in its shower room.
The fifth bedroom is a self-contained twin-bed apartment with separate entrance, bath, tadlakt floors and terrace overlooking the garden.
Even though there are a couple of excellent restaurants in
Oualidia you may feel loathe not to eat all meals at La Diouana.
There’s a cosy dining area at one end of the sitting
room from where you look out to the lagoon and a second shaded
table in the garden with those same amazing views.
Fátiha, the breakfast cook, arrives around eight o'clock and busies herself preparing pancakes, squeezing oranges and making potfuls of freshly ground coffee whose aroma greets you when you emerge from your room. Just let her know if you’d like to breakfast later.
Abdillah’s wife Fátima, who lives a few houses away, can prepare you a fabulous three course lunch or dinner. Let her know if you’d like her to shop for you or head down to the lagoon-side fish market, make your own choice from the best of the catch, then let her prepare you an amazing tagine. Her other specialities include harira, couscous and pastilla as well as meat and seafood: this is a unique opportunity to eat the best Moroccan food for little more than the cost of the ingredients. Fatima can also prepare special meals for children – hamburgers, chicken and chips, salads.
And be sure to let Abdillah organise a boat trip to the headland on the far side of the lagoon with an included lunch of oysters, sea urchins and grilled fish, all straight from the sea. We did just that and had one of the most memorable meals of our Moroccan trip.
A small selection of Moroccan wines, and beer, are available at the house.
July and August are peak season - the village fills up with marrakchi families, and night clubs and camping sites go full tilt, so if you're looking for a peaceful retreat try and avoid these 2 months. On the other hand, the atmosphere is friendly and colourful, and sociable families can make many friends. At any other time of year the village is much more of a "secret gem", especially in the spring when wildflowers cover the hillsides leading down to the lagoon and when it’s warm enough to swim.
The house and garden are safe and fun for children of all ages - and under 3s go free. We've rated it best for older children because there are so many activities for them here, but with baby gear here onsite, it's not bad for them either. Moroccans dote on children and you'll be warmly welcomed in restaurants and wherever you go. You don't need any vaccinations to visit the country.
La Diouana is outside the charming village of Oualidia, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, equidistant between Casablanca and Essaouira. It's 180km from the nearest airport, but the beauty and isolation of the area make it well worth the drive.
Casablanca Mohammed V (180km). Marrakech Menara (200km). Essaouira (180km). All airports served by several airlines. Click on the link below for a list.
The owners recommend flying to Marrakech and then hiring a car or taking a taxi to Oualidia. They can arrange transfers from Marrakech, Casablanca or Essaouira.
Hiring a car will give you additional flexibility for day trips - see our car rental recommendations. It's a 3-hour drive from Marrakech; 2.5 from Casablanca.
Abdillah, the house guardian, will meet you when you arrive and hand over keys. He lives two minutes away and will cheerfully help with any questions or problems.
Detailed directions will be sent to you once you book through i-escape.
More on getting to Morocco and getting around.
The Times, August 2012
“Spectacular La Diouana is a chilled-out cliffside retreat with gorgeous views across the Oualidia lagoon.”
Tatler, October 2011
"James and Csarena von Leyden have carved a slice of pastoral idyll into the dusty landscape: the spacious house is surrounded by gardens with swings, a summer hut and even a vegetable patch. Both villas come with infinity pools."
New York Times, January 2011
"The seaside Moroccan village of Oualidia is almost exclusively for the birds - and that’s exactly what’s special about it. “It’s just about communing with nature: fishing, surfing, kayaking or birdwatching,” said James von Leyden, a British expatriate who built a house overlooking Oualidia’s lagoon, which is filled with pink flamingoes, migrating herons and the occasional surfer. Mr. Von Leyden and his family spend about four months a year at Villa La Diouana, their charming riad on the sea; the rest of the year it is rented by savvy Morocco insiders, like the French handbag designer Laetitia Trouillet."
The Independent Travel
"This luxurious 1930s villa is set near a 17th century kasbah and ruined royal summer palace - as well as a beach. Its four en suite double bedrooms (one in an adjoining cottage) mix traditional plastering and intricate woodwork with panoramic windows and contemporary styling. There is also a roof terrace and a large walled garden. The neighbouring lagoon is a good spot for sheltered swimming and the local village has a good reputation for its oysters."
Reviews are from people who have booked through us.
“This villa is truly lovely; a beautifully restored home that we felt instantly at ease in. The view is to die for and gazing at the ever changing panorama was a favourite activity. Breakfasts, clothes washing, food shopping, sorting out surf lessons and boat trips were only a few of the endless kindnesses of the staff at the villa. This villa is recommended for all ages if you love the sunshine, the sea and good food; real relaxation. Bliss”
“We have just returned from Villa La Diouana having had a glorious week. Abdillah and his wife Fatima and all of the other staff were wonderful. The food surpassed all expectations and although we hadn't planned to eat all meals at the house we just couldn't wait to taste the next amazing offering! They were very unobtrusive but when we needed anything it was organised within minutes in a seemingly effortless way. The house, garden and pool were beautiful and for a large group of two families, renting the whole accommodation (main house, cottage and apartment) worked perfectly. We all loved the book and dvd collection and many an exciting tournament was played out on the table tennis table before drinks overlooking the lagoon, idyllic! The only negative was the cottage did smell very damp and this is something which may need looking at, although we all thought it was a beautiful little suite. This has to be one of the only holidays we have been on where every aspect is pretty much as good as it could be. We took a boat ride up the lagoon one day and went over to the beach but La Diouana is so perfect that we were happy to stay put the rest of the time with that wondrous view. I think it is fair to say though, that people must remember when they step outside the gates they are in Africa and there is not a lot to go and see in the immediate vicinity, so if walking out to sit on a pretty square and have coffee is your bag or visiting nearby attractions is what you want then this might not be the place for you!”