Despite its religious affiliations, Morocco is North Africa's top wine-producing country, so off we went for a bit of wine tasting in southern Morocco's laid-back Essaouira.
Away from the bustle of Essaouira's iconic medina, we headed deep into the surrounding countryside, to the French-owned, Val d'Argan domain. A little sceptical about taking part in an activity that isn't locally run, we were prepared for somewhat of a post-colonial experience. Contrary to our expectations, the discreet vineyard has nothing brashly western about it. Owned and developed by Charles Melia, a Frenchman with 1800s Algerian ancestry, the Val d'Argan's rich and fertile soil has been producing a range of organic Clairette grapes since the 40s.
The fifty hectares of the domain charmed us completely with its idyllic setting of grape vines growing in neat rows among bright blooming rose bushes, wild green fields as far as the eye can see, and the healthiest and happiest caramel-coloured horses we had seen in a long time. The vineyard is one attraction for surrounding oenological buffs, but there is also the option of staying right on the property in one of the simple but charming rooms lost somewhere in the picturesque gardens by a gleaming pool.
Without doubt however, our favourite was the Val d'Argan restaurant. Scoring full marks for the venue, (and the incredible fare) high up in a covered veranda entirely lined by Moorish-style windows looking out onto the acres of land, is a cosy ensemble of tables. In the open kitchen at the far end of the room, the domain's ladies rustle of a real feast of meat, vegetables, fruit and prepare the most delicious selection of olives (pictured), which all come right from the garden. The result is an eye-popping spread of fresh salads, sauces and purées, followed by the tenderest lamb, chicken, beef or fish skewers accompanied by rice, potatoes and an array of vegetables. And all that washed down with some of the property's gorgeous mellow wines. A perfect afternoon - and we do mean the entire afternoon - indulging in some of the region's very best produce, the Val d'Argan comes extremely highly recommended.
Smoking area: no
Details: Domaine du Val d'Argan, Essaouira, Morocco
Tel: 00212 524 783 467