Just an hour and half by 50cc scooter with two people, or 45 minutes by car you can visit a manmade lake of tranquility and beauty steeped on one side by sloping banks intertwined with a small forest and on the other a plateau of barren but charming land. This is lake Lalla Takerkoust, which is a large reservoir supplying the local towns with pure but a little cold, mountainous water. Surrounded by the beautifully snow capped High Atlas Mountains, this is a place you can visit easily from your base in the Marrakshi Medina.
A little muddy in parts near to the water, but only in parts, this lake makes a perfect retreat for a morning stroll or sunny afternoon picnic where your company will be the occasional group of local children playing, or goat herders feeding their flocks on the grassy sides.
A little off the beaten track, but only adding to its secrecy and serenity, this is a surreal area, just beyond the village of Lalla Takerkoust, which is worth a visit for those wanting to escape the vibrant bustle of La Medina.
Leisurely exploring the area surrounding the lake, we came across a small village named Makhefamane which homes a dusty local highstreet with a few general grocery shops, crumbling mud and clay built houses, and some very happy, friendly and accommodating people.
Being invited into peoples homes seems like a national symbol of Marrakech and Makhefamane is no exception. Adballa approaches us mid cigarette as we look over the small football pitch that sits at the end of the village, and in some broken French and finger pointing we visit his home and wonderful family. They treat us to a Moroccan continental lunch of bread, olive oil, jam, butter and sugary tea while his wife feeds her 2 week old baby and his 6 year old daughter jumps around excited to practice the English that she has just learned in school that morning.
At the end of the village is Jnane Tihihit, an eco centre which houses a small diverse farm of seasonal agriculture and amazing array of animals, including some out of place pigs. We take a tour of the Belgian run site and come out feeling placid and inspired.
An example of why Morocco is such a diverse and culturally interesting place, and Marrakech, situated between the pictorially award winning and breathtaking Atlas Mountains, this country makes you see life in beautiful ways, and brings reality to a sense of what it actually is.
With breakfast looking out over Marrakchi rooftops and Atlas contours as your backdrop, Riad Cinnamon offers this plus a team passionately dedicated staff committed to making your stay in Marrakech one to remain with you forever.
Entering a Marrakshi household on a non descript Wednesday evening is an experience filled with warmth, welcome and sharing.
As the Henna artist and cook of the Henna Café in the north-west of La Medina, Fatima has been a practicing Nquasha (master of an artform) for over 26 years and a producer of local cuisine exquisites.
A small courtyard with scooter, clothes line and a picture of the atlas mountains greets you through a heavy almost un-openable metal door. We walk into the family room bordered by four benches which doubles as the marital bedroom. This is where the feast of people and supply of food will soon congregate.
As is common in Moroccan homes, the large ‘dining room’, again bordered by ornate benches, is separated off by a key reserved only for expensive crockery, unusual ornate items, boxes of henna paste and families all inviting grand sheep slaying gatherings.
Fatima brings us mint tea, as her husband tunes the tv into Russian news for some background noise. Questions pass back and forth discovering everything about each others customs, customs and when we will be married.
Cousins, nephews and friends join slowly as the normal midweek evening meal commences. Moroccan food aficionado, Fatima brings out two large tagine dishes one couscous with a range of different cuts of lamb, the other a beautifully presented potato, egg and tomato tagine. With family eating what looks like a black pudding of slow cooked jiblets and several strings of small intestine, no part of a Muslims precious sheep is snuffed at.
Apres food consists of my girlfriend having her hair cut by Fatima’s niece after a passing comment about not being able to find a female hairdresser in the medina, as I am entrenched in Fatimas’ son’s tour of his personally designed bedroom with over 1000 satellite channels and trouser press.
A completely unintrusive, welcoming and intruiging evening at what is the Moroccan hospitable mentality and something that can be experienced by all once you open your inhibitions and yes vocabulary to such an enchanting and giving population.
With bespoke and truly personal warmth of the managers/ staff of Marrakech Riads, your stay in the heart of the Medina will be one that is truly cultural and never forgotten.
The name El Mellah is used to indicate the walled districts that the Jewish population inhabited in the imperial cities and some rural areas of Morocco. The Marrakech Mella was adjoined to the palace of Bahia in the south during the Saadien dynasty as further protection for its valued inhabitants who made an important contribution to the local economy.
The present day walled Mella is a Muslim district inhabited by some of the poorest inhabitants of Marrakech with the vast majority of Jews having left for Israel during the 60s; leaving no more than about 200 or so of the original Marrakech Jewish community.
The Marrakshi Mellah however, as with other Moroccan cities, remains an area seeped in history, culture and distinct characters: the Jewish synagogue; the cemetery yard; the big spice stores; the jeweler’s shops, reflecting the favored trade of the Jewish people, and the numerous balconies which distinguish the area since traditional Muslim Riads rarely have external windows.
A short distance from this area of such deep and recent history lies the beautiful surroundings of traditional riad Dar Habiba. Located parallel to an elegantly local market street 5 minutes from Jemma El Fna Square, make your stay special here, in this beautifully interesting, slightly Jewish, city.
A harem of your beautiful women relaxing and natural, greets the Pacha of Marrakech at his grossly decorated palace in the heart of the Marrakshi medina. As the Pacha of Marrakech, most powerful man in Morocco and one of the richest in the world, Themi El Glaoui was able to command great respect and a vast, questionably sourced, wealth built up of investments in Moroccan produce and natural resources.
El Glaoui’s palace Dar El Bacha, not currently open to the public, is a feast of history and architecture that transports visitors into Themis’ world and love of pretty things. Guests at our Riad Papillon arrive at a taxi rank next to the palace. Above are pictures of Dar el Bacha in 2012 and in its heyday in the 1930’s.
Dar El Bacha, a facade, cross the neutral unprepossessing doors and you enter one of the most beautiful palaces of Marrakech! Do not wait for a guide, marvel in the great presentation and detail on the architecture of the palace, open your eyes and see the work of craftsmen who built this masterpiece only a century ago.
A long corridor is awaits gripped visitors. Moving your head to the ceiling you see the Zelliges multicolored cedar wood door painted with the natural pigments available (poppy, indigo and saffron), engraved with the common but highly symbolic star of Morocco.
We move towards the reception room where the Andalusian inspired ceiling rivals colors and forms: exposed cedar wood beams and coffers detailed with beautiful geometry and floral motifs. Tiles and Stucco carvings adorn the columns contours along with rigorous star polygons, Friezes diamond-shaped jewels or “Lion’s Claws,” braids and knots whose colors meet, continuously overlapping.
The seductive courtyard, which is the reception room and room for a grand harem, provides an atmosphere of calm and serenely planted palm trees, banana trees, roses and other colourful plants. By the patio, notice the intriguingly secret ironwork, door knockers and hinges. Opposite the reception hall is the office of the Pasha of Marrakech and open on occasions invite yourself in the hammam, even if the premises are undeveloped and basic by western eyes. Hammam consists of three small rooms (hot, warm and cold) and a relaxation room. The plaster ceiling is painted lace with small openings allowing light to pass just: but the blue, green and red ceiling reflect the ambient light.
Moroccan architecture is unique is many ways and well represented by this beautifully crafted palace seeped in recent history. Decor, ambiance and local techniques can be appreciated at the warming and welcoming and beautiful raids of Marrakech-Riad.
Time and events around “Dar El Bacha,” was difficult for the national unity of Morocco in the turbulent time of the French protectorate. The palace, built in the early twentieth century, was the residence of Thami El Glaoui who, for mutual benefit, brought decisive support to the French “resident” Lyautey based in Marrakech. As a result, in December 1950 El Glaoui was named the highly prestigious ‘Pasha of Marrakech’ by Sultan Mohammed V.
As an influential voice in French Morocco, El Glaoui asked Mohammed V (the Sultan) to no longer listen to the Moroccan nationalist party “Istiqlal” who were in favor of independence. However after an unfortunate misunderstanding involving the brother of Thami, the El Glaoui family showed itself insolent towards the sultan at a hearing and were forbidden from the palace grounds!
Great disharmony ensued from the rash action of the Sultan that in February 1953, El Glaoui met twenty Caïds (tax collectors) who signed a petition calling for the resignation of the Sultan. The 14th and 15th August, Mohammed V and Crown Prince Moulay Hassan were arrested and sent into exile in Madagascar.
Reform placed on Morocco by the increasingly disparate French fretting about their ungovernable colony, led to Mohammed V and Moulay Hassan’s return from exile, where he was officially recognised as the returned Sultan. Kneeling in submission to the true Sultan, Thami was forgiven for his past mistakes and died shortly after with much of his wealth confiscated by the state.
For a time the most powerful man in Morocco and one of the richest in the world, El Glaoui cast a imposing figure and influenced much of Morocco. History and culture runs deep in the streets of the Marrakshi medina. Our traditional Marrakech Riads are located in the heart of the old town, the intimate Riad Papillon is just a few steps from the Glaoui’s Palace in what is now the most fashionable part of the Medina boasting antique shops and restaurants in North Africa.
Riad Denise Masson played host to fest of Moroccan clay drums as the last day of the Islamic Achora festival, celebrating the freeing of Moses from the Egyptians by god and the day Noah left the Ark, rained out over the traditional open riad roof.
Entering the performers rehearsal room has a mellow tone, with men sitting round the walls telling stories, some playing light music on their Tamtam’s (drums) and smoke willowing out through the one small open door to the riad courtyard.
Across the courtyard from the stage, strange and almost uncomfortable off beat music traditional to Marrakech is followed by upbeat trance building into a mesmerising but relaxing cacophony of drums and brass castanets.
Atmosphere builds outside the warm up room as the next performers begin to heat the camel skins on their drums over a coal heater, which accentuates the short, loud drone noise that is obtained from whipping their hands onto the clay rim and striking the canvas with the tips of their fingers.
Enjoy local Marrakshi music all over La Medina to accompany your stay at the welcoming, beautiful and forever memorable environment of Marrakech Riads.
Walking down the street of Souikat market in the North West of the Marrakech Medina you see two men pulling an unwilling full sized ram towards you, it passes and you think nothing of it. An hour later, in the distance pipes and drums begin to play which gradually crescendo and from a distance you see a large procession of 50 people, fronted by a band dressed in traditional Marakkechi robes marching to an enchanting beat.
Engagement procession outside the charity project Henna Cafe
Representing the second step of a Moroccan engagement, lavish gifts are given from the groom’s family to the brides, along with the highly significant act of slaughtering a sheep, reminding Muslims of the sacrality that is life.
Milk, dates, henna and sugar are given to the female from the male in a earlier step of the engagement each representing a specific necessary characteristic of a long and healthy marriage.
With the wedding and subsequent celebrations sometimes lasting in excessof 25 days, Morocco has a vibrant charm but with roots very much grounded in humble traditions.
As a beautiful setting for an engagement, wedding or anniversary, riad Dar Habiba, with a private Hammam, offers you warming lasting memories in the heart of the Marrakech Medina. Just one of our outstanding Riads in Marrakech
We don’t often write about restaurants outside of Marrakech but are making this exception for quite possibly the most welcoming restaurant in the world!
In the words of Jason Sheftell of the New York Daily News “Certain New York scenes are not dead yet. There are still low-lit corners where the Madagascar ambassador can sit next to a 6-foot-4 transvestite draped in a red-sequined gown while a child star fresh from the Broadway stage can down French fries and chocolate milk near an aging actress sipping Kir Royale and chatting with an English innkeeper from Morocco.”
The hospitality of our friend Jean-Claude Baker is second to none and the venue a wonderful tribute to his adoptive mother Josephine, the worlds first real pop Star. We are currently completing a careful renovation of the Marrakech Riad where Josephine lived during the darkest days of the second wold war. She is fondly remembered in Marrakech for a warmth that is still to be found on 42nd street just a short walk from Time Square.
Birthday? Anniversary? Valentine? for that extra special occasion why not a glorious bunch of fresh flowers in your Riad hotel room?
Walking through the small streets of La Medina in Marrakech on the 10th day of Murahham (the Islamic calendar) you would be mistaken to think that a micro war has broken out, in fact, this is the exciting and friendly celebration of Achoura. Celebrated by all ages in a variety of ways around the Muslim world, this traditionally religious Jewish festival commemorates the day Noah left the ark and Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.
Celebrations rein out the narrow alleyways filled with focused smiling children and teenagers grouped together playing trancing music on their Taarija (clay drums). Water fights and small exploding bangers are met with amusement from shop keepers and pedestrians during the day then the night lights up with organised Chaala (flame) where families will sit round fires playing the Taarija sometimes till the early morning.
Whereas for Shia Muslims where this is a day of pain an loss at the rememberence of the martyrdom at Karbala (Iraq) of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, these Sunni Muslim coutnries celebrate unusually and triumphantly as in Agadir which sees egg fights and a man they call Boujloud wearing the skin of a goat slaughtered at Eid scaring children
In a religion which seems to celebrate collectively very little compared with others, this powerful 10th day of the new year brings together young and old, families and communities making La Medina a vibrant and exciting place to be.