Cristian

Cristian

With a passion for travel and particularly Morocco, I own and manage Sun Trails.

Friday, 04 October 2013 16:23

Dar Al Hossoun, Taroudant

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Chic retreat on the outskirts of Taroudant with prize- winning gardens.

Beyond the snow covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains, between Marrakech and the Sahara lies a quiet town - older, yet less famous than Marrakech. And that is how its residents like it. Away from the glam, flamboyance and millions of tourists of the red city, Taroudant is a quiet provincial town. Although quite a popular stop for those on a private tour across Morocco, it is a little far to reach on just a day trip from Marrakech. After a caleche ride around its 6 miles, 16 century ramparts and a visit to the silver jewelry souk, you haven't got much else to do. Or have you ? The surroundings are spectacular: the Altantic coast just 1 hour away, the Atlas Mountains nearby, a heaven for trekking, Sous Massa national park is a bird watcher's paradise. Fancy cooking bread with the locals or picking the olives in September ? All is within close distance. To not mention the all- year round amazing climate. It is perhaps what has seduced Ollivier Verra to settle here and create his dream of a guest house where his love for exotic plants and organic local architecture have given birth to Dar Al Hossoun, the luxury eco- lodge to stay at, this side of Marrakech. He was kind enough to share with us the drive  behind this untypical yet most accommodating guest house.

Sun Trails: How did you get the idea of creating Dar Al Hossoun ?

Olivier Verra: I guess by chance ... After 20 years of work in commerce and international relations, I felt I needed a change of pace, environment and career… Before I decided on something , I wanted to fulfill a dream : having one foot in Morocco, not going back to being a tourist traveling across Morocco as I had been for the ten years before.  I was looking for a small house for mostly to 

Dar Al Hossoun general view
dar al hossoun double room   entertain and host friends and family ... I discovered Dar Al Hossoun and I literally fell in love !
  Obviously, the property was much larger than what I needed for my private use and I soon realized that a place like this takes work, staff and had to be shared with people that were moved by those same things that moved me.
I had acquired a taste for hospitality and human relations and so I thought "why not a  

guest house ? ". There were only 6 or 7 of them in Taroudant when I took on the project. 

ST: . Tell us a little bit about your previous experience. Have you ever had a guesthouse before or worked or in the field ?

OV: I was both totally alien to the world of plants/ gardens and the hospitality and catering... I applied basic management practices and organization, I implemented what I loved about all the different places throughout my travels, I researched what

 dar al hossoun outside bhou  pool by night @ dar al hossoun
 dar al hossoun dining room

was available elsewhere and I obviously sought advice with hotel and restaurant managers and experienced travelers.

ST:Where did you travel in the world and what was the destination that has moved you the most ?

OV:My pre-guesthouse owner ‘career’ gave me the opportunity to travel quite extensively.
Many destinations have touched me in my travels : India, China, Australia, United States... Each time, I had the pleasure of the exchange with the local people, the discovery of local traditions and gastronomy. Luxury, for me, was authenticity, calm and being original ... And that is what we have tried to recreate with Dar Al 

   
  fireplace salon @ dar al hossoun Hossoun. 

ST: Why Taroudant ( and not another city) ?

OV: I must confess that Taroudant was not our first choice ... I first tried to set up in Meknes , another city that I love ... Perhaps because it is a city that has been forgotten for a long time. But, certainly, also because the area is very beautiful. It reminded me of my original Provence ( region in France) .
The climate is the same in Meknes as it is in Provence in fact ... Very nice winter days , the 

 dar al hossoun inside lounge 

sun ... But only 15 or 16 degrees in winter ! That wasn’t good enough for me as I wanted good temperatures all year round. That is why I decided to go ‘further south’ and found the sleeping beauty which is Taroudant, whom I had discovered 3 or 4 years before while on a trip with my good friend Antoine Bourseiller , a theatre director. We were then looking for a place to create a festival of theatre and other performing arts !

ST: What makes Dar Al Hossoun different of other guest houses in Morocco in your opinion ?

OV: Well, most of all its ambiance. The comfort is there, but not in excess or unnecessarily so, the authenticity of the building ( traditional adobe structure ) , the exceptional gardens who have been since classified among the 20 most beautiful contemporary gardens of Mediterranean... You feel at home very quickly ... Or staying at a friends place, but certainly not "at the hotel." We wanted above all to avoid that and I think we have managed pretty well.

 

dining room @ dar al hossoun  

ST: Tell us a little about your botanical garden. Was it easy to plant and grow these species ? Did you have any plant of your own or some plants had to be transported from other countries? 

OV: Our beautiful gardens host more than 900 varieties of plants from arid deserts and five continents ! Most plants have grown from seeds collected and brought to Morocco by Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières, the garden architects who created these gardens.

The gardens can be interpreted in a few different ways: you can see them as ‘mere ornamental gardens’ or as experimental gardens since we introduced many species unique in the world or at least in Africa. They can also be seen as preservation gardens since we preserve some endangered species or a few already extinct in the wilderness.
It is a huge responsibility and a permanent training, maintenance and support job, but it is a source of inspiration and pleasure if one is passionate about it.

ST: Do you use in your kitchen products from your own terroir ? Give us some examples. Is the cuisine strictly Moroccan or do you sometimes mix different countries? What is your favorite dish at Dar Al Hossoun ?

OV: This is true ... and let me start with the products of our gardens : cactus, cactus fruit or plants unknown in this part of the world ( Casimiroa from Mexico , dragon fruit ,papaya,etc. ). I am constantly searching for new recipes and I enjoy tasting whatever we prepare fresh. Obviously, some of the vegetables come from our own organic garden and the rest from small local producers.
Our kitchen is naturally Moroccan adapted to Western tastes (less sugar, less fat), but we do not impose couscous or tagine at every meal. We also have fun ‘twisting’ classical dishes from French or Mediterranean cuisine and adapt them with ingredients grown locally.
For example, we make homemade ravioli with beet leaves or minestrone with Taliouine saffron, camel stew... Lebanese, Greek or Egyptian menu are also regulars !

The dishes are sometimes inspired by friends or guests visiting and some have proven quite successful. The turkey fillet with apricot and orange sauce tagine is such an example.

 lounge @ dar al hossoun

ST: By its architecture and gardens Dar Al Hossoun is more than a guest house . You spoke of 'garden lodge' ? What does this mean for your guests ? What are the benefits of staying with you ?

OV: In fact, Dar al Hossoun is a REAL guest house ... in the sense that it was originally a private house that was then open to hosting guests passing through or staying...it is not a "hotel disguised as a guest house."

   
The house was built gradually, linking together several pavilions with contemporary lines, but built in pise ( adobe ) and following traditional methods.
All rooms give onto the outside and the gardens therefore, architecture and vegetation are related . We live “inside-out“ throughout the year and our guests sometimes can’t tell whether it is a house in a garden or a garden in a house!
What people staying with us are saying they enjoy the most , beyond the food or 
tadelakt bathroom @ dar al hossoun  
 outside tables at dar al hossoun

the beauty of the place is the atmosphere. "It feels like visiting friends , not a hotel " is what we hear most often .

ST: In the rooms / suites you are trying to maintain an 'organic' architecture / design while providing a level of comfort and high end finishes. How did you manage ?
OV: In fact , our goal was to provide everything that can be practical and can make a stay here more enjoyable... but more importantly, we wanted to avoid the superfluous load decor and avoid the glitz and bling bling. This is what gives the place its zen ambiance.

ST: The rumor is some of your neighbors in the small palm grove of Taroudant are celebrities: shahs, princes, etc. Is it true ?

OV: Yes, that’s right... Some of them had their " Marrakech period " and got quickly exhausted: too many tourists, too much noise and pollution, too commercial, too " Paris ", too expensive... we heard all sorts !
Many of those who chose Morocco to spend all or part of the year because they like the "real" Morocco have opted for Taroudant area: the former Empress Farah of Iran is our neighbor and so are Belgian royalty and designers, collectors and art dealers or even TV personalities and politicians... The Chiracs also come on holidays regularly.

  double room at dar al hossoun

ST: What are the attractions of the city and surroundings of Taroudant in your opionion ? If a person visits Taroudant, what is a thing not to miss ?

OV: I’m known for saying that Taroudant is not a city to visit, but definitely a city to live. Even for a...few hours or days ! It’s true, besides the 9 km adobe walls , there are no outstanding monuments or exceptional gardens... but the atmosphere of this small provincial town and souks is worth spending a few hours around it.

  

The real attraction in Taroudant is the surroundings: the countryside, the Anti-Atlas to the South, the High Atlas to the north. We organize day trips to discover the Berber mountain villages, lunches or dinners within exceptional natural sites. There is really plenty to do for several days... but our hosts sometimes have trouble leaving the house to see what goes on outside. And then, years after, they come back to ... see everything else !

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now ?

  pool by day @ dar al hossoun
  garden by bathroom @ dar al hossoun   48845
suite @ dar al hossoun

OV: Probably still at Dar al Hossoun !
This is actually our workplace, but we are not fully aware of that: life is sweeter and the pace is slower here. The guests we receive are always friendly and make up for the otherwise busy social life we used to have back in Europe.

ST: What is your favorite place in Morocco (outside Dar Al Hossoun ) ?

OV: I have a real soft spot for places still ignored by mass tourism... natural sites as Tafraoute. This is another gem that can be discovered and explored on a day trip from Dar Al Hossoun. Then, I really like the mountains and the desert... in Morocco we have it all !

Dar Al Hossoun is currently offered on our 'Caravans Dust' tour and other tailor- made tours in the Privilege level option of accommodation. 

© Sun Trails. All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Translated from French by C. Martinus.  

Sunday, 01 September 2013 00:00

Favorites

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These have been our favorite partners along the years, distinguished by the constance of their service and attention to detail.

Azalai Desert Lodge - LE LUXE at the foot of the Sahara dunes

Kasbah Ellouze - the most beautiful kasbah next to Ait Benhaddou - French & Moroccan cuisine

Education for all Morocco - help girls from villages in Morocco continue their education

Riad La Parenthese - hospitality reinvented in a chic riad in Marrakech

For the best off- the- beaten- track experiences around the world, check out the adventure travel blog Wild Junket

Sunday, 01 September 2013 00:00

Terms and conditions

Reservations

By booking a tour with Sun Trails (referred to as "we" or "us" in the paragraphs below ) you will be accepting these conditions on behalf of yourself and all other persons using our services pursuant to a booking made by you ( referred to as ‘you’ in the paragraphs below) .

Booking and Payment

Once you agree on the final itinerary and price, we will present you with a detailed itinerary and  payment details. The booking is confirmed only once we have received your deposit. Please note we have a limited number of drivers and therefore can not guarantee your booking before the payment of the deposit, as the number of concurring enquiries at any given time can be greater than the number of available drivers. A deposit of 50 % of the total value of the tour is required at the time of booking to guarantee your booking. The balance should be paid no later than the first day of your tour.

We accept payments by cash, bank transfer and PayPal/credit card. Please note that a surcharge of 3 % applies for all payments through PayPal/credit card. It is possible to pay via credit/ debit card via PayPal, if you don't have an account with them. 

Changes to your booking

In the unlikely event that you wish to change your booking once the deposit paid please contact us at your earliest convenience by email. We will do our best to make amendments with no additional charges. However, that is subject to your travel dates and therefore we cannot guarantee it is always possible. If amendments cannot be made to your booking, you have the choice of proceeding with your holidays originally booked or canceling and paying the cancellation charges as stated below.

Cancellation Policy

Should you decide to cancel your booking more than 90 before the first day of your tour, we shall refund your deposit*. Should you decide to cancel less than 90 days before the first day of the tour we will keep your deposit. If you need to cancel your booking, please contact us by email at your earliest convenience. Considering the pandemic situation, we recommend you purchase additional travel insurance. 

Accommodation provided

Your final detailed day to day itinerary will include the name of accommodation at each stop. However, we cannot guarantee that you will be booked accommodation in exactly all the properties mentioned, especially if booking late or if your tour takes place during special times of year ( high season, Ramadan, summer holidays). Should we accommodate you elsewhere, we guarantee that the accommodation will be of at least the same standard and that you will be notified of the change.

Unforeseen Circumstances

We might have to cancel your private tour due to unforeseen circumstances. In that case we will refund any sum paid by you to us. Unforeseen circumstances include: natural or nuclear disaster, war or threat of war, riot, terrorist, adverse weather conditions, etc.

Special Requests

Any special requirements that are relevant to your booking (dietary, medical, wheelchair assistance or others) should be provided to us before you book, in writing. We will pass the information onto our drivers and suppliers to ensure that these requirements are catered for.

Insurance

All our tours are covered by transport insurance. You are therefore covered in the unlikely event of an accident provided you find yourself inside the vehicle at the time of the accident. Additionally, the hotels where you will be staying are also insured, to the best of our knowledge. However, we strongly advise you to carry additional travel insurance in case of illness, cancellation, baggage lost, delays, etc.

Responsibility

We accept liability should any part of your travel arrangements not be as described when you made your booking and/or not be of a reasonable standard. We will pay reasonable compensation (limited to maximum of the amount paid to us for that portion of the travel arrangements) unless there has been no fault on our part or part of our suppliers.

Travel Documents

You are responsible for ensuring the possession of valid required travel documents. Your passport must be valid for 6 months prior entering the country. It is the sole responsibility of the tour participant to ensure that all passport and visa requirements are met prior to departure.

Complaints

In the unlikely event that you found reason to file a complaint, please immediately contact your driver. He will do his utmost to solve the issue immediately. If you find that your designated driver is not qualified to solve the issue encountered, please contact our offices by phone or email. Please understand that it is much more convenient for both sides to have complaints dealt with before leaving Morocco.

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* The deposit is not refunded in the following situations: a) for a booking where more than 4 adults are travelling together; b) if the accommodation booked is with our Divine range; c) if the booking is for a high season period ( Easter or New Years Eve holidays). 

Friday, 02 August 2013 00:00

Marrakech to Fez via Sahara (4 days)

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A private tour from Marrakech to Fez via Sahara desert.

Visiting Morocco and short on time ? Then spend one night in the Sahara desert and uncover the two most essential imperial cities in Morocco. This is also ideal for those of you who fly into Marrakech and fly out of Fez ( or vice versa). The journey can be done over 2 nights and 3 days but we recommend taking at least 3 nights and 4 days so you can enjoy all there is to do and see along the way.

DAY 1: Marrakech - Tizi n Test - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou ( 4 hour drive).

souk in marrakechLeaving Marrakech behind, beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeed among oak trees, walnut groves and oleander thickets. Our bespoke Morocco tour follows the tight curves before culminating at the spectacular Tizi N Tichka pass, at 2260 meters high. Once over the pass a totally different landscape is unveiled: the lunar landscape of the Anti Atlas and the vast plateau beyond it.

Just after the pass, we leave the main road and find ourselves on the ancient route caravans used to bring the much sought- after goods at the court of the Sultan. What used to be Pasha Glaoui's main residence at Telouettelouet kasbah interior unveils, standing as a testimony to the grandeur and wealth of this tenacious man, that rose to importance at the turn of the century and overshadowed the sultan himself for the best part of the first half of it until Morocco's independence in 1956. Although he used to spend most of his time in Marrakech, where he was said to have had tea with W. Churchill and started the first bus company in Morocco, this palace was his main residence at the beginning of last century. A visit is recommended if only to marvel at the extravagance of this modern-day dynasty and the contrast between the derelict exterior and the opulent interior .

Leaving Telouet behind, our trip crosses spaghetti western settings before the route joins the canyon. The river is shinning on the bottom of it and for the next hour or so, villages succeed each other in the green patches bordering the river each dominated by their derelict Kasbah. The tour follows the green serpent of palm trees and on the other side of the valley, carved into the wall , caverns are still being used for keeping the stock or grains over the winter by the semi nomadic populations of the area. Just before Ait Benhaddou, several local Kasbahs have been turned into boutique hotels and that is where we will spend the first night. The UNESCO world site of Ait Benhaddoukasbah ait benhaddou can be visited in the evening or early next day. In the meantime, depending on the time available and your mood, you are free to enjoy the pool ( heated in the winter), the terrace with its incredible views or have a walk in the gardens by the river among almond and olive trees. For those more intrepid, a visit to the Berber granary and the troglodyte caves by camel or foot and/or cooking bread with the locals in the nearby village stove can be arranged. 

The first thing that strikes you when approaching Ait Bennhadou is the granary standing on the top of the mountain. It is by far the best preserved and most impressive Kasbah standing as one of the few UNESCO world sites of Morocco. You might find it familiar if you watched ‘Gladiator’, ‘Alexander’ or ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, having served as background for all these pictures. Crossing the ait benhaddou kasbah hide and seekbridge over the river, you will immerse yourself in the alleys bordered by a few craft shops. Imagine a biblical village built on the side of a mountain, all its adobe houses communicating with each other, creating an intricate adobe honey comb, where the sunlight hardly filters through. You can reach the peak through various of its narrow stone paved alleys, a hide- and- seek paradise. From the granary on the top, you have the view on the whole village underneath and behind, the river with its palm groves and gardens making its way through barren mountains.

DAY 2: Ait Benhaddou - Ouarzazate - Skoura - Dades ( 3 hour drive).

Half an hour drive from Ait Benhaddou, our tailor made Morocco tour reaches Ouarzazate, built in the 1920’s by the French troops as a garrison to control the area. Kasbah Taourirt, one of the residences of the famous Glaoui dynasty and previously one of the largest Kasbahs of the south can be visited. For those of you who are interested, a visit to the impressive Atlas Film Studios can be arranged, where lately, episodes of Game of Thrones series have been shot.

Leaving Ouarzazate our 4x4 Morocco tour reaches the palm grove of Skoura, a huge fertile patch of green stretching ahead into the horizon. Here,  the locals perpetuate the same way of life as the generations before them have done for centuries. Apalmgrove south of morocco walk in the palm grove with a local guide is highly recommended where you can see how the locals organise the ingenious distribution of water through kettaras and seguias and the local craftsmen shape their colourful potteries. A 17th century Kasbah can also be visited where the locals will be delighted to show you how olives are grinded to produce the precious oil. Fire, water, earth and dye are what make most of things here.  On Friday afternoon, when the prayer is over, the caid comes out from the mosque and spreads a carpet on the grass. The villagers then succeed themselves and present their queries. Most of them are resolved on site. Time is suspended here indeed. 

On the road again, we can have a break on the shores of Mansour Eddhabi lake. Flamingoes and spoonbills stalk about the water on stilleto legs. Next, our trip reaches Kelaa des Mgouna, famous for its rose- derived products industry. The most looked after product is eau de rose and two factories in the area distil and export the product. The roses are picked by women before the sunrise and the work is hard, as it takes 10 tonnes of petals to produce 2 to 3 litres of rose oil. Further on we reach

gorges of DadesBoulmane de Dades, famous for its bird- rich Vallee des Oiseaux (Bird Valley) and the starting point to exploring the spectacular Dades valley, a lush carpet set against the massive rocks. We will stop for dinner and accommodation over night in a charming Kasbah in the area.

DAY 3: Dades Gorge - Tinerir - Todra Gorges - Rissani - Merzouga - Erg Chebbi ( 4 hour drive).

After breakfast our first stop is Tinerhir (Tinghir), with its extensive palm grove, the Ksours built into the rocky hills above it and its mysterious decaying Jewish ksour. No more than a mountain village, set at 1300 meters berber adobe village and palmgrovealtitude, it has been for generations a stop for nomadic Berber tribes travelling from the mountains north of it towards the desert during the winter months. A rather inconspicuos hidden gem is the 19th century adobe mosque nestled within the old crumbling ksour, a heaven for photography enthusiasts.

The most spectacular ( and touristy) gorges of Morocco, Todra Gorges , lie only 15 km from Tinerhir, presenting an arresting spectacle with its crystal clear river emerging from it, its huge walls changing colour to magical effect as the day unfolds. Its 300 meters ( 1000 feet ) high walls are home to more than 150 bolted routes and at any time of day you can catch a glimpse of someone rock climbing his way up the gigantic walls.

Before reaching Merzouga, our boutique Morocco tour passes Erfoud and Rissani. In Erfoud we can stop for a visit at on the road to the SaharaMusee des Oasis. Rissani used to serve as last stop on the great caravan routes south and gold and slave auctions were taking place here as late as 1800’s. It is also from here that the Alaoui dynasty, ruling Morocco nowadays launched its bid for power centuries ago. If you have time, a visit to well preserved medieval ksour ( fortified village) is recommended as well as visiting the local souk.

The last village before the dunes is Merzouga, and behind it lie some of the highest dunes of the Sahara in Morocco, Erg Chebbi. Once in Merzouga, you will freshen up/ shower before taking the camel ride to the desert camp. With all sahara desert dunes at erg chebbithe expectations building up along the road still nothing quite prepares you to the spectacle stretching in front of your eyes from the top of the dunes. For as far as you can see, there is nothing but sand, an ocean of it as set to conquer everything that stands in its way. All worldly matters loose sense and the feeling of peace is overwhelming... 

DAY 4: Merzouga - Errachidia - Midelt - Ifrane - Fez ( 7 hour drive).

Try to wake up early enough to see the sunrise, there is nothing quite like it...  After breakfast, our Marrakech to Fez tour reaches Errachidia, not much more than a former French Foreign Legion outpost which most likely had to do something with an area notorious for raids upon caravans by the Nomad Berber tribes. At Midelt, the greater peaks of Atlas Mountains appear through the haze, culminating at 3700 meters high with Djebel Ayachi. The drama of the site is the most compelling reason to stop over, for berber woman working in the fieldthe town itself offers little more than an apple festival in October and some superb Middle Atlas carpets from the local tribes.

Once our trip reaches Azrou ('rock' in local Berber language), the landscape is completely different - lush with the surrounding lakes and cedar forrests which also shelter several troupes of Barbary apes that can easily be spotted around the area of the legendary 800 years old Gouraud cedar. This is equally interesting for bird lovers as the forrests also shelter sanddpipers, redshanks, avocets, warblers and other exotic bird species.

Further on Ifrane, a colonial alpine resort built by the French in 1929. tanneries in FezWith its alpine chalets, trimmed gardens, leafy park surrounding a mountain fed lake , you could almost be in … Switzerland. Past Ifrane, we start our descent on Fez and in broadlight you may catch a glimpse of the world's oldest still standing medieval old town in the distance. Our 4 day tour of Morocco concludes with reaching Fez in late afternoon/ early evening.

Ready to create your own unique Morrocco tour? Get in touch with our on- the- ground team in Morocco and we’ll help you shape your perfect Morocco travel experience. 

SHORT ITINERARY AND RATES

WHY SHOULD YOU BOOK WITH US

# We are based in Morocco since 2006 and no, we don’t work from home :). We scout for the most unique sites & local experiences all year round. We present these on our blogFacebook and Instagram  pages. And only a travel agent based in Morocco can keep you up to date with latest travel restrictions within Morocco or how to get the fastest PCR test;

# We anonymously test, hand- pick and continuously update the best boutique and luxury hotels, Riads , eco lodges and Kasbahs across Morocco;

# We strive to bring you most authentic experiences. Some of them are unique: private flight to the Sahara; visit of a medina with a local university teacher; mechoui with a nomad family;

# 1 percent of our receipts go towards local projects, like help educate girls from rural Morocco or restoring the agadirs of southern Morocco;

# we accept payments by credit card, PayPal, bank transfer and, in the near future, alternative coins;

# we are on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, before and during your tour, by email, phone or Skype/ Zoom.

Ready to create your unique Morocco tour? Get in touch here with our on- the- ground team in Morocco.