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

Monday, 22 April 2019 00:00

Babouche Making in Marrakech

Making your own babouches in the medina of Marrakech ?

With a local crafts master ? Yes, you can. Whenever we get the chance we like to immerse ourselves in the local culture here. Vernacular experiences. And Marrakech, the place we call home since 2006 offers quite a few choices for that, despite the explosion of tourism of the last decade. After having cooked a tagine and bargained for spices and vegetables in the medina, crafted pottery in tadelakt and chipped the patterns of Moroccan zellij, we heard that someone could actually teach you how to make a babouche. You know, the sharp- pointed leather slippers, the ubiquitous Arab world accessory. Almost everybody ends up buying a pair of them after touring Morocco. But making a pair ? We wanted to see if we've got what it takes...

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We arrived at the shop one busy afternoon in November. The medina of Marrakech swarmed with motorbikes, pedestrians, donkeys, carts and cats. Rachid, the master maalem ( craftsman) was sitting comfortably beyond his desk in the back of a tiny shop whose walls were entirely furnished with hand- made shoes of all shapes, forms and styles. Sheets of raw leather of different colours and textures were piling up in a corner. After exchanging greetings, we had a quick introduction to the different techniques and a description of how the crafts class was about to unfold. First, the basics: 1) choose a size inferior to the one you have. For instance, if a 9, choose 8.5 ( if 43 choose 42). 2) you’ll craft the babouche from scratch, except for the stitching (if you want to factor that part in, add another hour and a half to the actual class).

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From beyond the counter, Youssef hauled a few sheets of raw leather in very exotic colors. We were supposed to choose each a color of our future leather slippers. Hard choice... Saffron yellow, turquoise, lilac move, red brown, purple, shiny black were just a few of the options on dispaly. I finally decided for coffee brown while Leila, my enthusiast colleague, went for a sort of reddish brown.

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Before making our choice, the master craftsman pointed out that traditionally men in Morocco wear yellow or black whereas Moroccan women have a choice of any colour and quite a few are embroidered. Tourism drove up considerably the demand as well as the fabric type and so nowadays one can spot in the souks of the red city anything from blue- jean or zebra print babouches. Don't trick yourself in believing that a Moroccan would ever wear such deviations from the norm… It was time to get our hands to work ! We took possession of the pattern and proceeded to draw the shape of it on the leather sheet we had each selected. 

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Then it was time for the second stage: the gluing. After applying generous layers of special glue, we pasted the parts together under the undivided attention of our master maalem. Soles slashed out, foam layer was rubbed in so that excessive walking wouldn’t be harsh on our feet.

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Then, it was time to activate our muscles. The mallet in our hands, the different leather garments were bashed together. The shapes were handed to Youssef, who started stitching the garment to the soles, while we indulged in the ubiquitous pleasure of having a Moroccan tea and cookies. After all, it was getting near to 5 PM.

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When finished with our tea, we were surprised to find that our soon-to-become-babouches resembled shoes reminiscing of what peasants used to wear in Europe centuries ago. Or perhaps, the Eskimos. Never mind, they sure didn’t look like a leather slipper that you’d wear around the house. Where’s the trick, I thought. Well, there was one.

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That was indeed the babouche, except it had to be turned inside out. And so we did. Turn it inside out. In the process, I was largely helped by a wooden stick. The trick is: you turn the shoe inside out using your hands as much as you can. Which is about 3 inches. Then you shove the stick inside the pocket thus created and you pull. And pull. At first, you are afraid that the stitches will give up from so much pulling. But they won’t. Eventually, you end up with an almost perfect babouche. And I think we did. I mean, have a look at the pictures and judge.

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Please note that such a class would take about 3- 4 hours for a whole class, tea time included. Stitching will be taken care of by the master craftsman. Babouche - making class is offered as a choice of activities while on one of our bespoke Morocco tours

© Sun Trails 2019. 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.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019 00:00

Riad Laaroussa, Fes


Riad Laaroussa, our guests' favorite riad in Fes- the interview.

I first passed the doorstep of Riad Laaroussa in 2013 on the occasion of Fes World Sacred Music Festival. I immediately felt compelled by the proportions and objects. The ground floor rooms had 7 meter high ceilings. And the courtyard could have accommodated a generous pool but the owner decided to maintain its fountain and its citrus gardens. Soon after that visit, we sent our first guests there as Fes was part of their 7 day travel around Morocco. And over the years, the feedback of our guests only got more and more positive. When I meet them at their riad at the end of their private tour of Morocco to talk about their trip, more often than not, they rate their stay at Riad Laaroussa as the best throughout their tour. So then, what is that makes Riad Laaroussa unique ? For me, it goes beyond things you can touch. It's ultimately the staff. Although Moroccan hospitality and charm is almost a given when staying in a riad in Morocco, the personnel here feel like they're all a big family. And most of them have been around since the opening. The owners, Fred ( French) and Cathy ( American), have decided from the beginning to do things differently. How so ? Well, that's what we came to Fes to find out. It was a chilly day in March and spring seemed to have second thoughts. So Leila and I sat down with Fred and had a chat about it. 

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Sun Trails: When did you open the Riad and how did that come about ?
Fred: In 2003 I visited Fes with my father and I fell in love with the old town. I had hired a local guide and when he showed me inside some of the old palaces of Fes, I was smitten. At that point, I had no idea that I would some day buy an old house, open a hotel and so on. But it was then that the seed started to grow and some months later I got back and thought of purchasing an old house and renovate it, but without any commercial use in mind. 

ST: But had you visited another city in Morocco by then ?
F: I was born in Casablanca and know pretty well Morocco. I had visited also Marrakech many times, but although I love Marrakech for a thousand reasons, I never had this coup de coeur that I felt in Fes. In Fes, I had fallen for this medieval ambiance that somehow connected with me and I felt something that I can’t retrieve in the modern world.

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ST: Perhaps also because Fes is really the only medina in Morocco where one travels in time.
F: Indeed, and even after 15 years, when I walk down the streets with my children, that magic still operates.

ST: So you bought an old house. How did you think of making a riad out of it?
F: Well, in the beginning, we just had a few parties and a good time. But after a while, I found myself with a big house on my hands, most of the time empty. There were already a few riads open in Fes. So I thought, why not open a guest house ? And so I started renovating the house so as to be able to welcome guests. I thought I was going to hire a manager, but every time I returned to see how works were progressing, I was sad to leave. I was 40 and thought it’s perhaps the right moment to change my life around.

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ST: So the guest house opened in 2006 ?
F: Yes.

ST: What was the house before ?
F: A family house left abandoned. Only 2 old sisters lived in one of the rooms downstairs.
The last proprietor were merchants in hlyia ( a Moroccan delicacy made of salty preserved meat ). The present kitchen is where they used to slaughter the animals and turn the meat into hlyia. The house itself dates back to at least 17th century. We’ve done a few researches and found some documents. We know also for example that by the beginning of 19th century it was left in ruin and bought by a rich merchant that restored it. It was also a koranic school at some point in time. Every other year, there’s an old man knocking at the door and taking a visit. He reminisces of how he grew up in this or that particular room.

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ST: How did Fes change since you are here ?
F: I don’t think that the medina has changed much. Although the number of riads has grown from a dozen back in the day to around 300 nowadays, I don’t think that the medina has changed much. Of course many years ago, we weren’t confronted to groups of tourists following their tour leader through the souks, but overall things are the same.

ST: What is that makes Fes unique ?
F: Its authenticity. There are still people living in this medina like they used to for generations. And the community spirit. People greet each other. Take their time. Of course, I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I live in my own cocoon. I’m wealthier than the average man and it’s easy for me to approach people, but nevertheless I love being part of it all. The modern world hasn’t quite crept in yet.

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ST: Well yes, if you compare it to Marrakech where it’s harder and harder to find a community spirit inside the medina, in Fes this balance hasn’t yet been tipped over, even if many foreigners own a house here.
F: I agree.

ST: Especially more nowadays when the flag of sustainability is often waved, Fes is an example of how foreign investment doesn’t necessarily have to involve a bastardization of local culture.
F: Everybody in the medina is happy that their business is thriving -there's no denying it, but what’s more important is that its authentic way of life endures. I am originally from those beautiful villages south of France. They are magnificent, yet uninhabited. So, where is the soul of things ? I'm not making any judgement. But what’s important for me is that my children can play in the street. That I can greet my barber. Chit-chat to the newspaper man. I feel part of a community. Surrounded.

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ST: I agree, it’s the same when I travel to Granada, my favorite city in Europe. The old town there, with its carmens, which are very similar to riads in Morocco, is a big open air museum. Yet, there are no children in the streets taking the bread to the local oven early in the morning.
F: Or the lady of the house picking up the bread in the afternoon. And if it’s not her son fetching the bread, the neighbor will. And the oven master will know whose bread it is by the motifs on the towel. This is something that touches me. And it reassures me.

ST: What’s there to do in the surroundings of Fes ?
F: The two day trips that are ubiquitous are: 1) Meknes and Volubilis. The Roman ruins of Volubilis are from second century and standing them on the hill overlooking, one can only wonder of how all had been invented already back then. Meknes is worth for its monuments, especially the Royal granaries where 2000 horses used to be kept. 2) Middle Atlas and the cedar forests. It’s a pity that there are no trekking routes signposted, because this is a trekker paradise. And I know so because I am one. Something that’s not so developed in Fes, is to trek or bike just beneath Mont Zalagh. A trek there with a picnic would be a great way to spend half a day.

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ST: It’s funny you should say that because we are seriously considering hooking up mountain bikes on our 4x4’s so guests can use them whenever they feel like it throughout their bespoke trip around Morocco.
F: That’s a great idea.

ST: With 4 children, how do you manage to find that balance between the guest house and a family life ? 
F: What it was clear for me from the beginning was that we wanted our staff to be autonomous. It’s not in my character to wish to control everyone and do regular checks. There have been deceptions, and there should be, but we’ve started over. We've tried harder. And I think that nowadays we can afford to not be present most of the time. There’s Thierry, my brother in law, and Raja, our manager that deal with front office and back office operations. Which allows us to not be sucked in by the day- to- day operations. Except when Cristian from Sun Trails asks us to do a silly interview, for the CNN...

ST: I'm not sure about the CNN... But congratulations on achieving that. I don’t know many hotel owners that can say the same.
F: I changed lifestyle 15 years ago. I was in investment banking, spending my life running between world capitals thinking I was more important than anyone else around me. I wasn’t going to change life and become a slave again to some cash - and - carry. Because you can look at it like that: you cash in from your clients and cash out to your suppliers. But I accept that because of the freedom that comes with our choice of lifestyle, we may be loosing some pennies here and there. I can live with that.

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ST: Which brings me to my next question: how come the team here is so solid ?
F: By yielding them autonomy and responsibility. And then I believe we all have a mind of our own, and so anyone can come up with a great idea. They are well paid ( compared to the average pay in Morocco), there are extra bonuses. It costs much less to have employees here than in Europe, there’s no denying. I am ashamed that some French people can come here, open a business, pay a minimal Moroccan wage to his employees and then complain that his expectations are not met. I am profoundly revolted. When your employee is sick, you have an obligation to look after him or her. So, naturally, the staff feels looked after and so they stay loyal. We took our staff on holidays to Paris. To Instanbul.

ST: What makes Riad Laaroussa unique ? Besides its 7 meter ceiling rooms, great decorations, stunning views and delicious cuisine. I meet most of the guests on our private tour of Morocco and ask them for feedback. This is our guests’ favorite.
F: So what do they say ? Why is it so ?

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ST: Service.
F: That’s right. Just like I said. When you take care of your staff, you get so much in return. Look at Badia. Here she found a place. No one casts judgments at Riad Laaroussa. Because she’s a woman. Or because she’s poor. And it is because she feels loved that she is able to express herself. And that built her self- confidence. And, in the process, she taught herself English, among other things.

ST: What are the latest trends in terms of tourism in Fes ?
F: The Chinese, of course. We don’t get many of them, as they come in groups. We always get a lot of English speaking clientele and I think that reflects Fes as a whole. I have the impression that more English speaking people visit Fes than Marrakech.

ST: As a percentage, I would agree. What are your plans for the future ?
F: Be happy. Who cares about the rest ?.. No, joke apart, we are looking into perhaps expanding the Riad and accommodate a few more rooms. We may be romantics, but I hate saying no to room enquiries. Maybe the spa also, expand it. The cuisine, we’d like to be able to propose something different if guests had too many tagines.

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Accommodation at Riad Laaroussa is currently being offered on our bespoke tours of Morocco with our Privilege range.

© Sun Trails 2019. 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.

Friday, 06 July 2018 00:00

Lma Lodge Skoura

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The cosiest kasbah accommodation in Skoura's palmgrove ?

Most likely. In only few years, this guest house in the palm grove of Skoura, has become a reference. Recently, previous guests have booked two years in advance, booking the whole place for them and their group of friends. The recipe for this success ? Instead of one single ingredient, there are a few: a dedicated, English speaking- team, always discreet but always on hand. A passionate owner, Vanessa, for whom nothing is too much when it comes to making her guests happy. An architecture that strays away from the kasbah/ Berber/ pise/ wood beans architecture and favours modern and the profusion of light, above all. A different Moroccan cuisine ( think chicken tagine with figues and almonds, goat cheese salads), using the local ingredients grown in the gardens. Very comfortable beds and bed linen, wall mounted radiators and wide windows inside. Vast gardens with private lounges for everyone, complemented by a heated pool, outside. And children are welcome - there's walks in the palm grove they can take with the resident horse and mule. We sat down with Vanessa one evening in June and talked about it. 

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Sun Trails: Why Morocco?
Vanessa: At the time I was a guide for Club Med. I started working in Morocco in 1998 in Tangier. Then I got transferred to Ouarzazate in 1999, and after that to Marrakesh. But it was in Ouarzazate that I had the crush. It seemed like the ideal place to organize day trips around. In just one hour, one could be in the Atlas mountains or next to an oasis, or even in Dades Gorges. At first it wasn't easy, since I did not speak Arabic and I was a young non-Muslim woman. It was the kindness of the locals and the drivers that coached me, that allowed me to go beyond all that and trully integrate. I then went back to Martinique, then to Miami but I always dreamt of returning to Ouarzazate some day. One day, I met Xavier, that was to later become my husband, and I told him I'd like to go back to Morocco, but to Ouarzazate and nowhere else. 

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ST: At the time, what was the most popular day trip from Ouarzazate?
Vanessa: Hmm. It was the loop of Telouet and Ait Benhaddou, at that time still an off road track. You must have known it. During those years, big travel agencies lost several of their 4x4's on this track. The valley of Ounila remains incredible by its beauty even today, after all the progress. But at the time I used my spare time to trek around these lost off- the- beaten track regions, spend time with the locals. If you had two days to spear for a tour, the trip to be done was to the dunes of Erg Chigaga. My first memory of Ouarzazate after arriving late at night: I woke up and saw the morning mist rise on the Kasbah of Taourirt. It had such an impact on me.

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ST: So, Ouarzazate at all costs?
Vanessa: Yes. At first, for Xavier it was really a challenge. The climate here is very different from Toulouse in France. You know, Ouarzazate, there is nothing happening - it's a very quiet provincial town. But at the same time, it's a clean, secure, unpolluted city. Of course, if you're into exhibitions, theatre, cinema, that kind of social life, there is nothing, but me and my family, our priority is walking, cycling and hiking every day.

ST: How did you manage to become part of the community?
Vanessa: In the beginning, the locals feared that we were going to alter their lifestyle. The terrain here was a stopping place for caravans. Then it became the playground where the young people of the village came to play football, and climb in the trees. People in the village were scared at the thought that we might settle here and open a nightclub, there will be alcohol, loud music, etc. The fact that we arrived with just enough to purchase the land and that the construction took 5 years (and we put our hands into it) allowed the community to understand that we really wanted to belong here. We hadn't planned in the beginning to have a 7 bedroom bed and breakfast. The project sort of grew up on its own. The one thing I had clear  in my head: I wanted a place with a lot of light.

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ST: Jardins de Skoura is a reference.
Vanessa: Indeed, and I think there isn't a more typical and comfortable guest house in the palm grove of Skoura. But we had in mind something different, something modern. We did not want to build another kasbah or Berber- influenced structure.

ST: LMa Lodge reminds me a bit of Azalai Lodge in Zagora.
Vanessa: Indeed, Bouchaib ( the owner of AL) has come several times to stay with us and we adore Azalai Lodge.

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ST: How did you go about recruiting and training the staff here?
Vanessa: The construction of the house took 4 and a half years so we had the time to recruit well. For example, at the beginning I wanted to have a man responsible for the household and cleaning. Given the structure of the house, I deemed that the household is a difficult task and not suitable for a woman. So one of the workers came to see us and offered to take on this task. It was someone who cared for both his parents who were old so I knew he was going to be someone conscientious. Abdelrani, who provides customer service during the day, I knew him from Club Med in Ouarzazate. Soufiane is really maktoub (destiny). All the way in the beginning, we hadn't anticipated the guest house would take off so fast. So, in no time, it had become my golden prison. One day I almost broke down, exhausted by the work that had taken up all my time and I could not see my children anymore. The same evening, Soufiane knocked on our gate and introduced himself and told me that he wanted to work for us. As he spoke very good English and had a very good experience, he fitted in right away. It allowed me to become a mother again and to have time for my family.

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ST: There is a lot of talk today about sustainable tourism. Personally, I think Skoura is an example of how a region and its people can benefit from tourism, without losing its culture and identity. Do you agree with me that maybe due to tourism, people in the area do not need to migrate to the big cities to earn a living, which is sadly happening in other parts of Morocco?
Vanessa: Completely. At first, this was almost a ghost village. People have come back and they are now able to take care of their families while working in the area. They took up credits. Look how many new motobikes you see riding around ... Well, tourism is a big part of it. Besides, the negative aspects of tourism are not here. If you attend the souk ( market) of Skoura, you do not get harassed every 3 minutes , as you would in Marrakech. I would even say things are better than at the time when I first arrived in Ouarzazate, when tourists were followed on motorcycle by false guides.

ST: Milo and Charlie, your children, have spent their whole lives in Skoura. How do you find time for your children and also for LMa Lodge?
Vanessa: This is my challenge for the following year. To become a full-time mother again, to spend more time with them. Holding a guest house is an incredible job and I can't be more grateful: we meet people from all over the world. Every day is different and very rewarding. The downside is that we can not get off work.

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ST: You could always consider adding more rooms. There is room enough and you got plenty of demand...
Vanessa: Maybe. But what I want to privilege is space and intimacy. As it is, the garden accommodates so many small corners that even with full occupancy and families with children in all suites, everyone will find space to have their own private corner in the garden. Our success is also due to the garden and implicitly to the space that comes with it. We would rather add a hammam - we also have an excellent masseuse, so that people who come back can say: oh look, they added a few new things.

ST: By the way, I think a challenge would also be to find the time. Since the clientele is used here to be cocooned and looked after, to have you come and talk to them at breakfast or dinner, etc.
Vanessa: I agree.

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ST: What are some unique dishes that you offer in the kitchen?
Vanessa: First, the salads. 'LMa salad' with goat cheese that is sourced locally in the palm grove. Other salads include figs and pomegranates from our own garden - depending on the season. 'Carrot and chicken tagine in orange juice', 'Chicken tagine with almond and figs', Hamid's 'Kefta with rosemary'.

ST: That's a welcomed change, as visitors on a tour around Morocco often complain that they always eat the same tagines. It's a pitty knowing that Morocco boasts dozens and dozens of tagine recipes and carries one of the finest cuisines in the world.
Vanessa: Of course. Besides, if we have guests that stay 4-5 days, we will also offer them a couscous, which is one of the staples of Moroccan cuisine, you have no excuse visiting Morocco and not try it. Lait- citron for desert, also our ice creams are homemade. We have a whole bunch of homemade jams also at breakfast.

ST: What makes you stand out from other guest houses in Skoura?
Vanessa: Especially the brightness of the rooms and spaces. There are radiators in the rooms for the cold months. The gardens. The pool which is heated during the summer. Since we are at 1200 meters above sea level, it is necessary to heat it even in spring. The difference is also that we live on the spot too and we are always available. Our animals (horse, mule, goats) and gardens. Guests are invited to work the land or pick olives or dates with us and the team, when the season is right.

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ST: I remember the first time I spent the night in the palm grove of Skoura and what surprised me the most was the variety of fruits and vegetables that grew: tomatoes, figs, oranges, dates, onions , pomegranates, watermelons. I couldn't believe it.
Vanessa: That's why some say the palm grove is a piece of paradise. But the root of it all is the water that comes from the mountain and is then distributed throughout the palm grove by an ingenious system that has lasted for centuries.

ST: What is your favorite place in Morocco, outside Skoura?
Vanessa: Chefchaouen - I love it. Amtoudi too. The White Beach. The dunes of Erg Chigaga.

ST: The dunes of Chigaga is a desert that one trully lives. Unlike the one next to Merzouga where the dunes are just a stone throw away from the village.
Vanessa: Yes, indeed. It's not like Merzouga. You have to deserve it. In Chigaga, the track leading to the dunes gives you time to get used to the desert. To its different shapes, its inhabitants, its creatures. And then when the sun is about to set and you start getting a little anxious, the dunes appear. And it was all worth it.

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Accommodation at LMa Lodge is currently being offered on our tours with our Privilege range.

© Sun Trails 2018. 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.

Thursday, 07 June 2018 00:00

Palais Khum


When I find myself sometimes wandering about the medina of Marrakech in the morning, I yearn for a good coffee in a beautiful setting, somewhere away from the hustle and bustle. Away from the selfie sticks. And Palais Khum is just the place. After all, Stefano, the owner, is Italian and from Milano, which means great coffee and good taste. Jazz pouring through the speakers ensures just the right mood for coffee. When Palais Khum opened its doors to guests, it was not just another 5 bedroom riad. With the opening a couple of years later of a cafe giving onto the pedestrian street, Stefano emphasized his desire of making  the restaurant a vibrant place where passers- by would mingle with the in- house residents. Some of the rooms here have their own private terrace. There's an elevator, two restaurants, a decent size covered heated pool and a spa. But it's also the man behind it all, Stefano. He's often on site, always available, greeting guests and sharing insider tips, without being invasive. He graciously agreed to an informal interview with us. 

Sun Trails: How long has Khum Palace been open and how did that idea come to you ?

Stefano: Palais Khum opened in 2014. At first we purchased it to make it a private house. Afterwards, we realized that it was too big for us to live alone in it, so we deemed it would be better to turn it into a guest house. We were inspired by the concept of riad but we endeavored to create an open space, not so much separated from the outside - or the cafe that overlooks the street and communicates with the inner garden. It also has to do with the pleasure of being in a Moroccan setting and decor, in the medina, but with a garden, an indoor pool, a spa, etc. This is what makes the charm of Marrakech.

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ST: Where does the name Palais Khum come from?

Stefano: In Italy, there is a lido (beach) called Kum, where my daughter was always asking me to take her so she could hang out with her friends. This place was dear to her and so I wanted to pay homage to it. At the same time kum in Arabic means your so Palais Khum = your palace. It is a name that is easy to recall. Moreover, all the guest houses are called Riad or Dar. At the time, the building was a foundouk (caranvaserail) among the other hundreds of foundouks in Marrakech (the foundouk was a building for caravans to stop, where camels and slaves occupied the groundfloor, while the merchants held the first floor).

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ST: Why Marrakech and not another city in Morocco?

Stefano: It's chance. To tell you the truth, I adore Cairo in Egypt, but considering the situation there, I prefer to be in Morocco, where there's security and political stability to which the King ( of Morocco) went at great lengths to ensure. He is a sovereign who travels a great deal, even when he is sick. I find him very dedicated to his country. The location of Marrakech is also ideal. Very well connected with the countries abroad and this close to Europe, the cultural difference is very intense. The desert, the mountains and the coast are quite within easy reach. Everyone falls in love with Marrakech. Since Winston Churchill, discerning travelers have always frequented Marrakech, just like they did Istanbul or Cairo.

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ST: When you bought the house, it was in the current state?

Stefano: No, we had to refurbish everything. We had to redo the plumbing, the lighting, and so on. Since we had added an indoor pool, an elevator, a spa, two restaurants, this was essential. Not to mention a certain range of comfort that we wanted to offer. However, we tried to preserve as much the Moroccan spirit as possible in the decor and architecture. The pool is a western touch - as you probably know, in a traditional Moroccan riad, you would find at best a central fountain, but never a pool for swimming. The local authorities have been kind enough to allow us to build this. 

Sun Trails: How many rooms are there ?

Stefano: 11 rooms and suites. We also have two restaurants (Moroccan and Italian / International) and a spa. We will expand spa in the near future. We welcome people from the outside looking to enjoy our garden and our restaurant, but from 10:00 pm, common areas are exclusively reserved for resident guests.

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ST: Have you had any experience in the hotel business before the opening of Palais Khum or is it something new for you?

Stefano: No, I have not had experience before and besides, I don't know if I would do it again one day, if given the opportunity. It was quite strenous, even if today, 4 years later, we have earned a reputation and enjoy a good occupancy rate in the year. Personally, I believe in the principle of staying local, whether it is the staff, the cuisine or even the wine. I think there is some very good Moroccan wine being produced now. We do not serve French wine, even though I know that other houses do it. Also, the team manager must be Moroccan. I'm here to correct things sometimes, but I'm proud of my small, yet effective team. They speak several languages. Moreover, the spirit of welcome, to receive, is profoundly Arabic, so also Moroccan. Among my travels to Central Asia, I was able to experience this at every opportunity. There, when you visit someone, you are treated like a king. We give you everything we have best.
But visitors must try to respect the customs and local traditions.

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ST: What type of clientele stays at Palais Khum ? Is there a nationality that is dominant ? 

Stefano: There is no predominant nationality. We receive guests from all over. On the other hand, the Chinese are on the rise compared to past years. On the other hand, Chinese do not often speak other languages. It's not easy to understand them - they do not wish to mix with others and even in Marrakech seek Chinese restaurants.

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ST: What are your favorite places in Marrakech?

Stefano: Personally I prefer to visit Raids. There are not so many monuments in Marrakech. Marrakech, its medina, is one large museum. I love going back to beautiful houses instead. For example, I take pleasure to go sometimes to dine at Riad Kniza. I also like Gueliz, not so much the other districts of Ville Nouvelle. As a place to go out and party, the Jad Mahal.

ST: What else could Marrakech do to attract tourists?

Stefano: In my opinion, it could do with a music festival. In Italy, in Peruggia, we have a jazz festival and this brings a lot more tourists to the area. But for a music festival, you have to have the right line- up. And music is easier than cinema. The Film Festival ( that was being held every December) is now dead. They are holding one of the of Formula E races, but to make things big, it will be necessary to build a circuit and hold a Formula 1 race. With music, things are easier, but you need consistency and a well curated line up.

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ST: You offer Moroccan and Italian cuisine. Are there special dishes?

Stefano: We offer pesto tagliatelle, tramezzi and a few more dishes. The pasta comes from Italy, but I try to use local ingredients. As for the Moroccan cuisine, I am not keen on revisiting. For me, foie gras has no place next to couscous. The cuisine is part of the local culture, it is often an introduction into a culture and Morocco is rich in cultures. Why revisit traditions, local cuisine ? It's not my angle.

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ST: What makes Palais Khum unique ?

Stefano: I think every house is different. Every house has a soul to itself. I think even we could suggest tourists to visit various Riads in the medina. They trully are works of art. At the same time, I can not recommend my guests to go to visit my competition :). Much of our furniture comes from La Mamounia hotel, which had sold their furniture before the renovation.

ST: What is the best time to visit Marrakech?

Stefano: There is no season. Maybe in July and August people should avoid Marrakech if they do not support the heat. But even during these months, you can go out in the afternoon and in the evening and spending most of the day by a swimming pool.

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ST: Do you have plans for the future of Palais Khum ?

Stefano: We are always trying to improve. Like I mentioned before, we are expanding our spa. Many of our neighbors did cooking classes. Many have opened cafes as well. Perhaps a boutique. A boutique inside the cafe. I think it is something that could work. 

Accommodation at Palais Khum is currently being offered on our tours with our Privilege range. 

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