Cristian

Cristian

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

skoura palm grove panorama

When visiting the south of Morocco, many think of Ouarzazate. And yet, this 20th century city with its famous film studios, plethora of large hotels and a few manicured kasbahs is far from representing Morocco or the region itself. To immerse oneself into the local culture, one has to travel a little outside Ouarzazate: south of it, Fint Oasis is splendid – a great way to observe life within a traditional oasis as it has unfolded, unchanged for centuries; east of it, the UNESCO Ait Benhaddou post- card honey comb village is a must. Further south, the legendary Draa Valley, once a ‘highway’ of caravans, coming over the Sahara, with their loads to be delivered at the courts of Marrakech or Fes. But closer, just a half hour drive west of Ouarzazate lies the palm grove of Skoura. Set between the High Atlas in the north and Djebel Saghro in the south, it first meets the eye as a large green ribbon making its way between the beige ridges, white sometimes in winter. And driving past it, one cannot help but wish to explore it. Once past the oued and within the shade of the palm trees, a true earthly heaven uncovers itself: figs and pomegranates, vine and pumpkins, tomatoes and olives, rosemary and thyme all grow next to each other, as the water streams gently make their way to each garden, ingeniously separated by hand- made dams, that get open and closed every few hours. One can wander for hours here, protected by the shade of the palms, past century- old kasbahs where the local guide will tell you the differences between Berber and Jewish architecture. With the ever- present sunshine, how can one resist and not want to settle here forever ? By the looks of it, more and more foreigners come to spend some part of the summer here, just renting out one of the adobe houses and living the life of the locals for a few weeks. Some others, like French- born Caroline, decided to spend the whole- year round. Eleven years ago, she opened Jardins De Skoura, a truly enchanting guest house set within the palm grove and quickly became a reference in the area. Not surprisingly: her welcoming is warm and she immediately makes you feel at ease. She sits down with each guest and talks about her favorite spots in the area. The cuisine is exquisite and highly praised by those on a private tour of Morocco, who by the time they reach Skoura, have had their fair share of traditional Moroccan food. Not that there is anything wrong with Moroccan food. But who wouldn’t crave a homemade gazpacho ? Or a mousse au chocolat ? The house reflects the local architecture: its walls are made of pisé ( adobe) and the ceilings supported by birch and palm trees. And then, there are the gardens… But let’s leave her do the talking.

Pool in the gardens

Sun Trails: Tell us about some of your professional experience before the opening of Jardins de Skoura.
Caroline Lecomte: I started my professional life as a florist, a job I really enjoyed and which allowed me to surround myself with a team of 10 employees as I wanted to develop my next project – event organization. Then came the thirties, and a change of direction took me to other horizons- organizing event trips.

ST: Why Morocco? How did you get the idea?
CL: In 1998, I crossed the Mediterranean to come and live in Marrakech where I continued to do what liked most: organizing incentives, congresses, seminars. Program preparation led me to travel all the south of Morocco; thus gaining valuable knowledge of the territory. And there, I fell in love with the real south. The palm grove of Skoura enchanted me, near Ouarzazate. It seemed to be the ideal location from where you could travel in all directions. Explore the area without having to pack your suitcases every day. Before making the decision to settle in the palm grove, I had undertook, for a website project, the inventory of all the guest houses existing at the time in the palm grove of Skoura. I visited 357 altogether and this is the experience that made me throw myself in. Leaving the city, I really wanted to have a place within the palm grove. I didn't see the point of being either in the village or on the side of the road. So it was a challenge because at the time there wasn't yet any guesthouse open within the palm grove.

Breakfast in the gardens

ST: Who took care of the construction and decoration of the house?
CL: Myself and 25 workers. I started by building my own apartment on one side of the garden so as to perfect my knowledge of local building techniques. I camped in the garden for 8 months because when I bought the house from the former owners, it was in ruins, with no electricity, toilets or running water. Then the workers have restored the old part which would then become the guest house. The decoration is made mostly with many items unearthed when I was living still in Marrakech medina between 1998-2003

ST: How many rooms and suites do you have ?
CL: Five rooms and three suites.

ST: Tell us about your garden, swimming pool and orchard.
CL: The one-acre garden is a little gem that we wanted to restore to the same condition as the one before, without compromising what was left. The banks of seguia (irrigation canals) were terraced and redesigned by theme: Secret Garden where the traveler can find privacy, Comfortable Garden to lie on the grass, Herbs Garden with plants for tea and herbal infusions, Vegetable Garden which heralds us during the various seasons some of the vegetables and fruits we use in the kitchen and finally, The Orchard, for one to stroll among the almond trees, pomegranates, figs, grapes and olives.

Haaneb suite

ST: What do you offer more compared to other guest houses in the area?
CL: A large garden and panoramic terraces where guests can find privacy. The training of my staff (from an incentive business angle)- I had access to many great hotels all over the world as my parents were in the hospitality business as well, so I had some experience of what the customer expects during their stay. Compliance with European hygiene, cozy welcoming and a fine cuisine. And me coming from a background of tourism and catering, which makes some difference. I did not become hotelier overnight.

ST: Guests seem to really appreciate your kitchen. Do you have a talented chef ?
CL: I have a very good chef who has worked previously at La Mamounia and knows very well how to play with spices without removing the taste of each ingredient.

Roof terrace

ST: From where do they come the ingredients?
CL: Vegetables from the garden and small local producers, homemade olive-oil, fig jam and apricot jam.

ST: Tell us about some special dishes at the Jardins de Skoura or those who are dear to you.
CL: Winter or summer, in the menu, there is always a velvety simple vegetable soup or gazpacho but also some with a twist: for instance beet gazpacho with citrus coriander and soy. The starters are Moroccan and Mediterranean recipes instilled with fresh flavors. Beef tagine with quince / lamb tagine with fennel are some of our signature main courses. Desserts are always French and homemade with fresh and natural ingredients: lemon meringue pie, apple clafoutis, apple pie, egg snow, chocolate mousse, etc. We try our best that our menus reflect a discovery of fine Moroccan cuisine.

ST: Which countries do your guests come from ?
CL: Mainly we have British guests with US coming second. And them some from Australia, France and some other European countries.

Suite Atlas

ST: Have you noticed any changes compared to previous years?
CL: During my first 5 years I used to get a lot of French people but in the last 5 years there has been a shift towards English speaking guests.

ST: What do customers value most here ?
CL: The garden, the service both around the house and at the table, professional, attentive yet not intruding. The decoration of the house which is in keeping with the country, mainly Berber and rustic.

Suite Saguia livingroom

ST: Your guests are here to make a brief stop as part of a private tour in Morocco or do you have also people who come and stay for several days ?
CL: Both. Some come to re- learn how to enjoy silence, take the time to discover the palm grove and locals' every day life. Some come to do absolutely nothing ( the true luxury if you ask me), disconnect from the city and work. Not having to pack one's luggage every day, take the time.

ST: What is there to do / see in the area for people who wish to spend several days ?
CL: There are both classical/ tourist spots and then there are my secret places .... Souk of Skoura on a Monday, trekking in the palm grove with or without donkeys / Sidi Fla and Ouled Merzoug/ Valley of almond trees and roses / Dades Gorge and Todra Gorge / Fint Oasis / Ait Ben Haddou / Draa Valley and waterfalls of Tizgui / Souk of Toundout on Thursday and its trail of Kasbahs and so on…

Panoramic view

ST: The community of Skoura is deeply rooted in tradition, it seems to me. How do they perceive the arrival of tourists?
CL: No worries, they understand that our guests are respectful of the culture here. And that it brings work to the locals: employees, traders, guides and craftsmen.

ST: What is the best part of the year to visit you?
CL: March - Apr - May, early June - September - October. End of the year for those that want to see the blue sky.

ST: What is it made you stay here all these years? Is it not difficult to live in the countryside, far from big cities?
CL: I love what I do. It's my choice. It comes with sacrifices but it is a choice that I respect.

Roof terrace by night

Jardins de Skoura is currently offered on our private tours of Morocco as part of our Privilege range 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.

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A desert luxury camp experience in the Moroccan Sahara.

{ There are currently no travel bans in Morocco to stop you from traveling to the Sahara desert }. You want to spend a night in the desert but don’t want to loose on the comfort ? Or perhaps you are considering renting a car and drive there yourself, but are afraid of getting lost, coping with the traffic of Africa or missing out on things to do/ see on the way ? Then this Morocco luxury desert camp experience is just what you need ! Our English fluent driver- guide and comfortable air- conditioned 4x4 will take you from Marrakech to the luxury desert camp in Erg Chigaga and bring you back to Marrakech over 3 nights and 4 days. We will book the luxury accommodation, the meals, camel rides and local guides. We will even take care of all entrance fees and stock your 4x4 with refreshing drinks so that all you have to focus on is laying back and enjoying the breath- taking landscapes. On this private tour you will have the 4x4 all for yourselves and your private driver will often stop for you to visit a local attraction, take a stunning photo or simply stretch your legs. This Morocco private tour is available any day of the year.

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This 4 day private tour leaves Marrakech over the Atlas Mountains and reaches Erg Chigaga's dunes by the second evening. The first and third nights are spent in a suite at the very elegant Azalai Desert Lodge set in the palm grove of Zagora ( it can also be arranged to describe a loop and return to Marrakech via a different route, maintaining the same duration). The second night is spent inside a 20 square meter ( 215 square feet) luxury desert tent with en-suite toilet and shower in the most remote dunes of Moroccan Sahara. On the way to the Sahara, you will cross the High Atlas at 2300 meters ( 7500 feet) high, visit UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou, the Kasbahs of the south, Biblical adobe villages, wind along mythical Draa Valley, stop by the oasis, walk through the palm groves, watch emerald- colored pottery being baked at Tamegroute, visit the Jewish ksour in Amezrou, uncover honey- combed ksours, ride a camel into the Sahara, sleep in the desert under the starriest sky, awe at the ruined Pasha's pasha’s palace - all highlights of a bespoke trip of Morocco.

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Best time to visit Morocco for a Sahara overnight ? 

February to April, if you can make it. Temperatures are cooler at night and very pleasant day- time. So is October to mid December, but photography- wise there is dust in the air. Mid December to February can be cold at night ( close to 0 Celsius, athough you will be quite warm cuddled up under the duvets), but so rewarding for those that wish to avoid the crowds ( outside of winter holidays).

Is Sahara one of the best places to visit in Morocco ?

You bet. I've stayed in a desert camp a dozen times since I've settled in Morocco back in 2006 and it never gets old. Sahara still stirs up my most intense emotions, sitting there on the top of the dunes, engrossed in the immensity of sand. If anything, it is even more compelling now, after the year we all had in 2020. It is possibly the most befitting location to forget all about virtual museum visits, mask wearing and social distancing. 

Should we include this on our honeymoon ?

Oh yes. If you can, try and spend two nights in a row. The particular dunes of Erg Chigaga offer a complete immersion into the desert setting, unlike the dunes of Erg Chebbi. Visit a nomad school, have tea with a nomad family, look for water wells, pluck out fossils, meander aimlessly around the dunes or try and hike the tallest one, you won't feel time passing you by. To not mention the Mily Way night...

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The rates for the 4 day private tour from Marrakech to the luxury desert camp and back are:

975 €/ 1160 US $/ 835 £ per person ( junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);

Our rates include:

- private use of the English fluent driver- guide & modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 2 nights at Azalai desert lodge, Zagora;
- Sahara camel trek and private luxury tent for 1 night at Azalai desert Camp, Erg Chigaga;
- 3 three- course- meal dinners and 3 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop- off;
- private guided visit of a palm grove or trek in the High Atlas with local guide;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- local English speaking guides;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hours travel assistance;
- gasoline and transport insurance;
- VAT and visitors tax.

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.

 

Thursday, 23 October 2014 00:00

Private Morocco Tour- 8 Convincing Reasons

picnic in the sahara

Discovering Morocco on a private 4x4 tour has become very popular in the last few years. When one thinks of Morocco, endless saffron dunes and hard- to- bargain souks come to mind. Ultimately, a culture shock will happen. It is overwhelming – in ways both uplifting and unsettling. Naturally, you don’t have to book a boutique tour – you can simply join a group tour or rent a car – it is, after all, a less costly option. Is it worth the extra cost to get a spotless modern air conditioned 4x4 that can take on steep gorges and towering desert dunes ? And a driving guide to introduce, or rather initiate you in the ways of an exotic and impenetrable culture? We think it is. But we are biased - we’ve been organizing private tours of Morocco for quite a while now. So, we’ve decided to ask the opinion of personalities from the travel world with a common passion for traveling and other cultures:

Patricia Homison is a veteran traveler and owner of 'Me and He Travel' blog: www.meandhetravel.com/. Deborah Thompson is Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at New Jetsetters: www.newjetsetters.com/. Nellie Huang has traveled to more than 90 countries and contributed to CNN Go, National Geographic and Lonely Planet among others: www.wildjunket.com. Paul Goetz is general manager at Domaine de Malika, a boutique hotel in the Atlas Mountains: www.domaine-malika.com.

These are 8 good reasons why we ( and them) think you need to explore Morocco with a private tour:

dar ahlam pool

1. THE OFF- THE- BEATEN- TRACK EXPERIENCE

Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor may be good a good starting point to select the sites and activities while on a Morocco trip. The dunes by Zagora can be reached by bus or rent a car and there is where many a travel agency camp their clients. But the majestic dunes of Erg Chigaga, where the Sahara really starts, lie a two hour off- track drive away. Better still, before reaching the dunes, why not leave the tarmac and fall under the palm trees in the nearby palm grove ? Learn how the locals deviate water through century- old irrigation khetaras. Olives are pressed by hand through the oil press - dip the freshly- baked bread into it and sample a local's breakfast while sipping mint tea. And, at sunset, witness how the honey- comb citadel turns into a flaming wall that seems to defy the ages, its ruined mud houses slowly returning to the earth they had been moulded from. 

In a country where tarmac covers more and more routes, true immersion often commences where tarmac ends. How would you feel returning home having missed on all this ? As Patricia puts it: ‘A private tour gives you the advantage of an insider's perspective of the real Morocco and a exposure to people and places that would be difficult, if not impossible to find on your own. Our private tour totally accommodated our tastes, preferences and values and it was such a fabulous experience, we went back six months later to do even more.’

Fez - panoramic view

2. TAILOR MADE ALL THE WAY

Your Morocco journey will be private and customized based on your schedule, budget, and interests. After due exchange of emails, a day- to- day itinerary is provided with daily sites and activities included. But here is where the difference between good and excellent lies. Careful day to day planning is good but spontaneous on- the- go changes are even better. Suppose that one morning you’re too lazy for the Atlas Mountains trek you had planned and just want to reach the Sahara early so you can mooch about in the dunes the whole afternoon.

Or perhaps the eco lodge where you just spent the night has made such an impression on you with the previous evening’s dinner that you suddenly feel like booking an impromptu Moroccan cooking class. Deborah agrees: ‘We love being able to change the itinerary at a moment's notice - a spectacular temple needs more time for appreciation? No problem, because there is no group agenda written in stone to adhere to. Want to linger another hour at the incredible waterfall? That's fine!

La Mamounia indoors pool


3. LOCAL BOUTIQUE ACCOMMODATION...

What makes Morocco great with the intrepid traveler is the number of hip, yet authentic, family- run, cozy accommodations. The riads of Marrakech, the refurbished kasbahs of the Draa valley and the eco lodges on the fringes of the Sahara are but a few examples. Most of them offer great cuisine with ingredients sourced from their own organic back yard. The owners will often join you for coffee over breakfast and share insider tips on what there is to do and see in the area. Woke up too late to have breakfast? Arrived too late to have dinner? Nonsense.

Paul concurs: ‘When my guests arrive for the first time, we already know them a bit from our previous correspondence and I love to see them display a wide smile when I call them by their first names. Very often our guests leave saying they found the perfect ambience because they felt a bit like home, while surrounded by a caring staff that cater to their each and every need, without ever being intrusive’. So then, why have a buffet dinner or stay at a Sofitel ? What tour operator will offer this intimate, cozy kind of accommodation? Only a luxury Morocco- based travel agency, with staff anonymously testing new out- of- ordinary properties all year round, can go the extra mile.

kasbah tamnougalt

…THAT YOU HAVE TIME TO ENJOY.

But there is no point in carefully selecting the best hotels available in Morocco if you won’t have the time to enjoy them. A good agency will carefully plan and arrange and balance the time spent inside the vehicle, visiting sites and enjoying the properties’ facilities. Why stay at the arresting Azalai Desert Lodge set on the edge of Zagora’s palm grove, if you arrive late at night just in time for dinner or leave next morning right after breakfast? It would be a pity not to laze around and browse their exquisite library packed with livres des voyages. Plunge in the inviting pool whether it is February or June. Or take a bicycle ride in the surrounding palm grove. Stands of dark- green reeds grow beside chuckling water. Succulent trees ripple in a breeze as the palm grove is softly hushed, the only sound the bleating of far- off goats. When was the last time you lost track of time ?...

Palais Khum Suite Hamra

4. A DRIVER AND MORE

Traffic is mad in the big cities of Morocco – everyone knows that. And that alone could be reason enough to have someone drive you. But your driving guide should be also an expert in the culture and traditions of the areas you will cover. He carefully selects the local guides, the best spots for stunning photos or the pace of the day. He can explain the defense of a ksar or the different kaftans worn by a Moroccan bride during her wedding. He will also know when to talk and when to keep quiet, creating a comfortable ambiance during the tour.

Throughout your Moroccan itinerary, you may even be invited to have lunch with his family, an epitome of hospitality in Morocco. Or elsewhere. Nellie Huang says: ‘For instance, in my recent trip to Iran, we were invited to our guide's house for a dinner with his family and it turned out to be the highlight of my trip. His family was extremely welcoming and genuine and they showed us the Iranian hospitality that we'd long heard about.’ Deborah agrees: ‘We consider it a privilege to get to know our guide and sometimes his or her family, creating a bond that can last forever. ‘

jemaa el fna square marrakech

5. INTERACTING WITH THE LOCALS

Moroccans are Morocco’s greatest asset. Humble, joyful and hospitable, often needy, they will always share the little they have with their guests. Patricia comments: ‘The best of Morocco, the jewel in the crown of this country is it's people’. Nellie agrees: ‘I'd say the biggest benefit to doing a private tour is gaining in-depth personal insights of a country through a local. If you've got a good guide, you can really get to know every aspect of a country's culture and tradition and at the same time understand the mentality of locals’.

This is also where traveling across Morocco on a private trip makes a difference – it makes possible such encounters while keeping away overacted receptions and convenience smiles. Sometimes these encounters happen spontaneously – as with the family lunch mentioned earlier. Other times, moving stories are to be heard – such as the guide in Skoura, whose passion for his homeland made him open a small scale museum to document the century old garments and tools of the local Berber, Arab and Jewish communities.

kasbah tamadot berber luxury tent

6. PEACE OF MIND

A reliable Morocco tour agency should offer 24 hour assistance during your travel. Whether this means booking last minute the most exquisite French restaurant in Marrakech or finding a babysitter for your children, it all comes down to your peace of mind. A luxury Morocco tour means not only staying in the best available hotels at each location and paying top dollar for it, but also have a backup 4x4 available to be delivered timely in the unlikely event that your designated 4x4 breaks down. Or your driving guide welcoming you at the airport even if your flight is x hours late. Similarly, if you're put off by the possibility of spending too much time at the passport control, the agency will arrange for a small fee a VIP airport arrival bypassing immigration queues and making sure you start on the right note your holidays in Morocco.

erg chigaga luxury tent

7. IT SAVES YOU TIME

Imagine renting a car and driving down the Draa Valley looking for the most spectacular kasbah or a good place to picnic. Getting lost and asking locals for direction in a language they don’t understand. Or joining a group tour and having to put up with pressure- sale speech while on a visit to the local argan oil cooperative before moving on to the next attraction. A site you were not interested in visiting in the first place. You get the picture. None of these ordeals happen when you book a customized Morocco tour. Deborah says: ‘Perceptions and memories of a place can be impacted greatly by how and when you see them. Over-crowding, a hurried pace, and often the inability to see and touch the treasures you have come so far to see can result in such disappointment’.

ksour in Morocco

8. THE SURPRISE

Many book a private trip through Morocco as a celebration of a special event. But it takes more than the occasional flower bouquet or birthday cake to impress nowadays. With a little bit of imagination, there is an endless list of ways to surprise your guests by offering them a special occasion present to match their taste. It may be a signature home perfume to remind them of the almond trees blossoming in February in Dades Gorge. An exquisite album with photos of the dreamiest places in Morocco that will likely inspire one day the next generation to come and visit. Or perhaps a leather- bound notebook where they could keep the journal of a journey that would have transformed them.

Zagora palmgrove

Sun Trails has been offering bespoke private tours of Morocco since 2009. For a preview of our sample itineraries click here. Rates for a 8 day bespoke private tour start at 940 €/ 1275 $ per person on a basis of 2 persons sharing.

© 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.

Sunday, 07 September 2014 00:00

Atlas Mountains chic hotel - Domaine Malika

domaine de malika main photo

Art deco hotel less than 1 hour drive from Marrakech.

A boutique hotel at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco is a rare sight. Except for Richard Branson's Kasbah Tamadot there were no choices of staying in the area other than your typical wood- bean country club. And if you are on a private tour of Morocco, you should at least spend a night here, at the heart of the Berber country. When I first discovered Domaine Malika’s website some five years ago, there was something hip and funky about this guest house. No wood beaned ceilings, stuffed animals or wool sofas like most of the guest houses had adopted in the area. I immediately felt the urge to go and visit. And so I did, a few weeks later. And that’s how I met Paul, the host, a young French man who had recently arrived in Morocco and was looking to open a guest house in Marrakech. After a few mishaps, he managed to secure a villa owned by a well-heeled Casaoui and turn it into a 7- suites Atlas Mountains guest house. His enthusiasm and warmth were contagious but I do remember being a little skeptical about him creating something different in the area. And how would a French man in his early thirties cope with living in the Moroccan countryside ?

domaine de malika double room

We kept in touch, seeing each other as much as our busy lives would allow us to. With time it became obvious that not only he knew what he was doing and became a success story but that he was here to stay. In a country like Morocco, quality and consistency don’t often go hand in hand when it comes to guest houses. Not with Domaine Malika though. Even if you wouldn’t care about them securing TA first spot year after year, Domaine Malika only became better with time. With the years, they added a spa, a boutique, they expanded their garden and gave their cuisine a French twist. Rooms are spacious and the views are bewildering even with the most basic of them. Three of the rooms have their own private access to the roof terrace where you are greeted by sun beds and breath taking views on the snow covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains. The 50’s inspired salon accommodates leather armchairs, society games, three fire places and a well packed library – even Nietzsche and Chekov are on hand if you can be bothered. Or if the weather is rainy, which it almost never is...

lounge by evening at domaine de malika

The pool is just what you need after a long summer day or a trek in the surrounding Atlas Mountains and the wine garden accommodates late dinners during those hot summer nights. Like the one I had last night, while the hotel was lantern lit, the cicadas roared and frogs came out, croaking and lolloping by the pool. The place felt chic but not groundbreaking. But then again,  if you wanted a blast, a buzz, a bling, you’d be in Marrakech having cocktails at Djelabar. Here is about breathing in the Atlas Mountains night, enjoying a glass of red on the roof terrace or walking in the gardens, among apples, prunes, figs and oranges by the moonlight. One is such at ease here, it almost feels a sacrilege to only spend one night. Just the perfect spot for someone wanting to relax at the end of a  4x4 tour of Morocco coming from the desert south of the Atlas Mountains. Or someone that wants to escape the Riads of Marrakech. And Paul is as passionate and welcoming as the first time I met him. No wonder he was recently described as ‘ebullient and deeply hospitable’ by Travel and Leisure magazine no less. He kindly agreed to share the secrets behind his innate hospitality.

room terrace at domaine de malika

Sun Trails: I remember your beginnings here in Ouirgane and how your Atlas Mountains hotel was the exception to the rule in the region. We’ve known each other for over 5 years now. Was it hard for you to start this project here in the countryside? Why so far from Marrakech? Young, single, do you not miss the big city?

Paul Goetz: It is true that this was no sure bet since we were not 100% sure that our house would find its target among travelers wishing to discover the Atlas Mountains. The distance that separates us from Marrakech proved to be ideal. We are only one hour's drive from the Red City. This is sufficiently far away to offer our guests a complete change of scenery and a real alternative to the city, yet without forcing them to spend too much time driving.  Living in the heart of the valley is an everyday joy because the conditions here are ideal: tranquility, nature, authentic Berber hospitality.

domaine de malika orchard

ST: The decoration of the house is not your typical ‘mountain lodge’ with wooden beams, wool sofas, etc. What is it? Do your guests love it? Are they surprised or do they know what to expect at the time of arrival?

PG: Domaine Malika is a designer house setting itself apart with its Art Deco/ Art Nouveau décor, offering a striking yet unostentatious contrast with its surrounding environment. The spacious rooms, with their pristine white walls and the large windows create a bright atmosphere and allow guests to enjoy the nature that surrounds the house. Most of the time, people who decide to reside here have fallen for the style of the house, having discovered through the photos or video available on our web site the true reflection of the identity of Domaine de Malika.
Hence, before arriving physically at the location, they are already under the spell of the domain.

domaine de malika room

ST: Kasbah Tamadot (belonging to Richard Branson) is a few kilometers away. He (Richard Branson) is not often present, but do you not feel some sort of pressure having such a famous neighbor?

PG: On the contrary, I believe that such a beautiful hotel can only push all guest houses in the region to become more competitive. Kasbah Tamadot is an example of good taste, quality of service and excellence. We have a great relationship with their team and our guests are always delighted to go and have lunch at Kasbah Tamadot. 

domaine de malika terrace

ST: Your guest house is situated on one of the most picturesque routes in Morocco, but most visitors are not aware of it. Starting in Marrakech, through beautiful valleys before passing by the village of Tinmel and its 12th century mosque. It then rises to cross Tizi n Test pass at 2000 meters above sea level from where it descends into the ‘great south’, Taroudant and the Sahara desert. Are many of your guests coming from the desert or Taroudant as part of a tour of Morocco or are they rather people who just want to spend a few days outside Marrakech?

PG: Well, we kind of have both scenarios. Although located only an hour from Marrakech, Ouirgane Valley is a popular stop for travelers during their stay over this majestic pass that connects the north and south.
We also have many guests who combine city, sea and mountains in the course of a week's Morocco tour. Located 7 km from the National Park of Toubkal, Ouirgane is right in the heart of the High Atlas. This privileged location makes it a prime destination.

pool at domain de malika

ST: What is there to do and see if we wanted to stay more than one night?

PG: There is plenty of choice in terms of leisure of activities that our valley offers. In general, our guests make the right choice when deciding to stay 3-4 days with us. The main activities have to see with nature and culture. Our mountains are a great opportunity to discover the Berber culture through trekking in the Atlas Mountains by foot or mule or horse riding. Travelers can sample real immersion into local culture during a lunch or through learning the secrets of local cuisine by following one of our Moroccan cooking classes. But people are above all here to rest, recharge their batteries, so they are particularly fond of our hammam and the spa treatments dispensed by Hanane, our masseuse.

view on the atlas mountains from domaine de malika

ST: What is the typical profile of your guests? What makes Domaine de Malika unique ?

PG: Our clients are mostly couples from the United Kingdom, in search of tranquility and fresh air. Domaine de Malika is for them the icing on the cake as they can immerse themselves in the heart of Berber country without losing on the comfort.

ST: Knowing that you have 7 rooms and average rates of 160 euros per night, was it difficult to train staff to be able to deliver the service expected at this level, knowing that most of them are just locals from the nearby village?

PG: Our team is by far our biggest asset. Without their love of what they are doing and their innate sense of hospitality, the soul of Domaine Malika would not be what it is. We started from scratch with them and we built everything together. Mutual respect is the foundation of our relationship. This enabled us over the years to build a strong relationship and to cultivate in each pleasure of a job well done. Guests often tell us they can feel this positive atmosphere throughout the house and that it greatly contributes to their well being during their stay at Domaine Malika.

pool and sun beds at domaine de malika

ST: I had the pleasure of trying your home made couscous the other night, followed by a rather French cake - a nice surprise indeed. Do you often blend these two cuisines ? Can you give some examples of unusual dishes made at Domaine de Malika ?

PG: Agnes, Fouzia and Hafida are behind this fine reputation surrounding our restaurant. During a trip to Morocco, people want to also travel through the local cuisine and thus discover the country in a different way. However, way too often the guest houses and local restaurants offer them the same typical and ubiquitous dishes. We wanted to go further by creating an unpretentious yet rich culinary identity and merging our French roots and Moroccan culinary traditions. Some examples are: ‘beet soup with apples and spices’, ‘fresh goat Aumonières with dates’, ‘fillet of sea bream in foil with orange and anise seeds’, ‘quail stuffed with couscous and onions’, ‘strawberry mousse with fresh coriander’. People appreciate our simple and crafted cuisine made with love and fresh products coming largely from our garden and the orchard.

room detail at domaine de malika

ST: I walked in your garden and I was surprised to see every imaginable fruit: apples, quinces, figs, plums, grapes, oranges, lemons. Is there a fruit you do not grow? What becomes of the harvest?

PG: We are far from having all the fruits and vegetables we’d like but we are fortunate to have a nice variety! Just like in the old times, we prepare our dishes accordingly. We also fill our pastries with them and include them in our jams for breakfast. Our customers enjoy visiting the gardens and see that all this can be found in their dish when they are having dinner.

ST: The surrounding music blends very well into the atmosphere of the house and is present in the restaurant, the garden or the living room. You prefer jazz, I noticed. In fact, I would not have been able to hear more jazz these two days if I attended a jazz festival. I must have heard three different versions of ‘Summertime’ only over dinner. Where did you find the soundtrack and why this choice?

PG: We are first and foremost fans of this music that fortunately fits perfectly with the style of the house and helps create that cozy atmosphere we wanted to wrap our guests in.

reception at domaine de malika

ST: Did you contribute in any way to the local community? I remember you telling me about a Moroccan actress who helped build a bridge across the river for the children to be able to attend school.

PG: This project is for us a memory that will stay with us for a long time. Initially, we were not responsible for the initiative of this great project launched by Nadia , one of our regular guests and friends, but we were fortunate to be able to make a small contribution. Contributing to the well-being of the inhabitants of the valley in which we operate is a true source of satisfaction. By motivating a handful of people around her, she managed to conclude the construction of the bridge, allowing people in general, but in particular little children, to cross the river during rains and avoid several hours of walking, which deprived them too often of attending school.
Our clients often cross this bridge without always knowing the story behind it.

domaine de malika suite

ST: I've known you for almost 5 years, but I noticed that your passion has remained intact. How do you manage? Do you see yourself here in 5 years from now ?

PG: What will our lives become in 5 years from now, Cristian ?! I have trouble answering you this, but what is certain today is that I love this country that has given me so many opportunities. I love the Moroccans who welcomed me with generosity and, above all, I love my job that allows me to share all this with people from around the world.

Domaine de Malika is currently offered on the Privilege level of our Caravans Dust tour and some other bespoke tailor made tours. 

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