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Monday, 18 November 2019 00:00

Honeymoon In Morocco - Sahara romance

 

luxury tent erg chigaga

Morocco honeymoon: the ideal getaway destination in 2021.

The one trip you will remember for the rest of your marriage. Why Morocco ? Riads straight out of 1001 nights. A small plane ride to land you next to the Sahara. Tea with the nomads. A lunch on top of the dunes just you, your loved one and your private butler. More than mere glamping. Village markets and secret kasbahs. Romance complimented by authenticity- that's our idea of a honeymoon in Morocco. Picture yourselves watching sunrise over the Sahara dunes: there's no better place to forget all about travel bans, mask wearing or loosing someone close. 

dar ahlam tent

Our idea of a honeymoon tour in Morocco doesn't follow a set itinerary. Think of it rather as connecting different private local experiences and encounters with secret, intimate, authentic accommodations, within your budget and time available. Naturally, we offer a few sample itineraries on our website, to help set some kind of initial structure. Yet, for such a special occasion, why not tailor and customize each and every detail ? While favoring the privacy, remoteness and unique local experiences ?

Best Time of Year for a Morocco honeymoon

 

Overall, the country is best visited all year round. But to strike that fine balance between privacy, relaxation, the right temperatures and adventure, we'd recommend any time between October and May, avoiding if possible Easter and Christmas holidays, when Morocco sees quite an increase in the number of tourists. If you are willing to forego the Sahara desert, Morocco offers plenty to experience and see even during summer. Or maybe temperatures of over 40 Celsius don't scare you. Whatever your dates, send us an enquiry . With 15 years of in- country presence, we will tailor your honeymoon so as to get the best out of your time and budget.

plain and Berber woman

How Much Does a Morocco Honeymoon cost ?

It depends on the planning. Would you like to have your base in one location ( Marrakech or Fez) and move around from there or would you rather tour Morocco and include Marrakech, Fez and the Sahara, among others ? If the latter, a private 8 day tour with most expenses included starts at 1000 USD per person, with 3 star accommodation and can climb all the way to 4000 USD per person and more, with lodging at the likes of La Mamounia and a VIP 30 square meter luxury tent in the Sahara, including ensuite bathroom. It also depends on how much you wish to splash. Morocco is not an expensive country, when compared to Italy or Spain, but if you wish to treat yourselves to a hot air balloon ride or a hammam and massage treatment, it can quickly put a dent in your budget. Marrakech can equally be expensive in terms of accommodation and eating out, but even here you'll be able to get decent value for money.

couple on camels

Accommodation matters: The Best Riads, Lodges, Desert camps and boutique hotels in Morocco.

 

One reason for Morocco being such a popular destination is the design and location of the different riads, desert camps and other eco- lodges. From itinerant desert camps to luscious, lavish riads and eco- lodges running without electricity, the creativity is almost infinite. For a honeymoon though, we'd recommend favoring those places where privacy is almost guaranteed. The last thing you wish on your honeymoon is fractious children bomb- diving in the pool next to your sun- lounge or having to queue for buffet dining. You can find our favorite hideaways by scrolling down to the end of the article.

How Many Days Should You Spend in Morocco ?

 

To allow for adventure and relaxation, but also immerse yourselves into the local culture ? A minimum of 7- 8 days. 9- 10 days is ideal, if you can afford the time and the budget. What is too much ? Over 2 weeks. You'd need at least 2-3 days in each Marrakech and / or Fez. The Sahara is a 9- 10 hour drive from either of those two cities, so minimum a 4 day return trip with one overnight half way both on the way there and the way back.

atlas mountains and bicycle

Must do’s on a Honeymoon in Morocco

 

Marrakech or Fez, Marrakech being the more sensual, cosmopolitan, fashionable while Fez being the more traditional, authentic, discreet. Personally, nothing beats a walk in the medina of Fez. With no motorbikes or other modern wares in sight, it's traveling in time , the bygone era of Harun El Rashid and Aladdin... The Sahara dunes are a must, of course. It would spoil the experience if you didn't stay in a camp deep inside the dunes. And you'd probably want to go for an upgraded tent, with private toilets and showers. While Marrakech, Fez and the Sahara are obvious choices, I believe it's the local experiences that make a honeymoon unique in Morocco. Naturally, it's near impossible to schedule meeting water diviners or snake charmers in the Anti Atlas and share a cup of tea with them or visit a local's home. Most importantly though, a good local agent will design an itinerary where those experiences are likely to happen and they haven't been corrupted by the passage of mass tourism. An area rarely explored by travel agents and tourists altogether is Morocco's south- west, all the way from Zagora to the east to Guelmin to the west. Century- old fortresses, rock engravings, arresting gorges where gazelles sometimes scurry to quench their thirst, baking bread in the village oven with the local ladies, make up for unforgettable memories.

lma lodge skoura

How Do You Get to Morocco from the US ?

 

Royal Air Maroc flies direct from New York and Miami to Casablanca. Based on our 11 years of feedback from guests, the flight and onboard service are decent enough. Delta, American and some other companies fly to Europe where there are plenty of connections with Morocco, especially from Spain, France and Italy, but also from Germany, Netherlands and the UK. We encourage you to first fly into southern Spain if you can afford a few days in Andalucia, where a stir of Morocco still lingers in the architecture, cuisine and local traditions. Connections with Marrakech, Rabat and Casablanca are available from Seville, Malaga and Valencia and the flight takes a little over one hour. 

Morocco Packing List

 

There really isn't much that you can't purchase locally, if you forgot to pack it, whether it is sun screen, straw hats or iPhone charger. Unless you are into hardcore trekking or Bitcoin mining, you should pack as light as you feel comfortable, especially if you consider moving around the country. If you decide for a private Morocco tour, things are different. With pick- up from and drop off to the airport and a large boot that goes with the Toyota 4x4, you can almost pack your whole wardrobe. Do remember to leave some empty space in your suitcases if you plan to shop around. And even if you don't. Over the years, we've seen a few converts.

amtoudi ighrem

Privacy over Popularity

Jemaa El Fna square ? Majorelle Gardens ? Game of Thrones location ? Yes, we think they should be on everyone's Best Places to visit Morocco travel list. But remember, you are likely to jostle with many other travelers. You may want to intersperse those with lengthy moments of privacy. How ? Even within the madness of Marrakech's medina and its hustle and bustle you can find islets of tranquility. It can be your own Riad. It can be in the gardens of La Mamounia, if you happen to be there at sunset. And don't always believe the titles. Le Jardin Secret is not really secret. But most of the time, privacy and exploration will reward couples outside the big cities, on the way to or from the Sahara desert.

Adventure and Relaxation

 

As carefully as we curate every private tour to suit and exceed our guests' expectations, their most cherished memories are those special spontaneous moments on their trip. Impromptu visit to a local family that turned into lunch or an unexpected climb up to a brow from where a beguiling panorama unfolded, it's easy to always look for the next best experience. Relaxation should be factored in, and by that we don't mean a visit to the spa every other day. It may entail spending more than just one overnight at each location, so as to avoid packing every morning and unpacking every evening. Or cut out social media and being ‘connected to the world’. It may imply spending the morning by the pool and put off that thought of locating the most intricate bronze lamp in the whole souk. At least for a while.

sahara private lunch

Is Morocco Safe ?

In a nutshell, yes. Recent years have proven that Europe and other parts of the world are less likely to preclude or forestall a terrorist attack. Years ago, a special division has been created ( dubbed Moroccan FBI) whose one and only mission is to make sure that there is no terrorist threat present on Moroccan territory. The BCIJ is frequently consulted by French and European secret services on matters of security and data sharing. In terms of petty crime, Marrakech or Fez rank much better than other tourism hubs like Barcelona or Paris, largely because tourism is one of Morocco's main bread earners and most citizens mean tourists well, from the local policeman to the taxi driver and master craftsman. Moreover, in the light of the recent Covid pandemic, Morocco is the most successful African country in terms of its vaccination campaign, trailing just behind France, Spain or Italy. As of summer 2021, most of the Morocco travel restrictions are now lifted. 

chefchaouen

Where to eat out

 

Although Morocco is still to boast its first Michelin star restaurant, the local food scene in the big cities will satisfy the most demanding gourmets, its influences being French, Italian, Thai and naturally, Moroccan, among others. Our personal favorites are: Fez: Dar Hatim  ( Moroccan ), Dar Roumana ( Moroccan/ French); Marrakech: Dar Rhizlane ( French / International), Al Fassia ( Moroccan), L'O a la bouche ( French). This list is by no means definitive, as the restaurant scene in Morocco sees a high turnover. We try and test and rank local restaurants as often as we can, bar a worldwide pandemic. 

Most Romantic Sahara camp

Not only do you deserve a romantic camp, but ideally, a remote one, with plenty of privacy to admire sunset and sunrise from a top of a dune, the view unencumbered. With Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga, the two dunes locations, we'd urge you to consider the latter. Yes, maybe the dunes of Erg Chebbi are taller, but you are never sheltered from the risk of crossing paths with herds of tourists on a camel group ride or a quad bike outing. In contrast, the dunes of Erg Chigaga are more remote, less transited, possibly due to being simply less accessible. By bus, that is. Not for nothing, Dar Ahlam chose this location for their itinerant camp. Our favorite must be Azalai Camp with its white canvas tents, vintage suitcases and leather club armchairs, like stepping onto the set of Out of Africa...

 

Below, we have selected a few of those addresses that we think best embody the secret hideaway spirit. You can select all or a few of them and have us design a private customized tour around these properties and some hand- picked experiences. They are not limited to honeymooners only. Some couples may merely desire to find themselves again and reconnect with each other. Cut out the white noise around. Yes, that includes social media and being ‘connected to the world’. But that's entirely up to you. The only limit is your budget and the time you can take off to travel around Morocco. 

DAR AHLAM
The house of dreams. And it will certainly fulfill some. More than that, it will consistently leave you rapt. Wonder. Experience. Enchant. The French owner used to create private events in Paris, so the last thing he wished for is a 5 star resort inside a palm grove. What if someone knew your favorite color was purple and you'd arrive in your room to find everything is purple ? What if you didn't know where or what your next meal is going to be ? Perhaps it will be a candlelit table in a tiny room in the labyrinth that you didn’t know existed. Or a set up dining area showing up out of nowhere, complete with your butler, up in the High Atlas, by the riverbed. This 15 suite hideaway sits at the foot of the High Atlas mountains, nested within the 4500- acre palm grove of Skoura. Part of the wonder of staying here is learning the way back to your room. With a staff of 100, you can get an idea of how personal the attention and service is going to be. In the image- based world we live in, where information is instant, this is a world of secrets. A house of dreams. It would make little sense staying here less than two nights, arriving late evening and departing early after breakfast the next day. Magic needs time to operate. If you wish to know more about it, please click here
main kasbah and pool


DAR ZAHIA GARDEN
Marc Belli has just realized his dream: to build sleeping cabins in the rural plot he owns facing the Atlas mountains. If he shares with many of his contemporaries a desire to get back to nature, Marc, a French photographer and art director, is also victim to a certain nostalgia for the ‘paradise garden’ of his youth: that of his grandmother’s villa, where he spent his holidays. Covering nearly 4,000sq m, this narrow plot is enclosed by a rammed-clay wall. It is reached by a dusty track edged by thorn bushes and cacti. Another surprise awaits beyond the patio: an electric-blue raised swimming pool that seems to stretch as far as the eye can see
Picturesque pathways dotted with garden seats wind through the fragrant, bushy undergrowth, opening the way through the eucalyptus, pomegranate, citrus, olive and fig trees, aloes, succulents and more. At the far end of the garden, buried among the vegetation, are the five cabins open to guests. Wooden cubes, the cabins are reminiscent of Balinese gazebos or small Japanese tea houses and have been fabricated out of local materials.

dar zahia garden

TASGUA YAN
South of Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast and north of Agadir lies the small village of Tafedna. This feels remote and at first, it's hard to see the sandy beach, tucked among the Argan cliffs that makes any encounter with the waves of the Atlantic uniquely memorable.
Therein lies Tasgua- Yan, a charming 14-room guest house overlooking the sea, its walls forged out of local stone and timber. The white washed walls and blue framed windows reminisce of the Greek islands rather than Morocco. You come here to disconnect from the world. Take long walks along the deserted beach or through the argan forest. Sit by the fire place or the turquoise pool with your favorite novel. Swim in the ocean. Linger on for dinner over fresh fish and a glass of vin gris. Let time pass. By the Atlantic, in the middle of nowhere. Literally.

Tasgua Yan

AZALAI CAMP

If one could have only one thing, one reason only to visit Morocco, this would be it: a night at Azalai Desert Camp in the dunes of Erg Chigaga. Let your driver arrange for a camel ride just before entering the dunes so you arrive in style at the camp, right about sunset. Four large white canvas tents and three slightly smaller ones, complement each other so that one might think he's on his own in the desert. Two VIP tents, further away, come with their own dedicated butler, club leather armchairs and lounge- library. Inside you'll find king-sized wrought-iron beds, quality mattresses, finest bedspreads, mosquito nets and Fes - ceramic water basins. Berber rugs cover the uneven rattan floors. King-sized beds are heavy with blankets and brocade covers – necessary in the winter – and light is provided by tin battery-powered lanterns. Bathrooms are provided with eco- toilets and pump showers with hot water. Dinner is served by candlelight, wreathed by lanterns placed meticulously atop the dunes. The four course set menu regularly starts with harira soup, Moroccan briouates, continues with a hearty beef or lamb tagine and ends with a French desert. The hardest is to leave.

dunes of erg chigaga

AZALAI BEACH COTTAGE

You really have to know your way to get here. About 20 minutes drive from the dreamy village of Oualidia, the road overhangs the tomato parcels juxtaposing the beach. An unassuming turn and a few miles of off- road take you to the gates of Azalai Cottage. Strong on the heels of Azalai Desert Lodge, arguably the smartest guest house south of Ouarzazate, Bouchaib, the French- born Moroccan owner, an accomplished architect himself, entrusted Helene Bartholdi to create something altogether different. The Out- Of- Africa feel was replaced by something much more Mediterranean, almost Aix-en- Provence vibe, with the occasional Berber carpet thrown- in. Five rooms, two suites and two bungalows all face the Atlantic and the gradient makes it that everyone gets a sea- view. Between the villa and the beach, a generous pool blends smoothly with the garden’s palm grove, near a shaded beach hut providing a bounty of fine shell fish cuisine to be enjoyed under the cool swaying shade of the palm fronds. The well stocked library and board games make up for the lack of any TV or wifi. 

azalai beach cottage

TOUR DES FAUCONS
In the 1960's, long before budget airlines and Trip Advisor, Morocco started to attract a particular kind of crowd. Fashion moguls, actors, artists and writers, settled here or had a secondary home, a Paradise Lost retreat from the disenchantment with a more and more mechanical Europe. Their villas were the epitome of design, mixing the Moroccan- inspired carpets, zellij, fountains or woodwork with modern European art, African masks, Andalusian gardens and Italian chandeliers. La Tour des Faucons is such a place, located just outside Taroudant, but Karl, the very down- to- earth German owner, doesn't throw any opulent parties. What he likes to do nowadays is welcome guests and have good company. The art collection on display should be protected with infra- red laser at night. But don't think for a second that you'll be spending the night in a museum. The suites are immense and fully functional with floor heating and reversible A/C. The bathrooms seem to come out of Architectural Digest. There is a 30 meter long pool to keep you fit, if you manage to not get lost in the gardens. Be there at the right time of year and you can join in to harvest the olives or oranges.

tour des faucons taroudant

LA PAUSE

Short on time while in Marrakech and you don't want to miss the desert experience ? Well, you have Agafay desert, just 45 minutes drive away. In all honesty, Agafay desert is not really a desert. It's a startling revelation, as one is surrounded by nothing but biscuit-colored waves of rock that stretch as far as the eye can see; an isolated palm tree flapping its fronds and a couple of camels grazing peacefully add to the illusion. La Pause is a rustic retreat where you can both get back to nature and keep your comfort intact. And what better example than the wood burning stoves that stand guard keeping the chilly air of those winter nights away from the open fronted rooms ? There is no electricity and scarcely any mobile reception. But perhaps snoozing, stargazing and staring into space are not your thing. Well, worry not. Camel riding, buggy racing, Arab caligraphy, massages or a cooking class can all be arranged on site. The rooms are built of pisé (adobe and straw mix) and the stylish lodges are sublimely illuminated by candles and oil lamps. You will find a sumptuous king sized bed, a strong shower, low sofas, rugs and cushions, plus fireplaces and a patio sun-lounger for morning mint teas. Their comfortably arranged Berber tents let you enjoy magical moments and beautiful evenings under the stars, whilst listening to the captivating and hypnotic rhythms of traditional Gnawa music.

La Pause

CASA JUAN

Juan, an international photographer, wanted to blend his love of photography, India and the Sahara and Casa Juan is the offspring. In the middle of nowehere, this is as remote as you can get, on the edge of the Sahara. Given the coordinates, it is hard to imagine you'd find a manager that speaks fluent English. Or refined Moroccan cuisine. Finding the place is like a treasure hunt. You will sometimes be met by Juan himself and get your luggage carried to your room by donkey. You will truly appreciate having a 4x4 here as you'll need to cross a few small dunes to make it to the house. I've hardly ever stayed in a hotel where the names of the rooms encapsulated this well their respective names: Africa, India ... From the rooms and the public areas, it is clear that the owner has travelled all over the world and has decorated the spaces with some sublime photos and very rare artfacts. Abdel , Hamid and the rest of the team could not make you feel more welcome. Just go up those stairs and come out on the roof terrace to awe at the setting sun over the palm grove and the dunes...

casa juan

Want to start planning your Morocco honeymoon ? Get in touch with our team here or send us an enquiry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  .

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A private tour of Morocco should charm yet also indulge.

You are planning on taking on a private luxury tour of Morocco and you are wondering what is that you can not miss. It is no less than a daunting task, considering the explosion of luxury hotels, restaurants and brands in Morocco in the last few years.
Perhaps not as over the top as Dubai or Shangai, Marrakech has become synonym with opulence and hedonism and one of the favorite getaways of the rich and famous. If you haven’t yet heard of the riads and palaces of Marrakech, the odds are you have lived under a rock for the last 10 years. But it turns out that the boom of the red city spurred these last few years a country- wide breed of places and activities that cater for the well- heeled that wanted their options not limited to only the red city. We have compiled a list of what we think are the best ones. This is also about diversity for there is hardly a country more spectacular and spectacularly diverse. Naturally, we could have included a stay at La Mamounia, but La Grande Dame was also there 40 years ago. These are our favorite things to do on a bespoke tour of Morocco:

1. BE A GUEST AT DAR AHLAM

Ranked a few years back by Harper’s Bazaar as the first among the 15 most fabulous villas in thedar ahlam main kasbah and pool world, Dar Ahlam is above all a home which embodies its atmosphere and follows your rhythm. More than a guest house, the accent here is put on the experience, not the size of your suite. On the what but even more so on the how. Naturally, the standard is there: noble materials have been employed dar ahlam luxury en suite tentthroughout the house, the perfumes and bathroom products have been created by none other than Olivia Giacobetti and the two resident French chefs work wonders in reinventing the Moroccan cuisine. But if you are looking for huge suites with a tennis field- size bathrooms and express check outs, you’ve come to the wrong place. Here, you will find no TV’s, no telephone and no card keys either…

Each day, unique experiences are tailored to each guest with the unique purpose of dar ahlam wild luxury campingsurprising and enchanting. How would you like to find your room differently arranged at night then when you left it in the morning ? To never know where the next lunch or dinner will be served? Or consist of ? To loose track of time ?... The location of your next meal is always a surprise: it may be inside a private lounge in the Kasbah, one of the secret gardens of the guest house, in a nearby gorge for a magic dinner or a picnic set within the Valley of Roses…

Included in your room rate, an English speaking driver- guide and a private modern 4x4 are at your dar ahlam lunch secret gardendisposal to take you on an excursion around the area, depending on your mood and wish, at the time of your choice. Luxury means also not having to make any plans. Here, you are forgiven for doing things on a whim… If you want to step outside this garden of Eden, you may choose to visit the salt mines and witness the almonds blossom in spring. Or catch the sunset on Ksar Ali, the ruined Kasbah majestically overlooking the palm grove. Trek in Dades gorge and find out the meaning of ‘monkey fingers’. Visit a 14th century Kasbah, meet the local potters and ironmongers or act like a local and bargain the price in a Berber souk.

Each experience is organized around a theme where each detail is thought accordingly. The menus change. And so do the linen, the cutlery, the candles, the colors, the site… ‘ You know, everything can become reality here’ are the first words one hears when checking in (one day one of the guests took this so seriously that for her immersion into the ancient Egypt, she asked that her bathroom should be regularly filled with camel milk… No, that wasn’t accommodated for.)

Days go by here as anywhere else, but they never look alike. And for dar ahlam lunch in the gardensthe first time in many many years, you give up fighting time and rather surrender to its passage. More often than not, the guests feel like having a ‘vacation from a vacation’ after staying at Dar Ahlam. For the spell to really settle in, you need to spend at least 2 nights here, in a place where the charm cannot really be put into words… Dar Ahlam is currently being offered on our Divine option of accommodation with all of our private tailor made Morocco tours

2. SEE (AND HEAR) FES WORLD SACRED MUSIC FESTIVAL

fes music festival concert inside a riadThroughout the years, Fes World Sacred Music festival has progressively yet discreetly built a reputation that sets it apart from other similar festivals. If the word ‘sacred’ is making you think of liturgy music or a church choir, think again. This is a festival where flamenco shares stage with gospel, tango and fado succeed themselves to traditional sitar music or the griot music of Mauritania. The organizers have somehow always succeeded in finding diamonds in the dirt, low- key yet extremely talented bands and artists and have them share the stage with some of the most prolific world music actors of recent decades. Past artists include: Bjork, Patti Smith, Paco de Lucia, Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez or Youssouf N’Dour ( who will be performing again this year).

But what makes the festival really exceptional and somehow brings outfes music festival old city panorama the best in the music is the décor itself. There can’t possibly be any other better scene for this type of music than the century- old palaces and gardens of one of Arab world’s jewel cities – Fez. I remember one particular late summer night last year walking down a derb sidelined by candles throughout the maze of Medina’s streets and entering Dar Adyel, a three century old palace, all zellij, marble and cedar columns. Berber carpets were spread out in the patio and chairs were sidelining the walls. By the time the band settled into their fes music festival band inside riadtraditional music from northern India, a hand’s reach from the audience, only a few dim lights around and the starred sky above , it’s fair to say everyone present went into a silent trance. Or the Sufi nights in the parks of the city way past midnight where the locals could enjoy one of the very rare occasions of listening to traditional Moroccan music in public. Or Aicha Redouane bringing back to life some of the golden age Arab poets with her incredible singing in the gardens of Batha palace in front of a mesmerized audience.

This year, the festival’s theme is ‘Conference of the Birds’ in allusion to a the 4500 lines epic written by a Persian poet in which the birds of the world gather to decidefes music festival paco de lucia who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical Persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. When the group of thirty birds finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection. It is the Sufi doctrine that God is not external or separate from the universe, but rather is the totality of existence.

As the poem, this edition is a spiritual and artistic journey through the cultures and traditions of the world , which are gradually revealed in their depth, through a concert , an exhibition, a film or a conference. All continents are represented by the greatest artists , proven masters in the practice of fes music festival sufi nightstheir art or their song : Roberto Alagna, one of the greatest tenors of modern times that will present a worldwide premiere for the festival, Tomatito , a living legend of flamenco guitar ( Paco de Lucia, that performed last year, sadly passed away last February), Yossou n’Dour and Johnny Clegg presenting a joint project paying homage to Nelson Mandela, and Rokia Traoré representing the deep Africa; Kadem Saher , the prestigious Arabic singer from the Middle East or Zakir Hussain , the most famous Indian musician in the art of tabla. From Latin America we will have Luzmilla Carpio (Bolivia) and from North America Buddy Guy, the great Chicago blues legend who visits Morocco for the first time, surrounded by the greatest representatives of this legendary African- American music.

Artists from China, Palestine, Ireland, Hungary, Mauritania and many other countries and cultures will also perform in the afternoon at Batha Museum , the evenings at Bab Al Makina or within Dar Nights Medina , not to mention the much sought- after Sufi nights at Dar Tazi, out in the gardens under the moon and the stars. Fez, the conservatory and rather frozen- in- time city, truly comes to life during the festival, hosting a variety of exhibitions and educational activities, which take place simultaneously in the city and its gardens. Also, recently, a new project was born, the ‘living itineraries’ that allow the discovery of a millennia old Medina to the rhythm of Sufi music and lost-in-time tales.

3. EXPERIENCE ‘LE SPA’ AT SELMAN MARRAKECH

Recent years have seen quite a few openings of opulent hotels in and around Marrakech, selman palace spa indoor pooleach trying to out- shadow the other by its décor, restaurant menu, concept and almost always, a spa. We think of Palais Namaskar and its Feng- Shui- inspired spa, Jardins de La Koutoubia and its Clarins Spa, the spa at La Mamounia- always a reference, or Dior spa at Es Saadi gardens hotel. But perhaps the one that really stands out is Le Spa at Palais Selman, a 61 room lavish hotel, 10 minutes drive outside Marrakech. Selected by Conde Nast Traveler as one of ‘THE BEST NEW SPAS IN THE WORLD IN 2013’, Le Spa is a standalone space from Henri Chenot, more famously known for his medical spa in the Italian Alps which focuses on rejuvenation rather than relaxation.

selman palace spa hammamBased on the Henri Chenot method, founded at the Palace Merano over 40 years ago whose focus is the combination of principles of Chinese medicine with the latest scientific advances, Le Spa @ Selman has now created its own bespoke offering. The mission: to rebalance the body by helping it. Each day, the body lives a new cycle of 24 hours; this cycle is divided into three specific phases while observing the natural biorhythms: The Elimination, The Assimilation and finally the Regeneration. By recognizing this natural division, one will be able to make the right choices for his/ her body in terms of nutrition, physical activities, relaxation, etc.

In the case where the three cycles are somehow selman palace spa hydrojet room 2identical within minutes of each other, further Chenot methods are to be considered. Another pillar of the Chenot Method is based on traditional Chinese medicine, determining the energy field that each individual possesses. Henri Chenot has defined five elements among which we find the profiles that allow a relevant diagnosis and customized prescriptions. Finally, the energy circulation is the third pillar of the Chenot method. The identification of individuals problems enables working on specific energy points and potential restrictions- meridians. The method enables developing treatments that will allow sustainable actions regarding specific problems the body will encounter (fatigue, health problems, stress, skin problems, etc…)

Built away from the grand pool, sheltered by the main building, the spa is a tribute to oriental well-being. Arranged around a central square pool, its seven treatment rooms are hidden behind latticework screens. The vaulted ceiling seems to sparkle like a starry sky, perforated to let light gently filter down from above while the main room and arcade are plunged in semi-darkness, promoting utter relaxation. Light and dark, shadow play, shimmering mosaic tiles, traditional plasterwork... unquestionably inspired by the Orient, equipped with two heated outdoor pools and completely secluded from the rest of the hotel, evoking the ancient hammam of Istanbul. Steam room, sauna, water jets, hydrotherapy... all contribute to a matchless state of being.

In order to put these principles into practise, Le Spa is equipped with selman palace hydrojet room7 treatment rooms, 4 hydrotherapy rooms, a jet-massage pool and an expansive Hammam area. There are an additional 2 outdoor heated pools, a Jacuzzi and an indoor relaxation pool and fitness suite. In addition, there is a private spa suite complete with its own Hammam, Massage and Hydrotherapy areas. For guests to be able to have a complete experience of Selman, Dominique Chenot has integrated their signature ‘Bio-light’ cuisine within all three restaurants: ‘The Biolight proposition serves to demonstrate that our 'diet' is well-harmonized with good food that is beautifully presented. The Chef at Selman Marrakech, Ludovic Gomiero, learned the philosophy of our cuisine with me. It is a diet which above all considers the selection of produce and methods of cooking. It teaches us that to follow a healthy diet is also a pleasure. The cuisine presented is part of our true identity and our research.’ Independent from the rest of the hotel lie the stables with 16 boxes housing a collection of pure bred Arabian award- winning horses, 6 outdoor paddocks and a spring garden of 4000 sqm where signature horse shows are organized .

selman palace libraryThe spa together with the hotel and the stables were all designed by Jacques Garcia, the French architect responsible for the restoration of La Mamounia in Marrakech or Le Fouquet in Paris. To quote Conde Nast Traveler: ‘Every square inch is set for seduction, from the smoky-gray corridors lined with red silk- shaded lamps, to the formal dining room, with its violet-velvet banquettes and fireplace nooks’. To give you an idea of the work that has gone into place here, every brick of the façade and every piece of mosaic was laid in by hand. And there are a few. Mr Garcia said in an interview when asked about what inspired him when building the spa: ‘’The spa is of course inspired by the Orient. It reminds me of the hammams of ancient Istanbul. For me personally, the ultimate one is at the harem of Topkapi. The optical illusions of light and shade cast by the mashrabiya screens…. It’s quite fleeting and mysterious. It is a place of pure comfort and refinement. With its two private pools, the spa is an oasis within an oasis.’’

4. SPEND A NIGHT IN AN EN- SUITE TENT IN THE SAHARA

azalai camp a tea in the desertMost people booking a private Morocco tour want to spend a night in the dunes of the Sahara. And for good reason. Even those coming from countries like Australia, US or South America where the desert is also present. Why ? There is something about the Sahara that startles the imagination of even the most conformist person. Is it the tales of 1001 nights ? The Hollywood blockbusters and their portraying of the desert knights, a mix of ruthless and mysterious, cherishing their freedom as their greatest good ? The tales of die- hard romantics like Lawrence of Arabia or Isabelle Eberhardt ? The stories of the caravans slowly crossing the dunes carrying gold, slaves, ivory or the most unheard- of spices or precious stones? Hard to answer. One thing is certain: a night in the desert always exceeds the expectations and is something remembered for the years to follow.

For those that don’t want to rough it, living the desert experience doesn’t azalai camp camel ridenecessarily mean spending the night under a wool tent hardly larger than your mattress or sharing toilets with the rest of the camp tenants. The last few years have seen quite a few openings of ‘luxury’ camps. Bouchaib and Khouloud, the young couple owners of Azalai Desert Camp in Erg Chigaga have taken things a step further. Instead of the typical Berber wool tent and bulky Syrian armchairs, they have designed something different, using linen instead of wool ( so the tent doesn’t keep the heat) and white and beige as the main colors throughout, a style that has been termed ‘ Gentleman Voyageur’. This is not a coincidence since the owners’ favorite movie is ‘Out of Africa’ whose poster hangs on the walls of the lounge of their Azalai Desert Lodge hotel in Zagora. Back at the camp, pouffes are laid out at night with cushions to admire the Milky Way and watch stars up close with the on- location Sky Watcher telescope.

azalai camp luxury tentsThere are only 4 luxurious canopy roof tents that accommodate exclusively the lovers of the great sand dunes and travelers wishing to experience the overwhelming otherness of the Sahara. Each 20 square meters, they have everything you can dream of : mosquito nets, a Simmons- mattress 180 cm wide bed and a real bathroom not only functional but full of charm. Placed on a walkway behind a veil of linen insulation of the room, as out of the novels of last century, the bathroom unveils the oddity of a beautiful sink from Fez, embedded in a marble top
capping a stylish wooden furniture. White canvas tents are all lined with linen, soft and bright. The exquisite Moroccan dinners are prepared back at the hotel in Zagora and served hot in an open air ‘dining room’ set in front of every tent.

A fifth VIP tent ( 35 square meters), with its own dedicated private butler is azalai camp outside loungethere for those looking to linger for a few nights in the dunes in complete privacy and has plenty of extras to make sure you have things to do when dune watching is over: an area to sample refined cuisine and a lounge- library to surrender to the pleasure of a board game or a travel novel. In a style suitable to the peculiar spirit of the destination , picnic chic , camel rides and even hypothetical rounds of golf on a green mini set a few sand dunes away, punctuate the passage of time .

If you are planning to spend a few days, you should know that the area is filled with interesting sites to see. After all, we are on the banks of the mythical Draa valley, a valley so often followed by the caravans coming from or heading over the dunes into Sudan, the word used to designate the black kingdom south of the Sahara. The lodge invites you to azalai camp vip tentdiscover the palm grove of Zagora either on foot or on a mountain bike, to roam around adobe villages in the shade of the palms in the middle of the palm or hide and seek around Ksar Tissergat and its wells of light, a village built almost entirely underground. The nearby Kasbah of Amezrou reminds the rich Jewish presence in the area, controlling the silver manufacturing and trading. Only 12 families were left when they decided to flee Amezrou for Israel back in 1956. The small synagogue can still be visited, illuminated by a skylight during the day. At the bottom of it was placed the Torah in a niche, and small holes are drilled into the walls where the kippas were once deposited. Tamegrout , the potters village, is where the locals make and export throughout the country their famous and unmistakably green pottery. It is also the siege of one of the most prestigious zaouïas ( Islamic school ) in North Africa, containing nine century old manuscripts, valuable scientific treatises , religious books dating from the Andalusian golden age and flourished Korans .

But perhaps the most interesting is to travel back in time, hop on a camel and have an intimate tête- a – tête picnic on the banks of Sacred Oasis, with white tablecloth and silverware. Now just lay back on the sand, close your eyes for a second and imagine the caravan traders reaching the source of water after weeks of navigating the relentless sea of dunes. For those short on time that can’t do without the bliss of spending a night in the Sahara, good news is on the way. Soon, a small plane flight (only the pilot, 2 passengers and their luggage) will carry the few lucky ones from Marrakech over the snowcapped peaks of the Atlas Mountains into the desert for a stay at Azalai Luxury Camp. To be continued…

5. FLY IN A HOT AIR BALLOON OVER MARRAKECH

hot air balloon flightWaking up on your holidays at 5 AM has to be for a good reason. Especially when you have to convince your other half to follow your example. Or the children if it is a family holiday. Seeing the ‘red city’ , the Berber dwars and the millennia old palm grove. From above. 400 meters high. Is that a good reason ? We think it is. If you are worried about catching up on your sleep, know that the whole affair will be wrapped up by 11 AM and you can have a snooze by the pool back at your Riad in Marrakech, after an early lunch. If this is not a romantic way to surprise your loved one(s), well, we don’t know what is. Especially considering the choice to take a normal flight or have the more high- end option of having the balloon all for yourselves with nothing more than the pilot and the butler filling your glasses with champagne while you take in the panorama.

Making it to the meeting point just after dusk, you get picked up by a hot air balloon flight berber village viewspotless 4x4 and driven to the palm grove where the team starts filling the balloon. Once the gas bottles and burners are set up inside the basket, they check to see if there is no gas escape, place the basket on the side and attach the actual parachute. Then the inflation begins. The powerful fan draws cold air inside the envelope. The pilot turns on the burners which heat up the air inside. Meanwhile the assistants help keeping the hot air balloon down. The last tests are being performed: the panel opening parachute, on board panels, radio tests , then passengers can come on board : the preparations are finished. The pilot continues to heat up the balloon – it must reach a temperature close to 100 ° C at the top of the envelope.

hot air balloon flight take offFinally, the order is given by the pilot: " RELEASE ALL ! " All aids release the cords at the same time. Everyone is holding their breath. The moment is magical as the journey begins. For those who remained on the ground, the show is fabulous. For those on board, it is both fascinating beauty and adrenaline. This delightful sensation of floating in the Moroccan sky, suspended inside a balloon quickly replaces the initial surprise of the vertical takeoff.

During the trip, many questions are asked while everyone raves about the beauty of Morocco below and the pleasant feeling of having left all their problems on the ground. Seen from here, everything becomes more beautiful and the everyday worries seem all but important. The red adobe villages below contrast with the lush green of the palm groves and other olive farms, while in the distance the Atlas Mountains show off their majestic peaks covered in snow. Soon enough hot air balloon VIP flightit is time to think about the landing. The pilot chooses a flat area and starts the approach after having explained to the passengers what to do upon making contact with the ground. With a bit of luck, there is no wind and we have what we call a ‘kiss landing’. If the wind picks up, we may get dragged along a few meters. What better after the flight, then to enjoy a mint tea and talk about the sensations we just experienced? The 4x4 tour takes us to one of the small Berber villages we just flew over and discover the enticing Moroccan hospitality by having a mint tea with Moroccan pastries or freshly- baked bread dipped in olive oil.

Published in Morocco travel blog
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 00:00

Desert and Roses ( 4 - 5 days)

erg chigaga desert tent

A private tour from Marrakech to the Sahara and Roses valley over 4 or 5 days.

The extravagant ruined palace at Telouet -- postcard like UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou –  Dades Gorge and Rose Valley – the 300 meters high Todra Gorges -- ruined Kasbahs and lush palm groves – camel trek into the dunes of Erg Chebbi – sleep in the Sahara – prehistoric rock carvings at Tazzarine -- century old traditions and crafts - bread baking in a village stove - Berber granaries and nomad grottoes - all part of this 4x4 Morocco tour. 

Click here to see detailed map

 

Published in Morocco Private Tours