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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, 27 November 2013 00:00

Azalai Desert Lodge, Zagora

DAK 7947

In the shade of the eucalyptus, I am just about to finish my lunch with a fresh mellon- infused home made ice- cream and a glass of what the owner of the house calls a 'citronnade': a freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with mint, sugar and lots of water, served frozen. Nothing more refreshing given the outside temperatures as September is still lingering about. Yet nothing more uncommon within this palmgrove, a world unto its own- 300 km south of Marrakech, where the usual desert is dates and mint tea. I can't decide whether to go for an afternoon nap or take a plunge in the inviting pool. Set in the middle of what some say to be the largest palmgrove on earth, Azalai Desert Lodge Zagora is a luxury guest house where only the architecture and decor is modern. The hospitality is altogether from a different age. Nothing forced or artificial in the attitude of Khouloud and Bouchaib, the young couple of owners who share their passion for the desert and travel with their guests. They have the gift of immediately making you feel like an old friend, on a repeat visit. Bouchaib is an architect and Khouloud holds a master degree in business management. Together they created something altogether different: the Moroccan hospitality and warmth complemented by a chic design, 5 star service and attention to detail. I can't help but wonder: why hasn't anyone done this before? Perhaps because Zagora is often thought of just as an overnight stop for the 4x4 tours of Morocco going to or coming from the Sahara. Azalai is there to prove them wrong. Khouloud was kind enough to unveil some of the secrets behind this success story for us.
Sun Trails: How did you come upon the idea ( of opening a guest house) and why Zagora ?

Khouloud Belkahia: It all started on a trip with friends, we literally fell in love with the palm grove. There were several options available to us: either take on an existing structure or create a guest house from scratch. We assumed that the latter option was the best, so that we make sure to offer guests the comfort that we wanted to. The location 

azalai camp erg chigaga
Jardin piscine Azalai Desert Lodge is very important and the palm grove of Zagora was the perfect choice for that.

ST: Do you see Azalai Lodge as a hotel or rather a guest house? Why?
KB: Azalai Lodge is above all a guest house. Having a small number of rooms allows us to offer a smooth service and to deal personally with each of our guests. That makes them feel like staying in a friends' house and having a luxury hotel comfort. 

ST:  In the area of Zagora there are quite

a few guesthouses, but you're the only ones who have chosen a rather colonial- chic design despite the typical choice where adobe is the main ingredient. What do your guests think?

KB: Our guests are always pleasantly surprised to find a place “beyond fashion and time" in the middle of the palm grove. They never imagine that when stepping through the main gate, they will be transported into another era.

ST: You have named your suites/ rooms: Paul Bowles, Saint- Exupery, Henri Matisse. Who are these characters and what is the relation with Azalai Lodge?
KB: We wanted to pay tribute to those characters who all have the love of travelling in common and their visit to Morocco helped them enrich their travel diaries. By creating this spirit " Gentleman Traveler " found in the rooms and suites , we introduce our guests to the work of each of these : Théodore Monod and his herbarium of 1927, room Henri Matisse contains brushes and paint, in the suite Saint Exupéry an airplane wing is suspended from the ceiling...

ST: When I stayed with you last, I tried your cuisine and found that your dishes were quite tasty but different from the Moroccan dishes typically served in restaurants in Morocco. Are these secrets from the cuisine of yesteryear? Grandma’s recipes? Who inspires you in the kitchen?

KB: I guess I wanted to get a little out of the ordinary by providing a Moroccan cuisine somewhat forgotten, but with a personal touch that will set us apart and appeal to our  

azalai desert lodge zagora by night

azalai lounge detailguests.  I am permanently inspired by recipes from my mother and my grandmother.  I realized while doing some research that Moroccan cuisine is really a heritage to preserve. For instance, in Safi ( on the Atlantic coast) who was under Portuguese rule for many years,  there is a mini cake in the shape of Cupcake called "Massappane".  You will never find this in pastry stores- it is an old recipe handed down from mother to daughter. Interestingly enough, the word is Portuguese at its origin: “Massa Pao.” Our guests are equally surprised when served eggplant jam or a potato- based brioche.

ST: Tell us a little about your career. Have you ever had a previous experience in the hotel business? And what is that takes most of your 

energy at Azalai ? What fulfills you the most?

KB: I have a degree in hospitality and a master's degree in business management. The setting up of Azalai Lodge coincided with the end of my studies. I found myself immediately immersed in an exciting job, which requires a lot of being present, focus and leaving nothing to chance. We put all our energy into fulfilling the dreams and wishes of our guests. These people that come to stay with us and escape. Our greatest satisfaction

 azalai luxury camp erg chigaga
lounge in the dunes is to help them make their dreams come true. Because above all, the desert makes one dream.

ST: Knowing that you are born and have lived on the Atlantic coast, how do you get along in Zagora where climate and landscapes are so different? Was it easy to adapt?

KB: I admit that the change was radical, but I adapted without problems! The conditions for

work are ideal, especially since it’s always sunny and the dry climate of the region is excellent for one’s health.

ST: Where do your guests come from? Which nationalities do you get best along with ?
KB: We receive guests from all over the world. Each guest is different and it is always a pleasure to exchange.

ST: What is there to do around Zagora? Guests stay for a few days or just spend one night on the way to the desert?
KB: I recommend a bike ride or walk in the palm grove. One can also visit Ksar Tissergate , the Jewish Kasbah in Amezrou or the village of Tamegrout and its famous century- old Islamic library.

ST: You have also opened a luxury camp in the dunes of Erg Chigaga. What is the difference between a basic camp and a luxury camp in your opinion?
KB: Both camps offer the same landscape. The difference is made by the service offered, the inside of the tents (i.e. furniture and appliances), the quality bedding and meals served.

ST: I heard that guests from Mamounia hotel ( in Marrakech) would come to have lunch in the desert by helicopter and return to Marrakech in the evening. It seems that soon you will be able to offer this service, by small plane. Can you give us more details? 

camel ride erg chigaga

KB: There is certainly a demand for this kind of VIP service, people who do not necessarily have the time to cross the Draa Valley by car but can’t afford to miss the magic of the desert. We do offer a picnic lunch that we call "Gentleman traveler” where a table with white tablecloth and silverware is set up in the dunes, to then offer a refined meal served under the shade of palm trees. 

ST: What other future plans do you have for 

Azalai Lodge? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

KB: We have just launched Le Lodge and Villa Azalai in Marrakech and we are working on Azalai Lodge Oualidia (on the Atlantic coast).
In 5 years I see myself at Azalai Zagora in the winter and in the summer at Azalai Oualidia .

ST: All the toiletries that you put at the disposal of guests are made using natural products. Tell us a bit more about this. What other steps do you take to preserve the 

azalai lodge zagora outside view
azalai lodge zagora at night desert tents at night
a tea in the saharaenvironment?

KB: Our skin care products are based on natural products not only for the benefit of our guests but also to preserve the environment. To this purpose, we treat wastewater to water the garden , the hot water is sun- heated, our constructions are built in local stone , we do selective sorting and no palm tree was ever cut or transplanted .

ST: What is the best time of year to visit you? Why?
KB: The best time to visit us is from September to May. The weather is nice and it rarely rains. You should avoid visiting Zagora in the summer as it can get extremely hot. 

ST: You told us about the other 2 Azalai guest houses in Marrakech and Oualidia. Are they similar to Azalai Lodge?

vip tent erg chigaga KB: The three houses have the same spirit "Desert Lodge" but not the same story. The Lodge Azalai Marrakech is a real exclusive lodge for 2 persons in the village of Oumnes, at 30 km from Marrakech. 

Villa Azalai is 20km from Marrakech on the road to Lalla Takerkoust dam and is rented as a whole, for a group of friends or a large family.
Azalai Oualidia Lodge is currently under 

 

Azalay Lodge 002construction and is located on a wild Atlantic beach.

ST: Tell us something amazing that happened to you at Azalai Lodge with your guests. 

KB: We recently witnessed a very special moment with a young English couple. The gentleman had asked us to organize a surprise birthday party in the desert for the young lady, so the ambiance was already intense: a dozen candles around a dining table on the top of a dune. The lady was so glad when she found the surprise birthday party. But not as surprised as she was when the gentleman proposed to her right there and then in the middle of the dunes. We were just as surprised as she was…

She did say yes. 

Azalai Desert Lodge and Azalai Luxury Camp are currently offered on our 'Caravans Dust' and 'Oases and Palm Groves' tours as well as other tailor- made tours in the Privilege option of accommodation. For more photos of their luxury desert camp and facilities, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.617027101663802.1073741830.190567174309799&type=3

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