Growing up at Jnane Tamsna had its perks. As a kid, I’d go on lengthy bike rides through the palm grove accompanied by my trusty dogs to discover our surroundings. But I did not even have to leave our property to expand my horizons. When I was in the 4th grade, I would run up the stairs of the Moussafir Pavillion as soon as I got back from school. Once at the top, I’d look down from the rooftop terrace into the garden, where painter Phillipe Deltour would be crouched over a large canvas spread out on the ground. At that time, the Belgian artist was using charcoal to draw on recycled cement bag paper. Having always had a passion for art, I just loved being perched on the roof watching him work until the sun went down.
Jnane's Blog: Oasis Lifestyle in Marrakech
Though our calm haven in the Marrakech Palmeraie is the only place we would chose to live in Morocco, weekend escapades are always a breath of fresh air. The last couple times we ventured to Casablanca, we visited its most famous monument: the Hassan II Mosque. Built in celebration of the former king's 60th birthday and opened in 1993, it rises high above the Atlantic coast, embodying the Koranic verse stating that God's throne was built upon the water. It can hold up to 25,000 worshippers inside and has space for 80,000 more in its courtyards and squares. Designed by French architect Michel Pinseau, its minaret is 210m-tall. Though the monument’s design stays true to Islamic tradition, a laser beam shines from the top towards Mecca at night, exemplifying Morocco’s move towards modernity. I took great pleasure in photographing the traditional woodcarving, zellij (tile work) and stucco moulding.
This week we decided to visit the Sahara desert, a place known around the world for its amazing size and incredible beauty. There are many towns and villages which can act as gateways into the Sahara.
We chose to go through the village of Merzouga because the road from Marrakech runs through the Kasbah Aït Benhadou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features a small ksar (village) located on the old caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. Enchanted by the charm of this ksar we lost sight of time and ended up hitting the road not long before the sun set.
Exploring the Marrakech Medina never gets old for me, and wandering the streets of the vibrant souks with my motherMeryanne is my favorite way to re-discover my city. On our last trip to the Place des Ferblantiers, not far from the better-known Jemaa El Fna Square, we came across a hip new store called Mini Boutique.
Morocco has four imperial cities. The one we visited this week is Fes. Six hours after leaving the Marrakech Palmeraie and driving along some of Morocco's most beautiful backcountry roads we arrived at our destination. Just like Marrakech, Fez has a unique charm that differentiates it from the rest of the country. It has the largest medina (old town) of Morocco and is home to the world's first university.
I have always been a fan of vintage stores, because for me there is nothing more elegant and feminine than fifties fashion. My mother, my aunts and their friends looked like Hollywood stars with their fabulous dresses, skirts and tops. When I was a broke New Yorker in the early eighties, working hard and partying like there was no tomorrow, I discovered vintage stores, which allowed me to have the most diverse and elegant wardrobe with amazing cocktail dresses for only $20.
When I found out there was a vintage store opening new options for shopping in Marrakech, I was thrilled. Topolina has breathtaking clothes, with custom-made fur coats, dresses, hats, clutches and shoes. Isabelle, the owner, also uses unique hand dyed fabrics from the Sahara and makes wax fabric coats, as pictured here. Marrakech caftans are known to be some of the best, but once you've picked up one or two, stopping by Topolina is a must. The shop is full of charm, with skilled Moroccan embroiderers working in front of you. She has an eclectic, bohemian chic vintage apartment above the store where she lives. She is opening a new location for the summer in Tangiers. Get ready to shop!
Marrakech is surrounded by stunning regions easily accessible by road. One we visited this month is Bine El Ouidane. After a three-hour drive on backcountry roads that expose the breathtaking landscapes of central Morocco we arrived to our destination.
The region has a large water reservoir set in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, surrounded by rolling hills and lush vegetation. After settling down we took three of the kayaks offered by the hotel to explore the lake in front of us. For dinner we enjoyed a delicious chicken tajine prepared with fresh local produce.
The next day we visited the Cascades d’Ouzoud, an area that has a gorgeous waterfall and caves that we unfortunately did not have time to visit. This area of Morocco has some of the most beautiful landscapes we have seen in the country. We highly recommended to anyone wishing to go on a one or two day trip from Jnane Tamsna, our boutique hotel in the Marrakech Palmeraie.
Although I grew up exploring the Marrakech Medina (ancient city), it was still an adventure to have a weekend getaway to explore the winding alleys of the 12th century Fez Medina. The blend of white and cream colored walls reflected the summer sunlight to give the area a soft glow.
Walking through the antique wooden doors of the Attarin Medersa (Koranic School) we entered into an airy courtyard, surrounded by walls covered in intricately hand-carved calligraphy. The Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts & Crafts was an equally impressive showcase of Moroccan craftsmanship.This 14th century foundouk (abode for nomadic traders) has a rooftop terrace with a panoramic view one can enjoy whilst sipping traditional Moroccan mint tea.
Walking through the garden of Jnane Tamsna, our boutique hotel in Marrakech, I find that the early summer heat has ripened an explosion of mulberries. The mere picking of these subtle berries from the trees gives me a taste of paradise. We use them in the kitchen to add a burst of flavour to breakfasts, fruit salads and desserts.
I run into a family whose children giggle, their little mouths spotted with mulberry juice. Their father says that he had never stayed in a hotel where he could pick things to eat straight from trees in the garden. Yesterday Lamia, the art teacher, had a workshop with 7 little ones, aged 4 to 7 years old, in the garden. Her students were Dutch and English, and while the Dutch were too young to speak English, every one communicated through drawing and eating mulberries!
The bird song is loud and a gentle breeze blows through the trees. I find a client reading under a tree with a bowl full of mulberries next to him. He smiles and says, “I am in paradise.”
Apart from offering a spectacular garden visited by over 700,000 people a year, the Fondation Jardin Majorelle created a Berber Museum two years ago – a must see for visitors to Marrakech. Among its activities, the Museum hosts an annual colloquium focused on Berber culture, adding to Marrakech’s vibrant intellectual life, which is inspired by the city’s rich culture and history.
This year’s event, which took place yesterday at the French Cultural Institute, addressed Berber knowledge and know-how, including its transmission in places like Marrakech’s famed Jemaa el Fna main square.
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