Cyclists who like to go ‘off-road’ should look no further than AXS (www.argansports.com), a Marrakech-based bicycle company which offers touring, distribution, retail, and soon, a café. Ideal for ex-pats who are looking for an alternative way to explore Morocco, or for visitors who are keen for an adrenaline-filled trip.
Tours include the easy, beginner-level ‘Magical Marrakech’ tour, which is an hour and a half cycling past the King’s palace, the Medina and the Djeema-El-Fna where tour members stop to drink some of the best freshly-squeezed orange juice in the world.
Or, for something more adventurous, there’s the ‘intermediate to advanced’ graded full day tour of the Ouirgane Valley in the High Atlas Mountains. Two-wheels are a great way to get up close to Berber Villages and the tour focuses on “off-road” trails around Asni. Leg-wobbling maybe, but certainly spectacular!
Keep up with their blog here: http://blog.argansports.com/
Yahya Rouach’s client list may now include Harrods and Saudi princes, but don’t let that put you off. His lanterns and screens may be highly sought-after but given the amount of work that goes into each and every one, they are worth every dirham. The arcade outlet in Guèliz is more of a showroom than a shop, but it deserves to be visited nonetheless.
Yahya is known as the ‘genie’ of Moroccan lanterns and he makes these in either bronze, nickel or silver. His wall-hangings and lanterns are hand-crafted in the traditional way with perforated metalwork. The perforations make for wonderful shadows and all pieces are completely unique. With such precision in every piece, it is almost impossible to believe that it is man, not machine, who has created them. The band of artisan staff who work with Yahya have all been personally selected and have been drawn from all corners of Morocco and together they all work with tiny jewellery saws to make these fabulous creations.
Look out for the backlit mirrors, which are particularly special, and note that most of the pieces are now collectors’ items.
While we thoroughly recommend getting into the souk and shopping for your own carefully sourced rug, we have to admit that we are rather taken with Kulchi, an Australian-owned company who have a showroom in Marrakech (appointment only, +212 (0) 639 221 259).
Owned by Cassandra Karinsky, who has lived and experienced Morocco over the past six years, she first designed her own kaftan range before moving into the world of interiors. Today, with a colleague, she sources the finest quality –and original- carpets and mats from trusted sources.
Also, as well as textiles, furniture and rugs Kulchi works with Patrick Manac’h in Marrakech to sell prints of his collection of images of Moroccan daily life – dating back to the 1870’s. They are available on semi-gloss in sepia or black and white, a great gift for anyone with a love of Morocco.
Kulchi (meaning ‘everything’ in Arabic) is also a great resource if you get home and decide you want to commission your own carpet or if you, like us, admire Cassandra’s chic taste.
Skiers looking for a good-value adrenaline filled adventure could do worse than head to Africa’s highest ski resort (complete with the highest ski lift in North Africa at 3273m), Oukaimeden, 45 miles south of Marrakech.
The longest run is 3km and while the piste is not as polished as European resorts, but it’s a fantastic getaway and is very economical. There is good piste and off-piste skiing, and for cross-country skiers, crests are accessible. All the necessary equipment can be hired, but the rates and quality differs, so it pays to ask around. Ski passes are cheap as are guides and instructors, but go with a recommendation if possible as standards vary.
In terms of the season, snow cover can be unreliable but the best time to come is between February and April. It’s not that common to ski in Africa so go with an open mind and enjoy the fact that you’ll be able to tell friends back home that you’ve skied in Morocco!
An artist’s retreat with a difference, Al Maqam is located in the village of Tahanaout in the lower reaches of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Al Maqam means ‘The Place’ in Arabic and it serves not only as an artist’s colony but also as gallery, library and a place to stay. There is nothing else quite like it in Morocco.
The painter Mohamed Mourabiti has been setting up Al Maqam for over a decade and now, carefully installing traditional home-wares and local paintings and now photographers, writers and artists flock to the centre to share ideas and inspiration. It is a supportive environment, and for those who struggle to pay the €50 for nightly accommodation, they have the option to pay with paintings or poems instead.
This unique, quiet place hosts workshops and also has paint materials for sale and a conference room – everything in fact that the artist needs. On average 100 international artists are hosted a year, and there are regular guests like the painter Abderrahim Yamou (www.yamou.com) and the French writer Michel Butor.
You can find out more here: http://almaqam.eklablog.fr/
We recently contributed to the website www.theculturetrip.com a well-known, and highly useful, web resource that showcases the best of art and culture for every country in the world. Morocco is covered well and the site includes essays and round-ups on everything from expat writers in Tangiers, to the top ten art galleries in Morocco.
The site also sells books and films about Morocco, including classics like ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Morocco’, a classic romantic drama starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich. Travel books include all the regular guidebooks along with specific books on culture and shopping, and there are also titles covering spirituality, art, architecture, fiction, history and food.
For our contribution, we chose to write about gardens in Marrakech in a piece called ‘An Oasis of Calm: The Historical Gardens of Marrakech.’ In the article we talk about how the gardens of Marrakech have inspired writers and artists over the years and which ones are really worth a visit. You can read the piece here:
Former style editor, Alessandra Lippini of Italian Vogue and her partner, Fabrizio Bizzarri, have to be one of the most stylish couples in Marrakech. It’s true that there are quite a few concept shops now in the city, but this fabulously fashionable pair kick-started the trend several years ago and their emporium-cum-gallery, Ministero Del Gusto, is an inspirational and good looking space.
Racks of carefully chosen vintage couture clothes stand alongside designer wooden furniture, bas reliefs and trinkets that have been sourced from all around the world. The space is also a hive of creativity and a few times a year the couple put on an art exhibition or a musical gathering, a taster of their art and design school which they have created along with Italian architect Sergio Calatroni located out in Tahanaoute (20km or so away). Make an appointment if you can, but impromptu visits are also welcomed.