The Red Rose of Arabia
By Lead Travel Writer, Renee Fontaine
“For the sake of one rose, the gardener becomes the servant of a thousand souls”
– Moon Over Morocco
Dunes of pink sand and hills of red earth caught my eye as the plane started its descent into Marrakesh. Snow capped mountains provided an enticing backdrop to this serene vista. Ripe with eager enthusiasm, I arrived full of anticipation to experience this ancient city where the ancient past intertwines with present day technology in rich and vibrant contrasts.
Marrakesh is fondly referred to as the “Red City” or “Rose City” because of the striking pink salmon-colored landscape. Arabian, Berber and French cultures blend with unique colors. The beautiful petals of this enchanting city started to unfold as I commenced my adventure into this exotic destination.
A Rose Palace
“The morning hour has gold in its mouth”
– Moon Over Morocco
The morning air was still fresh when I arrived at the estate. Villas Dar Liqama and Dar Louisa sat majestically amidst the palm savanna, known as The Palmeraie, just north of the old City of Marrakesh. Serenity engulfed me as I took in the surrounding. Walking toward the main entrance of Dar Liquama, I passed rows of brilliant pink and red colored roses. Birds were chirping softly. The fragrance of orange blossoms filled my senses.
Property manager, Eduardo Garcia, welcomed me with a warm smile. After helping me with my luggage, we began my tour of the estate. Set on four acres of fruit trees and gardens, the setting has a feeling of Eden. The traditional Islamic style architecture combines all the finest elements to create an authentic and exotic appeal. Entrance fountains, carved wooden doors and accent pieces, geometric patterns, archways and Islamic calligraphy capture the essence of the Islamic style. I am mesmerized by the use of the keyhole arch that frames the doorways, pathways and fireplaces. The shape creates a form of intrigue as one passes from one room to the next. It is like looking through a keyhole of a door to discover a hidden paradise beyond. The central, open courtyards of both homes create the ambiance of an Arabian palace – a Riad.
The first evening, I stayed in Dar Louisa. A group of guests in the main house were finishing their week of Moroccan cooking classes (provided by Rhodes School of Cuisine) and having a graduation ceremony. The luxurious suite at Dar Louisa provided the perfect atmosphere to enjoy my first evening. As the sun lowered in the sky, I relaxed on the rooftop balcony with its domed cover. I listened to the drum beat of the Berber music echo from the main house as the group danced to the ancient rhythm. I felt transported to another time and space of this ancient land.
Land of God
“If heaven drops a date, open your mouth.”
– Moon Over Morocco
Each morning during my stay, the “Land of God,” the Berber translation of Marrakesh, welcomed me with its ancient traditions and charm. The first Salat of the day – the Islamic Prayer – lulled me awake with the beautiful rhythm of Arabic sounds.
Allahu Akbar. Subhanka allahumma wa bi hamdika wa tabara kasmuka wa . . .
As the sun rose on the horizon, I welcomed each day with gratitude from my private terrace. I gazed upon the camels standing silently amongst the date palms and sand of the Palmeraie. The resident peacock would flutter her wings and fly up to the terrace railing where she would sit with me to enjoy the view and tranquility.
Making my way to the gardens, I meandered my way through an orchard of orange, date, olive, apricot and Medlar – a fruit tree indigenous to Northern Africa which tastes like a mix of apricot and guanabana. Woman staff passed by in their traditional Islamic attire – the hijab – greeting me with a welcoming Salam or Bonjour.
Mornings, when the air was still cool, were a good time for a game of tennis on the clay court. Afternoons, the pool beckoned me for a cooling escape. Floating on my back in the cool water, I gazed upon the canopy of the date palms above. Evenings were best spent star gazing from the rooftop terrace of the Dar Liqama. The silhouettes of palm trees, a sparkling star-spotted sky, and the stillness of the air created an ambiance of a being present in the “Land of God”.
“Pleasant words will draw a snake from its hole.”
– Moon over Morocco
Like a rose petal encases the flowering bud, the red wall of Marrakesh has protected this ancient city since its construction in 1122. Stretching some 19 kilometers, this ancient red wall has held the history and secrets of Marrakesh for almost 900 years. The old historic district within the wall is known as the Medina.
One evening, I ventured into the old city to experience the dichotomy of the ancient past mixing with the modern technological age. As I disembarked the taxi, a young tour guide waited eagerly to assist me on my adventure. He led be at a quick pace through the Djemaa El-Fna – the main square. Horse and buggies lined the end of the square. Men and women passed by dressed in colorful djellabas – long traditional dresses worn by both men and women. Small crowds gathered in various parts of the square watching, with anticipation, the musicians, snake charmers, and acrobats.
Lagging behind my guide, I followed him through a maze of souks – bazaars – behind the Djemaa E-Fna to a shop that specializes in Argan oil. The reason for his quick pace became clear. He had an agreement with the business owner to bring clients to his shop. There was no need for persuasion as I was already interested in Argan product and found the shop owner’s presentation interesting. He explained how the Argan tree is well adapted to drought and grows well in southwestern Morocco covering an area of more than 2,560,000 hectares! The deep root system helps to protect against soil erosion. The nut from tree is high in fatty acids making it ideal for cosmetic and cooking uses. After purchasing some oil and thanking the shop owner, my guide and I were on our way.
Continuing through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways, we passed through shops selling furniture, purses, dried fruit, spices and Berber rugs – a Moroccan specialty. We arrived back at the main square where stands served typical Moroccan cuisine spewing aromas of Tumeric and Cumin. The exotic music grew loader and the crowd was happy and cheerful. Moroccans dressed in typical Arabian attire mingled amongst 21st Century foreigners wearing Italian suits or khaki shorts carrying cell phones and iPads – an exotic contrast!
Red Mountains and Pink Sand
“One does not climb to attain enlightenment;
rather one climbs because he is enlightened.”
– Zen Master Futomaki
The stunning snowcapped Atlas Mountains serve as the perfect backdrop to the picture perfect, rose colored setting of Dar Liqama and Dar Louisa. My curiosity about the mountains and Berber Villages, led to day excursions. One afternoon Eduardo and I set out for Ouarzazate – known as the “door to the desert”. As we drove the winding mountain roads, the landscape turned from green – to red – to pink as we approached the door to the dessert. The Berber villages blended with the landscape – the homes constructed from molded earth and clay bricks cast a geometric pattern on the hillside. We felt transported to another era as we passed through villages where Arabs traded sheep, vegetables, rugs and furniture.
I learned that the Ouarzazate area is an international film-making location. Such well-know films as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and The Mummy (1999) were filmed here. However, my adventure to Ouarzazate had nothing to do with Hollywood. My desire was to experience the small villages where life, as it has been lived for a thousand years, has remained much the same.
Heading south out of town through a barren pink sand and stone landscape we entered a green valley – Oasis Fint. A stream with pink flowering bushes marked the entrance. A local boy led us through the valley showings us the various plants native to the terrain such as the date palms and lime trees. Climbing up a steep path, we passed several clay homes whose red exterior blended perfectly with the hillside. At the top we found a small open-air restaurant with a stunning view of the valley Oasis below. While enjoying the view, we shared a vegetable Tagine – a traditional Moroccan dish baked in small table top clay oven with cone-shaped cover.
The next day while traveling back toward Marrakesh, we discovered Ksar (fortified city) of Ait Ben Haddou. We meandered along the narrow winding alley ways of this hillside village past small shops and ancient homes with stone bread ovens and small chicken pens. Following stairs up and then down again, we came to a restaurant that overlooked the village below. The view of the architecture was breathtaking – clay buildings carved in integrate details gave the appearance of a sand castle which blended effortlessly into the red mountain backdrop.
Another morning, I set out for the higher elevations of the Atlas Mountains with an Algerian tour guide named Rafik. His good humor and knowledge of the area kept me entertained on the winding, mountain drive. The landscape became more barren and stony as we reached higher elevations. Rafik joked that we were going to Tibet – as the landscape looks the same plus several movies about Tibet were, in fact, filmed here.
We reached a small village near the top of one of the mountain ranges and continued further up the mountain on foot along a dirt pathway. Local villagers with donkeys and sheep passed by looking like they just stepped out of the ancient past. We soon reached the top where we found a lovely rustic restaurant – Kasbah Du Toubkal – with stunning views of the snowcapped mountains. In Moroccan tradition, our hands were sprayed with orange blossom water. We were offered fresh dates – a staple in Moroccan cuisine. Sitting on the open terrace in the presence of the majestic landscape we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan lunch of olives, lamb Tagine and couscous.
Our ride back down the mountain brought us past women in colorful Islamic attire herding sheep and cattle along the road. We stopped at an old palace which had been converted to a five star boutique hotel/restaurant –Kasbah Tamadot. Sitting on the garden terrace, Rafik and I enjoyed afternoon tea while admiring the view of the green valley below and the rose colored mountains above.
“Every vibration awakens all others of a particular pitch”
– Moon over Morocco
Each culture harbors its own hidden treasures of daily living that create a vibration of life uniquely its own. One such tradition in Morocco is the hammam – a steam bath-cleansing ritual. The hammam at Dar Liqama is designed in traditional Moroccan architecture with domed steam room and Roman style tub.
The day before my departure, I decided to partake in this ancient spa ritual. Starting in the hararet – hot room – a mixture of olive oil, lime, salt and herbs was applied to my skin. The high humidity allowed the mixture to penetrate. Next, my body was vigorously scrubbed by an attendant. I was then showered with buckets of hot water which were warm and soothing. Remaining in the hararet, a mixture of rose petals, herbs and mud were applied to the skin. Relaxing in the warm steam, I felt the benefits of the mixture soften and rejuvenate my body. When the attendant returned, more buckets of hot water washed my skin clean and silky smooth. My spa treatment was concluded by a relaxing soak in the Roman Bath while enjoying some traditional Moroccan mint tea.
My last evening at Dar Liqama, I relaxed on the roof-top terrace. I looked past the bouquet of red and pink roses to the salmon-colored walls of the terrace across the red sandy landscape and to the pink sky of the sunset. I marveled at the beauty and tranquility of this “Red Rose of Arabia” – Marrakesh.
For reservations at Dar Liqama and Dar Louisa please call: +44 20 7193 1221 or US toll free at 1-888-254-1070 or e-mail: [email protected]
Category Placement: This property was chosen for the Family Focused Category due to the spacious size, numerous bedrooms and in home entertainment areas. This property would also be well suited for the category of Unusually Unique and Romantic Vacation Rentals.
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