Moroccan Eco-Charm - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Mark Chipperfield, Issue 45 – Summer 11|
|(Les Terres M'barka, Morocco)|
|A COUNTRY GUESTHOUSE IS SERVING AS A MODEL FOR SMALL-SCALE ECO-TOURISM IN MOROCCO, IN STARK CONTRAST TO THE FIVE-STAR GOLF RESORTS SPRINGING UP ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WRITES MARK CHIPPERFIELD.|
|Fresh from the intensity, clamour and astonishing smells of old Marrakech and its labyrinthine souks and twisting alleyways, driving out to the Atlas Mountains is an intensely liberating experience – even more so if your destination is Les Terres M’Barka. Although its owners, Belgian chef Jerome de Bouwer and his partner Geraldine Moureau, describe their 15-hectare property modestly as an hébergement de charme (“countryside bed and breakfast”), they have created something far more magnificent. Since buying the run-down farm in 2006, the couple has not only replanted and restocked, but have been busy transforming some of the old cob-walled buildings into charming holiday cottages.|
More recently they have added 19 romantic suites, built around a private medina, like a luxurious walled city in the desert.
Other improvements include an infinity edge swimming pool and a fully-staffed hammam or Moroccan steam bath. Les Terres M’Barka now offers a wide range of activities, such as cooking classes, horse riding and 4WD expeditions; a special treat is riding a camel out to a traditional Berber camp for a night of music, dance and feasting.
In keeping with their desire to maintain the integrity of the original farm, Jerome and Geraldine have planted 1,800 olive trees and groves of fruit trees, which supply the restaurant with fresh quince, pomegranate, grapefruit, lemons and limes. The farm is home to horses, sheep, cows, ducks, goats, chickens and turkeys. But Monsieur de Bouwer admits that farming is not his chief talent, so he relies on local Moroccan staff – most from the nearby village – to tend the animals and harvest their organic fruit and vegetables which are used in the hotel’s terrace restaurant, along with other locally sourced produce (including Moroccan wine and beer).
“I am a very poor farmer,” he says. “I do not clip the wool from my sheep or milk my goats and I treat my turkeys too much like pets.” Despite his own shortcomings as a farmer, the former restaurateur from Brussels is passionate about the property as a model for small-scale eco-tourism in Morocco – in stark contrast to some of the five-star golf resorts now springing up across the country. “Why did I buy this place, ‘ere in the desert?” he says. “Just look at the view. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful, and, besides, I like the village people very much. It is really their place, rather than mine. I am just a gentleman farmer.”
Add to the title of gentleman farmer, builder and architect and you might be getting a little closer to the truth. The new complex of 19 individually styled guest suites is a triumph: elegant, romantic, beautifully decorated and affording the maximum privacy. Each suite has its own front door, private patio, sitting room and a sumptuous bathroom. The larger, two-storey suites offer multiple bedrooms and roof terraces, with fi ne views over the surrounding farmland and olive groves.
Constructed in the traditional Moroccan style with pise walls, fl at roofs, uneven fl oors and oddly sized doors and windows, each of the whitewashed suites has been individually furnished with woven rugs, hand-made light fittings and four-poster beds.
Special attention has been paid to the bathrooms, which are finished in waxed gunmetal black concrete with cavernous baths, wall niches for candles and, in some cases, dinky little fireplaces.
For guests who do manage to tear themselves away from their suites, there is much else to enjoy at the property. Dining on the terrace is a real joy – so popular is the light French and Moroccan cuisine here that it has become a hot lunch spot with many European expats living and working in Marrakech.
Residents also have access to the pool, small gymnasium, communal lounge room, and private hammam, which offers the full range of Moroccan scrubs and massages. A small gift shop sells local craft and designer clothing. Whatever the month, you should pencil in at least one day’s trekking in the High Atlas. Jerome and Geraldine will be happy to arrange a local guide and driver to take you. Apart from their breathtaking beauty the Atlas Mountains contain ochre-walled Berber towns and villages unchanged for thousand years.
With few sealed roads available, walking is still the best form of transport (locals tend to use motorbikes or donkeys) in these hard, dry mountains. Mint tea in a Berber village or perhaps a pleasant terrace lunch under the almond trees are just two of the rewards for a tough day’s hiking through this stunning landscape – plus the promise of a Moroccan scrub on your return to Les Terres M’Barka
|WHEN TO GO|
|With temperatures soaring well above comfortable during July and|
August, autumn and spring are the best times to visit Marrakech. Ramadan falls within the month of August in 2011, usually restricting the operations of dining and drinking establishments.
|Emirates flies from Sydney to Casablanca via Dubai daily, with fares starting from A$1,827 per person return. Business class fares start from A$8,107 per person return. emirates.com|
Flights from Casablanca to Marrakech are available with Royal Air Maroc. Prices start at A$128 per person return for economy, A$390 per person return for business class. royalairmaroc.com
|Les Terres M’Barka,|
Route d’Amizmiz, KM20,
TEL: +212 525 118 560
There are 19 guest suites and four self-contained cottages or “lofts”.
|RATES: Junior Suites c200 (about A$278) a night; Family Suites c300 (about A$417) a night and Luxury Suites c400 (about A$556) a night. The tariff includes a Moroccan breakfast, bed linen, towels and daily maid service. Activities include guided tours of Marrakech and overnight trips into the desert, featuring camel rides and traditional Berber banquet. Airport transfers available for an extra charge.|