Under the Moroccan Sun: Restoring a Holiday Home

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The house is a metaphor for the self, of course, but it also is totally real. And a foreign house exaggerates all the associations houses carry…. And, ah, the foreign self. The new life might shape itself to the contours of the house, which already is at home in the landscape, and to the rhythms around it.–Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I love a love story, a happy ending, a dream come true.

In 2016, three weeks before I left Marrakesh, I received a message from a blog reader, a woman from Kerry County, Ireland. She’d lived in London twenty years, eleven as a  flight attendant, and was then working in the Middle East.  She reached out as a kindred spirit:

I have visited Marrakech every year for the past five years and am totally in love with it. I stay in the same riad, eat in the same restaurants, Pepe Nero, Le Foundouk, and relax in the same spa. Why change somewhere you love going? I am convinced in a previous life I lived in Morocco. Anyway, I am thinking of buying a renovated riad in Marrakech…

She wondered if I had European friends who had bought riads there as well. She wasn’t buying as a business venture but as a holiday home for herself, friends, and family. We bonded over our favorite films, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, stories of women who restored houses and made new lives in faraway lands. She finished:

…actually felt the need to email you as you remind me so much of one of my friends, Jo, who is just so like you with her outlook and is always taking herself off to Italy.

PS I adore Italy. Tuscany & Venice are too of my favorite places.

And with that, we were friends. I connected her with homeowners in Marrakesh who had fulfilled the same dream. Over the next two years, we stayed in contact. 

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Maison 7
Photo provided by Maison 71

I looked forward to her photos and updates:

It was so much fun house hunting in Marrakech online in my living room. After much research, I contacted Chic Marrakech, an estate agency, and viewed options on my visit in October 2016. The moment I crossed the door at Maison No. 71, I knew it was the house for me.  The house was in good condition, but I could imagine vividly how beautiful it could be…

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When I set foot on the rooftop terrace I could see the snow- covered Atlas Mountains in the distance. It was idyllic. It just felt right. I could see the potential, and immediately I made an offer on that day.

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Realistically if you are going to buy in Marrakesh, you need to evaluate the state of the dwelling. Many of us fall in love with the property and we don’t want to suppose that the water tanks could burst or that there could be a damaged chimney. In my case I had no roof or canopy over the courtyard and of course when I returned in February 2017 to sign the paperwork for the house and collect my keys, it rained and rained and rained. It was cold and wet and I was not prepared for the wave of emotion which came over me. It only then dawned on me, “What have I done buying a house with no roof?”

Luckily I had a friend with me who calmed me down. The next morning the sun shone and everything fell into place. The seller was a very talented Italian man named Adriano who actually restores Moroccan properties and was so generous. He shared his workers with me and also gave me his valuable time and now it has lead to a wonderful friendship. I had to rely on photos of the work which was going on, especially when I decided to replace the doors and entrance tiles. 

She forwarded me photos documenting the restoration, a labor of love.

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Photo provided by Maison 71
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Door Delivery Photo Provided by Maison 71
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Photo provided by Maison 71

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Photo provided by Maison 71

From February 2017 to present I lovingly restored the house, from furniture to tiles, everything I sourced locally.  I wanted to keep it traditional with pops of color as Marrakech is bright and colorful.  I replaced my doors with glass doors to let in more light which is really lovely in the warm days to open the doors and hear the Medina sounds around.

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Photo provided by Maison 71

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There were some mad impulsive buys like the brass princess bed which I bought without thinking it through. However it is now a much admired bed by many of my guests.

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In the souks many purchases were made from Zouak artisans who made colorful Moroccan wooden tables and other crafts. 

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Everything was done slowly and I decorated room by room. Hours were spent in Bab El Khemis, a huge antique flea market, sourcing everything– Indian paintings, French chandeliers , Moroccan lanterns and furniture which I restored. Rugs, cushions, and blankets I purchased from a local shop on my street, of course bartering which is key in Marrakech and which I enjoyed. 

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Latest update Photo provided by Maison 71

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Since Spring 2018 my friends have visited Maison 71 and I celebrated my birthday there. They all love it as much as I do.  

I focused on finding a home, a project to work for, a focus and that became Maison 71. Passion and persistence is what really matters. Dreams are achievable with hard work and focus.  I made my dream my reality in my early 40’s. I found and bought my haven in a foreign land. My dream holiday home.–Caroline

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Last June, Caroline invited me to stay in her riad as a writing retreat. It was truly an honor and blessing.  More on that in the next post… 

I’m thankful for modern-day Pen Pals. Women who share their journeys, transform houses into homes, create beautiful spaces for the soul to breathe.

Maison 71 is in the heart of the Marrakech Medina and occasionally allows guests to rent the full house for retreats or long weekends. If interested, reference this post and make inquires here: admin@maison71marrakech.com

 

 

 

Luxury Tent Experience…Camping in the Country

Koutoubia Tent at Manzil La Tortue
Koutoubia Tent at Manzil La Tortue

Whispers within as lanterns flicker, casting silhouettes on white canvas. Stars without, winking from an ebony sky at the palm grove beneath. All is silent but green leather leaves rustling in a restless breeze.

Since I was a child, Hollywood has fueled my love affair with tents. Though Tarzan never slept in one, the adventurous women on African safaris did. So did leading ladies in my favorite romantic movies–Beyond Borders, The English Patient, Lawrence of Arabia. At Manzil La Tortue my adult fantasy of nomadic nesting made chic by sheiks was finally fulfilled. Merging my love for camping and country (Dad’s only idea of vacation involved a campfire, and our grandparents took us every Sunday to visit relatives on farms), my stay at this rural retreat was heaven. As Paula (see video below) said after welcoming me with mint tea, “This is our own little piece of paradise.” I’m so grateful they shared it with me.

I had booked a Sunday pool and lunch day with friends the weekend before. My fish was delicious, the molten chocolate cake amazing, and the pool was perfect.

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I couldn’t wait to return for a weekend stay when I’d wander and photograph the property. When I arrived last Saturday with my friend, Jasna, who photographed me for this post, Paula walked us past the herb gardens. Outside our tent we could smell the orange and lime trees, but the breeze also carried mint, thyme, lavender, rosemary, and scented geranium which reminded me of home.

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As we passed the hen house I thought of my cousin, Sonjia, who showed my sister, Penny, and me how to gather eggs. I remembered my cousin, Brock, who showed prize rabbits as we passed the thatched area where bunnies were munching on breakfast.

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We passed through a gate to a private area where our tent awaited. I hadn’t looked online to see if because I wanted to be surprised. My mind flashed back to last fall when my friend, Monica, and I rode camels to a campsite in the Sahara Desert. I had expected a white canopy cloud blowing in the instead. Instead our guide disappeared to fetch dinner so we stumbled by the light of my phone into a pitch-black tarp where we slept on 2- inch burlap mattresses tossed on the sand.

As I walked inside, I was stunned.  By contrast, Manzil La Tortue provided so much more than I expected… glamping at its finest.

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Tour the deluxe Koutoubia tent in the video below– an immense 61 square meters/656 square feet.  Waking up to morning light illuminating the colorful canopy was as delightful as falling asleep to the wind’s breath causing the canvas to rise and fall.

The rest of the weekend I felt like a kid again in my own secret garden.

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As a Southern girl who values beauty breaks in bucolic settings and family, I love that this peaceful place is owned and run by a team of great people: Fouad Housni and his wife Meriame, manager of two companies, Unitours Moroc and Morocco My Way, providing excursions for guests; Fouad’s mother, Paula; and two adorable girls, Lina and Salma. I enjoyed hearing Paula’s romantic story (video below) of passing through Casablanca in 1970 headed to Canada but never making it. She moved to Marrakesh with Fouad in 1981.

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Tents of many sizes are available as are rooms in the villa or even “camper cars” for those who want to rough it.

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Breakfast is included, and half board and full board is also available for lunch and dinner. As a mom who grilled nightly on my deck in Tennessee and a girl whose dad grilled on every camping trip in Kentucky, I was excited to try their specialty, Planchas, plates of food grilled by guests at the table. Not quite sure what to do with so many olive oils and spices, I was assisted by Brahim, the waiter, then Chef Abdelhaq, who showed me how it is properly done. From Abdessamad, pool tech and security, to Naima who served breakfast, the staff made us feel welcome.

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Seafood Plancha

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Beef fillet with mashed potatoes, apples, and apricots

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Moroccan chicken tagine with prunes
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Gazpacho with home grown tomoatos

Marrakesh is a frenetic place–a speedway of honking taxis and zooming motorbikes.  Malls and even grocery stores blare “disco” music, and at my last pool in the Palms, the speakers that hung over every lounge chair vibrated from a DJ who made relaxation impossible.  Sometimes we need wide, open spaces…especially when the road ends here.  Fouad can assist with transportation.

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Manzil La Tortue, thankfully, is a No Noise Zone.  All I heard were brilliant blue birds singing; fat, white doves cooing; and hens clucking.  Whether your “tent thing” is Gatsby, Game of Thrones, or a childhood version in the backyard, here you can play.

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Lina and Salma watching a child’s program on a tablet

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For the Manzil La Tortue picture gallery, go here.

Thank you, Manzil La Tortue, for a wonderful experience!