Location: Marrakech, Morocco
An adventure searching for the perfect derelict Riad, through the constuction itself, to the end result (insha'Allah!)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Magic Bus Hippie Trail

40 years ago, around the time I was born, hippies were setting out to the East in search of lost horizons and expanded consciousness.

In a similar way to the Beatles discovering the mysteries of India, by the late 1960's, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones had found their way to Morocco looking for musical inspiration.

Cult authors William S Burroughs and Paul Bowles told of the African rhythms, the Berber culture, the diversity of the countryside and the mystique of Tangier.

It was inevitable then that Morocco and in particular Marrakech, became a firm favourite for hippie travellers in the 1960's and 1970's.

Many of these rolling stones eventually returned the way they had come, some only years later, while others found their private paradise and stayed put.

The original VW Campervan is synonymous with this period of pioneering tourism.

With this in mind, we are planning our own magic bus adventure this summer in 'Herman' our VW California Campervan, from Scotland to Marrakech and perhaps beyond...

Monday, 21 May 2012

Marrakech Donkey tales

There was once a wealthy farmer who owned many herds of cattle.  He knew the languages of beasts and birds.  In one of his stalls he kept an ox and a donkey.  At the end of each day, the ox came to the place where the donkey was tied and found it well swept and watered; the manger filled with sifted straw and well-winnowed barley; and the donkey lying at his ease (for his master seldom rode him).  

It chanced that one day the farmer heard the ox say to the donkey "How fortunate you are!  I am worn out with toil, while you rest here in comfort.  You eat well-sifted barley and lack nothing.  It is only occasionally that your master rides you.  As for me, my life is perpetual drudgery at the plough and the millstone."  The donkey answered: "When you go out into the field and the yoke is placed upon your neck, pretend to be ill and drop down on your belly.  Do not rise even if they beat you; or if you do rise, lie down again.  When they take you back and place the fodder before you, do not eat it.  Abstain for a day or two; and thus shall you find a rest from toil."  Remember that the farmer was there and heard what passed between them.  

And so when the ploughman came to the ox with his fodder, he ate scarcely any of it.  And when the ploughman came the following morning to take him out into the field, the ox appeared to be far from well. Then the farmer said to the ploughman: "Take the donkey and use him at the plough all day!"  The man returned, took the donkey in place of the ox, and drove him at the plough all day.  When the day's work was done and the donkey returned to the stall, the ox thanked him for his good counsel.  But the donkey made no reply and bitterly repented his rashness.  

Next day the ploughman came and took the donkey again and made him labour till evening; so that when the donkey returned with his neck flayed by the yoke, and in a pitiful state of exhaustion, the ox again expressed his gratitude to him and praised his sagacity.  "If only I had kept my wisdom to myself!" thought the donkey.  Then, turning to the ox, he said: "I have just heard my master say to his servant: 'If the ox does not recover soon, take him to the slaughterhouse and dispose of him.'  My anxiety for your safety prompts me, my friend, to let you know of this before it is too late.  And peace be with you!"  When he heard the donkey's words, the ox thanked him and said: " Tomorrow I will go to work freely and willingly."  He ate all his fodder and even licked the manger clean.  

Early next morning the farmer, accompanied by his wife, went to visit the ox in his stall.  The ploughman came and led out the ox, who at the sight of his master broke wind and frisked about in all directions.  And the farmer laughed so, he fell over on his back.  From the Fable of the Donkey, the Ox and the Farmer in the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights

From the berber villages of the Rif mountains in the north all the way down to the Sahara desert in the south and all the cities and towns in between, donkeys are a fundamental part of life in Morocco.  Like it or not these animals of burden are still used to transport goods and materials much as they have been for thousands of years.  Mainly through ignorance and poverty many are mistreated. However in recent years various charities are popping up doing great work to change the treatment of donkeys throughout the country.  

Within the ancient Medina (old walled city) of Marrakech, the derbs (streets) are too narrow for cars or trucks to access.  Donkeys are therefore still the most practical way of transporting building materials, pulling small carts of goods from place to place.  In a scene played out daily across the country, much as it has since biblical times, it was no surprise to see the donkeys employed by our builders to bring stocks of bricks to site at Riad Romm'an (above).

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Marrakech, the great city

"Here in these spacious palm groves...the traveller can be sure of every comfort and diversion and can contemplate with ceaseless satisfaction the stately snow-clad panorama of the Atlas Mountains.  The sun is brilliant and warm...the air crisp...the days bright, the nights cool and fresh." Winston Churchill, Daily Mail

"Fez is Europe but closed; Marrakech is Africa but open.  Fez is black, white and grey; Marrakech is red"  John Gunther, Inside Africa, 1955

"Marrakech is the great market of the south; and the south means not only the Atlas with its feudal chiefs and their wild clansmen, but all that lies beyond...: the Sahara of the veiled Tuareg, Dakar, Timbuctoo, Senegal and the Sudan."  Edith Wharton 1927

"It is a great city, the best situated in all Africa, in a fine plain, five or six degrees from the Atlas Mountain, surrounded by the richest countryside of all Mauritania.  It is clear that this city is the work of great masters because the design is as good as its execution.'  Luis de Marmol in his book Descrittione dell'Africa (1550AD).

Monday, 7 May 2012


Anyone who has visited Marrakech will tell you that what really strikes you are its vibrant colours.  Morocco provides an antidote to the greys and neutral tones of western design.  Whether within the ancient Medina with its spice and textile souks (markets), or outside the city walls at the gardens of Yves Saint Laurent with its variety of bougainvillea, there is so much inspiration available at our finger tips.  The mixing of colours is one of the key components of Moroccan interior design, so its no easy task choosing what colours to incorporate into Riad Romm'an!

Renovating a house in Morocco is a liberating experience, different from anywhere else on earth. Even with a limited budget, if you have a dream or idea for something, there will be someone who can make it a reality. Just as any design can be crafted by the hands of a carpenter, in the hands of an expert any colour imaginable can be mixed from only a few small bags of special ingredients.

What colours for the tadelakt in the bathrooms?  Our magician kindly made up tadekakt colour panels on the roof terrace for us to choose what suited each room.

Taking inspiration from a door (below) at the fabulous Royal Mansour in Marrakech.

We tried the colour for ourselves on some of our windows.

We kinda like it!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A flying visit!

Just back from a totally bonkers 2 day solo visit to Riad Romm'an in Marrakech. As well as checking up on the building work, it was decision time for floor tiles, tadelakt colours and for many of the interior details. The boys on site were really keen to see if I was happy with the work done to date. 


Yosef gives us a wave from the 2nd bedroom

Fountain discussions in the courtyard

Bijmat and Jerrida tile patterns to choose for the floors

We dashed around Marrakech in Hicham's pick up truck (above) buying taps, sinks and loos (all 5 of them!) and even an oven and hob! 

We even had time to look for antique doors at the Bab el-Khemis market.

 Now back home to catch my breath!