Archive for October, 2013

The Fireman of the Marrakech Medina

The fireman at work stoking the flames of a hammam

Here in Los Angeles it’s pretty common for most musicians to have a day job. On my recent trip to Marrakech, I learned this is also true in Morocco.  I had a fabulous guide, Khadija Benbourahel, who showed me around the medina. One of the highlights of my tour of the old city was when she introduced me to the fireman in the medina. The fireman’s day job is keeping the fire burning at a neighborhood hammam. But he’s also a Gnawa musician who plays this mystical Moroccan folk music.

The fireman slash musician rocks his tasseled Gnawa hat

Not only was it fascinating to see the fireman’s “office” behind-the-scenes at the hammam, but it was such a treat to be able to have such a genuine Moroccan experience and little private concert. Here’s a little video I captured on my iPhone 5s:

Khadija played rhythm with the fireman of the medina

Khadija runs a company called Morocco Private Experience that specializes in tailor-made authentic tours of Morocco. She’s smart and gave me such a special experience I highly recommend using her as a tour guide.

GIF of the Gnawa Musician slash fireman twirling Gnawa hat

Khadija Benbourahel
Morocco Private Experience
USA tel: +1 201 977 1232
Tel: +212 661 21 16 15

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Glamping in Morocco: La Pause Eco-Resort, Marrakech

Nomadic chic is the vibe at La Pause

Marrakech is one of my favorite cities to visit, but the madness of the medina can often be overwhelming. On my recent trip to Morocco, I took a day trip to check out La Pause Eco-Resort, which is only 30 kilometers outside of town in the Agafay desert, but an entire world away. There is no electricity or wifi, but there is an organic garden and olive trees. I only came for a few hours for a camel trek and lunch, but I liked it so much that next time I plan on staying the night… or three.

Left: Outdoor seating areas at La Pause Right: Shady dining table under a Berber style tent

La Pause has a variety of activities beyond camel treks. You ride horses, donkeys and bicycles and take a visit to nearby Berber village. There is also some thing called “cross golf”, a new form of cross country golf. Guests who stay overnight can sleep in one of the six restored traditional Berber pisé huts made with mud and straw or sleep under the stars in one of the nomadic tents.

Drinking mint tea in the arbor at La Pause

Upon arrival we were shown to a shady olive grove near the pool and served traditional mint tea. Then came our rather pleasant camel trek. The camels were rather charming  and scent free compared to those I met in Jordan.  Lunch was served under one of the nomadic chic tents around the property.

Camels at La Pause

Produce from La Pause’s own garden and olive oil pressed from their own trees are part of the menu. It was fresh, light and delicious and paired well with both white and red Moroccan wine. It was rather nice to visit this desert oasis and enjoy some gorgeous desert scenery so close to central Marrakech.

Lunch under a shady tent at La Pause

Lunch at La Pause cost 35 Euros per person and a one hour camel trek cost 50 Euros.

Left: Produce is from La Pause’s own Garden Right: Moroccan wine was rather delightful

One of the friendly locals joined us for lunch at La Pause

The interior of one of the traditional pisé huts with mud & straw walls

Since there is no electricity, there are candles galore.

Windowsill still life in a traditional Berber hut

Here’s a bit of video from my camel ride:

Rates at La Pause run from 1,000 – 1,500 dhm ($122- $184 USD) including full board.

La Pause

Douar Lmih Laroussiere, Commune Agafay

Marrakech, Morocco


phone 06 61 30 64 94

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Where to Eat in Marrakech: Don’t Miss Dar Marjana

The lovely bellydancer at Dar Marjana is just one of the restaurant’s many charms

On my recent trip to Marrakech I returned to Dar Marjana, which is one of the most atmospheric restaurants I’ve ever experienced. Located in a renovated riad that once belonged to a Pasha, it’s a great choice for a night out on the town.

Dar Marjana is one of Morocco’s Palace-style restaurants. This is the place to go for the full-on traditional Moroccan feast (and they cater to vegetarians, too) and entertainment. It’s always a win always a win for both the food and experience. Every night feels like a party, and this visit was even more so, since I had friends who happened to be in Marrakech at the same time who joined me.

Musician at Dar Marjana

The evening begins lounging on low slung couches in the romantic courtyard sipping Moroccan wine and being entertained by local muscians. It’s all kinds of Arabian nights awesome. And who knew wine from a Muslim country would be so drinkable?

Left: Dar Marjana Courtyard Right: The fountain

After your pre-dinner drinks and snacks, you head into one of the exquisitely tiled salons to begin your feast.  The names of the ladies in our group decorated our table in sequins. Servers arrive to wash your hands at the table.

Hand washing at Dar Marjana.

Huge slatters of food including variety of Moroccan salads are served. followed by traditional dishes like chicken tangine and pigeon pastille (pigeon pie). Wine flows endlessly. Lamb dishes can be ordered ahead of time.

Endless varieties of Moroccan salads at Dar Majana

Left: dessert was delicious Right: tea pouring ceremony

You’ll eat a ton, but it’s all very tasty and delicious. Dessert and tea are served and then the music gets turned to 11 and the party really starts.

Yummy vegetables at Dar Marjana

A local Gnawa musician getting the party started at Dar Marjana

Hips shaking at Dar Marjana

Then the bellydancer swivels into the salon to entertain and work the crowd. Many diners wind up on their feet and a good time is had by all.

Severin and the Bellydancer

Set menus (including drinks) at Dar Marjana run about 650 dh (or $80 USD) per person. Reservations are suggested. You can check out some video of Dar Marjana I shot on my last visit here.

Dar Marjana

15 Derb Sidi Ali Tair, Marrakech, Maroc
Téléphone 1 : 00 212 5 24 38 51 10
Téléphone 2 : 00 212 5 24 38 57 73

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Marrakech’s Jardin Majorelle: A Photo Essay

Pantone’s color #2,726 is a 91% match to the gardens signature Majorelle Blue

I’ve been in Marrakech for the past few days and between my lack of sleep (the call  to prayer 5 times a day isn’t helping), visiting with friends, sightseeing and  a crazy shooting schedule I haven’t had much time to write. But I did visit the Majorelle Gardens (Jardin Majorelle).

Morocco has a bit of a fountain obsession

Truth be told, the Majorelle gardens didn’t blow me away botanically. They were a bit overgrown and with so many succulents, palm trees and bamboo, I felt a little like I was in my backyard in Los Angeles.

I’m totally digging this orange pot

I did, however, fall madly in love with the bold use of color throughout the gardens… specifically  signature Majorelle Blue which looks pretty much perfect in the Moroccan light but I suspect translates a tad garish if taken out of context.

Stripes, sunlight, and Majorelle Bleu in Marrakech

Just google “Majorelle Blue” and you’ll find that Pantone doesn’t make an exact match to the heavy ultramarine shade which is probably more famous than any of the paintings by the French painter and botanical enthusiast. The color is so on trend there has to be a nail polish or three that come pretty close.

Left:  Memorial to Yves Saint Laurent Right: Palm Fronds Galore

The late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the gardens in the 80s and saved it from being developed into a mini-mall or something. Now the gardens and Villa Oasis are owned by the pairs charitable foundation– Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent.

A Splash of Citron works so well in the Moroccan light

While the flora and succulents may be a tad underwhelming compared to Versailles they are still worth a visit. They are an easy to stroll 2 and half acres in size and there is a Berber museum on the grounds. There is also a lovely gift store.. filled with brightly colored and easily packable items (some of them in the signature blue).

The Majorelle Gardens might not be Versailles, but they are worth a visit when in Marrakech

The Jardin Majorelle are open 365 days a year (including Ramadan) but hours vary so check the website before planning your visit .

The Majorelle Gardin (Jardin Majorelle)

Jardin Majorelle
Rue Yves Saint Laurent
Marrakech, Morocco

phone +212 (0)5 24 31 30 47

Email :

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Guest Post: Great Experience Renting a Paris Apartment Using AirBnB

Editor’s Note: Over the past year I’ve become a fan on AirBnb, the service that allows guest to find rooms and properties in 192 countries. I had a positive experience using them in San Francisco, and my friend, Mike, used them to find an apartment in Paris over the summer. When he sent me a photo of his rental and I noticed a lamp I have in my own living room at home, I asked him to write us his experience as a guest post for the blog. Hope you enjoy the read- Jen

Last year, Jen asked me to write about my experiences traveling to London and Paris with my family – wherein we found accommodations in professionally-managed private and corporate apartments.

This summer, our family returned to Paris for an 11-day visit. Our daughter, now 8 years old, was scheduled for one week of “French camp” at a school in the 16th arrondissement; we wanted to find an apartment within easy commuting distance, but which was also situated in a lively, active neighborhood. These constraints ruled out our preferred Parisian apartment service (Guest Apartment Paris) because the journey from their apartments to the camp would have required 35-40 minutes each morning and afternoon. Conversely, Parisian friends advised against staying close to the school in the 16th, which they deemed too conservative, sleepy and staid.

Detail of a few art pieces in the living room

I started searching anew for rental apartments on VRBO, and found myself once again disappointed by their limited search options, opaque pricing/availability details, and woefully bad photos. Not a thing had changed since I had considered using that service four years ago… Aside from the presence of a spunky new competitor to consider: Airbnb.

I had heard about Airbnb since it launched in late 2008, but never had reason to explore its offerings. Its youth serves it well, as the site feels modern and is intuitive to navigate. Click on “Paris” on the front page and you’re presented with various neighborhoods, tagged by areas of interest. Alternately, you can click on “All Listings” and filter to your heart’s content: Lodging type, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, price range, neighborhood, and targeted amenities. Airbnb search listings feature a live-updating map, showing approximate locations of filtered properties, so you can more easily target a specific corner of a neighborhood or access to a métro (subway) line.

Individual listings on Airbnb are generally very impressive. They use a standard rubric for presenting information, the photos are usually very high quality (Airbnb sends photographers to assist property owners with this), maps and street view are available so you can get a feel for the neighborhood, and a calendar of availability is maintained (sometimes slightly out of date, but better than I’ve found on VRBO). Each listing has a bookings feature that will give you an accurate price for the dates of your intended stay – so you don’t have to negotiate that later on with the owner.

Panorama of the living room

Using their search interface, I quickly narrowed down my search to 3 properties. I sent in requests to all 3 owners for our intended dates. The first to confirm definite availability was the one we booked. The apartment we landed at was a great find – just 2 minutes from a metro station, and 5 minutes by foot to the Seine. We were steps away from the Champs-Elysees, and just two blocks from a grocery store. Amenities in the apartment were everything we needed (washer/dryer, dishwasher, full kitchen, wifi, computer/printer, cable TV, DVD player). The decor was lovely, including tasteful furniture and intriguing art. It was situated on an interior courtyard, making the apartment incredibly quiet and protected from the noise of the city and streets. The stated square footage was over 1900 square feet for 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, an office/gym, and large living room. Best yet: We had all of this for $400 per night – the cost of an entry-level shoebox-sized bedroom in most of the city’s brand-name and boutique hotels.

Airbnb takes great steps to increase confidence and trust between property owners and the renters. They verify mobile phone numbers on both sides, encourage linking your profile to “real-life” networks like Facebook and LinkedIn (to show that you’re a real person), and can even offer Verified IDs to those who send in scans of documents like driver licenses or passports. Also, Airbnb renters pay fees directly to AirBnb, which holds funds until one day after you check in. You don’t have to deal with odd forms of payment (wire transfers, money orders) to complete strangers, and you don’t lose out on your money if the listing was false or misleading.

We were blown away by the ease-of-use and the transparency offered by Airbnb. It put our family at ease and made our stay in Paris a true delight.

Panorama of the courtyard outside the apartment

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