MOROCCAN RIADS

Escape the buzz of the souks and bed down at one of Morocco’s riads, where a world of spas, home-cooked food and culture awaits you, says Jill Starley-Grainger

THE 14th-century Arab traveller Ibn Battuta probably stayed in one when he visited Marrakesh 700 years ago. In his legendary diary The Travels he often describes with awe the courtyards, secret indoor gardens and lush décor – wood-beamed ceilings, tiled floors and Berber carpets – of the traditional Moroccan riad. And no wonder.

Today, these houses are the accommodation of choice for those coming to Marrakesh and Fez seeking a truly local feel. Well-priced but with modern luxuries and city centre locations, the new riads have more to offer than Morocco’s modern resort hotels. To get an idea about prices, visit www.hotelgods.com

As Ibn Battuta whiled away the afternoons in the shaded courtyards of riads centuries ago, so you can do the same today. We visit some of the finest.

Best for nature lovers

Kasbah du Toubkal sits amid Berber villages halfway up Morocco’s highest mountain, Mount Toubkal, providing high-end accommodation in rustic surroundings. The result of a 25-year project, the Kasbah is a pioneer of responsible tourism, winning a plethora of awards as a result. Formerly the home of a local ruler, it offers a unique glimpse into Berber life.

Accommodation ranges from multi-bedded Berber salons to the enormous Garden House, complete with living room, kitchen, dining room, private terraces and a large, luxurious bathroom. Staff hail from local communities and will be happy to arrange excursions into the mountains or Berber villages. Guests can also enjoy a hammam in the bathhouse in the afternoon.

Hot: The views of snow-capped mountains dotted with villages are incomparable.

Not: The journey there takes 1¼ hours from Marrakesh and can be expensive.

Doubles from Mad 1,672 (€150), with breakfast and hammam. Berber salons, without en-suite bathrooms, from Mad 1,338 (€120) for three people, with breakfast and hammam.

Kasbah du Toubkal, Imlil. Tel: +212 (0)24 485 611, www.kasbahdutoubkal.com. For packages, call +44
(0)1273 600030, or visit www.responsibletravel.com

Best for being a VIP

You’ll get a royal reception at this opulent riad, a favourite among celebrities and Moroccan aristocracy. When the chaos of Fez’s medina gets too much, stepping into Riad Maison Bleue’s cool central courtyard – with its small pool, shaded by lush orange trees – is the perfect antidote. Rooms are lavish, with large, canopied beds, elegant sitting areas and spacious bathrooms. The three roof terraces offer excellent views of the nearby hills and the small bar is a great place to relax in the evening.

Expect a high level of service from the friendly staff, and a hammam in the private spa is a must. Gourmands should try the vegetable pastilla at the nearby La Maison Bleue (tel: +212 3574 1843), owned by the same family.

Hot: The sumptuously appointed rooms.

Not: Bathrooms need a little more lighting. Doubles from Mad 1,970 (€177), including breakfast. Spa treatments from Mad 400 (€36). Riad Maison Bleue & Spa, Fez Tel: +212 3574 1839, www.maisonbleue.com

Best for hip grown-ups

Along a small alley in the middle of the medina, a hidden doorway opens to reveal the fairytale courtyard of Dar Seffarine. Graphic designer Kate and architect Alaa bought a crumbling medieval riad in 2003, restoring it to its original, magnificent state over the next three years.

Decorative zelliges make up the lower part of the walls in most rooms, with ornate plasterwork and carved woodwork above. Kate Kvalvik and Alaa Said could see that sumptuous furnishings would be overkill here, so they instead opted for high quality, yet simple, interior decoration. The roof terrace is a wonderful place to relax, with unbeatable views of the medina.

Hot: The food. Breakfasts are feasts and the dinners – offered just once or twice a week – are to die for.

Not: Daylight rarely reaches the courtyard, making it a cool respite in summer but chilly in winter.

Doubles from Mad 780 (€70), with breakfast. Dar Seffarine, Fez, +212 7111 3528, www.darseffarine.com

Best for culture vultures

This serene retreat is moments from Marrakesh’s famous Jmaa El Fnaa square, with its street performers, food sellers and fortune tellers.

The former home of the German ambassador, it’s full of his collection of art and artefacts.

Wandering through this meandering riad is part of the pleasure. One turn may lead to the small pool, another to the hammam, but all return you to the main courtyard, where birds twitter through the citrus trees and a delicious dinner is served as classical music wafts through the air. The suites are fabulous, but even the cheapest doubles are spacious and luxurious.

Hot: The roof terraces, which offer stunning views of the Atlas Mountains.

Not: The toiletries, such as Dettol soap, aren’t in keeping with the upmarket atmosphere. Doubles from Mad 1,280 (€115), with breakfast. Riyad El Cadi, Marrakesh Tel: +212 2437 8655, www.riyadelcadi.com

Best for families

For those wanting more services than offered by a typical riad, such as TV, telephone, taxi access, a bar and a 24-hour manned reception desk, Les Borjs de la Kasbah fits the bill. Several riads were joined together to create this small hotel, and all 18 rooms overlook a courtyard.

The rooms offer plenty of lighting, spacious wardrobes and enormous bathrooms. Arab and Moorish architectural elements are used throughout. The buildings are old, but the renovation gives Les Borjs more the feel of a boutique hotel than a Moroccan home. Because it’s next to the grounds of the royal palace, Les Borjs can’t have a roof terrace, but a spa, pool and hammam are expected to open in June.

Hot: Staff couldn’t be more helpful.

Not: Lacks the intimate feel of smaller riads. Doubles from Mad 1,500 (€135), with breakfast. Les Borjs de la Kasbah, Marrakesh. Tel: +212 2438 1101, www.lesborjsdelakasbah.com

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Brothers Richard Bee, 36, and Daniel, 31, bought Riad Tizwa in Marrakesh in 2005. It was intended originally to be a second home, but when the project went over budget, they turned it into a stylish guesthouse

WALKING through the door of Riad Tizwa, you feel as though you’re visiting long-time friends rather than staying at an anonymous hotel. “We’ve always wanted our riad to be a home away from home and I think we’ve achieved that,” says Richard.

Riads are growing in popularity and, to meet demand, many are being turned into guesthouses (maisons d’hôtes) and holiday lets. “The atmosphere is laid-back and relaxed luxury,” says Daniel, “and although the staff offer a high level of service, it’s a comfortable level.” Having spent time visiting a friend’s riad in Marrakesh, Richard and Daniel decided to purchase their own. Richard says: “I saw 52 riads in one weekend, whizzing around the souk on the back of the estate agent’s motorbike. I fell for a riad that was double our budget. It was beautiful, in the right location and the rooms had width as well as length, which is unusual for riads.” The buying process in Morocco is similar to England’s, taking about two to three months from offer to completion. Getting maison d’hôtes status is the longest procedure and “can easily take up to a year”, says Daniel. Unlike many riads they looked at, Tizwa was structurally sound, so the only work required was installing air conditioning, upgrading the electrics and fitting additional lighting. Finding tradesmen in Morocco turned out to be far easier than in the UK, with neighbours happy to recommend skilled labourers. “If you need a plumber or an electrician, someone will be there in half an hour and, unlike in the UK, you can afford them,” says Richard.

Richard designed the furniture himself, commissioning craftsmen from the medina to build it using local materials. Marrakesh has quite a few riads, so small touches like the Berber tent on the roof terrace and iPod docking stations to listen to your music in every room, help this one stand out.

Riad Tizwa opened its doors in early 2006. Throughout the renovation, Richard and Daniel stayed in their regular jobs, taking it in turns to spend weekends and holidays in Morocco. They enjoyed it so much they bought two more riads, in the medina of Fez and on the coast in Sidi Ifni, which will both open this summer.

For anyone thinking about buying a riad as a guesthouse, it’s worth considering why most people choose to stay there over nearby chain hotels. “I can’t stand the fact that when I’m in a hotel, I have to go down to breakfast by 9am,” says Richard. “At Tizwa, you can have breakfast whenever and wherever. We want our riad to feel like a second home, not a hotel.”

Doubles in Marrakesh from Mad 816 (€73), including breakfast.

Riad Tizwa, Marrakesh, Fez and Sidi Ifni.

Tel UK: +44 (0)7973 238 444. Tel Morocco: +212 6819 0872, www.riadtizwa.comBuying your own riad

WHETHER you want a riad as a second home, or to run as a guesthouse, the buying process is essentially the same. Properties are often listed with estate agents, but many people sell by word of mouth, so ask any locals you meet. Unofficial estate agents, often called simsaars, shouldn’t be overlooked, as they usually represent a wide selection of properties, but they are unregistered so use them with caution.

Try to arrange appointments to view before you go – that way you can see dozens of riads in just a few days. Making an offer is straightforward. Unlike the souks, you shouldn’t expect to knock much, if anything, off the list price. If your offer is accepted, the process in Morocco is similar to England’s, with legal issues to sort out and documents to sign. A local lawyer or public notary will usually handle the transaction and also guide you through the various levels of bureaucracy necessary to complete the sale.

Fees and taxes for buying a riad, including payments to estate agents and lawyers, will vary from about 5% to 13% of the purchase price, depending on the property and your planned use for it. You will be required to fill in form after form and pay an almost endless stream of small taxes and fees.

You’ll probably need to open an account at a local bank, so be prepared to make friends with the bank manager, a common practice in Morocco.

Only a few Moroccan banks offer mortgages to foreigners, and rates are usually worse than what you’ll find in the UK or Ireland. Most foreign buyers extend the mortgage on their existing house to pay for their home in Morocco, but there are now some British and Irish companies who offer mortgages on Moroccan properties, usually at 70% of the value.Where to buy

Morocco is a destination on the rise, thanks in no small part to their modernising king. He has huge plans for the tourist industry, so almost everywhere should see a surge in visitors. Marrakesh is one of the hippest destinations – a trend set to continue – while Fez suffers from a shortage of good quality guesthouses, so there’s a gap that needs to be filled. In Marrakesh, riads with a few bedrooms usually start at Mad 1,630,870 (€146,338), but in Fez it’s still possible to snap up bargains for Mad 815,435 (€73,169) or less.

Reading up

Buying a House in Morocco by Abby Aron (Vacation Work, £12.95/€19) includes all aspects of house buying, from choosing the right area to detailed information about the purchasing process. www.houseinfez.com has excellent information about buying property in Fez. www.buyingmoroccan.property.com is a mine of information, with useful message boards, book and website reviews and links to estate agents.

Honeymoon in Marlin Lodge

Couple Getting Marriage on the Beach
Couple getting marriage on the beach.

Marriage is forever, a lifelong task. A good marriage is the best gift life can offer and worth every effort to achieve it.

Proverbs 29:14

“You may inherit all you own from your parents, but a sensible wife is a gift from the Lord.”

Enjoy the easy parts, but be prepared to dig in your heels and fight the urge to quit during the hard parts. Find the ways to share the hard and easy times.

Marriages don’t just happen. Like a house, they have to be built, and then lived in and here at Marlin we would like to be able to share the joys of a succesful marriage by giving you the oppotunity to renew your vows with each other on the island at Marlin Lodge.

If you and your spouse have made it to a significant anniversary, or you just want to have a “do-over” wedding, consider a vow renewal, contact us directly : Jo Kunz on weddings@marlinlodge.co.za | Cell: +27 (0)76136 7322.
Kindly note that the actual renewal of the vows will be done by one of the staff members at the lodge.

Please send us your vows and what you would like read to you during the ceremony alternatively we offer you can download the Sand Ceremony Vows here and the other wedding vows here.

We do not have a professional photographer on site, but one of the staff will gladly take photos for you on the lodge camera.

Rack rate R 3 040 including: All meals, local beers, house wine, soft drinks, a private dinner set up location, a romantic bush bath & your promise or commitment set up at the southern point of the Island.

If you would like the have the ceremony at the red dune or santa carolina, please see all options below.

For some other ideas on things to do, check out TripAdvisor

Option 1 Vow renewal at the beautiful  South Point of Benguerua Island

Enjoy your day at leisure or part take in one of the many fun, romantic or relaxing activities at our lodge.

Meet a few hours before sunset and be taken to the southern tip of the island, while you get to know this beautiful area Marlin  Lodge will set up the commitment arch with island flowers and palm fronts, a champagne station can also be added if required.

You will get to exchange your promise to each other while the sun is descending over the African Continent and after a celebratory drink you will have the option to either walk back to the Lodge while reflecting on your romantic setting and life, or you can ride back to the lodge with our boat and enjoy the sunset and breeze in face as you enjoy a refreshing beverage, on arrival back at the lodge a romantic bush bath experience will be waiting on your private suites deck .

Followed by a beautiful candle lit dinner set up in a surprise location. Bush bath free of charge Private dinner free of charge commitment renewal, set up and transport at South point free of charge Bubbly selection will be charged to guests room account

Option 2 Vow Renewal at Red Dune, Benguerua Island

Enjoy your day at leisure or part take in one of the many fun, romantic or relaxing activities at our lodge.

Meet in reception at 15:00. Go via Land cruiser to the Red Dune on the Eastern side of the island and do the commitment renewal on the dune.

Our commitment arch will be setup with island flowers and palm fronts and a champagne station can also be added if required. Celebrate the occasion with bubbly on top of the dune as the sunsets.

On return to the lodge enjoy a romantic private candle lit dinner set up in a surprise location. commitment renewal on the dune including transport & setup $150 total Private dinner free of chargeBubbly will be charged to guests room account

Option 3  Vow renewal on Shell Island, Benguerua Island (please note that this is tide dependant)

Enjoy your day at leisure or part take in one of the many fun, romantic or relaxing activities at our lodge. Meet at 15:30 in reception.

Go via boat to Shell Island a beautiful sand island off the Southern tip of Benguerua Island. Our wedding arch will be setup with island flowers and palm fronts and a champagne station to the side of it.

Celebrate the renewal of your vows with glass of bubbly on one of the most beautiful in the Archipelago. On return to the lodge enjoy a romantic candle beach dinner.

Renewal of vows at South Point via vehicle or boat including a pre set up $200 Private dinner no charge Bubbly will be charged to guests room account

Option 4 Vow renewal at Paradise Island,Santa Carolina

09:00 Depart for the beautiful and mysterious Paradise Island/ Santa Carolina. Renew your commitment in the abandoned old chapel on the rocks.

Enjoy the rest of the day on Paradise at leisure – snorkel the colorful reef and enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch. Return to the lodge at 17:00.

At your room will be a romantic, sexy and fun bushbath waiting for you. End the perfect day off with a private candle lit dinner set up in a surprise location.

Paradise Island excursion including a set up boat, commitment renewal and picnic lunch $800 for the day Romantic Bush bath Free of charge

Private dinner no charge Bubbly and all drinks will be charged to guests room account

Mozambique Flora and Fauna

Mozambique Flora and Fauna
Mozambique Flora and Fauna

Flora includes some 5600 species of which an estimated 250 are endemic. Two areas of notable high biodiversity are those of the Chimanimani

Mountains and the Maputoland Centre of Plant Diversity along the South African border, which is considered a site of global botanical significance with coastal forests and some 2500 species of vascular plants.

Common species which occur throughout most of Mozambique include various types of Brachystegia (Miombo) and the tall Mopane tree.

Mangrove swamps are a common feature along Mozambique’s central and northern coastline and cover an approximate area of 400 000 ha.Fauna

Although most large mammal populations were exterminated during the war, some 200 mammal species, 170 reptile and 40 amphibian species occur and in most areas, recovery of animal populations is in place.

An example of the drastically reduced numbers is in the Gorongoza National Park, where the elephant population of 3000 has dwindled to 120 and the buffalo population of 14 000 has diminished to zero by 1994.

Approximately 600 bird species have been identified in Mozambique, with efforts under way to fully document the numbers.

Marine mammals include spinner, bottlenose, humpback and striped dolphins as well as the endangered dugongs. Leather, loggerhead, green, hawksbill and olive Ridley turtles occur along the coastline and whales such as the humpback breed in the calm waters during winter.

Endangered species include the black rhino, giraffe, tsessebe, roan antelope and African wild dog, as well as the African rock python, the wattled crane and, most notably, the dugong which occurs in marine estuarine habitats.

Benguerua Island

Benguerua Island
Benguerua Island

Benguerua Island was originally named “Sao Antonio” by Portuguese explorers and was later named “Benguerua” after a local tribal chief.
The island is approximately 11 km in length and 5,5 km wide and lies 14 km offshore from the mainland and the town of Vilanculos.

Click here to check hotel prices

On the southern point of the Island you will find casuarina trees planted by convicts from penal colonies during Portuguese reign.
The trees are not indigenous and were planted to prevent erosion on the island.

A guided island tour in a 9-seater Land Cruiser will take you to both the northern and southern points.
You can opt to climb the Benguerua dune for a breathtaking view of the island.

For birding enthusiasts, approximately 78 different species of birds have been identified in habitats varying from the coastal dunes, open grasslands and fresh water lakes, to savannah and acacia woodlands.

A few of the more unusual birds to be seen are the green coucals, green pigeons, purple-banded and black sunbirds, lilac-breasted rollers, olive bee-eaters, mannikins, paradise flycatchers, fish eagles, flamingoes, starlings and various waders such as curlews, bartailed godwits, whimbrels and crab plovers.

The two freshwater lakes on the island are ideal for bird watching and also home to indigenous crocodiles.Animals to be seen are the plentiful red-tailed squirrels, as well as suni and duiker, which have been reintroduced to the island.

The Archipelago is a shell lover’s haven.
At North Point, Pansy Island and on numerous surrounding sandbanks, the famous pansy shell can be found in abundance.

There are two types of pansy shells, one of which is endemic to Mozambique.

Kenya’s Safari Lodges- A Walk in the Wilderness

Kenya Safari

Kenya is known worldwide as the ‘cradle of humanity’ for being one of the only places where some of the earliest evidences of humankind were found. But Kenya isn’t just that! It is home to numerous endangered flora and fauna, breath-taking beaches, forests, deserts and glorious mountains that offer you a glimpse into the wild.

When in Kenya, the best way to experience the exciting life in the wilderness is by embarking on a safari to witness nature at its best. To help you decide where to stay, here is a list of the top Safari Lodges in Kenya.

  1. Mara Serena Safari lodge

The lodge is nestled between the African savannah and the Mara River, right in the centre of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. With facilities like a gym, a pool complex and beautiful resort-style lodges, the place feels like a modern day city right in the middle of the wilderness. The view from this lodge is one of the very best and it sits on a small hill that overlooks two migration crossing points.

 

  1. Mara Ngenche Safari Camp

Also overlooking the Mara River, the camp boasts of modern African designs with beautiful tents which have exquisite four-poster beds. The camp organises safaris with local expert guides and provides information about the Maasai culture indigenous to this area. Each tent has an outdoor shower as well as an ensuite bathroom.

 

  1. Voi Wildlife Lodge

The lodge is in the Tsavo East National Park and offers a spa and wellness centre as well as conference facilities. It is situated around 160Kms from Mombasa. The rooms are equipped with nets and have private bathrooms. The place is great for children as the lodge has a children’s park and a games room for entertainment purposes.

 

  1. Severin Safari Camp

What better than living in thatched tents in the middle of the homes of hippos and lions? The camp is set in the background of Mt. Kilimanjaro, with a luxury swimming pool along with a tented gym! Nestled in the Tsavo West National Park, the camp offers all modern-day facilities as well as a peek into the wild.

 

  1. Amboseli Serena Lodge

Situated inside the Amboseli National Park, the perfect place to go if you are looking for a bit of solitude, the lodge offers a view of the golden savannah along with the mountains as the backdrop. There are water sources nearby that attract hordes of elephants, buffaloes and hippos. It is situated in the middle of the Masaai-land and offers a secluded place for a relaxing getaway in the shade of palm trees.

The safari lodges of Kenya offer you the chance of living life amongst the miracles of Nature and yet, spoil you with the luxuries of modern day amenities. If you are looking for a quiet getaway to a serene picturesque holiday spot coupled with adventures and entertainment, Kenya’s safari lodges and wilderness await you!

Johannesburg – Discover South Africa

Johannesburg-Sunset

South Africa’s largest and richest city, Johannesburg is famed for its gold and diamond trade. Since the fall of apartheid it has established itself as a premier vacation destination.

Jo’burg, as it’s widely known, has a population of 4.5 million people in the city limits. It enjoys a dry, hot climate with winters (Jun-Aug) averaging around 60F and rising sharply to 90-95F in summer (Dec-Feb).
Despite the aridity Johannesburg is one of the world’s greenest cities, home to the world’s biggest man-made forest of 10 million trees.

Visitors usually fly into OR Tambo International Airport (also called JNB Airport after the airport code), 15 miles from the city center. All foreign nationals require a yellow fever certificate to enter.

US citizens can secure a yellow fever vaccination certificate from any doctor authorised to administer a yellow fever vaccination by their state’s health department.

Many long-haul flights depart and leave Johannesburg at awkward hours so it makes sense to book into one of the many Johannesburg airport hotels, such as the Intercontinental Johannesburg Airport, the Mondior Resort,
or the Protea Hotel.

When you’re ready to explore you can catch the fantastic 15-minute, high speed from the terminal.

In the city, millions has been invested to transform shabby streets and buildings into an ultra-modern metropolis. Art galleries, music studios, markets, bars, cafes, restaurants, and museumsare everywhere.

You’ll find an Ethiopian/Somali quarter around Delvers Street and Bree Street,Cameroonian cuisine in Yeoville, Indian and Pakistani music, art, and food in Fordsburg, and traditional South African life in the cultural quarter around Newtown and Troyeville.

The MarketTheatre complex is where you can find cutting edge plays and concerts.

The district of Hillbrow, just north of the central business district, used to have a scary reputation but has cleaned up its streets. You can safely visit attractions such as Constitution Hill, Johannesburg Art Gallery, and the Carlton Centre (which has superb city views).

Don’t be afraid to venture further into the neighborhood to see the real Jo’burg.

In the Northern Suburbs of Parkhurst, Greenside, and Sandton you can stroll leafy avenues,sip coffee on the sidewalks, and visit the Johannesburg Planetarium.

The university sector of Braamfontein, to the west, has a fantastic Saturday market and other great shopping can be found in Sandton City. But, if you want all the designer labels, head out to Hyde Park.

Soweto-Towers-Day-Tour

Home to half of the city’s population, is the neighborhood of Soweto. This vast area was an independent city until the 1990s. It was where the apartheid government segregated black citizens, to keep the rest of Jo’burg ‘whites only’. Still a vibrant, cultural melting pot it’s a destination for visitors who want to experience an authentic South African township.

It’s wise to pay for a guided tour around Soweto, which is densely packed and easy to get lost in. A tour will also make sure you don’t miss  attractions like the Mandela Family Museum and the emotional Apartheid Museum.

You should also include a trip out to one of the nature reserves (Suikerbosrand, Lion Park) or traditional African tribal villages (Lesedi). Sophiatown, the epicenter of black art, music, and culture in the 20th century is also a must see.

Again, a walking tour around here is essential. For sports, get over to Soccer City, the arena complex near Soweto. It was here that Johannesburg hosted the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, an important cultural milestone for this soccer-mad country.