Morning walk, Almaty Kazakhstan



The city of Almaty sits at the base of the  Zailiski Alatau mountains. Today we walked through forests of pine and birch and old apple and pear orchards. 

Snow, sunshine and clean air- the perfect way to start a day in Almaty.


Tips for your next trip…to Marrakech!

More bread crumbs for my next trip…or yours.

Where to stay-

There are so many options, in fact there are thousands of riads in the medina. These are the two I stayed in and would absolutely stay in on my return. Although there are also resorts, I wouldn’t recommend them unless your a flighty type who doesn’t cope well with the grit and pace that make cities like this one so special. In my opinion, they’re really only there for the sanitised, all you can eat buffet crowd, so best avoided if you want to see the real Marrakech.

Riad Menzeh www.riad-menzeh.com. A budget friendly riad where service is second to none. The very reasonable room rate includes breakfast ( freshly squeezed orange juice, home baked pastries, fruit, bread and seasonal jams). There is also a hamam. Jamal and his team will organise airport transfers, day trips and anything else you require. A true oasis in the throbbing heart of the medina. I rated this 5 out of 5 on Trip Adviser. Brilliant!

Riad Dar Kawa www.darkawa.net. This is a riad for the astheate; someone who appreciates design, high quality bed linen and total zen. I wouldn’t stay here with children, reserve this one for a romantic weekend away or book it in its entirety for a special celebration. The staff here are discreet, and accommodating and its location in the heart of the medina makes it a true bolt hole for adventuring the souks. Beautiful!

Of course, if money is no object, then there is only one place to stay- La Mamounia www.mamounia.com. The guest list here includes Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandella, Alfred Hitchcock and The Rolling Stones…to name a few. My tip, is to visit the hotel for a drink. Wander the beautiful gardens G&T in hand, or settle in the shade of a tree for a relaxing brew of Moroccan Mint Tea. A fraction of the cost of staying overnight…at €850!

Shopping:

The following list of places were suggested by Valerie Barkowski from Riad Dar Kawa.

Chez Souifiane, Rug Souk. You cant miss Soufiane’s sparkling shop, specializing in Moroccan Wedding Capes ( stunning white blankets stitched with silver sequins). Don’t expect a bargain, prices start at $100 for the smallest and most simple design, but they’re so special, you really only need one!

Tresor des Nomades. So well known, it doesn’t even have a sign outside. This is the place to come for rugs and lanterns. Unfortunantly, there are more than too many well heeled Americans and Parisians kissing the owner’s cheeks for it to hold even a moderate bargain, but if you’re after quality, choice and reliable shipping, then this is the place to go. Rue Bab Doukkala 142/144

Nectarome. This is where I bought my Argan Oil, on Valerie’s recommendation. Much of the oil sold in the souks is actually blended, but here the oil is produced by the cities most serious producer, who also has a aromatic garden outside Marrakech. Make sure you buy both cosmetic Argan oil, and culinary Argan oil ( delicious mixed with crushed almonds and honey) . I also purchased their black soap infused with Eucalyptus. Essence des Sens, 52 Fhal Chidmi. www.nectarome.com

Michi. Valerie took me to this tiny shop in the souk. A great place to buy quirky leather/rattan bags, coat racks and Japanese inspired babouches. 21 Rue Souq Kchachbia.

Art Du Bain. This divine little shop is the perfect place to buy soaps made from Donkey milk, Camel milk and pure plant oils. Fragrances are made by blending local herbs, flowers and spices to traditional recipes. 13 souk El, Labadine www.lartdubainshop.com

Galerie des Tanneurs. I was taken to this shop by seasoned Marrakesh visitors from Tunisia and France, Katrine and Camal. Located in the new city, its worth venturing out to if you’re after stunning leather goods; clothing, bags, shoes and accessories. Angle Avenue Moulay R’chid et Rue Mohamed El Baqual, No 4. Gueliz.

There are other little shops worth looking out for in the souk. If you see lemon wood carvers, make sure you pick up some of the exquisite spoons and carved lemon squeezers. Quality varies, so check for smooth carving and workmanship.

If you have a fireplace, don’t go home without a set of camel leather and hand carved timber fire bellows. A small pair will set you back about $4.00. Form and function combined, and at a great price!

If you stay at Riad Menzeh, ask Jamal to show you the tiny babouche ( Moroccan leather slipper) shop at the end of the lane. They produce for Majorelle Concept store, but you can commission a pair in your preferred hue for a fraction of the price. Stunning quality and completely hand stitched.

Culture:

These are must sees

Jardins Majorelle & Berber Museum.
Slip into the world of Yves Saint Laurent. Once the oasis of this very private man, the garden is now open to the public, along with his beautiful Love Gallery, housing a collection of the prints he produced for friends annually. The Berber museum is tiny, but beautifully curated- worth the extra fee upon entry. The book shop is also worth a look. When you exit, have a bite to eat at the cafe opposite on the corner- delicious fresh salads and juices. The adjoining Majorelle Concept store showcases the best quality ‘ Made in Morocco’ designer products. Not the cheapest, but beautiful quality and selection.

La Maison de la Photographie.
This traditional riad now houses a stunning collection of 19th and 20th century photographs, as well as some of their original glass negatives. Venture up onto the roof for lunch with a panoramic view. Prints are sold in the shop if you cant bare to leave without a momento. I couldnt!
46 Souk El Fassi, Kaat Bennahid http://www.maisondelaphotographie.ma

Boucharouite Museum. This tiny museum, set within a traditional riad is a homage to the stunning rugs of Morocco’s poor. Boucharouite rugs are created from rags and old clothing and make as beautiful wall hangings as they do floor rugs. Enquire at the rug souk afterwards, where you can buy them quite cheaply. Azbezt 107, Derb El Cadi

Food:

Dont miss a sundowner on the rooftop terrace of Cafe de France, overlooking Jemaa El Fna. Rue des Banques

Lunch on the roof terrace at Cafe Nomad. On a clear day, you can almost reach out and touch the snow capped Great Atlas Mountains. Great view over Rahba Kedima and the buzz of the spice market. Place des Espices.

Although I didn’t go, this is a recommendation from Valerie. Le Tobsil, reputably one of the best tables in Marrakech. Bookings required, closed Tuesdays. 55 Derb Abdellah Ben Hessaien, Ksour.

I would also highly recommend eating in your riad. Riad chefs are worth their weight in gold and produce authentic home cooked meals; slow cooked tagines and couscous, as well as delicious salads and soups. If you stay at Dar Kawa, or Riad Menzah don’t miss this chance.

Must try dishes include:

If you go to the coast, be sure to try Chermoula marinated fish
Sardines stuffed with mint
Chicken Tagine with olives and preserved lemons
Beef tagine with prunes and honey
Chicken couscous with onion confit
Carrot salad with corriander
Fresh cucumber soup
Orange salad with cinnamon
B’stilla-Layers of a paper-thin pastry enclosing pigeon meat, almonds and eggs spiced with saffron, cinnamon and fresh coriander. Served dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon.

I hope these few little crumbs are helpful. Inshallah!

A visit to the Apothecary

A Moroccan Apothecary is more than just a herbalist. Besides common health remedies, the apothecary can make you fatter, thinner, high, or even dispense black magic in the form of spells and curses. He’s also the man you go to see for natural paint pigments, pumice stones, natural cosmetics and freshly ground spices.

Yesterday in Essaouira, I was invited by one to take tea. As I peppered him with questions about the contents of his many jars, he collected small handfuls of herbs, raising the jar to my nose each time, before placing each ingredient on a piece of white paper used to funnel this tailor made tea into a large silver pot. After it was allowed to brew, he poured it with traditional flair; raising the tea pot high above my little glass; dispensing it in long steamy ribbons of gold. The fragrance of Mint Lemon Verbena, Star Anise, Cinnamon and Juniper enveloped me in a soft cloud of perfume and the taste was just as botanic; fresh and uplifting, but with a touch of earthy spice. Clearly, the witch doctor knew his craft.

As we sat and talked, gulls drew white circles in a clear blue sky and the call to prayer echoed through the medina.

I left with a collection of little bags of spice, Argan oil, Frankensence and eucalyptus infused Black Soap ( used for massage in the Hammam). No spells or curses, or the mixture of poppy opiates that ‘Make you dream colours when you awake’.

As I wandered my way back to the port, hushed voices in the alleyways advertised yet more local herbery. I can see why Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens loved this place so much.

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