Ancient Rural Tourism Morocco with Dar al Hossoun

More exploring in Morocco, focused on the countryside, the ocean, and secret gardens. I’ve made multiple visits to the sweet riad Dar Al Hossoun, in Taroudant, three hours from Marrakech. The French owner has become a friend, and we love the engaging staff! It’s a perfect base for exploring ancient Citadels, walled villages like Kasbah Of Tizourgane and collective graneries known as Igoudars. These stacked mud buildings reflect an ancestral history and a rich culture in the area.

Dar al Hossoun

Taroudant is called the “Grandmother of Marrakech” because it is a scaled down, slower paced town that physically resembles Marrakech with its orange-colored surrounding ramparts. It has the feel of a small fortified market town on a caravan route and is known for its local crafts. Unlike Marrakech, Taroudant contains almost the whole city within its ancient walls. The thick city walls built in 1528, are almost completely intact. It’s directly south of Marrakech, about a 3-hour drive.  A little unhurried Berber town, it can be over-looked by many tourists, perfect for me! Imagine the caravan route dotted with charming communities, don’t dismiss these little hidden gems.

At Dar al Hossoun, enjoy the tranquility of the gardens, painting, taking pictures, swimming, or dining on traditional Moroccan cuisine at their cookery classes, or simply relaxing at the Spa or by the pool. For those who wish to be active while at Dar al Hossoun, there is much to choose from: hikes, or carriage rides, visits to the souks and tannery nearby, discovery of the “lost” valley of the High or Anti-Atlas region, old Berber villages and tours of private homes and gardens.

The routes between the main Anti-Atlas cities of Taroudant, Tafraoute, Tata and Tiznit make great road trips and biking areas. This area is also rich in ancient Igoudars. A few have been restored, some are easy to find!  This countryside area abounds with architectural treasures: Medinas, Walls, fortified granaries called Igoudars, Ksours and Kasbahs. A guide from Dar al Hossoun can take you to any number of these nomadic remote locations.

Last fall, I visited for the second time – specifically to discover ancient walled citadels a few hours from the property. The Souss area is abundant with exceptional hiking and there are two accessible ancient sites, we spent a day exploring both.

Off a country road, in the midday heat, we walked down a steep stone path to the granary. My initial thoughts included, how will I get back up that hill in the blazing heat. The alleyways are packed with the individual ‘safes’. Mint tea and cookies in a small mud den with the local woman who is the ‘keeper,’ provided a welcoming respite from the heat.

These are real safes for the villages of the region. Collective granaries, seen from the outside, can look like a kasbah. Some granaries are still in operation but most tend to be abandoned. Some of the most remarkable marvels of southern Moroccan architecture have been left out of the main tourist trails and guidebook highlights.

Kasbah Of Tizourgane is a few hours drive from Dar al Hossoun, it’s a small, fortified village dating from the 13th century. In the Land of Ida Ougnidif, you can spend a few hours exploring the century-old wooden doors, walk the steep stone ramparts, and narrow winding lanes, and enveloping stone walls. Welcome to the fairy-tale village of Tizourgane! Lunch at the top of the citadel with breathtaking views!

The Kasbah has been rebuilt in coordination with the original construction techniques. It has a small guest house with a roof top restaurant. In February, the argan and almond trees in bloom enhance the beauty of the austere location.

The village is being restored by descendants of the original three families who lived here. Using heritage funding and income from the on-site guest house, the communal areas of the mosque and agadir are slowly being restored providing visitors an authentic view into kasbah life.

Each hand carved wooden door is distinctive, the complex detailed rock placement in unique patterns is mostly assembled without mortar, its truly worth the hike up the steep stairs. I felt like I was in an ancient cathedral, in a quiet sense of awe.

A high wall surrounds the Kasbah, protecting approximately fifty houses and an Agadir. It can only be accessed by a single gate with a watchtower, which is approached by ascending a long stone stairway.

In the 1930’s, the French army would have seized the citadel, but they failed.  Soldiers camped around the ramparts for weeks, cutting off all water sources. Legend has it that an old woman soaked her clothes in oil before laying them out in the sight of the soldiers. Believing that it was laundry, and that water was abundant at the citadel, the attackers became discouraged and left the village.   

The Igoudars. These stacked mud buildings reflect an ancestral history and a rich culture in the area. Consisting of shops, a local gathering place, and a strong sanctuary were important to the original tribes. This Agadir, built entirely of dry mud and stone, is one of the region’s oldest community granaries, dating back to the 17th century. It is notable by a wide corridor that divides it into two blocks of three stories. There are over 100 storage compartments, with the highest accessible via flat stones embedded in the walls.  Walking across the uneven ground, one can imagine the old life here – the call to prayer, mules laden with vegetables, chickens running free…

An agadir is usually placed on top of a mountain or carved into the rocks of dramatic escarpments, strategically located on higher ground beyond settlements, with good vantage points. Although each granary is remarkable in design, their bee hive like labyrinth interiors of interconnecting tunnels and passageways holding padlocked chambers collectively resemble a style of architecture of mystical Middle Earth. Most of the igoudar that remain are thought to date to the 16th and 17th century, although the tradition of building and using collective granaries is estimated to be as old as a millennia; evolving from a time when many southern Amazigh tribes were still nomadic. 

Kasbah Tizourgane

Communal granaries – often fortified – were constructed in pisé – rammed mud, in the hilltop villages to store and keep safe a long list of items. Made from the local earth, an Agadir, as they are known in the local Berber, – the plural is igoudar.  Each tribe or family would have their own compartment, an elaborate wooden key and lock protects the goods from plunderers. Sections were stacked on top of each other, many are built up over three stories with wooden doors, a wooden ladder is necessary to gain access.  

A handful of families may have formed each village, so there was a shared incentive to protect the Agadir. Each village appointed a guardian, the Agadir I visited was guarded by the son and widow wife of the last guardian. She excitedly shared the enormous wooden key that easily fit into an ancient hand carved wooden lock.

The crops which are agriculturally viable amid the dramatic climate conditions of the Anti Atlas, such as saffron, almonds, and argan are high in value, with saffron only offering a short annual harvesting window and the stigmas needing optimum storage conditions to preserve life span. 

Everything from important documents, money and jewelry to the seasons harvest could be stored inside the locked chambers. These well ventilated, shaded rooms built from thick stone walls remain at cool temperatures during high heat. It is possible for grains to be stored in some agadir chambers for up to 25 years, and natural butter for 10 (which is also believed to have medicinal qualities after being preserved for such a long period of time). The structures weren’t only built for storing harvests, medicines and possessions; the Amazigh (Berber), ancestors also constructed them to function as an ancient form of a high security bank vault. The strategic planning of each granaries location meant only one security guard, amin, was needed to ‘man the fort’ at any one time. The amin was also responsible for holding the keys to the main door and all the chambered storage rooms inside, a tradition which is still kept alive today. This responsibility has always been a well respected role within the local communities. 

The agadir was also a method of defense, tribesmen stored their arms inside. The central courtyard could be used to shelter women and children and their livestock.

In peaceful times, strategically placed igoudar could increase their revenue from the transitory camel caravans, offering nightly shelter and bartering. Some agadir included shared facilities such as a small mosque, a council chamber or a blacksmith and are thus recognized as early urbanization of the Berbers.

This 64 year old woman’s husband was the ‘amin’ and she and her son are now appointed by the village to guard the granary.

Dar al Hossoun guides can organize this day tour, hiking and other off property adventures!

Highly Recommend!

Summer Sampler – The Pearl of the Adriatic Dubrovnik

My summer sojourn on the amazing SeaDream Yacht, if only the heat didn’t slow me down! I began my yacht odyssey in Dubrovnik, a destination our clients love and more importantly, we adore our VIP team here – Magic happens in Croatia!

So many reasons to visit Croatia and in particular, the southern city of Dubrovnik. It is the most visited city in the country. As one of the last remaining walled towns in the world, stroll the cobbled streets and walk through time. Dubrovnik’s weather and stunning views and an easy town to wander, make it an amazing destination. Oh, continue on for the best hotel notes.

Rooftop Prosciutto and Wine Bar Villa Dubrovnik Croatia

A city of red-tiled roof tops, beautiful architecture, stone walls, ancient churches, the city has regained its grandeur after the horrific Balkan war. A medieval town along the breathtaking Adriatic coast, the old stone fortress and defensive wall, very walkable limestone streets are a perfect combination of an old town in a fairy tale like picture book.

The size of Dubrovnik is ideal, small enough if you want to visit its beautiful old town in one day by just walking around. And large enough if you want more and like to be active. You can hike the Sdr hill – take the cable car one way up and then walk down to admire the stunning, bird’s eye view over the old town as well as the many islands dotting the crystal clear, azure Adriatic Sea. Active travelers will be entertained and challenged with kayaking, hiking, or cycling. One of my guides commanded: you must swim every day, the water is a tonic to youth – the purity has no comparisons.

Croatian writer Predrag Matvejević wrote:The Atlantic and the Pacific are seas of distance, the Mediterranean a sea of propinquity, the Adriatic a sea of intimacy. – Mediterranean: a cultural landscape.

swan dive into the Adriatic Sea from the cliff side beach club!

Cross the massive threshold through the wooden gates into the old town, to the main street, Stradun., known locally as Placa. One.three miles of stone walls built between the 11th and 13th centuries offer breathtaking views. The main square has a church or palace on almost every corner. Spectacular churches and palaces include St. Savior Church, Dubrovnik Cathedral and Rector’s Palace. My Jewish guide, former professor, noted that the Synagogue was closed today and there is a small Muslim Temple nearby. Fallen Catholic girls still shell out Euros for candles, just in case their parents and grandparents are in heaven. Do consider a late afternoon hike up the 175 steps to explore the Lovrijenac Fortress, built atop a 100-foot rock looking out toward Venice.

My favorite time of the day is late afternoon – the tourists take a break before dinner and the labyrinth of streets are quieter, the sun sparkles off the limestone buildings the street cafes are chic and inviting, a quiet place to contemplate life in an ancient walled town. Game of Thrones added a certain cachet – I didn’t engage, much was filmed here if you are an enthusiast.

Hotels – In my humble opinion, there is only one place to stay. Villa Dubrovnik – there aren’t many five-star properties, I feel the location and setting are perfect!

My summer trek, like many others wasn’t easy – a malfunctioning Air France jet delayed me in Paris, however, the captain said he would commandeer the next arriving jet and with some delay, we did depart CDG. Best act of macho aviation navigation I’ve ever witnessed!

My itin had a wee note: roof top Cocktail Bar at Villa Dubrovnik – I had a mission! Their Michelin restaurant, Pjerin, is multiple courses and is best saved for another evening! Drop bags and straight up to moon gaze, framed by Dubrovniks Old Town and the sea. Prosciutto and Wine Bar is stylishly adorned with comfy sofas under a canopied pagoda, champagne finally, after the globe hopping. It was my end of day perch during my all to brief visit.

A modernist gem of a hotel in the historic heart of the Adriatic. Set into the rocky cliffs on the most magical stretch of Dalmatian coast, Villa Dubrovnik is a stylish retreat for travelers in need of deluxe privacy and first-class hospitality. It’s not walking distance to Old Town, we have drivers, not to worry! The seaside setting is calm, quiet and exquisite.

The hotel’s pristine white architecture is a stunning contrast to the rocky landscape and sapphire Adriatic. Super yachts drift impressively on the immediate horizon, the island of Lokrum is the post card perfect backdrop. Afternoon soundtrack: splash of divers braving the rocky cliffs, motorboats puttering past, melting ice cubes crackling in fizzy drinks…endless summer from the rocky cliffs.

Vilal Dubrovnik, Croatia

The property’s clean, nautical lines evoke an understated refinement, and the modern decor is matched by an out-of-this-world Michelin gastronomic experience that revisits rich culinary traditions of the Mediterranean in a contemporary style.

Villa Dubrovnik

An infinity pool at the edge of the sea and a cliff side beach club dares guests to swan dive from the rocky perch. Me, under the big white umbrella, captivated for hours by the daunting divers and swimmers lazing and lapping about the pristine sea.

My coffee is always delivered, without the first bowl of coffee, I can barely utter a sentence let alone try to find the on button on those pod. machines – some love them, not I. Then amble up to the al fresco bar restaurant Giardino. The relaxing outdoor bistro is set against the historical parapet that overlooks Old City walls and island of Lokrum. Doze under the shade of maritime pines, it’s an ideal location for brunch or a late afternoon lunch serving fresh salads to fresh local sea food. Oh, great people watching as well.

Villa Dubrovnik closed at end of summer for a top to bottom refurnishing, but already has bookings for most of June 2024…don’t tarry!

Oh, Highly Recommend, Villa Dubrovnik!