Friday, 23 October 2015

Moroccan Wines

It's harvest time for wine in Morocco!

Entrance to the La Ferme Rouge vinyard outside Rabat

When we moved to Morocco we were both surprised and impressed by the local Moroccan wines. We were expecting inferior quality and very simple wines but our prejudices were really put to shame. Of course Morocco, being a muslim country, has severe double standards when it comes to wine and alcohol. Acording to the Choran you are not suposed to drink but Morocco is a liberal country and you will find wine in all better restaurants and hotels. You can chose from a wide selection of both domestic and international wines both in the supermarkets and speciality wine stores. And many Moroccans enjoy wine themselves.

Some La Ferme Rouge wines

The climate and hills in Morocco are perfect for growing wine and you find vinyards both around Essaouira, Rabat and Meknes. All wine stocks are originally imported from France. Around 40 million bottles of wine are produced every year in Morocco and of those 30 million bottles are consumed in Morocco. Morocco has some 10 million tourists/year (incl  children and most tourists stay 3-4 days) so it goes without saying that Moroccans themselves enjoy many of those 40 million bottles.

Terres rouge from La Ferme Rouge vinyard

You will find wines in the stores from 4-30 Euros/bottle. You need to get above 8 Euros/bottle to find good wines and for 12-25 Euros you find some amazing ones. Although having a prosperous wine industry you are often not allowed to visit the vinyards as a private person. There are no wine tastings, tours or shops at the big vinyards. However at the small producer Val d'Argan outside Essaouira you can both visit and buy wine. Check them out if you are in the area!

View from the top of the wine tanks at La Ferme Rouge

So we were naturally excited when our friends asked us to join them for a wine tour to our favorite wine maker, the wine house of La Ferme Rouge, and a unique visit to their vinyard outside Rabat. We spent a day and (very late) evening with the passionate French owner Jack and had an amazing time. The wines of La Ferme Rouge get their special taste thanks to the vinyard being close to the ocean. Around 1,5 million bottles/year are produced here.

Part of the La Ferme Rouge collection

The vinyard is very modern and boosts impressive machines but the passion of the French owner is in every part of the process.

Grapes are harvested in September and October, so we were lucky to catch this period.

 La Ferme Rouge is the big employer in the region and many 1000 pickers worked here during harvest season.

Cabarnet grapes ready for harvest.

Work in progress.

Wine in the making.

A view over the vinyard.

Labelling process.

Ready for your glass!

Our favorite Moroccan wines:
1. Lumiere (red)
2. Ithaque, La Ferme Rouge (red)
3. Eclipse (both the red and the white one)
4. La Ferme Rouge Gris
5. Volubilis (rose)

We enjoyed a great tasting of these amazing wines, a total of 15 different ones. We were slightly tipsy towards the end of the evening.

The owner Jack introduced us to some unique cuvees straight from the barrel in his wine cellar - an amazing experience.

Here we are with our friends Maryam, Chris and wine maker Jack.

The main reason for this trip?  Well there just might be an exciting wine project coming up for someone in our little group.....


Friday, 16 October 2015

The best restaurants on a budget!

There is certainly no problem to spend a lot of money in Marrakech if you want to! There is an abundance of expensive five-star hotels, upscale restaurants and trendy nightclubs in the Red City. But there is on the other hand no problem to be in Marrakech on a budget! You could eat like royalty for very little money if you just choose wisely!

You see plenty of street food vendors all around the medina! And usually they are really cheap, around 3 Euros for a big meal.

There are quite a large number of restaurants where you can get a meal for less than 10 Euro. You just have to know which ones that have the best food, best service and the best ambience. And you always want that little extra of course! We've tested so many of Marrakech's restaurants and here is our Top-5-budget-list!

1. AMAL (Angle Rues Allal ben Ahmad et Ibn Sina)
 - You get a delicious Tagine for just 4 Euros
 - When you have lunch here you support a non-profit association dedicated to empower disadvantaged women through restaurant training and job placement
 - They have both Moroccan and international cuisine

The Amal Center was founded in 2012 by Nora Fitzgerald, an American born and raised in Morocco. She employs 15 people full-time, and accepts classes of 15 women every six months for training. They serve lunch to around 100 people every day!

2. CAFÉ CLOCK (224 Derb Chtouka)
 - You get a great goat cheese quiche for just 6 Euros
 - This is a place for food, arts and music! On Wednesdays they have jam sessions and on Saturday and Sundays they have concerts! Thursday nights are for the story tellers!
 - They have camel burgers, almond milkshakes, homemade ice cream and breakfast all day

Café Clock has free performances with traditional story tellers (in both English and Arabic) every Thursday night at 8.00 pm. Come at least 30 minutes before so you get a good table!

3. KECH BURGER (39 Rue Mohamed El Baqqal)
 - You get the best burgers in Marrakech here for 4-5 Euros
 - It's all freshly made and all organic, natural burgers
 - They have vegetarian burgers, fish burgers, chicken burgers and ever beef bacon burgers

Kech Burger is a quite small restaurant in Gueliz but it serves fantastic burgers and fries!

4. BAZAAR CAFÉ (Derb Sidi El Yamani, 24B)
 - You get a 3-course meal on their beautiful terrace for just 9 Euros
 - Organic, healthy, light, fresh and locally grown products! They even have vegan options

 - They have both Arabic and Mediterranean cuisine in an elegant atmosphere 

The terrace boast panoramic views and this restaurant also serves wine and beer!

5. ATAY FOOD (62, Rue Amsefah Sidi Abdelaziz)
 - You can get really nice chicken skewers for 6 Euros
 - There are beautiful views of the Atlas Mountains, perfect for sunsets

-  They have Moroccan food; tagines, cous cous, sandwiches and delicious fresh juices

This terrace has also great panoramic views!

Besides our Top-5-Budget-List there are several other nice non-expensive restaurants also worth visiting, like Henna Art Café, Souk Café and Kui Zin.

Marrakech Henna Art Café is very popular with its vegetarian food. Here you can also get one of those henna tatoos!

And if you are adventurous you could always try the stalls down at the square Jemaa el Fna where you get tangines, mixed grills and even sea food for a few Euros. The atmosphere is magical here at night but be prepared of the being hustled by the numerous vendors who wants your business. Good tips are to go to the stalls where the moroccans go and always negotiate the price before sitting down.

Jemaa el Fna turns into a large open-air dining area as dusk falls, filled with stalls lit by gas lanterns

So you see, you really don't need a silver fork to eat good food here in Marrakech!

Eat, drink & be merry,

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Shopping in the souks

The maze of the Marrakech medina is ancient and has been the home of trade for almost a 1000 years. There is a mix of the most amazing handcraft, beautiful treasures, entertaining knick-knacks and cheap imitations that can be found in this labyrinth. It is an adventure and great fun to get lost here and both ordinary travellers as well as professional interior designers flock here to find unique products and search for hidden gems.

The ancient souks of Marrakech are truly magical

Treasure hunting, here some gorgeous copper lamps

Of course you need to bargain and of course it can be a hazzle but Moroccans are business men and also very kind. Never ask for the price if you are not seriously intending to buy the product, the asking for the price immediatley starts the negotiationing process and you will be expected to stay, possibly also to share a mint tea, referred as "Moroccan whiskey". A rule of thumb is to bargain products down to 50% from the original price. Always bargain with a smile and never pay more than the product is actually worth for you, the value of a product is individual here. "Antique" is interpreted in a very generous way and the term can be applied to anything that is "old", more than 10 years of age.

Moroccan wedding blankets are richly decorated and come in many different sizes and colors. Both antique and new. Very stylish and in fashion.

If you are interested in buying more pricy items like big rugs or antiquities you need to have some basic knowledge of materials, qualities and value to be able to judge what a fair price is. We have received initial offers for carpets starting at 2.000-3.000 Euros and ending up paying 300-400 Euros for large, beautiful, antique kilim carpets. In the Marrakech medina it is all about the art of bargaining and trading. If you think the price is too high just walk away. If the sales man lets you walk the product was worth more than you offered, if not he will come running after you. If you are in the right mood this can be great fun, if you think it is a hazzle just stroll the souks and enjoy the atmosphere.

Tribal chic jewlwery for the modern nomad

Kilim cushions anyone?

In the medina you will find both the "high streets", where you can buy a mix of all sorts of products, as well as the special "hand craft areas", where the area is focused on one specific hand craft like iron works, textiles, lamps or leather. The first ones are like the main vein for the tourist flows and you will find both nice things as well as cheap items made in Taiwan. The hand craft areas are the most authentic ones and the products on sale are often being produced in the narrow alleys. If you have the time to wait a day or two you can have almost anything custom made and delivered to your hotel.

Lanterns in the metal souk of the medina

Flowers of spoons

Mirror, mirror on the wall (or on this tray)

Spices and soaps

What to buy in the souks (acording to us):
- Handcrafted copper lamps that brings magic to any room
- At least one wedding blanket with matching cushions, your bedroom will look so chic
- Silver lanterns, very stylish in both a New York loft and a small summer cottage
- A genuine kilim carpet and/or beni ourain carpet depending on taste and budget
- Tribal chic jewlery
- An antique door to hang on your wall, if you can transport it
- Moroccan leather slippers, "baboches"
- Moroccan pottery: big plates for sallads, small bowls for snacks and so much more
- And why not some more lamps...

The souks of Marrakech

Can't come to Marrakech or don't want to carry everything back yourself? Visit the online version of the Marrakech souk, the Maryam Montague Shop, and discover tribal chic treasures of the highest possible quality that will be delivered to your door step! 

Disco is a bit tired after a day of shopping

Time to start planning your christmas shopping?