Dar Seffarine

March 30, 2007


What we really needed was rest and quiet after our long day’s journey and the assault on the senses that Morocco tends to be. It really had not been too bad until our mix up as we reached the Fez medina, but it is a harsh country in many ways and one needs the soothing relief that comes with a clean and quiet luxurious riad to recover. They have a beautiful terrace with incredible views of the medina, so we lounged a bit up there on pillows while the sun set and we waited for our dinner. Earlier we had our first taste of the famous Moroccan mint tea which we all enjoyed very much.

We had ordered dinner, but since we lost two hours when we entered Morocco from Spain, it was quite late (almost eleven Spanish time) by the time it was ready and I was feeling too raw, exhausted and not well enough to join people in the public spaces. They don’t usually do this, but they were kind enough to bring our meal to our room which was greatly appreciated. It was very delicious and every bite was treasured in our quiet room. I was glad that I did not just go to sleep and skip dinner which I had almost done.

They had a wonderful salad to start and strawberries for dessert which we did not touch despite them looking wonderful and they most likely would be fine. We had made a vow to be extra cautious even though many come to Morocco and never have a problem with the food. Salads and fruits that you can not peel yourself like oranges or bananas are suspect foods, so we sadly had to not touch them. It was particularly hard for Mozart, but the rest of the dinner was divine so there was plenty to satisfy us. There was great bread, a flavorful lentil soup and a succulent chicken and vegetable tagine.

We were so very tired and went straight to bed after filling our tummies and enjoyed a good nights sleep. The beauty of this place felt womb like in the quiet night and we needed that peace and comfort. Closing the old two story high doors between the living space and the bedroom, all the shutters and entering the enclosed bed reminded me again that we were in a different world, but this riad one was one that I could take.

One of my favorite parts of our stay was waking up in this enchanting space refreshed and revived with birds chirping and opening the shutters and viewing the medina. In my romantic fantasy, I felt a little like I was Washington Irving in the Alhambra, transported to an enchanting world. DaVinci, Mozart and the rest of the riad slept while I took it all in with the sunlight, birds, ancient golden stone buildings, blue sky and exquisite architecture and furnishings surrounding me.

Brown wood, black metal, red Berber rugs, colorful tiles, leather Moroccan slippers with turned up toes, thick plaster walls with cut out widows, huge doors, terra cotta walls with copper potted sink and unique features in the bathroom and bedroom. The bed itself was encased in an elaborate wood door and window device that could only exist in Morocco. The sun and singing birds though, will always remind me of Morocco the most as it is a theme that was repeated many times. Often we would see caged singing birds or hear them in the morning outside our window. The riads represent the magic of Morocco and this one was particularly special.

One of the reasons it is special, is because of the owners who have clearly put their heart and souls
into creating this haven and give so much to their guests in many ways. He is from Iraq with a PhD in architecture and she is from Norway with a degree in graphic design and one can easily see that they
have a great love of beauty and a passion for this country and their home.

The people who were staying there when we were there were also special and added to our experience along with the very sweet people who worked there. The first morning, Mozart was happy to meet a young girl of twelve from Saint Louis, Missouri who was with her mom and who was living this year in Florence, Italy. They enjoyed discussing the differences in attending public schools in Europe and the joys of traveling.

We also met a couple of interesting Chinese Americans that Mozart loved and we would later tour with. They had an interesting background because they were first generation Americans and grew up in Chinatown in Queens, New York with lots of international travel to China. She was living in London working for a financial firm enjoying lots of travel from that base with many more weeks of paid vacation than what Americans usually get and he was still living in New York.

We also met an interesting foursome from Belgium, who mostly spoke French and a couple who loved architecture. The breakfasts were divine and a nice way to converse a bit with the other travelers staying there along with time on the terrace and the great dinners.

The funniest connection was when someone approached us on the terrace the second day we were there. The terrace had such a spectacular view of the medina that we thought it would be a great place to do a video of Mozart playing the violin. We wanted to capture the lovely sunset light that we had stumbled upon on our first day. There was someone already up there with a great camera taking photos and he came over to us after a while.

He said something like “this may sound like a very odd question” and at first I did not understand what he was saying. I thought he said something about a photo group on a website and was clueless since I really know nothing about cameras or photos. Then he mentioned “Mozart”and our trip around the world and I realized he was saying “Fodors” not “photo” and it all clicked.

Since we had both been planning a trip to Morocco, we had “met”online through the Fodor’s  travel forums. I knew him as “Clifton” and we had enjoyed each other’s posts and the information sharing. We knew our time would over lap in Morocco, but had no idea that we would end up at the same riad. He and his delightful wife from Australia had started in Memphis to Marrakech and were driving, making their way towards a few days in Spain. Neither of us had ever met anyone by accident from that or any other travel forum, so enjoyed that and meeting one another in the flesh.

It was also a great pleasure to meet the owners and their story is amazing. They just fell in love with the medina on their first visit and decided to buy a place there. They had been living in Norway where they met when he was a student. The first place fell thru, but they had already sold everything and moved, so they looked until they found this place and put their energy into renovating it authentically into the jewel that it is today.

There are places that show the date of 1313 on the walls and I wondered about some arabic writing that was on the walls (comparing to what we read at the Alhambra). It was poetry and said something like “Drink with pleasure, in this treasure that God has made”. How perfect! I am so glad I asked.

We got to know Alaa a little better because he gave us a tour around Fez and his enthusiasm for this area and knowledge about the architecture and history was contagious and inspiring. He saw beauty everywhere and we were overwhelmed at how much work had been put into restoring this riad. He now renovates old places for others and he certainly is the one I would hire if I ever decided to do such a thing.

His love of the medina, his knowledge and his ability to speak the local language and ability to bridge the gap between our experience and theirs made our tour a priceless experience. He seems to know everyone and is such a warm enthusiastic person with endless charm that one gets a whole different picture of the medina through his eyes. It seems like everybody comes up to hug him and chat and that warmth also colored our view of the people and how they normally interact.

He is a man who is touched by beauty everywhere in the simplest ways and with him pointing out details like his awe of a hand made metal circular carved (from one piece which is not done today) knocker made us understand things in a deeper way for the high level of creativity here. It was amazing to see a building that was similar to his when he bought it (which looked horrible) but I was so impressed with the magnificence and history that he saw beyond that squalor and his ability to revive it in an authentic way.

He normally does a splendid architectural tour, but we had asked for attention to the craftsmen as that is an area that interests us and is more entertaining to Mozart than strictly architectural details. So we got some of both which was great. Just his explanations of his home Dar Saffarine made the experience more rich and touring the medina with him was a very special treat that delighted us. The medina was not scary through his eyes, but a fascinating, exciting place.













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