Sahara Desert Morocco. Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp.

Friday, May 30th 2014

Do you ever dream of stillness? The magical, unfamiliar, but weirdly nostalgic kind where you are transported far away to a mythical land, an ancient other world where the crazy demands of a modern life don’t have you wanting to run far away and never look back.

Marrakech, while mesmerised by the crazy effervescent rainbow of inspiration, majestic soul and vibrant clash of the old and new can wear you down. After you have thrown too much cash to the charming rug sellers in the Medina, eaten way too many chicken tagines, sweltered in the 45 degree heat and got lost in the mad maze that is the Medina, a nomadic soul and gypsy heart starts to seek the next mystifying adventure.

True gypsies, never in the same place for too long, forever drawn to and intoxicated by the excitement of new places – the smells, the colours, the feast for the eyes and the sensory overload; after a week in Marrakech we were pulled by the rolling red sea of sand dunes of the Sahara Desert and the Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp to shoot The LANE’S next editorial.

A 10 hour trip (12 with stops) across desert terrain and the mountainous cliff faces of the Atlas Mountains, through the tiny Kasbah villages of mud-walled houses and then the rolling red dunes of the Sahara, in a too small for 7 people 4x4, sweltering in 40 degree heat and miles of cosmic nothingness in between stops; this is a journey for the true nomad. With cramped legs and an overplayed playlist, it is one that makes you question why you set of on this crazy adventure and makes you realise why few have braved the journey before you. Only those looking to explore the most far-flung, untouched and unreachable corners of the world are patient in their wait to arrive, as the dreamiest lingering light seems to guide you closer to the camp.

Arrive at Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp, 20km from the Algerian border and seemingly as far away from home that one could possibly travel and you feel like you have been transported back in time, to the middle of the earth, to an ancient otherworld where time has stood still, stillness prevails and the magical spirit of true nomadic people has survived. A place where what you have lost can be found and what you no longer need can be left. 

Step out of the 4x4 and onto the aisle of layered Moroccan rugs decorating the sand and you are mesmerised that such a place exists. A dreamy campsite of Berber tents that seems to appear from nowhere, set in the rolling red sea of dunes. This is glamping in the most serene and mythical destination we have ever seen. A nomadic bohemian's wildest dream as camels roam freely, the days pass slowly and the sun romantically refuses to say goodbye to the day. 

Be greeted by staff and a tray of traditional mint tea and from the very moment you arrive until the moment you leave you feel as though you have been welcomed into the home of a local family. While this is camping with luxuries it is also an authentic cultural experience, from the food, people and location you are immersed in nomadic traditions.

After spending time reveling in the breathtaking beauty of the camp, be lead to your Berber tent which is complete with an ensuited bathroom, solar powered lighting and a king size bed adorned in Moroccan wedding blankets. Imagine a colourful boho Moroccan bedroom with eclectic touches like layers of vibrant soft furnishings and a romantic bathroom with silver buckets for washing, a freestanding sink and a seated dressing table! It really is complete gypsy luxury! Our afternoon is lost easily to drinking rose and watching the sunset from an open sided tent that feels like the lounge room of a stylish bohemian beauty. 

Racing the sun on its mission to turn the desert red, we rise early to shoot our editorial in the most ethereal and romantic light and watch the dunes be gradually lit up by a magical sun. By day stillness prevails. We laze in canvas hammocks, stare out to the red vastness of the desert and ride camels through the breathtaking landscape of rolling red dunes. As you are adorned in traditional headscarves and lead on a 2 hour camel trek through the vast rolling dunes, there are no words for the serenity and mystical power of this experience. You are overcome with a feeling of deep peace that you will treasure long after you shake out the last of the desert sand. A wild sandstorm that throws the camp inside out and turns up treasures lost long ago in the sand makes for a thrilling tale of adventure and one that will be shared over excited and rambling conversations about travel.

The camp really comes to life at night. Guests gather for a group dinner of traditional food (think Moroccan soup, aubergine salads and chicken tagine) in the tented dining room before migrating around a blazing bonfire in the centre of the camp. Sitting on Moroccan rugs and pillows layered like magic carpets under a glistening blanket of stars while listening to the echos of traditional Bedouin music in the desert vastness really gives you a newfound understanding of the Moroccan people and their culture, warmth and gentleness. More nights should be lost to fire lit darkness and dancing with strangers.

If you are considering Morocco as a honeymoon or holiday destination or are just looking for the most serene escape filled with culture and soul, you have to visit Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp (run by the amazing Nick & Bobo!). It is the perfect place to escape and unwind after the whirlwind that is your wedding. The Sahara Desert is one of those places that will change you and have you looking at the whole world differently, one that will stay with you long after you shake out the last of the desert sand. Two nights is the perfect amount of time to relax and experience the camp and location. Prices are approx. 225 euros per person per night, with all food, drink and activities included. Transport can be organised to and from the camp from Marrakech as an addition to your package.

Our Travel Tips

We researched a number of Sahara desert camps, but chose Erg Chigaga as it really is the best you will find for a holistic and authentic experience in the most breathtaking location! A lot of the other camps are also not as easily accessible. Some are reached by a 2 hour camel ride after a grueling drive!  Also be sure you book Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp run by Nick & Bobo (there is another camp who had unfortunately copied their name!)

The trip is long, but forgotten the moment you arrive. We wanted to do the drive in one trip due to scheduling but the camp owners often recommend an overnight stay at a Maison D'Hotes en route to the desert.
Make sure you leave early enough to arrive in time for the incredible sunset. The light really is like nothing we have ever experienced.
Surprisingly the days are hot, but the nights are cold! Make sure you pack long sleeves.
2-3 nights was the perfect amount of time to stay. 
Road stops on the way are few and far between. Stick with food and drink from busy and visited restaurants. Talk to your driver, who will know the best stops. We ventured off the trodden path and one of our team got a bad case of food poisoning.
Be prepared for wild winds and sandstorms. We had an afternoon of the most insane sand whipping, eye watering weather. Don’t expect to stay clean, but like any camping experience it just makes your tales of adventure more fun!

Find out more about the camp here

Photography: Karissa Fanning & Taegan Reid

The Journey.

Thursday, May 29th 2014

“I’m looking for freedom, Looking for freedom…”

Pack a bag. Grab your friends. Make a playlist. Hit the road. Head out. Escape. Move forward. Don’t look back except to laugh. Tell bad jokes. Sing out load. Get the words wrong. Play it again. Stop at a roadie. Snap a memory. Hang out the window. Be free. Forget the rest.

Is there anything better than a spontaneous road trip with friends? Try a spontaneous 10 hour trip with an editorial team across Morocco bound for the Sahara desert; in a way to0 small for 7 people 4x4, roof loaded with 10 couture dresses, 50 pieces of tribal jewellery, 10 suitcases, 1 makeup kit, 2 scrims and way too many cameras.

We came from Australia and we came from France and New York; the image-makers - the Art Director; the Photographer; the Stylist; the Videographer; the Model; the Makeup Artist and our Berber driver. No Internet, no phones, not an inch of room to move, just a wildly spirited journey and a common excitement to produce the best editorial of our lives.

A 10-hour trip across desert terrain and the mountainous cliff faces of the Atlas Mountains, through the tiny Kasbah villages of mud-walled houses and rolling red dunes of the Sahara, in 40-degree heat with miles of cosmic nothingness in between stops, the journey was a lot like the emotional roller coaster of our DJ playlist playoff, as we travelled to a mythical land.

Bob Marley and the Wailers, Angus and Julia Stone, The Black Keys, Ben Howard and Beyonce blared. 6 crazily busy creatives forced to forget the thousands of emails demanding attention. There were moments of excitement, moments of fun, moments of freedom with wild manes of hair blowing furiously in the breeze, moments of jaw dropping, awe inspiring landscapes, moments of pure frustration, and moments of friendship.

You know what happens when you are forced to forget and switch off? Deep rambling conversations, memories frozen in minds rather than screens, animated story telling, lifelong friendships and really loud laughter. You look up and at others, at the breathtaking landscapes, and the small moments become forever etched in your mind. A magical, infinite, eternal place, where they can’t be deleted. The journey sometimes really is the destination. 

Photo: Jennifer Stenglein

See our Sahara Desert travel post on The LANE tomorrow!

Shopping in Marrakech.

Wednesday, May 28th 2014

Shopping in Marrakech

If you are an interior design obsessed, bowerbird like us who fills her home and wardrobe with trinkets and treasures from her globetrotting travels, Marrakech is your most wildly creative and artistic dream. Think antique rugs, tribal silvers, hand painted bowls, rustic ceramics, Syrian mirrors, nomadic leather bags, Moroccan wedding blankets and traditional teacups!

The best shops lay hidden behind secret doors. Don’t expect to find signs or numbers. You’ll need your guide to help you get find addresses or you can just wander with no plan - that’s when we found the best treasures! We cannot recommend our amazing guide Mustapha Chouquir highly enough (but be sure to book in advance as he's in demand! Last minute guide bookings in Marrakech often result in less than average experiences, or guides who will take you to tourist traps where they receive commissions)

Our favourites places to shop were…

La Porte d'Or
This heavenly curated edit of Moroccan antiques is a must visit. Pictures of every celebrity that can come to mind taken with the family owners, proudly adorn the walls. Think Nicole Kidman, Victoria and David Beckham, and Mary Kate Olsen! We spent hours pulling rugs from their downstairs wonderland of antique Moroccan carpets and even shared a traditional lunch with the family. If you are trying to source specific pieces make sure you talk to Hakim who was a great help on our hunt for antique Syrian mirrors. You can of course barter but don’t expect bargains from this shop. If you are after truly unique pieces steeped in history, you’ll love it!
Address: 115, Souk Semmarine, Medina

Mustapha Blaoui
Like an Aladdin's Cave that has magically come to life from the dream of an interior designer, located just outside the hustle and bustle of the medina Mustapha Blaoui awaits behind beautiful wooden doors. Four floors of magic will have you lose hours exploring the labyrinth store of carpets, artworks, antique ceramics, soft furnishings and Moroccan wedding blankets. A Marrakech icon and stockest to one of our favourite homewares shops One Kings Lane, if you were to go to only one shop in Marrakech, this should be it. We emerged five hours later with a ridiculously large pile of homewares to be shipped back to us in Australia! You’ll love that the staff can help with shipping your purchases internationally (and you can also get items you purchased at other shops delivered here to be shipped home together). The prices quoted are fair so don’t expect to be able to barter too much - aim for around 20% off. We paid around $100 for Moroccan wedding blankets and $500 for antique carpets. 
Address: 144, Rue Bab Doukala, just down from the restaurant Dar Marjana.

(Excuse the iphone snaps. We got a little side tracked here...)

Chez Les Nomades
This is an amazing carpet shop hidden behind a small shop front, right in the heart of the Medina (behind the Ben Yussef museum)! We fell deep down the rabbit hole and raided their enormous stack of antique cushion covers.
Address: 32-34 Bradia El Kedima Mouassine near Souq Sebbaghine (Dyers' Souk)

Palais de la Menara
Probably our favourite emporium of antique furniture and jewellery that we have discovered on our travels so far, with everything from traditional hundred year old Moroccan front doors, intricate mirrors and Berber jewellery. Talk to Moustafa Zidane if there are particular pieces you are after. He was amazing at helping us find what we needed and also coordinating custom orders.

Zimroda Arts Gallery

If you are after antique silver Berber jewellery, you will go crazy for this small shop, not far from Mustapha Blaoui. Museum-like pieces will have you dreaming of adorning yourself in nomadic tribal jewellery.
Address: 128 rue Dar El Bacha, Bab Doukkala, Marrakech

The Souks

Intricately connected alleyways with a dizzying number of hole in the wall stores. Behind small storefronts lay Aladdin’s caves selling everything from leather bags, shoes, jewellery, ceramics and soft furnishings. Haggling is expected and never accept the first price you are given. You can usually get the price down around 50%! Shop here for gifts and spirited pieces to remind you of your travels.


Where to eat in Marrakech

Le Jardin (The Garden) Located in the heart of the Medina, this cute Moroccan cafe serving organic food is the perfect place to refresh whilst on a serious shopping mission in the souk! We loved the 60's inspired decor and shaded open-air courtyard area.

Le Tobsil
 This traditional restaurant is a must-visit for an authentic Moroccan experience and we recommend making a booking at the beginning of your trip. Located in the backstreets of the Medina, Le Tobsil is difficult to find on your own so ask your hotel concierge to walk you there (and the dark backstreets can feel a bit unsafe at night, especially for a group of girls so we had the restaurant staff escourt us back afterwards as well!) But it's definitely worth the visit.  Le Tobsil offers a set menu including wine, romantic table settings in an open air riad and beautiful live music.

Jemaa el Fna Square An eclectic mix of food & beverage stalls in the city square. Dine with the locals and experience the colourful chaos of Marrakech at dusk surrounded by snake charmers, live music, henna tattoists and acrobats. Guard your bag and pockets with your life! But you have to do it at least once.

El Fenn A beautiful, rustic restaurant on the roof top of Riad El Fenn (one of our favourite places to stay!). We ate here many times. It's the perfect spot for cocktails (possibly the best Mojitos we've ever had!) and an early dinner. Be sure to make a reservation!

Royal Mansour Grande Table Marocaine. The perfect place to splurge on a romantic dinner for two, or a dinner with your girlfriends after a spa day at Royal Mansour (a review on this to come!). The breathtaking architecture alone is reason enough to visit the luxurious Royal Mansour but the fine dining experience here is incredible. 

Photography: Jennifer Stenglein & Karissa Fanning

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