Riad El Fenn, Marrakech.

Friday, June 6th 2014

Research the exotic and effortlessly cool city of Marrakech Morocco and you will be lost in a world of vibrant colour, foreign charm and inspiring interiors; a world where the old is blended with the new and the east meets the west. You’ll be pulled by the colourful interiors, Moroccan traditions and exotic luxury of some of the most inspiring spaces in the world. Chances are in the exhilarating mix will be the eclectic El Fenn hotel. A hip and luxurious boutique riad located just inside the city gates behind high fortress walls, just five minutes away from the main square. 

Allured by the turquoise walls, magical rooftops, opulent suites, bold interiors and after featuring heavily on many of our inspiration mood boards we knew that this had to be our first stop on our exploration of this wild, colourfully chaotic country…

Have you ever experienced lust at first sight? That undeniable, impossible to ignore feeling that has you wanting to consume every inch of something or someone. Full of emotion and senses heightened you want to take in every tiny detail. On arrival at El Fenn this familiar dizzying feeling enveloped us after being swiftly collected from the airport and darted through the gates of the old fortified city where thousands of vendors and their stalls selling everything from handcrafted leathers, antique carpets to local produce are mazed in labyrinthine alleyways and the El Fenn lies quietly amongst the chaos.

As we past through the enormous door and into the private sanctuary of the riad, shutting away the outside noise, we are greeted by art adorned walls splashed red and pink and an we are instantly and overwhelming attracted to this boutique space. So we set out to discover the hideaway nooks, rooftop terraces, courtyards, swimming pools and the tumbling bougainvillea of this private labyrinth oasis. A lot like lust we found the more we discovered the deeper we fell. Owners Howell James and Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard) have created an artistic and soulful intoxicating feast for the eyes, the ultimate stylish sanctuary for creative spirits to stay in a city that inspires creativity. A majestic ancient riad that beautifully blends old Moroccan flare with contemporary art and design.

After consuming the coffee that waits at our suite door each morning, breakfast on the rooftop terrace quickly becomes a nourishing ritual as we feasted on Moroccan baked eggs in tagine and tomatoes, breads, croissants, yogurt, muesli and the freshest orange juice as the sun began to rise over the terracotta skyline. The perfect peaceful start to days filled with seeking and exploring the ancient city.

After hustling in Djmaa El Fnaa Square (just a 5 minute walk away) where street theatre of acrobats, fire-eaters, snake charmers and sword swallowers enchant, El Fenn becomes our private retreat to escape the madness and heat of the city. It is here a real sense of glamour has been injected into the exotic. Lazing around the serene tiled garden courtyards, three swimming pools, the hotels Hammam and Spa and our boutique suite elaborately decorated with traditional Moroccan interiors and soft furnishings, the mood is one of bohemian chic, hippie-de-luxe and a transient way of life that embraces the gypset - everything that drew us to Marrakech in the first place.

The open plan bathroom with a freestanding bath in the middle of a richly decorated colourful bedroom, kilim covered king sized bed, rooftop private plunge pool with vibrant berber tented daybeds and the outdoor leafy terrace of room 19 becomes our favourite spot to chill after long afternoons in the sun. The room preserving the spirit of a traditional riad with contemporary decorative twists. Magic happens on the sprawling rooftop terrace with incredible views of the scorched red city, Atlas Mountains and Koutoubia mosque. As we drink Mojitos, bask in sun as the call to pray echoed through skies painted red and eat dinners of traditional tagines under a blanket of stars we feel as though we have found our creative sanctuary.

Rooms at El Fenn...

The soul of the El Fenn Hotel lies in its exquisitely decorated interiors and edgy art collection that adorns the 20 individual style rooms and suites. Each room slightly different and each evoking a mood of luxurious yet laidback glamour. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you are lazing in the bedroom of your most effortlessly cool friend. With no televisions or telephones the rooms are a tranquil escape from reality.

An eclectic mix of Moroccan and contemporary furnishings, a vibrant palette of rich textiles and unexpected pieces give the rooms an undeniable exotic romance and the distinct feeling of relaxed glamour. Ethnic patterns meet velvet armchairs, art adorned turquoise walls and leather stitched floors layered with vintage berber rugs which pop against vases of vibrant roses and traditional Moroccan architecture. 

Room 19 becomes our private hideaway and if it wasn’t for our fuelled desire to explore every inch of the city it is quite possible that we would never leave. Think an open plan bathroom with a freestanding bath for two in the middle of a richly decorated colourful bedroom, kilim covered king sized bed, a rooftop private plunge pool, vibrant daybeds and an outdoor leafy terrace. The room preserving the peaceful spirit of a traditional riad with contemporary decorative twists. If you are planning a honeymoon it is the perfect suite to experience the vibrant soul of the hotel while having the privacy and seclusion of your own private rooftop and pool.

If you are looking for interior or design inspiration you will absolutely love staying at El Fenn. Some of our favourite design elements were the copper, brass and stainless steel inlaid into polished floors, a free standing silver bath for two, monsoon showers, real wood fireplaces, artwork from Vanessa Branson’s private collection, hot pink tadelakt bathrooms, hand carved ceilings, leather lined walls, artisan crafted plaster work, leather stitched floors and kilim covered beds.

There are a range of different rooms available from Imperial Suites to Courtyard Rooms ranging from 200 to 600 euro per night. If you are travelling with a group of girls the hotel is accommodating and will bring in a roll away bed to save you getting two rooms. You can see the full range of rooms available here.

Weddings at El Fenn

Captivated by the bewitching 1960’s images of Talitha Getty that set the world on fire as she lay under a roof of stars in Marrakech, all beautiful and damned, Saint Laurent’s most famous love affair and the birth of bohemian chic, hippie-de-luxe and a transient way of life that embraced the gypset, we have long been romanced by the idea of a luxurious yet exotic wedding reception on a Moroccan rooftop.

Inspiring a mood of laidback glamour and reminiscent of bohemian beauties lazing on rooftops and sipping cocktails with friends, there is just something about rooftop wedding receptions that is so effortlessly cool! Being under a blanket of stars and high above a city as night falls, observing the city come alive with glittering lights is just magical.

The rooftop space at El Fenn on the edge of the old fortified city with its incredible views of the terracotta cityscape, Koutoubia Mosque and Atlas Mountains brings a whole new level of romance and exoticism to this trend.

The Muslim calls to prayer echos through a sky scorched red by a setting sun and at dusk the city lights up and glows around you, you can see the steam easing from food stalls in the Medina and then the moon rises. The area is decorated with Berber tented daybeds in eclectic bold prints and is complete with a glamourous plunge pool. All this evokes a mood of exotic bohemian luxury, perfect for those considering an elopement, but still wanting a unique wedding venue injected with exotic charm and culture.

The décor is a vibrant palette of terracotta, eclectic prints and soft furnishings so really no additional styling is needed. The tented daybeds, silver Moroccan coffee tables, oversized terracotta pots and wooden stools create a relaxed space perfect for a cocktail style reception. We love the idea of using the space and existing styling to create a picnic style setting. Complete with clusters of Moroccan lanterns for ambient lighting and a barefoot bride dancing under a blanket of stars. Think more casual summer party than formal reception!  Long tables can also be set up to create a shared meal with friends vibe.

The hotel’s tranquil courtyards and pool areas can also be used for ceremonies and events. The pool area can be transformed into a Berber salon with rugs and kilms over the daybeds. If you dream of an escape and are romanced by the thought of having all of your family and friends gather for a weekend of celebrations in an exotic far-flung location, then it doesn’t get any better than the El Fenn and the riad and rooms can be hired exclusively for wedding.

All weddings and events are personalised to suit what you are looking for. You can find out more information here.

Photography: Karissa Fanning and Jennifer Stengleign

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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!

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