Dar Kamal Chaoui – Bhalil Village
Dar Kamal Chaoui. Bhalil is apparently a simple Moroccan village, located on the sunny slopes of hills full of olive orchards and ancient caverns. Even though it is overshadowed by Fes’s attraction (one of the most important tourist, cultural, and spiritual centers of Morocco), Bhalil is amazing both by the uniqueness of the troglodyte houses and by the tradition of the 1,000 women who crochet buttons for djellabas (the traditional clothing) right in the middle of the street. It is also unique for its production of olive oil, the tradition of baking bread in earth ovens, the local pottery, and the unspoiled wedding customs. In this enriched context, within a mix of traditions and customs, the guesthouse Dar Kamal Chaoui is situated in the heart of the old village dating back to the fourth century. The house is located on the street that leads from the transit route through the village to the great Mosque of Jamaa-Kbir.
First, you stare after the houses refurbished inside the caves. Then, you start from the parking lot situated under the trees in Asfalou street. You follow the directions of a signpost located strategically on a blind wall of an old house. The perplexity disappears when the locals start to smile and ask nodding if you go to “Kamal?” Whatever the answer is, someone will kindly show you the right direction to go. The street easily climbs through the old medina (the old village center). Some steps mark the difference of level and they continue to climb uphill. At a certain point, another signpost points that you have just reached your destination. You see an open ground floor decorated with marquetries that invite you to stop on the left side of the street. A wooden massive double door of Cyprus carved in Berber-style guards the entrance. It seems as a passage into another world.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – the House
Kamal Chaoui’s house was built fifty years ago on the site of a Berber house that originally also embedded some rooms furnished in a cave. The ground floor of the new house is built of local stone. Robust walls host an open kitchen equipped with wooden furniture and an ample room for dining. A private room overlooks the street next to the main entrance. A wooden staircase climbs to the upper levels. A wooden decorative old door sits in the hall of the second floor. The door was bought in a souq (old bazaar) in Fes and it comes from the Southern part of Morocco. A small library with books lies now behind this old door.
In the Berber tradition, it is a clear distinction between the spaces for men, the ones for women, and the ones for guests (these ones have a very important role). Kamal has carried on this tradition and has turned his new home into a real guest house. Four guest suites are located at the upper levels, each of them with its own name (Bea room, Sophia room, Adam room, and Adil room). Some of the rooms face the street, the other ones the backyard. All the rooms have two to three beds and each one has a private bathroom. A modern furniture, but with traditional Moroccan style, replaces the specific arrangement with a U-shaped sofa on three sides of the room.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – Interior Design
The walls of the rooms are composed of two layers of brick and they have glass wool for insulation inside. The heating for the winter period spreads under the floors. At the ground floor, there is a wood fire boiler for heating the house. The floor of the rooms has a white cement finishing with various additives according to the desired color, brushed with a wire brush. The walls of the recently restructured bathrooms, the support for the sinks, as well as the bathtubs have tadelakt finishes (a plaster with cement-limestone, color additive, and water, polished in three layers with a satin refined looking).
Solid wood shutters create privacy in the guest rooms. All the rooms have a three-layer insulating glass for windows, which suits best for the 950 meters mountain altitude. The rooms have traditional motifs, from Berber curtains and blankets woven by Naima with sheep wool to local wood furniture and Berber carpets. The furniture belongs to Abdul Latif – a local carpenter and antiquarian who has his workshop in a cave. Decorative wicker baskets have different sizes and belong to Uncle Basha, who was a barber before Kamal has motivated him to revive the basket tradition in the village.
The top floor terrace was originally unused, but after several the improvements, it has become an outdoor space for relaxing and dining. A wooden pergola and rush matting cover protect the terrace overlooking the Jamaa al Kbir Mosque in the old village. Decorative vegetation creates a small green oasis on the roof of the building. The furniture of raw wood and raffia invites to lassitude. Sheep wool Berber blankets are a suitable remedy for the cool mountain evenings.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – Personal Experience
As soon as I entered Kamal’s house last autumn, I liked the traditional elements that had respected the Berber tradition. The house had an antic atmosphere, although it was just fifty years old. The interior design transposed me into the world of an authentic place. The local furniture and the furnishings had been executed by locals in the Berber style. Naima’s traditional food was smelling enticing inside the house. It was delicious and it was prepared only with local products. The owners ate together with their guests every evening. The meeting with Kamal’s mother was great and always accompanied by the gentle question “Ca va ?” full of kindness.
As Kamal always attracts great people around him, I found myself in an unplanned travel writer’s meeting in Bhalil. In the afternoon, we went together in Sefrou to eat a sandwich with local kefta. Apparently, this has nothing to do with Kamal. I am sure it is related to the energy that he spreads inside his house, though. And I am sure it is related with the wonderful experiences that I had the following day when we explored the village and had breakfast with the troglodytes inside a cave.
Some more photos from Dar Kamal Chaoui in Bhalil (Morocco):