Dar Kamal Chaoui – Bhalil Village
Dar Kamal Chaoui – Bhalil seems a simple Moroccan village located on the sunny slopes of hills with olive orchards and ancient caverns. Even though it is overshadowed by the cultural attraction of Fes, Bhalil is still amazing both by the uniqueness of the troglodyte houses and the tradition of nearly 1,000 women who usually crochet buttons for djellabas (traditional Moroccan clothing) in the street.
Bhalil is also unique for its traditional olive oil production, baking bread in earth ovens, local pottery, and unspoiled wedding customs. In this special environment, Dar Kamal Chaoui guesthouse stands in the heart of the fourth-century village. The Berber house sits right on the main street in the medina, a street going to the great Mosque Jamaa-Kbir.
You leave your car outside the medina and start to walk from the parking lot situated under the trees in Asfalou street. Then, you follow the directions of a signpost located on the blind wall of an old house. Soon, locals will start to smile and ask if you go to “Kamal?” Don’t worry too much! If you get lost, someone will kindly show you the right direction to go.
The main street climbs through the old medina (the center of the village). Several steps mark the difference of level and continue to climb uphill. A signpost announces you have reached the long-waited guesthouse. On the left side of the street, an open ground floor decorated with marquetries invites you to stop. A massive double-wooden door carved in Berber-style imposingly guards the entrance. The ancient entrance door looks like a passage into another world.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – the House
Fifty years ago, Kamal Chaoui built the house on the site of a Berber, old house initially embedding several rooms refurbished in a cave. The ground floor of the new house is built of local stone. Robust walls host an ample space for dining and an open kitchen equipped with wooden furniture. Next to the main entrance, a private room overlooks the street. Then, a solid staircase, made of massive wood, climbs to the upper floors. In between the first and second floors, a wooden old door decorates a wall. Kamal bought the door in a souq (old bazaar) in Fes, and he told me it was brought there from the Southern part of Morocco. Now, a small library with books genuinely fills the space behind the door.
In the Berber tradition, there are rooms only for men, women, or guests (who are very important). Kamal has carried on this tradition and turned his new home into an authentic guest house. Four guest suites are placed on the upper floors. Each of them has a name (Bea room, Sophia room, Adam room, and Adil room). Several rooms open up to the street, while the other ones open up to the backyard. All rooms have two to three beds, and each one has a private bathroom. Modern furniture with imprints of traditional Moroccan style has replaced the specific oriental arrangement of a U-shaped sofa on three sides of a room.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – Interior Design
The walls of the house have two layers of brick and glass wool for thermal insulation in between. Heating distribution for winter runs under the floors. On the ground floor, a wood fire boiler stands in a kitchen corner, well hidden behind a wood-perforated panel. The flooring of the rooms has white cement finishing with various additives according to the desired color, further brushed with a wire brush. Walls of the recently restructured bathrooms, sink holders, and bathtubs have tadelakt finishings. Tadelakt is a plaster made of cement-limestone, color additive, and water, with three layers of polishing creating a satin-refined looking.
Solid wood shutters ensure privacy for the guest rooms. All rooms have a three-layer insulating glass for windows, the best choice for a 950-meter-altitude mountain village. Moreover, rooms feature traditional motifs, from Berber curtains and blankets woven by Naima with sheep wool to local wooden furniture and Berber carpets. Abdul Latif, a local carpenter and antiquarian who has his workshop in a nearby cave, has made all the furniture in the house. Decorative wicker baskets have different sizes and belong to Uncle Basha, a former barber, supported by Kamal to revive the basket tradition in the village.
After making several improvements, the unused rooftop terrace has become an outdoor space for relaxation and dining. A wooden pergola and a rush matting cover protect the rooftop terrace overlooking the Jamaa al-Kbir Mosque. On this terrace, decorative vegetation creates a small, lush green oasis. Also, furniture of raw wood and raffia ensures a calm and tranquil atmosphere. In this environment, sheep wool Berber blankets are the best remedy for cool mountain evenings.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – Personal Experience
When I entered Kamal Chaoui Guesthouse in the fall of 2015, I noticed the traditional Berber elements in the house right away. Even though Kamal built the house only fifty years ago, it has an antique atmosphere and a local Moroccan vibe. The interior design transposed me into an authentic world, with Moroccan artisans, traditional furniture, and furnishings in Berber style. Naima cooked traditional food, used only local products, and her dishes smelled tempting in the kitchen. Every evening, the owners – Kamal and Beatrice, had dinner with their guests. Whenever I met Kamal’s mother, she always smiled and asked me: “Ca va ?” full of kindness.
As Kamal attracts great people around him, I found myself in an unplanned meeting of travel writers in Bhalil. In the afternoon, we went together to Sefrou and had a kefta sandwich at a local eatery. The following day, we explored the village and had breakfast with the troglodytes inside a cave. Nothing could have been more authentic than that!
More photos from Dar Kamal Chaoui in Bhalil (Morocco):
If you want to read more about the road trip through Morocco, here are all the Travelogues from Morocco (x21).
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