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. Overshadowed by Fes’s cultural attraction, Bhalil is still amazing both by the uniqueness of the troglodyte houses and the tradition of nearly 1,000 women who crochet buttons for djellabas (traditional Moroccan clothing) in the street.
Bhalil is also unique for its traditions of olive oil production, baking bread in earth ovens, local pottery, and unspoiled wedding customs. In this enriched context, Dar Kamal Chaoui guesthouse is situated in the heart of the village dating back to the fourth century. The house is located on the street connecting the transit route through the village to the great Mosque Jamaa-Kbir.
You start from the parking lot situated under the trees in Asfalou street. Then, you follow the directions of a signpost located on a blind wall of an old house. Soon, locals will start to smile and ask nodding if you go to “Kamal?” If you get lost, someone will kindly show you the right direction to go.
The main street climbs through the old medina (the old village center). Some steps mark the difference of level and continue to climb uphill. At a certain point, another signpost announces you have reached the guesthouse. On the left side of the street, an open ground floor decorated with marquetries invites you to stop. A massive double door of Cyprus carved in Berber-style guards the entrance. With its ancient look, the entrance door looks like a passage to another world.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – the House
Fifty years ago, Kamal Chaoui built the house on the site of a Berber old house which initially embedded several rooms refurbished in a cave. The ground floor of the new house is built of local stone. Robust walls host an ample room 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 floors, a wooden old door decorates a wall. The door was bought in a souq (old bazaar) in Fes and it comes from the Southern part of Morocco. Now, a small library with books genuinely fills the space behind it.
In the Berber tradition, there are rooms only for men, women, or guests (these have a very important role). Kamal has carried on this tradition and turned his new home into a true guest house. Four guest suites are located on the upper floors. Each of them has a name (Bea room, Sophia room, Adam room, and Adil room). Some of the rooms are facing the street, the other ones the backyard. All rooms have two to three beds and each one has a private bathroom. Modern furniture, with imprints of traditional Moroccan style, replaced the specific oriental arrangement of the U-shaped sofa on three sides of the room.
Dar Kamal Chaoui – Interior Design
The walls 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 corner of the kitchen, 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 finishes. 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 create privacy for the guest rooms. All rooms have a three-layer insulating glass for windows, the best choice in a 950-meter-altitude mountain village. Moreover, rooms feature 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 nearby cave. 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 several improvements, the unused rooftop terrace became an outdoor space for relaxation and dining. A wood pergola and a rush matting cover protect the terrace overlooking the Jamaa al Kbir Mosque. On the terrace, decorative vegetation creates a small, lush green oasis. Also, furniture of raw wood and raffia brings 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’s house in the fall of 2015, I noticed the traditional Berber elements in the house right away. Built only fifty years ago, the house has an antique atmosphere and a local Moroccan vibe. The interior design transposed me into an authentic world, with local craftsmen, traditional furniture, and furnishings in Berber style. Naima’s traditional food, cooked only with local products, was smelling tempting in the kitchen. Every evening, the owners – Kamal and Beatrice, had dinner with their guests. The meeting with Kamal’s mother was always accompanied by the gentle question “Ca va ?” full of kindness.
As Kamal attracts great people around him, I found myself in an unplanned travel writer’s meeting 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):