We are now well into our autumn and winter schedule and the pressure’s on again……so it’s just a short blog entry this month.
As is always the case call or email for the very latest availability.
Considered the best time to visit Morocco we have, due to demand, scheduled additional autumn tour dates [bookings already].
PLEASE NOTE……there are now NO PLACES left on the remaining 2015 tours.
WELL WORTH A VISIT………
Now and again while touring the back-tracks and lesser-lanes of Morocco we stumble on a gem location, one such is Bhalil………….
The real name of Bhalil is Bahau El-Lail which translates as the Night's Glory (Arabic: البهاليل). It is an intriguing Amazigh [Berber] town some six kilometers from Sefrou and just a 40 minute drive from Fez.
Notable for its unique cave houses located in the old part of the village, Bhalil also has eclectically coloured homes, linked together by a network of bridges. The town is famous for its production of jellaba buttons produced by the village women. It is also known for its olive oil production, and traditional bread ovens.
Some Amazigh traditions may be fading into history, but Bhalil is one of the places where traditions still linger on well into last century and maybe even to today.
Anthropologists record the Berber wedding custom where, after a few months of marriage, a bride will leave her husband and return to her ancestral family home for an entire year. Typically, people from Bhalil marry within the village because the two families will be well known to each other.
For the entire engagement, the female fiancée does not leave the house, and likewise for three days prior to the wedding day, the male fiancé remains in an isolated cave with a few select male companions. The male fiancé parades through the city on a highly embellished horse to his future home, where his bride is waiting. Celebrations carry on for seven days after the wedding, during which time the bride cannot leave her bed and is not allowed to see anyone but close family; and the groom continues living in the caves. On the seventh day, a final celebration occurs to mark the end of the wedding and the beginning of their daily life as a married couple.
However, after five months, the wife must leave her husband for a year and return to live in her ancestral home. The husband and wife must not see each other for the entire year; throughout this period, the wife is cloistered, but accompanied by an older woman sent by the bride’s husband. After the year, the husband gives his in-laws a variety of gifts (generally livestock and eggs) and the husband and wife return to their daily lives.
There are a couple of individuals worth seeking out…… Six years ago a Fez local, Kamal Chaoui, and his wife Béatrice moved to Bhalil and renovated a traditional house. Along the way Kamal found the time and energy to organise the painting of the local houses and walls. The effect is delightfully photogenic.
For those who would like a quiet retreat for a few days or simply an overnight stay, Kamal's house, Dar Kamal Chaoui, is an easy short walk from the main car park.
Thirty kilometers [about nineteen miles] to the south-east of Chefchaouen, not far from the coastal town of Ouedlaou, in the Talassemtane National Reserve, stand the enchanting waterfalls of Akchour. The setting is like a graceful, divine painting, enthralling tourists, hikers and adventurers from all over the world, particularly in the summer time.
Akchour is a Berber word that means “part, part of” or “somewhere,” according to locals the name was inspired by the remoteness of the site.
In order to reach the falls, you will need to drive about five miles on a bumpy and poorly paved road that ends at a dusty parking area. From this point, you must walk through the dense jungle of bush and brush for about one hour to reach the first cascade, the small one. To reach the larger and more famous cascade requires around another two hours of walking along challenging trails highlighted with dusty slopes and numerous rocky, watery and even woody impediments……..clearly not for the unfit……..but it is hugely rewarding.
Unfortunately, you must then spend another two hours walking back to the parking area under the same difficult conditions, but all of your aches and pains fade away when you recall the wonder of the experience, the majesty of the spot and its one-of-a-kind ambiance……well worth it!
A FUTURE STAFF MEMBER……….?
MOROCCAN LAMB STEW…………….
At first glance it looks like there is a lot involved……there’s not!...... and the method looks time-consuming …….. It’s not! But it is a great winter warmer………..
- 3 lb. boneless lamb shoulder or leg, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-1/2- to 2-inch pieces
- 3 Tbs. grape seed oil or vegetable oil; more as needed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium celery stalks, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
- Medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2-1/2 cups homemade or lower-salt store-bought beef broth
- 2 cups onion wedges (3/4-inch wedges)
- 2 cups diced butternut squash (1-inch dice)
- 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup halved pitted green olives
- 1/4 cup chopped preserved lemom
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.
Spread the lamb on paper towels to dry for 10 to 20 minutes before browning. (You can use this time to chop the onion, celery, and carrot). If the meat is very wet, pat it dry.
In a 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot, heat 3 Tbs. oil over medium to medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Season about one-third of lamb with salt and pepper and arrange it in a single layer in the pot (there should be at least 1/2 inch of space between the pieces). Brown well on at least 4 sides, adjusting the heat as necessary; each batch should take about 10 minutes to brown. Transfer the lamb to a large bowl or rimmed baking sheet as it browns and repeat with the rest of the lamb, seasoning with salt and pepper before browning. Once all of the lamb is browned, remove the pot from the heat to let it cool for a few minutes.
Pour all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pot. (If there is not enough, add oil to equal 2 Tbs.) Return the pot to medium heat, then add the onion, celery, and carrot. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, caraway, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the wine, stirring with the wooden spatula to dissolve any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Raise the heat to medium high and boil to reduce by about half, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the beef broth and 1-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil.
Return the lamb to the pot along with any accumulated juice. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer.
Crumple a 12 x 16-inch piece of parchment, then flatten it out. (Crumpling makes for easy handling.) Place the parchment directly on the surface of the stew, allowing the ends to come up the sides of the pot. Cover and put in the oven.
After 1 hour of stewing, add the onion wedges to the pot. Cover with the parchment and lid, return to the oven. After another 30 minutes, add the squash. Cover with the parchment and lid, return the pot to the oven, and cook until the lamb is fork-tender, 3/4 to 1-1/4 hours more. (Shoulder cuts will take longer than leg cuts.)
Stir in the chickpeas. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Stir in the olives, preserved lemon, and parsley. Decrease the stew by laying a clean paper towel over the surface of the stew and gently pushing it into all the bumps and dips, then quickly peeling it off. Repeat as necessary with more paper towels. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.