Archive | Moroccan travel

Morocco’s tradition of gifting

Rania Soussi Temli

Rania Soussi Temli

The holiday season is almost upon us and our attention turns to securing the perfect gifts for friends and family. In Morocco, the gifting ritual is important all year long. We sit down with our newest Kahina team member, Rania Temli, to discuss the importance of gifting in Morocco.

As a pure Berber born in the South of Morocco and who grew up in Tangier, I was raised in a culture where expressing gratitude and appreciation is second nature. In Morocco, gift giving is intertwined with Islamic traditional belief. In Islam giving a present is one of the best ways to show love, respect, honor and appreciation towards another person. For this reason, people really value the concept of gifting. If you are invited to a traditional Moroccan family’s home, you will most likely be given a lot of food and a ‘thank you’ gift for coming and accepting the invitation. A guest might receive olive oil, sugar cones or tea. Likewise, it is very appreciated for a guest to bring a gift to the hosts as a symbol of “thankfulness” or “A Choukr” in Moroccan. Typical hostess gifts are nuts, pastries, or flowers.

Join us in welcoming Rania to our Kahina family. She will be at ABC Home in New York City on Friday afternoons. Who better than Rania to help you find the perfect Kahina gift for someone you love?

The Beauty of Giving Beauty

Photo by Antillia Dufourmantelle

Photo by Antillia Dufourmantelle

Aside from the concept of elevating the Berber women at the heart of our line, Giving Beauty also reflects another idea – the power of beauty rituals to heal, connect and to build self-esteem. In Morocco, the public hammam is a place in which bonding between mothers and daughters, sisters, and friends, occurs. One sister can be seen brushing another’s hair, a mother bathes her daughter, two friends scrub each others backs. These are intimate expressions of caring that are encouraged within the confines of the hammam. Closer to home, consider the experience of getting a facial or massage: the generosity in the act of performing a treatment. The best practitioners give their energy and focus to create a sanctuary that allows another to feel safe and special in their most vulnerable moments, in their skin.

We can also create these experiences by giving ourselves permission to take time to nurture ourselves, to treat our senses, to believe “we are worth it”. What a simple gift that is! In Morocco, this isn’t considered a luxury or indulgence, but a necessity.

 

photo by Antillia Dufourmantelle

photo by Antillia Dufourmantelle

Nine Years of Giving Beauty

Katharine with Laarbia

Katharine with Yamna

 

The concept of Giving Beauty, a cornerstone of the Kahina brand, begins by providing economic opportunity for the Berber women who do the labor intensive work of extracting the oils at the heart of our line.  I’ve just returned from another 2-week trip, visiting Marrakech, Taroudant, and several remote villages of the Anti Atlas Mountains where I obtain the argan and prickly pear seed oils for our products.  On my trip, which happened to coincide precisely with the nine-year anniversary of my first trip to Morocco and the conception of Kahina, I had a chance to witness how the work of harvesting and cracking the nuts for these oils and the fair trade initiatives put in place to further enhance the women’s quality of life have had a positive impact.

For the first time in this tiny village of 100 women, to which the men visit only one month out of the year when they take time away from their work in the cities, the homes now have electricity and running water. The women are able to purchase food that they can’t grow themselves and wool for their weaving, which is in itself another source of economic opportunity. The primary school is freshly painted and now has separate bathrooms for the girls and boys. The success of my supplier (in some measure due to Kahina) means that opportunity is spreading to surrounding villages as well and plans are underway to bring electricity and running water to an additional 200 homes.

Beyond paying a fair wage and supporting these initiatives, Kahina also donates an additional 1% of our revenue to programs that contribute to the Berber women of Morocco and their families, including Education for All and the High Atlas Foundation.

 

36 Hours in Essaouira

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To celebrate the launch of our ESSAOUIRA Perfume Oil, we’re publishing Katharine’s quick travel guide to Essaouira, Morocco, the breezy port town that inspired the scent of the Body Serum and new Perfume Oil.

First a little history:  In 1506, the king of Portugal ordered a fortress to be built in Essaouira, then called Mogador by the native Berbers who inhabited the location.   After Morocco regained control during the 16th century, various powers including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France tried in vain to conquer Mogador.  In the 18th Century, the name Essouira, translated as “beautifully designed,”  was adopted and a French architect was hired to build the medina surrounding the original fortress.  Ideally located to benefit from trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas,  Essaouira thrived as a Morocco’s most important trading site.

Essaouira is a perfect place to escape to and unwind after the hectic pace of Marrakech.  The temperature stays a moderate 75 degrees all year, due to the trade winds blowing off of the Atlantic, which also make it an attractive destination for windsurfers.  It is an easy daytrip from Marrakech, but I prefer to stay a night or two to really benefit from the laid back spirit of the beach town.

Day 1:
The first thing in the morning, wander down to the docks to watch the fishermen bring in the days haul. The locals will be there buying their fish for the day, jostling among numerous fish mongers with their wares laid out in boxes on the ground or in carts. A huge variety of fresh fish is on display, eyed by plenty of cats hoping for their chance.

Fish Market in Essaouira

If you’re feeling brave, do what the locals do. Choose one of the vendors based on what looks good (even if you can’t identify the type of fish) and buy directly. There is a guy with a few tables and a grill at the end of the dock who will cook your fish and serve it to you on paper plates with bread for just a few dirhams.

#Postcardfrom Essaouira Morocco #KahinaContest

From the docks, I’ll continue on to walk the long, flat beach, stopping along the way at one of the sidewalk cafes across from the boardwalk for bessara, the traditional bean soup served for breakfast in Morocco.  At the far end of the beach, you can opt to ride camels and/or ponies surfside.

camels on the beach at Essaouira

For lunch, head back towards town where there is a row of open-air restaurant/stalls where you can choose the catch of the day.

Make time in the afternoon for the hammam, Morocco’s health and wellness tradition, which includes plenty of heat and steam, exfoliation and cleansing.  There are two types to choose from, the traditional version which is a shared experience in a large room, or a private session. Either way, treat yourself to Morocco’s foremost beauty products including: Beldi Soap, rhassoul clay, and argan oil.  If opting for the traditional version, make sure to stop at the souk and pick up your own products to bring with you on the way.

Essaouira Market

Afterwards, make your way to the old fortress to watch the sun go down. Stroll along the walls of the medina on the way to browse the shops and art galleries there. There is a good selection of restaurants for dinner in the medina to suit your mood and budget.

Essaouira is known for its vibrant music scene.  Luminaries who have spent time in Essaouira include Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, whose presence is still felt today in the town’s low key, boho vibe.  Essaouira is the host of the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival, but it is not unusual to stumble across an improptu concert in the main square.

Day 2.
Take a drive south toward Agadir. It’s a beautiful drive through the argan forests. You’ll see goats in trees and some typical Moroccan villages. There are several argan cooperatives along the way to stop in and see how the nuts are cracked. Make sure to try the amlou with bread, a mixture of almonds honey and argan oil.

Argan forest

If you are feeling ambitious, continue approximately 2 hours south to reach Agadir. There is a beautiful stretch of unspoiled coastline before you reach Agadir and multiple spots for surfing. Have lunch at any of the restaurants along the boardwalk of Agadir before heading back.

 

Where to Stay
L’Heure Bleue $$$
Luxury in a traditional Moroccan riad decorated in a Colonial Style.  I recommend lunch by the rooftop pool with a great view of Essaouira.

Madada Mogador $$$
A boutique hotel decorated in traditional Moroccan finishes with rooms on the ramparts overlooking the water and the medina.

36 Hours in Essaouira
Iconic blue boats in Essaouira’s port

A week in Marrakech

cones of spices

Last month, I had the extreme pleasure of traveling to Marrakech with my very good friend, Marcella Echavarria. Marcella, the brand strategist behind our current obsession, Norhla Textiles, is a globetrotter, professional photographer and writer, social entrepreneur, trend forecaster, and expert in all things sustainable in design.

 

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It didn’t take long for us to take to the souks for some exploration.  Needless to say, I was in heaven at the rug souk in the heart of the medina. The villagers bring their wares down to the souk for auction each day at 5 PM, a wonderful sight to see and a great place to learn about their crafts.

 

L'Art du Bain

 

A more serene stop is at L’Art du Bain, a great place to stop and pick up high quality soaps and other body care products. I adore their sugar scrub scented with vetiver!

 

Kat in the souk with lamps

 

Marcella has a keen eye for seeking out the highest quality crafts.  With her at the helm, I was on a mission to find some antique tribal jewelry in the medina. I found exactly what I was looking for in a pair of these 18th Century Berber adornments made with rare Meditteranean coral.

 

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Of course, no transaction is complete without sharing a cup of mint tea!

 

tea time

 

Near Dar Bacha in the medina are some great finds for modern Moroccan design, including Topolina for simple and wearable designs using vintage fabrics found in Africa.

 

Marcella at Topolina

 

Marcella taking a break after shopping and before we head to the Majorelles Garden in the Ville Nouvelles.

 

majorelle balcony

 

The beautiful Majorelles Gardens were built in the 1920s and later became the Moroccan home of Yves St. Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge.

 

Kat Medarssa in front of plasterwork and tiles

 

I can’t leave Marrakech without a visit to the Ben Yousseff Medersa, a Koranic school built in the 16th Century. It is a beautifully serene place with the most gorgeous tile, plasterwork and cedar woodwork.

 

medarssa arch

 

For the utmost in tranquility and hospitality, I love to stay at the Riad Tchaikana, below, in the heart of the medina and close to the medarsa.

 

La Tchaikana doorway

Photos by Marcella Echavarria and Katharine L’Heureux

Bringing the hammam home with Moroccan Beldi Soap

First stop - a visit to Le Bain Bleu in Marrakech

First stop – a visit to Le Bain Bleu in Marrakech

I always make a point of making a trip to the hammam one of my first stops on arriving in Morocco in order revive, rejuvenate and relax after the long flight from New York. Nothing puts me more quickly and completely into a Moroccan state of mind than the immersion into the ritual and scents of the hammam. And there is no more key element in the hammam experience than the cleansing and exfoliating step using Moroccan Beldi Soap, aka Savon Noir, and “kessa” exfoliating mitt.

First pores are allowed to open with hot water and steam. Then Beldi Soap is applied liberally to cover the body, working into a slight lather, and then allowed to penetrate skin for 3 – 10 minutes. Typically, the beldi soap is scented with eucalyptus for additional therapeutic properties. After rinsing, the skin is scrubbed heavily in a circular motion with the kessa exfoliating mitt. I am a regular dry brusher and exfoliator at home, but it is always astonishing how my skin literally rolls off with this treatment at the hammam.

Beldi means “traditional” or “authentic” in Moroccan. The gel-like soap made from saponified olive oil acts as a body masque and is a Moroccan specialty.   Women will pick up their serving (25 grams) of Beldi Soap from the spice shop or apothecary in the souk on their way to the hammam, carrying it with them in a plastic bag. I am thrilled to have found a high quality version of the soap to share with our customers. As with traditional varieties, Kahina’s Moroccan Beldi Soap is all-natural, made with pure olive oil and scented with eucaluptus essential oil.

For a limited time only, with every purchase of our Moroccan Beldi Soap on our website, we offer a complimentary pharmacy grade kessa mitt so you can replicate the hammam experience at home. If you don’t happen to have a steam room or sauna, I recommend heating the shower before entering to allow steam to rise – or soak skin in the tub before applying to soften. Multitask by applying a hair mask and/or our Antioxidant Mask to face while you wait for the Beldi Soap to penetrate. The Moroccan Beldi Soap may also be used for simple cleansing as a deliciously scented soap replacement.

beldiReshoot_v3HIRES copy

In 2009 I had my first experience at a traditional Moroccan hammam, which I wrote about in a previous blog post.

For a more luxe, yet still traditional hammam experience in Marrakech, I recommend Le Bain Bleu, an oasis in the heart of the medina.

Kahina throw rugs hand-loomed by the women of Kahina in Morocco


presenting the rug edited

In May of 2011, on a trip to visit my argan supplier in a remote village high in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, I was shown the weaving cooperative in the village, where the women who crack the nuts for our argan oil were learning to weave rugs as a way to make extra money. The following year, Kahina donated money to buy sheep in order that the women would have wool to use for their weaving. In 2013, on a return trip to the village, I was presented with a beautiful hand-loomed rug decorated with the Kahina circle and star graphic. My rug has lived beside my bed warming my feet and heart ever since.

Kahina Berber Rug

 

Earlier this year, I asked the women to weave me more rugs exactly like the one they presented to me three years ago. I am thrilled to now offer these exclusively on givingbeauty.com. SHOP NOW.

Each 2’ x 4’ rug is hand-loomed using virgin sheep’s wool and natural dyes by the Berber women of the weaving cooperatives who also do the work of cracking the nuts for our argan oil.

Katharine and Elle Magazine do Morocco

Moroccan beauty ingredients

Moroccan beauty ingredients

It was with immense pleasure that I had the opportunity to travel with April Long, Executive Beauty Editor of Elle Magazine to Morocco last January. April joined me in Fez in the hopes of unlocking the traditional beauty secrets of Morocco, with an exploration of the ancient walled city to discover my scent inspiration for our Fez Body Oil and Hand and Body Balm launching this week.

January is not an ideal time to travel to Fez. The cold is the kind that seeps into your bones, even when its 55 degrees, while rain runs in rivulets down unpaved dirt streets. Howling winds blew the furniture over on the rooftop of our riad in the the old city.   But April revealed herself to be an intrepid traveler, undeterred by the conditions from exploring every alleyway, madrassa, spice stall and antique shop, with our noses and my trusted friend Majid as our guides.

April and Majid in the Fez Medina

April and Majid in the Fez medina

We spent a lovely, though chilly, afternoon in the home of Yasmine, who showed us her own beauty secrets passed down to her by her mother (obviously very effective). We ground roses, chamomile and lavender to mix with rhassoul clay and savon noir to soften and clarify skin and hair, while drinking Moroccan mint tea and eating delicious homemade pastries. Concoctions in hand, April went off to the public hammam (I opted to stay behind, having experienced the hammam many times before – and feeling more comfortable stripping down in a roomful of complete strangers than with the Executive Beauty Editor of a major fashion magazine).

April Long receiving a lesson in making her own traditonal  Moroccan beauty treatment

April Long receiving a lesson in making her own traditional Moroccan beauty treatment

As April writes in the August issue of Elle, “…at the hammam, I tapped into something else that gives argan oil its power….I felt a sort of sisterhood, and not just because we’re all topless. We may not have a single word of shared language, but we all want soft skin and shiny hair; we all hope to walk out looking radiant,” says April. “Ultimately, it’s all about connection.”  The beauty of shared rituals – Kahina’s message exactly. It was wonderful to share this experience with April – and realize one more wonderful connection.

Staying warm and well-fed inside the Riad Laaroussa in Fez

Staying warm and well-fed inside the Riad Laaroussa in Fez

A Day In My Moroccan Life

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Breakfast of fresh squeezed orange juice, crepes, bread with fresh jam, fresh fruit and mint tea on the terrace of Riad Dar One in Marrakesh.  A moment of peace before heading out.  The day as planned is an easy three hour drive to Agadir where Majid and I will meet with our friends Zaina and Mohammed, the owners of the argan cooperative.

12:00 — My 11 AM scheduled pick up by Majid is pushed back to noon because of some business he needs to take care of with the owner of a rug shop.  As we walk the 15 minutes to his car, he casually informs me that he is having a bit of car trouble.  The battery is broken. I suggest renting a car. Majid’s answer is “if it is your destiny to break down, you will break down in a new car as easily as in an old one,” logic that is hard to quarrel with, so we wait for the mechanic to fix the battery.

1 PM — The car is successfully started by the mechanic who, for some bewildering reason, has a pamphlet on cholesterol in his hands.  It’s an “Inshallah” moment, one in which you can understand why Moroccans are strong believers in destiny. So much of life is throwing up your hands and hoping for the best.  After extensive dialogue in Arabic, voices raises and hand gesturing, we leave with everyone apparently satisfied.

2:10 — we are pulled over in the middle of nowhere for speeding.  The usual $10 payoff doesn’t work with the cops this time.  They tell Majid that he needs to pay the full price of the ticket ($50), plusa tip.  He calls his brother who is an officer and talks the cops out of our ticket.  And we’re off. 30 minutes lost.  Majid is endlessly amused that a SUV following us had to pay the full fine.

2:45 — We stop at an outdoor market in the village of Chechoua to buy fresh cherries, apricots, melon, bread and cheese to eat along the way. Majid does not allow me to join him in the shopping because if the vendors see an American, the price will be higher so I have to wait in the car.

4:30 — A truck cab has gone over the side of the mountain on a steep pass, stopping traffic.

6:00 — A thud.  We pull over, hood up, and Majid calls the mechanic from his cell phone.  I spot a guy on the side of the road waving down a broken–down bus and imagine myself doing the same thing.  Three truck drivers stop to help us and begin pulling parts out of Majid’s engine. Miraculously, the problem seems to be solved for the time-being and we start up the car again.  One of the truck drivers gives us a piece of his cargo – a ripe watermelon.

6:30 — Stopped in a village to find a mechanic.  No such luck.

8 PM — On the way into Agadir as the sun is going down, the shepherds and camel herders are bringing their flocks to graze the argan trees.  A beautiful sight. Now I know why Destiny delayed us! 

8:30 — Arrive in Agadir (only 7 hours behind schedule) where we are met by Mohammed who escorts me to my hotel, the Ocean Beach Hotel where a no frills apartment with an ocean view goes for less than $100.

After a long day, pizza from the hotel and to bed.  Tomorrow, Majid and I go to the fish market to pick out a fish for Zaina to cook for our lunch, then we’ll visit the cooperatives, but first the mechanic!

MEET FATIMA

Fatima

Fatima weaves and sews our Berber Wedding Blankets and Pillows

Moroccan Wedding Blankets are a Berber tradition.  Woven by groups of women with the bride before her wedding, the wedding blankets and pillows are embroidered by hand as part of the brides dowry and are meant to bring good luck to the bride and prevent against the evil eye.  The gathering of women also provides an opportunity to share matrimonial advice with the bride-to-be.  I traveled to the village of Meryrte, approximately 2 hours from Fes in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, to buy our blankets and pillows from Fatima and her daughter.  On my first visit to Fatima’s home in October, they were working together on the dowry for her daughter, an exquisite work of embroidery and beading photographed below.  On my recent visit in January, Fatima’s daughter had already moved in with her new husband to begin her new life.

Pillows are available on givingbeauty.com.  Berber Wedding Blankets are also available to order in many sizes; please email info@givingbeauty.com for sizes, pricing, photos, and to place your order.

Fatima and Khadija(1)

 Fatima and her daughter Khadija with Khadija’s wedding blanket

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