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Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech Medina

Fabric drapes around carved archway, rill through wide path, citrus trees in drift of Stipa tenuissima in mediterranean courtyard, view from inside

The Jardin Secret or Secret Garden of Marrakech is one of the oldest riads in the medina of  Marrakech.  Riad is a Moroccan word for a house with a garden courtyard and in the past Le Jardin Secret was one of the largest riads in the medina, its Islamic garden forming the centrepiece of a palace that belonged to some of the most important families in the city.  It is made up of two separate courtyards:  the Islamic garden and the smaller Exotic garden.

The defining feature of an Islamic garden is the chahar bagh or quadrilateral plan representing the four gardens of the Coran.

The word “paradise” originates from the Old Persian word “pairidaeza” which means an enclosed place.  If you travel to Isfahan or Shiraz today you will find similar walled gardens teeming with flowers and fruit, abundant greenery and water running hither and thither in little channels dividing up the plots, meeting to form a fountain only to run on and on refreshing the air throughout the heat of the summer and delighting the spirit as it gurgles along.  The scent of the flowers, the plants and the orange blossom lingers in the air and indeed it does put you in mind of paradise whether you be in the south of Iran or in Marrakech.

Le Jardin Secret, though restored and replanted recently, contains only trees and shrubs that would have been known to Moroccan gardeners six hundred years ago when the first palace was built on this site. The water (representing the essence of life) flowing through the garden originally came from the Atlas mountains and the remains of the first hydraulic system which distributed the water by gravity throughout the whole riad, are still to be seen today.

The smaller  Exotic garden has plants from all over the world with similar climates to Morocco.  Here too, water has a primary focus but the garden has been planted in a contemporary romantic style perhaps representing a quote from Genesis “Dalla terra Dio ha fatto crescere ogni albero che possa dar piacere alla vista e che dia frutti buoni da mangiare”.

Plants in the Islamic garden

1. Alberi

Ficus carica
Olea europea
Phoenix dactylifera
Punica grantum
Citrus limon
Citrus sinensis
Argania speciosa

2. Arbusti, arrampicanti e odori

Artemisia absinthium
Eschscholzi californica
Iris germanica
Jasminum officinale
Jasminum polyanthum
Lavandula dentata var. Candicans
Lippia citrodora
Myrtus communis
Polianthes tuberosa
Rosa damasceana var. Semperflorens
Rosa moschata nasturana
Rosmarinus officinalis
Salvia aucheri var. canescens
Stipa tenuissima
Tulbaghia violacea
Vitis vinifera

Plants in the Exotic garden

Acacia covenyi
Aechmea distichatha
Agastache aurantiaca
Agave attenuata
Aloa vera
Aloa castanea
Aloe chabaudii
Aloe ferox
Aloe marlothii
Aloe striata
Artemisia arborescens
Alyogyne hakeifolis “Melissa”
Bulbine frutescens
Cestrum nocturnum
Ceiba speciosa
Cistus x purpreus “Alan Fradd”
Cistus x sknbergii
Clivia miniata
Consolea rubesces
Dasylirion acrotrichum
Delonix regia
Dietes grandiflora
Dyckia sp
Eragrostis trichodes
Euphorbia canariensis
Euphorbia dendroides
Euphorbia ingens
Euphorbia tirucalli
Ficus pumila
Furcraea macdougalii
Grevillea “Winpara gem”
Hechtia glomerata
Hymenolepis parviflora
Jacaranda mimosifolia
Kalanchoe thrysifolia
Kalanchoe tomentosa
Kleinia anteuphorbium
Kleinia neriifolia
Limonium perezii
Melianthus major
Muhlenbergia capillaris
Muhlenbergia rigens
Opuntia robusta
Pachypodium lamerei
Pennisetum villosum
Perovskia atriplicifolia
Petrea volubilis
Puya mirabilis
Salvia canariensis
Salvia pomifera
Salvia chamaedryoides
Senecio mandraliscae
Solandra grandiflora
Solanum jasminoides “Alba”
Sonchus gummifer
Westringia brevifolia
Yucca rostrata

Riding in the Ounila Valley, Morocco

Frères Cavaliers

The romantic story of how seven of the pupils of an equestrian academy near Marrakech, rose to fame in the world’s top circles of dressage, vaulting and choreography, is related in a beautifully illustrated book called Frères Cavaliers (Nathalie Succarrat, Favre Eds).  Ali Oukassi, one of those seven, now divides his time between his engagements in Paris, France and Ait ben Haddou, Morocco, where he owns and runs Centre Dar Equestre.

If we look back two thousand years we find plenty of evidence of exceptional horses and exceptional horsemen in this area: Strabone, a geographer from the first century A.D. describes the horses of North Africa as “small and spirited but at the same time so obedient as to follow their owners like dogs”; these same horses were the mounts of the famous Numidian Cavalry that accompanied Hannibal to Rome, whom Livy described as “(by) far the best horsemen of North Africa”. Livy in Ab urge confita, recounts how the Numidians had horses so well trained that, “like acrobats on horseback, they went into battle with two horses and at the height of the melée they vaulted from the tired horse to a fresh one – such was their agility and smoothness of pace”. You only have to walk into Centre Dar Equestre to see that the very same traits and talents are still to be seen today.

Abdelhakim on Arès

When I first visited the stables of this Centre, I was struck by the quality and condition of the horses. They were all lean and fit with gleaming coats. I was dying to ride them but still recovering from a broken pelvis and shoulder after an accident. I returned a month later in slightly better form and I was mounted on Bertal.


He is standing on his hind legs in the photograph but this is deliberate! He remained firmly on all fours during our magnificent rides. The fact that my right arm was virtually decorative and yet I was able to manage Bertal with ease is witness to the kind temperment and perfect schooling of this horse.

While riding  these Barb-Arabians I noticed they had none of the excitability of my lovely Arabian pony, Ali Baba, but all of his fleetness of foot and intelligent sensitivity. The Barb has a quieter temperament than the Arabian, he is patient and gentle without compromising his spirit and speed. He lends himself willingly to a strong bond with his handler or rider – an essential for vaulting and a pleasure for any owner. All six Barb-Arabian stallions at the Centre today are schooled and trained for vaulting and every one of them responds to quiet vocal instructions as well as to the normal riding aids.

Abdelhakim on Etrye

I rode out with Ali’s brother, Abdelhakim, mounted on Etrye (which means Star in Tamazight), on four different days and in four different directions around Ait ben Haddou. Our rides took us through all types of terrain from lush river valley to hamada or stony desert. One afternoon we rode up the Ounila valley following the river and criss-crossing it to find grassy or sandy verges on either side. The Ounila is fordable in many places during most of the year, widening and deepening only when the snows in the high Atlas mountains melt in spring. The scenery is stunning. Sometimes the river runs through high sandstone cliffs dotted with cave dwellings, only an occasional bush grows on either side. Sometimes it emerges from the narrow canyons and flows through cultivated gardens where we cantered alongside almond orchards, olive groves and small fields of yellow corn, skipping over the narrow irrigation streams that flowed through the gardens and the small banks that separated one from another. Fig trees, pomegranates, walnuts, wild roses and oleander lent colour and the silver birches shimmered in the breeze. (Photo by courtesy of http://ksaraitbenhaddou.com)

This is the old caravan route
from the desert to Marrakesh; scattered mud-brick villages rise out of the similarly coloured landscape, barely perceptible. The proud remains of their fortified houses or kasbahs tell of a richer past when this area flourished with commercial importance.

The ruins of El Glaoui’s palace at Tamdaght

We climbed out of the river bed uphill to the ruins of the great Palace of El Glaoui (Lord of the Atlas and Pasha of Marrakech) and the village of Tamdaght and dropped back down into the confluence of two rivers: the Ounila and the Mellah. We followed a track up the hill high above that meeting of the rivers to find the kasbah of Tezleft and here we turned back for Ait ben Haddou. The sun was setting behind us as we headed homeward; the valley was silent and the shadows were long: we rounded a bend at a canter and startled a man on his donkey; the scenery flitted past. Bertal lengthened his stride and in the distance I saw the lights of Ait ben Haddou winking to us from the hill.

The road that runs along the valley of the Ounila from Telouet to Ait ben Haddou, is considered one of the most beautiful drives in Morocco but nothing compares with the thrill of riding in this valley on exceptional horses and with exceptional horsemen.

Patricia Brennan,  travelled Rome-Marrakech with Ryan Air;  on another occasion she travelled Rome-Casablanca-Ouarzarzat with Royal Air Maroc; both times she was met at the airport by Kasbah Tebi
She stayed at Kasbah Tebi, Maison d’Hotes, Ait ben Haddou (www.kasbah-tebi.com)
For further information on riding with Centre Dar Equestre, Ait ben Haddou, see www.dar-equestre.com


Ait ben Haddou, Kasbah Tebi

Ait ben Haddou is a fortified town or Ksar on the old caravan route between Marrakesh and the Sahara and today lies 9 km off the main road from Marrakesh to Ouarzarzat where you turn south for the desert. Kasbah Tebi is the place to stay. You leave your car in the car park on your right near the entrance to the nouvelle ville; you will have spoken to either Mohamed or Hassan to warn them of your arrival and they will meet you with a donkey to ferry your bags across the bed of the river Ouarzazat and take you to their Kasbah (maison fortifiée) with its four towers and resident stork – an authentic fairytale castle lit by candles (there is no electricity but there is hot water);  here you will enjoy Berber hospitality at its best:   you will dine by candlelight on a splendid three course dinner which will cost you 10 euro; after bidding good night to the starry sky, you will sleep in rooms (4 doubles and 2 singles each with private bathroom) beautifully restored and decorated in the gentle hues of the desert. You will have breakfast on the terrace in the company of birds who may wish to share your pancake; you may note the passage of the occasional donkey bearing a hooded gentleman to some mysterious destination. Your view: “..boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away”.
This lovely place offers a unique and authentic experience and the delightful hospitality of its owners is hard to match.
Kasbah Tebi has the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for 2013 and 2014,

+212 661-941153
[email protected]

Ait ben Haddou, Dar-equestre

Between sky and water

Besides its renown as a Unesco site, Ait ben Haddou is famous as a location for films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Alexander, Tea in the Sahara and lately, Queen of the Desert with Nicole Kidman.  So, it comes as no surprise that it is home to well known stuntmen such as Ali Oukassi and his brother Abdelhakim.  They run a well kept riding stable (Centre Dar Equestre) right in the centre of town with Barb and Barb-Arabian horses.  You can ride out in the incredibly picturesque neighbourhood by the hour or you can go on a desert ride for a week or so.  Check out their web page or Facebook for up-to-date information.     http://www.dar-equestre.com/ Tel: + E-mail: [email protected] Facebook:  Centre Dar Equestre – Ait Ben Haddou

Swimming with Caretta caretta

Kastellorizo is the easternmost of the Dodocanese islands of Greece. If you look at a map of Greece you will probably find it finishes with Rhodes to the east and then in a small box either above or below Rhodes you will find the map of this lovely little island. It is 125 km to the east of Rhodes which means 25 minutes by plane or three and a half hours by Blue Star Ferries. If you travel by plane you will be met by a shuttle bus which will take you the short ride to the port and only town called Megisti. As you come down the hill into Megisti through the pine trees you can see the brightly painted houses lining the promenade around the port. It is a very pretty sight. (more…)