Dar Kamal Chaoui. Bhalil is apparently a simple Moroccan village, located on the sunny slopes of some hills full of olive orchards and ancient caverns. Even though it is overshadowed by Fez’s attraction (one of the tourist, cultural, and spiritual centers most important of Morocco), Bhalil is amazing both by the uniqueness of the troglodyte houses and by the tradition of the 1,000 women who crochet buttons for djellabas (the traditional clothing) right into the street. It is unique also for its production of olive oil, the tradition of baking bread in earth ovens, the local ceramic, and the unspoiled wedding customs. In this enriched context, within a mix of traditions and customs, the guesthouse of Kamal Chaoui is situated in the heart of the old village from the fourth century. The house is located on the street that leads from the transit route through the village to the great mosque of Jamaa-Kbir.
First, you stare after the houses furnished inside caves. Then, you start from the parking lot situated under the trees in Asfalou street. You follow the directions of a tablet located strategically on the blind wall of an old house. The perplexity disappears when the locals start smiling at you and ask nodding if you go to “Kamal?” Whatever the answer is, someone will kindly show you the right direction to go. The street climbs easily through the old medina (the old village center). Some steps mark the level difference and they climb up the hill. At one point, another indicator shows that you have just reached your destination. You see an open floor decorated with marquetries that invite you to stop on the left side of the street. A wooden massive double door of Cyprus carved in Berber-style guards the entrance. It seems as a passage into another world.
Kamal Chaoui’s house was built fifty years ago on the site of a Berber house that originally embedded also some rooms furnished in a cave. The ground floor of the new house is built of local stone. Robust walls host an open kitchen equipped with wooden furniture and an ample room for dining. A private room is looks onto the street side next to the main entrance. A wooden staircase rises to the upper levels. A wooden old door with decorative role is on the hall of the second floor. The door was bought at a souq (old bazaar) of Fez and it comes from the Southern part of Morocco. A small library with books lies now behind this old door.
In the Berber tradition, it is a clear distinction between the spaces for men, the ones for women, and the ones for guests (these ones have a very important role). Kamal has carried on this tradition and has turned his new home into a real guest house. Four guest suites are at the upper levels, each of them with its own name (Bea room, Sophia room, Adam room, and Adil room). Some of the rooms face the street. Some rooms face the backyard. All the rooms have two to three beds and each one has a private bathroom. A modern furniture, but with traditional Moroccan style, replaces the specific arrangement with a U-shaped sofa on three sides of the rooms.
The walls of the rooms are composed of two layers of brick and they have glass wool for insulation inside. The heating for the winter period spreads under the floors. At the ground floor, it is a wood fire boiler for heating the house. The floor of the rooms has a white cement finishing with various additives according to the desired color, brushed with a wire brush. The walls of the recently restructured bathrooms, the support for the sinks, and the bathtubs as well have tadelakt finishing (a plaster with cement-limestone, color additive, and water, polished in three layers with a satin refined looking).
Solid wood shutters create privacy for the guest rooms. All the rooms have a three-layer insulating glass for windows, which suits best for the 950 meters mountain altitude. The rooms have traditional motifs, from curtains and blankets with Berber-style woven by Naima with sheep wool to the local wood furniture and Berber carpets. The furniture belongs to Abdul Latif – a local carpenter and antiquarian who has his workshop in a cave. Decorative wicker baskets have different sizes and belong to Uncle Basha, who was a barber before Kamal has motivated him to revive the basket tradition in the village.
The top floor terrace was originally unused, but following the improvements it has become an outdoor space for relaxing and dining. A wooden pergola and rush matting cover protect the terrace overlooking the Jamaa al Kbir Mosque from the old village. Decorative vegetation creates a small green oasis on the roof of the building. The furniture of raw wood and raffia invites to lassitude. Sheep wool Berber blankets are a suitable remedy for the cool mountain evenings.
As soon as I entered Kamal’s house last autumn, I liked the traditional elements that had respected the Berber specificity. The house has an antic atmosphere, although it is just fifty years old. The interior design transposed me into the world of an authentic place. The local furniture and the furnishings are executed by locals in Berber style. Naima’s traditional food was smelling enticing inside the house. It was delicious and it was prepared only with local products. The owners eat every evening together with their guests. The meeting with Kamal’s mother was great and always accompanied by the gentle question “Ca va ?” full of kindness.
As Kamal always attracts great people around him, I found myself in an unplanned travel writer’s meeting in Bhalil. In the afternoon, we went together in Sefrou to eat a sandwich with local kefta. Apparently, this has nothing to do with Kamal. Though, I am sure it is related to the energy that he spreads inside his house. And I am sure it is related with the wonderful experiences that I had the next day exploring the village and having breakfast with the troglodytes.
Some more photos from Dar Kamal Chaoui in Bhalil (Morocco):