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  1. After reading our Guest Blog (below), Marrakech has now moved closer to the top of my travel destination ‘wish list’. With my 40th birthday just around the corner I’m hoping it will move to the ‘places visited’ list very soon (hint to husband, someone tell him to read this blog)! I have heard such wonderful things about it - words such as exotic, bustling, chaotic, colourful, spices all setting the scene for an inspiring and interesting place.

    All of the baskets that we stock at The Wise House, as well as some beautiful leather slippers we will soon be stocking, are made in Morocco. It would be fantastic to get a feel for the place in which these products are made and meet some of the people whose craftsmanship goes into making them.

    Until very recently I had assumed that Morocco was rather too far-flung for a short trip and not entirely suitable for a family holiday. How wrong I was (geography never was my strong point). Fellow Hampton mum and friend, Emma Macfarlane, has just returned from a 4-day City Break staying in the Fellah Hotel, Marrakech with family in tow. They had the ‘best time ever’ (in the words of her children). Upon further questioning it turns out it is entirely doable for a short break and a wonderful place to take a family.

    Emma is also owner and director of Sapphire Luxury Marketing Ltd, and has just published a fantastic blog post all about her stay in Marrakesh and the Fellah Hotel. I thought I would share it with you, so here it is, our first ever Guest Blog…

    Family at the Fellah Hotel, Marrakech

     

    After a late arrival at Marrakesh airport with two tired children, the short 30 minute journey following by a swift check in were a Godsend. Our first taste of mint tea and a couple of Moroccan pastries later and were were soon tucked up in our enormous beds in our even more enormous bedroom in the tranquil surroundings of the hotel.  Fellah translates as 'farm' in Arabic and several animals are evidence of this heritage as well as signs indicating the various plants, many of which are used in the kitchens at the hotel. As well as the animals, the spacious gardens house 10 villas each housing suites, Wat Po (the spa), the library, artists accommodation, Fellah Kids and the heart of the hotel (reception and the restaurant). The rooms are categorised depending on their size and whether or not they have a terrace but all are enormous. We had a junior suite for all four of us which allowed us plenty of space.  The rooms are all unique encompassing traditional Moroccan artwork, furnishings and colours - much of the artwork in the rooms and around the hotel is by local artists and those that have been part of at Dar al-Ma'mun, the cultural centre attached the the hotel.

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    The Fellah is ideally located for those wanting to take in the heady bustle of Marrakesh then retreat to tranquil, traditionally Moroccan surroundings with plenty to keep them busy if they feel inclined. The Fellah extends the definition of luxury in the sense that guests want for nothing here but without a gold tap in sight.  Carefully chosen "flea market" furniture compliments the friendly, attentive service and the space this property offers is idyllic. There is no shortage of things to do too - box with a champion, take in a yoga course, drink tea with Tauco and learn to cook a traditional tahini, have a go at Pétanque, volleyball or table tennis then relax by the pool while the children are having the time of their lives at Fellah Kids.

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    Fellah Kids is a kids club with a difference - children immerse themselves in Moroccan culture whilst having fun and making friends at the same time.  DJ courses, singing with a local musician, chocolate truffle making with the pastry chef, story telling with locals from conception to production and feeding the animals are just a taste of what's on offer. The activities change every day and friendships are formed almost immediately. Then there's the pool and movie nights whilst parents are finishing their bottle of wine after dinner in peace.  The Fellah is a paradise for kids and a haven for adults - happy children, happy parents! Our children were in heaven and our daughter cried when she left to come home saying it was the best holiday ever! 

    As morning translates into afternoon and afternoon into evening, the mood naturally adjusts at the Fellah. An extensive buffet breakfast with a la carte eggs sets up you for the day. There is then plenty to do, or not to do, before lunch around the pool.  A drink as the sun descends  and then dinner which is a buffet or a la carte and is all delicious and excellently executed.
     
    Whilst the pull of the hotel is great, there is no forgetting the fascination of the country and a trip into Marrakesh is a must. We ventured into town twice and enjoyed some delicious local food including dinner at one of the food stalls in the Djemma Al Fna. We bypassed the sheeps brains and went for traditional sausages, kebabs and Moroccan pastille, a traditional pigeon and filo pastry "pie" which is to die for.  We also indulged in a whole box of Moroccan pastries from a fabulous local bakery, most almond based, but all so moreish so they did not last long! There is no need to spend unnecessarily here as many of the budget restaurants serve excellent food in clean surroundings and give you a taste of true Moroccan flavour and ambience. The square is great to explore and effortlessly involves you in everything going on. It's a complete feast for the senses and our children were fascinated by everything they saw - the water sellers, snake charmers and those playing a local form of bingo to dried fruit and orange juice sellers and performing monkeys. The musicians too crank up the beat as the light fades and the square really comes to life. Behind the square, the myriad of souks are great to explore and where you can have a go at a spot of haggling.
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    On our second trip into the city we decided to visit the beautiful MajorelleGardens, in the Palmerie, before heading back into town for a local lunch.  The gardens were designed by French orientalist painter Jacques Majorelle and fell into disrepair following his death in 1962.  In 1980 it was saved from development by Yves Saint Laurent and a memorial to the visionary designer takes its place in the gardens. As well as an artists studio the gardens house a museum dedicated to Berber culture and the gardens themselves are tranquil and serene. 

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    We could not stay away from the Fellah for long. Whilst we were there we also enjoyed treatments - the Thai massage did the trick - the gym, the library, the enormous and gorgeous pool and the general chilled atmosphere of the hotel.  We only had four nights at the Fellah but a longer stay would easily be filled - the Atlas Mountains are another 60 minutes south and Essaouira on the coast is only 2 hours in the car.  Horse riding, a balloon ride over the mountains, trekking - the possibilities are endless. 

    The Fellah has give Marrakesh a cultural spot for families to enjoy a fascinating destination, and only a 3 hour flight away.  It offers a true sense of place and immerses guests into Moroccan culture in a five star environment whatever their age.  It's a real gem and not to be missed. Call Workham Hotels for more information: 020 7736 8287, www.workham.com.

     

     

  2. There is a long tradition of baskets in our family (not to be confused with basket-cases). From as young as I can remember anything wicker was a ‘good thing’; we had wicker pots for plants, wicker containers in the bathroom and most memorable of all, a French market style basket that sat next to the back door ready to be used at a moments notice for shopping and the like. A practical bag that looked stylish at the same time equalled winner in the Rowe family.

    My mum and auntie (pictured below) have always used their wicker basket on trips to our local beach at West Mersea (in Essex). I can picture it now; the two of them sitting on their carefully lain towels with their basket perched to one side, typically housing a magazine, tube of sun cream and scarf (always a necessity on a windy beach in the southeast). A blissful scene.

    As children we would forage around in the basket for snacks and were often sorely disappointed to find the usual thick cut soggy cheese and tomato sandwich and an apple. I was overjoyed to discover a Tracker bar on one occasion!

    These faithful baskets lasted for years and years, slowing absorbing the smell of the salty sea and grains of sand until they finally gave up the ghost and it was time to hunt for a new one.

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    Pictured; Two basket cases helping out with the garden
    These happy memories have always given baskets a positive association for me but they are wonderful in so many other ways too. They are natural, sturdy, durable, versatile and timeless. Baskets are one of the few products in this day and age that are (mostly) still made by hand using traditional techniques.

    Our baskets are handwoven from sustainable reed or palm leaf and are made by small groups in different villages in Morocco; from the weavers in the Atlas Mountains to the ladies who sew the leather handles and trim near Casablanca. This group of ladies is a family of four sisters and a mother-in-law who all live in the village where the baskets are stored. The ladies work at home, enabling them to earn money while caring for their families (something many of us can feel an affinity towards).

    Baskets are a unifying symbol; having been used across the world for thousands of years for all sorts of things; transporting goods, shopping and picnicking to the storage of food, firewood and magazines, to name but a few.

    Did you know that they were originally intended for carrying loose items so that they could be easily transported?  The remains of well preserved baskets have been discovered from possibly as early as 5000 BC.

    We now stock a wide variety of the market-style baskets; here is a short guide to each type of basket and how we think you might like to use it; 

    Short Handled Shopper – Your Faithful Friend
    Our short handled shopper is a nice, neat size with short rolled leather handles in a variety of colours. It is great for short runs to the village or school; I use it to carry my orders to the post office and to pick up provisions. It also slots into my bike basket, an added bonus! 

    Wicker Shopping Basket Blue Handle 

    Long Handled Shopper – Your Funky Friend
    Our new long handled shopper is bigger than its short handled sibling. It has a long leather handle available in 3 funky shades. It fits over your shoulder so that you can walk along gracefully. This basket is great for festivals, trips to the beach, swimming pool or park. This would make the perfect holiday companion and can be taken as hand luggage on a plane journey.

    Wicker Shopping Basket Long Yellow Handle 

    Fabric Lined Shopping Basket – Your Posh Friend
    Our long handled shopper comes in a neat size with a pretty cotton lining for those that like a soft bottom(?) to their basket. As with the short handled basket, this is great for shopping and short jaunts. Excellent for the beach as you can shake out any excess sand.

     Long Handled Shopping Basket Floral Lined

    PomPom Basket – Your ShowBiz Friend
    The French-market style basket has had a fashion makeover in the form of pompoms! This basket is blowsy, large and perfect for the warmer weather when you might want to hit the park, beach or pool. You’ll get some envious looks when you sport this on your hols.

    Bohemia Shopping Wicker Basket Pom Pom Grey 

    Large Beach Basket – Your Hardworking Friend
    Our bestselling beach basket is HUGE! It is perfect for chucking in everything you might need when heading out with your family. I use mine for all of our swimming towels and accessories and it gets lugged around all over the place and was even crushed into the overhead lockers on a plane on our last holiday. A glutton for punishment this one, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.

     Large Lined Picnic Wicker Basket

    Parisienne Basket – Your Humble Friend
    A French market classic with a short leather handle. This basket needs no adornment or explanation; just basketry at its most humble and beautiful.

    Bohemia Parisienne Classic Wicker Basket