Friday, October 02, 2015

Postcard from Bhalil

For visitors to Fez, there are a range of well known destinations for day trips. But if you wish to avoid the crowds at Volubilis or Azrou, then head to 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 kilometres from Sefrou and 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.

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 and overnight stay, Kamal's house, Dar Kamal Chaoui, is an easy short walk from the car park.

Kamal Chaoui is a gracious host with perfect French and good English

With the help of a local traditional carpenter, Latif, Kamal's house has been sympathetically renovated and is comfortable even in winter having (surprisingly) underfloor heating. In summer, the elevation 982 m (3,222 ft) ensures that that temperatures are pleasant.

The house is tastefully decorated in a simple, restrained way. There are four bedrooms - three doubles and a twin - all with ensuite bathrooms. One has a view of the mountains. 

At the top of the house, the terrace makes a perfect place to relax with a drink and take in the stunning views out over the village to the Rif Mountains.

There are stunning panoramic views from the terrace

All the woodwork in Dar Kamal Chaoui is the work of a local traditional carpenter Latif. He has a shop in a cave close by and it is worth a visit, being crammed full of a bizarre array of artefacts that range from old vinyl records to ancient alarm clocks! There are also some examples of his wood carvings done in his idiosyncratic naive art style.

Traditional carpenter and antique collector, Latif
Latif's carved wood art

For those desiring adventure, Kamal organises a variety of treks, ranging from a hike of a couple of hours to eight hours. Most of the treks are an easy stroll, but donkeys are available for children. As well as the treks, there are also optional excursions to destinations such as local souks, and the cedar forests. Lunches, barbecues and meetings with the locals can also be included. (More details here)

The painstaking work of making djellaba buttons

And... long ago, in a village called Bhalil...

Some Amazigh traditions may be fading into history, but Bhalil is one of the places where traditions 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.

Find out more about Dar Kamal Chaoui here
Other day trips here

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Kathryn said...

I stayed at Kamal's guesthouse in April, 2015 and stayed 2 nights. I highly recommend a stay here, to see a glimpse of village life that you get to experience with the help of Kamal, who provides experiences that you will never forget. Kamal is well known in the village and through his relationships with the people in the village, you are brought into the lives of the people there who are so friendly and warm. Kamal's guesthouse is beautiful, the food is out of this world and the view from rooftop is gorgeous. It's a nice respite from the hectic hustle and bustle of Fez.

Unknown said...

Very nice article !!

Unknown said...

What a nice article !

Unknown said...

“La mejor elección cerca de Fez”

Un pequeño hotel en Bhalil ideal para tomarlo como base para desplazarte a Fez, Ifrane, Sefrou, Azrou... sin olvidar un buen paseo por Bhalil. Muy confortable,acogedor y tranquilo, Béatrice y Kamal te hacen sentir como en casa y el couscous de Naima es insuperable. NO hay que perderse el desayuno.
Compartir la cena con el resto de viajeros es también una experiencia muy positiva.
Recomiendo elegir la habitación de la planta superior, con una terraza magnífica.

The View From Fez said...

Translation from Spanish

"Best choice near Fez" A small hotel ideal for taking it as a base to move to Fez, Ifrane, Sefrou Azrou ... not to mention a good walk in Bhalil Bhalil. Very comfortable, cozy and quiet, Beatrice and Kamal make you feel at home and couscous Naima is unsurpassed. Do not miss breakfast. Share dinner with the other travelers is also a very positive experience. I recommend choosing a room on the top floor, with a magnificent terrace.

Margarita said...

Bhlil village and staying with Kamal and Naima was the highlight of our trip to Morocco..

mohamedaymane said...

So nice even if you need to post all others beautiful monuments

Unknown said...

I have kniwn the Chaoui family since 2007, when Sophia, the daughter of Beatrice and Kamal, came from France as a young Rotary youth exchange student to our small town in central New York.They are a wonderful and honorable family. I have followed their adventure and Kamal's dream of creating in the village of Bhalil,, Morocco a top-notch guest house that provides its visitors with not only a comfortable and friendky stay, but a truly unique opportunity to experience and understand what life is like for the residents of this small Moroccan Village. I have not yet had the opportunity to experience it for myself, but you can be sure that Dar Kamal Chaoui is on my bucket list - as it should be on yours. Marty Winsor, Edmeston, NY USA

Unknown said...

“Du côté d'Ifrane, un petit coin de nature et d'authentisme”
5 5 étoilesAvis écrit le 6 octobre 2015
Kamal est une hôte agréable et sincère, son métier est aussi sa passion. En plus de celle qui l’anime à développer son village dans le sens du tourisme responsable et propre.
Un petit mais sincère clin d’œil à sa cuisinière qui sait ravir les papilles avec ses petits plats mijotés.
C’est une région de nature où les contacts humains sont puissants. Il ne faut pas manquer de faire une visite en compagnie de Kamal, il saura vous ouvrir des portes que vous n’auriez pas imaginées rencontrer personnellement, pour dévoiler la région d’Ifrane.
Les couleurs sont belles et les rencontres humaines se font dans un tout autre contexte que celui du simple tourisme.

Unknown said...

We spent a day with Kamal Chaoui this spring and were sorry that we were not able to arrange to spend the night at his B & B. Our walking exploration of Bhalil with Kamal helped us understand life in the village and included visits to a talented craftsman and several cave homes. But more than that, we heard about efforts to bring business and to help the town become clean and colorful (paint and trash removal). We learned about the button making business and efforts to help children . Our short exploration made this charming area come alive. I could even return and order locally made djellabas, schedule a cooking class, arrange walking tours and lectures with Kamal Chaoui. He is gregarious and passionate about bring the world to Bhalil. This visit was one of the highlights of a month long visit to Morocco.

kamal Chaoui said...

“A l'extérieur de Fès dans une charmante Maison d'hôtes”
5 sur 5 étoiles, Avis écrit par J. Loiseau de Nantes en France le 26 juin 2014
Situé à 25km de Fès et proche de Sefrou, Bhalil est un village calme où semble s'être arrêté. Beaucoup d'éléments justifient de faire un séjour chez Kamal : la décoration du gite et son calme, la terrasse qui surplombe Bhalil et permet de prendre le petit déjeuner. Le petit déjeuner concocté par Naïma, généreux, varié et très fin (la marmelade d'orange maison est à tomber). La cuisine de Naïma, la serviabilité, la générosité, l'envie de partage de Kamal. Il m'a permis de rencontrer des personnes attachantes comme ces artisans du village (tailleur, menuisier, boulanger) pour lesquels il met à disposition son énergie afin que Bhalil devienne une ville reconnue pour sa propreté et son artisanat. Etant à moto, je précise que Kamal s'est mis en 4 pour lui trouver un abri.

Robin, Canada said...

Dar Kamal Chaoui, Guesthouse/hotel, is in the quiet village of Bhalil , 3 km from Sefrou & 24 km south of Fez, Immouzzer & Ifrane, and close to the Cedar Forest.

The Inn is beautiful, with a rooftop terrace, folk art on display and incredibly comfortable furnishings. The meals were delicious, local recipes, served family-style. I felt like I was visiting with members of my own family, having a genuine (but luxurious) experience of staying in a small Moroccan village. Kamal, and his staff, took us on hikes and walks and to a dinner with a local family.

Naima his assistant, and 3 local women gave me lessons in making kaftan buttons, a local craft in the village. We were near Saffrou and Fez, so we also took advantage of Craft Tours offered there by Culture Vultures.