Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Green bar. The rose. And Morocco.

Pick up your copy of this week's Grazia Middle East & June's GRAZIA Bahrain. 

Reem Al Khalifa travels to the rose fields of Ouarzazate, argan-oil stalls in the Atlas mountains, and Marrakech’s souks in search of the purest ingredients for her all-natural beauty company, Green Bar. Here's the story, first hand...

Day 1
''A real sense of rural in regal''
Late night arrival to what was a tiny small airport, with a vast sky. We flew to Casablanca and then on to our final destination of Ouarzazate (yes, quite the long day). I was overwhelmed by the the scattered stars; the place had a genuinely calming emptiness. Everything seemed so simple and spacious, bringing about lots of expansive feelings.

The weather was beautiful, with a nicely chilled breeze: the perfect backdrop to enjoy beautiful scents. We stayed at Le Sultana Royal Golf. Its boutique essence and personal service made us feel as if we were guests at the home of a charming friend.

Day 2
The day started off with a lovely Moroccan breakfast, followed by a one-hour trip to the rose field. A single-lane highway led us into a field of goats, and onto a series of desert dirt roads, before reaching what appeared to be some kind of secret address. We were, truly, in the middle of nowhere, when we finally came upon our destination. It was simply amazing to us how fertile the Moroccan desert must be for it to grow mile upon mile of some of the world’s most precious roses. The air smelt so sweet and so fresh.

We met some of the farm workers, mostly from Morocco’s Berber people. Their make-up was so attractive, with their kohl, blusher, and henna’ed hands. The lacy black bags they used for rose picking added a touch of unexpected beauty – it was all so naturally extravagant!

I was also captivated by the surrounding landscape of snow- capped mountains, desert and green rose fields. Never did I think I could see such great natural contrasts in one single place.

From the fields we headed onwards to a home-made lunch at the rose farmer’s home. We entered his large yellow-painted living room, where the table was set with lots of tea cups, a simple yet sweet arrangement of roses - and oversized sugar cubes.

The food was just delicious – the ingredients organically grown and traditionally cooked, with timeless seasoning. I couldn’t care less about beans normally – in fact they’re the most boring food in the world to me – but at this particular lunch they tasted sensational.

The conversation was equally impressive. The Moroccan language has a unique and eclectic beauty, bouncing smoothly from French and Arabic to local dialects. We were told later that the evening’s dinner would be served in celebratory form, highlighting the Rose Festival with traditional Berber music and live performances.

On arrival at dinner, I was greeted by a loud and confusing cacophony of music belting out of the dining hall. However, as soon as I walked in I was immediately charmed by the old man on the drums, his beat, the singing, and all the glorious folklore. Once I fully grasped it, it was absolutely entrancing!

Day 3
On our third day in Ouarzazate, we visited the rose distillery, where we were able to witness first-hand where Green Bar’s future Moroccan rose water and rose oil products would be produced. We learned that rose distillation takes place annually in Ouarzazate and only during May, hence the accompanying rose festival celebrations that we had enjoyed the previous evening.

The large warehouse at the factory contained many fancy barrels and lots of complicated, oversized pieces of equipment. That came as no surprise, since it takes 500 kilos of roses to produce just 0.1 kilo of essential rose oil. This is exactly why the purest of oils come with such a high price tag.

Day 4
“Why fly when you can drive through some of the world’s most beautiful scenery?”
On to Marrakech, and while we could have flown, crossing the Atlas mountains and passing through some of the most beautiful valleys in the world seemed a little more appealing. So, we took a car. My fascination with palm trees was well satisfied by seeing them against a backdrop of such stunningly diverse landscapes: mountains, snow, deserts, valleys, rivers, wild and cultivated, and altogether just perfect.

We stopped by an argan oil- making stall in the middle of the mountains. Argan production is a finely-crafted hand process, which is generating business for the local women in the mountains. As we arrived, a lady in a leopard- print robe asked us if we would like to be spoken to in English, Arabic or French! We were floored by her excellent language skills and thought about the many potential opportunities there are in further promoting this valuable resource, through the liberation provided by education and communication skills.

The argan tree is found only in Morocco and its oil is both cosmetic and edible; we tasted a mixture of roasted argan oil with almond paste and honey – delicious! And the oil’s beauty benefits are just as amazing too! The mountain bread we tasted with the argan oil was just divine; in fact, we could definitively tell the difference between bread made with fresh grain and what is normally available from the supermarkets back home.

“Learning the art of bartering in Marrakech’s traditional souk”
We arrived at the Jnane Tamsna, a stunning retreat in the Palmerie set in botanic garden-style grounds. It was bags down and straight out for dinner at the Lotus bar and restaurant with our visiting Casablanca friends, followed by a boogie at another of the city’s hot spots, Bo Zin.

Day 5
The market was an obvious must-see and to be honest the whole experience was rather emotional! I came to the realisation that bargaining was a new territory for me, and found the harassment quite overwhelming. I’m not very good at saying no, so that - combined with a lack of politeness- took me right out of my comfort zone! Thank goodness for my friends, who managed to haggle on my behalf.

The main square was filled with food stalls and smells, motorcycles whizzing past us left, right and centre, snake charmers, monkeys, and the sound of traditional music. We visited the recent bomb blast site and paid our respects to those who perished, while witnessing a peace parade by young people chanting ‘No to terrorism. Yes to harmony’. A wind-down tea at Marrakech’s colonially inspired Café de la Poste followed this exhilarating, colourful and noisy afternoon.

Day 6
After an enchanting visit to the Marjorelle Garden, which Yves Saint Laurent had restored, we were deluged by a mini-tidal wave when our hotel was hit by vicious rain storms! We did see the humour in
it – after being moved to our very own villa, and saving our shoes, of course.

Our final day was spent peacefully in the stunning- surroundings of our hotel. With its beautiful gardens, Jnane Tamsna has clearly taken full advantage of everything the Moroccan landscape has to offer.

Green Bar's Reem. bougi's Rozan. It's a wrap.

For more on the Middle East's best kept natural secret, be sure to pick up your copy of this week's GRAZIA Middle East, as well as June's edition of GRAZIA Bahrain.  Visit Green Bar's website for news, events and purchasing online. For all media enquiries: 

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