Dune Living: Berber Lodge in Morroco
Between the Atlas mountains and the Agafay desert lies Berber Lodge, a contemporary ‘village’ inspired by the architecture of Morocco’s historic settlements
A visual feast
Marrakech is a visual feast for the appreciative mind, with accompanying smells of spices, sounds of drumming, snake charmers and camels, desert winds and the African sun, set within ramparts of beaten red clay, so it’s no surprise that the city is such a popular destination for international sightseers.
And – as is often the case – with an increase in tourists, comes the overdevelopment of a city, and so the local connoisseurs and discerning travellers have been quietly moving out of town to the exquisite calm and raw simplicity of the surrounding countryside.
It is here – in the Berber village of Oumnas – situated between the snowcapped Atlas Mountains and the wide expanse of the Agafay desert, that French-Swiss designer Romain Michel-Ménière recently opened his personal passion project; a hotel by the name of Berber Lodge.
A place to call home
After a glamorous early life spent in many of the world’s most famous cities some 15 years back, Michel-Ménière lost both his parents in separate accidents within a single year. This caused him to change the course of his life and move to Morocco. Initially, he chose the country for practical reasons, including its proximity to Europe and the fact that the French language is widely used. But practicality soon gave way to a real affinity for the country and its rich culture.
‘Morocco has become my country, the place where I feel at home,’ says Michel-Ménière. ‘I love the culture and, above all, the people, who I have taken into my heart as my Moroccan family. The jet-set life was fun but unfulfilling – there was too much superficiality. My life in Morocco feels real and full of heart.’
A hotel is born
Michel-Ménière has spent the past few years working as an interior decorator, designing many of Marrakech’s hot spots, as well as doing work for private clients.
But as time went on, he felt a need to design something catering to his own preferences. These include Berber architecture and traditional building techniques, as well as his signature low-key and modern sensibility when it comes to decorating. He is also always interested in reflecting the spirit of a place. Combine all of this with Michel-Ménière’s outgoing personality, and the perfect mix for a hotel was born.
Enter a different world
To arrive at Berber Lodge is to enter what seems like another planet – a world in which nature and the slow life take hold. What started out as a large terrain of 100-year-old olive trees was, within the space of two years, transformed into a stylish yet low-key hotel of nine individual lodges, laid out with a traditional Berber village feel.
Michel-Ménière’s respect for Berber building techniques has resulted in a ‘village’ that melds seamlessly into the surroundings, benevolently watched over by the ancient kasbah on the hill nearby.
Creating the hotel
Earth was taken from the land to create the Moroccan pisé bricks that were used to build the lodge’s walls. Ceilings made from palm tree, bamboo and eucalyptus integrate structure with nature.
Classic proportions were given a modern twist with enlarged windows and openings, allowing the tranquillity of the countryside to permeate within. Antique kilims, Moroccan tea trays and banquette seating are placed alongside Mid-Century Modern furnishings found in the flea markets of Morocco and Paris, and these in turn are offset by rattan furniture from Essaouira. Michel-Ménière has brought this together in a mix of traditional and contemporary via nature and a good dose of simply excellent taste.
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While it was Michel-Ménière’s vision, the project is also the result of a little help from his friends. These include up-and-coming architects Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty of Studio KO – the duo behind the brilliantly designed Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakech – who helped with the architectural plans and placed the first line of what is now Berber Lodge.
Paris-based landscape designer Arnaud Casaus created a wild garden among the existing trees using Moroccan and Mexican plants, and ancient modes of irrigation.
He also made sure to plant traditional local herbs such as verbena and mint. Philomena Schurer Merckoll (a fellow hotelier and friend), was also on hand to help, with all of them coming together to underline Michel-Ménière’s creation of something truly magical.
The overriding feeling you have when staying at Berber Lodge is one of soul, and of reflection at the seemingly untouched Moroccan countryside in which it resides. And it is in the combination of modern and ancient that any visitor is transported into a fantasy world.