In the sleepy town of Bhalil, Kamal welcomes visitors into his charming Berber retreat. Dar Kamal Chaoui
lies at the heart of a scenic Berber village on the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains. Tucked away from the main roads, this family-run B&B treats guests to a peaceful stay and an authentic Berber experience.
Berber tea. Photo courtesy of Kamal Chaoui.
Unlike many other Berber villages in Morocco, Bhalil remains largely untouched by tourists. In fact, Dar Kamal Chaoui is the only guesthouse in the village. Neighbouring Fez and Meknes have recently experienced a surge in tourism, and Kamal believes that his hometown has just as much potential to become a top attraction in Morocco.
For the last few years, Kamal has been promoting Bhalil as one of Morocco’s undiscovered gems. His marketing efforts are finally yielding results, and Dar Kamal Chaoui has recently been named by The Guardian as one of the top 10 riads and B&Bs
in Fez and the Middle Atlas.
Bhalil. Photo courtesy of Kamal Chaoui.
Life in Bhalil
Bhalil gets its charm from its mix of whitewashed and pastel-coloured houses. Narrow, winding streets run through the village, connected by a network of bridges. Bhalil is also known for its cave dwellings. There are around five hundred caves across the village, some of which have been inhabited since the 4th century. Traditionally, the caves were used by shepherds as storage spaces, but some families have turned the caves into furnished dwellings.
The people of Bhalil lead a traditional rural life. Donkeys remain the most common mode of transportation, mostly due to the narrow paths. Many women spend most of the day sitting together in alleyways, weaving colourful threads to make buttons for djellabas – traditional capes worn by many men and women in Morocco.
Dar Kamal Chaoui. Photo courtesy of Kamal Chaoui.
Kamal left Morocco for France when he was eighteen to study science and engineering. He later spent ten years in Germany working as a chemical engineer. In 2009, Kamal returned to his hometown and converted a traditional Berber dwelling into a fully-furnished guesthouse, retaining its authentic Berber character while adding his personal touch to the style.
Due to the high altitude in Bhalil, the rooms are quite cool in the summer, so no air conditioning is required. Winters can be quite chilly in Bhalil, but thanks to his experience working in Europe as an engineer, Kamal has been able to install an underfloor heating system in the house.
The shaded terrace offers stunning views of the village and the surrounding plains of olive trees, which can be enjoyed over the delicious dishes prepared by Naima, the resident chef at the guesthouse.
Naima’s delicious dishes. Photo courtesy of Kamal Chaoui.
Meeting the locals
Kamal’s duties go beyond guaranteeing visitors a comfortable and pleasant stay at his guesthouse. Driven by a passion for his country and its history, he is always eager to show his guests around Bhalil and introduce them to the locals, who are very happy to share their stories with visitors. Kamal’s guests have the opportunity to visit the cave dwellings, go to a local hammam and book a cooking class with Naima.
Kamal also organises treks through the spectacular Bhalil mountains, however many visitors opt out of doing the 8-hour-long trek, much to Kamal’s disappointment. His favourite excursion is to the proximate town of Sefrou, where he enjoys giving guests a historical tour of the town’s Jewish past.
The streets of Bhalil. Photos courtesy of Kamal Chaoui.
Ever since he returned to Bhalil, Kamal has been doing whatever he can to help fellow villagers and invest his profits in the local community. He supports other small businesses in Bhalil by buying nearly all of his supplies from the village, including petrol for his car. Moreover, he often employs people from the village for odd jobs. Being affluent in different subjects, Kamal also spends several hours a week helping children in the village with their schoolwork.
Kamal hopes that his business will continue having a positive impact on the local economy. He has recently started working on a project to turn Bhalil into a cleaner and more colourful place. Some of the houses in the village have already been re-painted, and Kamal hopes to raise enough funds to cover every street in the village.
Bhalil. Photo courtesy of Kamal Chaoui.
Getting to Bhalil
Most of the guests staying at Dar Kamal Chaoui stop off at Bhalil on their way to Fez from Marrakech or Merzouga. The closest airport to Bhalil is Saïss Airport south of Fès, 12.9Km away. From Fès you can take a bus to neighbouring Sefrou or get a taxi straight to Bhalil. However, getting to Bhalil should be the least of your worries – Kamal is more than happy to arrange transportation for his guests.
Learn more about Bhalil and Dar Kamal Chaoui by connecting with Kamal on Facebook
Learn more about Bhalil and Dar Kamal Chaoui by connecting with Kamal on Facebook and Youtube
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