Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Signing Off

Its now the 24th and its been a whirlwind of activity around Mernissi maison. As I mentioned the house has been sold due to my feeling that all eggs in one basket, as is the case for me and several others in the Medina can be counter productive. The house is beautiful but has absorbed a lot of money and I feel that spreading monies over smaller projects would be sensible in the long run as people always want small houses in the present crunch climate whereas the bigger ones could lanquish on the market for years. In the Medina house sales have dried up as Europeans keep a tight hold on their purse strings.

I did not honestly expect the house to be sold so quickly although like me the people who bought instantly fell in love with the quirky layout and negotiations were rapid and concluded in a matter of hours. The past week has been a blur of packing and worrying in equal measure. Luckily I am moving just up the road to a friends apartment with worldly goods until all the business is concluded and I can take stock of next moves.

What will that move be well hard to say really with the current housing situation worldwide you need to be cautious and pragmatic. In Fes there are smaller projects worth considering but I would also like to dip a toe back into Europe, Spain or Portugal so that I have a European base also. It might be wise to sit and wait a bit and see how the land lies so to speak over the coming months.

Several friends are well into their various projects coming up against familiar hurdles and overcoming them in their own sweet way. For some it is a lengthy and costly experience as work goes over time and budget and their ideas and dreams change then voila they have the finished project in front of them. Each could follow Susannah Clarkes route and write a book about their experience and all would be fascinating and individual regarding the trials and tribulations they have gone through. Its never easy but it is a journey that has an end and ultimately your reward is the knowledge you have gained on route and the pleasure in saving an old slice of history and putting your own personal stamp on it. For those who are considering taking the plunge, come on in the waters lovely but don't stray too far into the deep end.

Friday, June 06, 2008

What a long strange trip

When I take a break I really take a break to get mind, body and soul in order. If you live here or are planning to you will soon realise how necessary this is for your sanity. I have heard of a certain guest house couple who much prefer oyster eating at Oualidia to the rigours of day to day guest maintenance and who I am to say thats not such a bad balance.

Anyway back to me and over the last few weeks have been in Spain to lovely Vejer followed by feet up and Mums home cooking in Norwich before my old mate and business partner Tony whisked me off for two weeks in Phuket. Certainly appreciated the stunning beaches, bountiful food at roughly £1 a plate whilst Tony appreciated the fine art of conversation with several of the bar girls, who laughed in all the right places whilst understanding nothing, not that he cared.

Back at the fort in Dar Mernissi Ben was looking after various friends and family visiting and reported back every detail, he is a real treasure and also now a good friend and expectant father. One of the reasons for taking the break was to allow Ben and Sina time and space to have the baby without me getting in the way, babies are not my business, well not at his point in time anyway.

Enough gossip I hear you say where is the nitty gritty info, the lowdown, the real deal, well its coming. For some time now my creative juices have been drying up as this projects renovation came to a close and we furnished it and filled it with many interesting friends. This is not the same as getting your mitts dirty and watching something take shape before your eyes albeit with a helluva lot of pain balanced by gain in the long run. What I am getting at is I wanted to sell the old girl Mernissi so someone else can take it forward whilst I would like to take on smaller funkier projects because of cause I love the stress...not. Also it would make a tidy profit and in these credit crunch days cash is king folks ,not mortgaged up to the hilt and panicking about losing your house or the cost of oil and eggs.

So I thought I would test the somewhat stagnant waters of the property market here as all housebuying and selling has dried up dramatically this year. Hoping to make a profit for my endeavours of course I was also more interested in selling to people who would enhance what I have done here. I have always seen my role in the renovation here as a mercy mission to save a dilapidated home that had been neglected for over 50 years and I consider it has been a success and given lots of people including myself huge pleasure. But I need to move on to new adventures and challenges within this great country and elsewhere, being a somewhat restless Sagitarian Soul this is what rocks my boat so to speak.

So anyway it is now sold, as from today inshallah, it all happened tout sweet (sic) as a family took one look and fell in love with it, of course, and have now freed my little brain up to look at funky opportunities here there and wherever.....I'll let you know!!

Friday, May 02, 2008


The blog will be on holiday along with its writer namely myself for a month as I rest up in England for the month of May. There might be the odd message from time to time but for new readers there are 150 or so pages of previous entries to amuse themselves.

As always life in Fes goes on at its own peculiar pace and you can always check on the daily or weekly happenings on the View from Fes website.

On my return there will be an announcement of some importance that I wish to share with you all regarding future plans and committments so bear with me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Norwich Gal

They keep popping over to see what I'm up to these Norwich gals and heres another in the form of compadre Cosmopolitan Kate. I've known Kate for over eighteen years and about eleven years ago we flew to Palma, Majorca as she wanted to escape the confines and limitations of Norridge, England. She wanted to broaden her mind and her horizons and I suggested working on yachts as with her cool stylish demeanour and catering background I thought she would fit right in. And she did.

I spotted a boat I used to work on and they invited us on board as honourary guests and within two shakes of a lambs tale she was working on it as stewardess and steaming across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Now this sort of lifestyle can suck you in and soon Kate was circling the globe, Pacific, Caribbean and Mediterannean working herself up the yachting ladder. After leaving the bateaux she took herself off to the other side of the globe to New Zealand and for seven years ran a fantastic Art Deco restaurant in Whangerai, I believe, with her top rated chef boyfriend.

Alas all dreams can fall flat eventually as the couple split up and Kate rejoined her former yacht as if she had never been away. She took the time out from her hectic schedule on her present yacht which she refers to as a floating caravan to come pay Fes a visit and see the ole house here.
Impressed by Fes she wasted no time stocking up on rugs and scarfs for her future abode wherever that may be, lets hope its not too far away.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dont Count your Chickens

So Andy P came rushing over to Fez or should that be zigzagged via Eurostar and Paris, to complete the signing on his spacious Riad....or so he thought. Of course nothing goes as planned here and there is ALWAYS a stumbling block. In this case a new owner popped his head over the parapet to claim he owned several rooms cue a frenzy of paper checking. Its not unusual as Tom Jones once said, but then again all problems eventually resolve themselves even though us clueless Europeans really have no idea how it generally happens.

The best thing to do is go with the flow patiently waiting outside various offices to meet various people to solve various problems over various usually long periods. If you have a truckload of patience then you are fine but if your are of an impatient bent and like things done promptly I would suggest you have not come to the ideal place. Try Germany. Things can move quickly but generally when you least expect them to.

Back to Andys Riad he has uncovered some interesting history about the place, generally that it was once owned by the Sultan of Morocco who apparently sold Morocco to the French after his brother had spent the army budget on his personal fetish for fireworks. This is unsubstantiated but makes for good reading nonetheless and further investigation should fill in the blanks. Andy seems very well prepared to jump through all the necessary hoops to make sure he is the sole owner and has great ideas to bring the shell of a building back to something resembling its former glory. With a modern twist.

He left with frequent phone calls from England updating him on the imminent birth of his fourth child, so heres a man with a lot on his plate I would say.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Back in Town Brigade

Following on from the previous missive, yet more Fes regulars turned up on the doorstep this week albeit through diverse and circuitous routes from England arriving slightly more fatigued than when they set off.

First up was neighbour Bill a sprightly sort who has come to oversee the final stages, he hopes, of his riad almost 32 secs from my door. The fact that the snagging list he carried with him resembled a version of Encyclopedia Brittanica didn't seem to phase him although I thought each item would be a minor challenge in itself, I know I've been there. At least he had a big smile on his face which diminished somewhat when he realised the room in the house on which he planned to stay still very strongly resembled the building site it was a few months previous, so first snag then. Luckily he found alternative accomodation and can now do his daily spotchecks on the house to ensure it all comes together according to the bright, glossy printouts he carries round with him. Best of luck and dont let the bastards grind you down.

Also around was Michael and Jo and their exbanding brood of 3 who luckily have finished their house so all ready to enjoy the finished product for the first time after overcoming their various snags. However with the 3 kids in tow it was never going to be a restful stay and I honestly dont know how they manage as I find it quite difficult to look after just myself at the best of times. Its honestly nice to see a family enjoying at last the fruits of their labours after a yearlong refit the question that now begs is ....and now what?

For a lot of us the fun is in the process of renovation overcoming the hurdles and stress that it involves but when it is finished there is a void of kinds in that daily routine that needs to be filled with something equally as challenging. For some it is a restaurant or Maison dhote but for others who just have a holiday retreat it is what to do with their stately pile while they are not ensconced within which is challenging. Do you want a stream of strangers/tourists/backpackers lying on that sumptuous banquette and muddying your tapis or do you shut up shop until your next visit when you can affford to come out here again via your next circuitous flight route, umm challenging and there is no easy answer. Best of luck.

Also around this week were a trio of real travellers from South Africa who had taken a year in an old Toyota Landcruiser laden with surfboards to come up to Morocco covering 18 countries in the meantime. Their little break had turned into a lifestyle choice and they were not relishing the return to Planet Earth which beckoned. In their previous incarnation they were accountants but now resemble surfdudes so much its hard to envision them as part of the pinstripe brigade, short hair and sharpened pencils at the ready for double entry bookkeeping. You can read about their adventures at www.africansurfer.com and follow their re-entry into the real world again as they re-adjust to that rareified climate. Again....Best of luck guys and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome

Its always nice to see old (and not so old) faces back in the Medina and so it was this week when two totally dissimilar characters returned. First was my friend Pippa who works in Dublin as a legal secretary for her sins, saving frantically to fund the renovation of her cute Dar in R'Mila tucked away near R'Cif. She bought a year ago but wisely is not in a frantic hurry to rush in until she is ready, wise girl.

Then of course there is the venerable Sandy who you might know from a certain well known blog who is back to put the finishing touches to his latest novel based in Fes. Returning characters are always vibrant and enthusiastic as they wish to catch up on all the latest gossip, news and comings and goings in their absence and we are all too happy to oblige of course.

Its sometimes tempting to temper the obvious enthusiasm of pre-renovators for their project with a healthy dose of reality in the form of and advice and guidance about the pratfalls and pitfalls that one has encountered along the way. But that would put a damper on things now wouldn't it. Every individual will come up against different obstacles to overcome and really its all part of the rich experience of fulfilling your dream to go through it all and come out the other side. Although you will be slightly less well off, have a few more grey hairs and a bit less grey matter between your ears undoubtedly you will end up with a nice set of bricks encased in tadelakt and furnished to your own immaculate taste.

Well this was definitely the case with our Sandy who now has a wonderful riad and no regrets after a lengthy and at times frustrating renovation where at various times odd things happened to frustrate the progress, having your donkeys kidnapped being just one of the minor hiccups. But then one fine day you step back and realise you have finished and I know for me the thought that still runs through my head is just how did I manage that, and would I do it again. The early days of finishing I think most people would say that was a nightmare and I wont be doing that again but as time goes on the appeal of another house project and new ideas start sprouting and you realise you have got a strange affliction to put yourself through the pain barrier again.

As of now I don't know a cure for this "brick addiction"and I would like to take time out to try and find one but am not aware of a national centre or hospice that has available treatment. So I for one suffer in silence or the exact opposite sometimes as I bore friends with what I would do with this or that project even though I don't have the financial clout to realise it, well one can dream I suppose.

So back to young Pippa then, she now has her permission to start work and can go away safe in the knowledge her little hideaway will be stripped back to bare bricks with donkeys carting away her house sackload by sackload with progress being replaced by regression. Then almost magically over the next few months there will be progress and the thrill of a European toilet being installed, that first flush ahhhhh, I remember that. Then when you first switch on a light, the first hot shower, the first piece of furniture moving in, the first night spent under your own owned roof, marvellous. Your bank balance takes multiple nosedives but that will eventually stop........and then what!!

Well another project of course and you have caught the bug, you have "Brick Addiction" .

As I mentioned before is no known cure.

Monday, March 10, 2008

House Buying Tip for Rock Climbers

Johnathan, a world class rock climber who is also a property entrepreneur here in Morocco, told me an amusing tale relating to his latest house search in Chaoen. Scouring the medina for something cheap and cheerful to purchase he got more than he bargained for on an inspection.

He was being shown around a less than structurally sound old wreck when suddenly the floor gave way beneath him. Now this is where the rock climbing experience comes in. As he told me when walking along a crevasse that is likely to give way if it opens up, you extend your elbows and this acts as a brace to stop you plummetting to the depths.

Therefore as the floor gave way he instinctively went into rock climb survival mode and found he was dangling elbows akimbo between the beams over the fresh air space that once housed a not so solid floor/ceiling. I would like to have seen the look on the simsaars face as he realised how close he had come to losing a customer and also that the prospective sale had quite literally fallen through ha ha!

So house buying tip no 1 whilst walking on suspect flooring position oneself between the beams with elbows at 90 degrees to to the body, and though you might look as though you are going to break into a Birdie Song dance audition, you may in fact be doing your brittle legs a big favour.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Taxing Day

Jnan Sbil Garden renovations starting to take shape finally and looking rather splendiferous I must add, but moving right along...

Rotherham Rob arrived after trekking round the country, he had escaped the confines and temptations of Rotherham to teach bespoke carpentry to the good people of Kenya a few years back. He enjoyed it so much he eventually signed up for 5 years and part of it in Mombassa teaching the feisty inmates of a local borstal how to make their own beds ....literally.

Initially staying for one night he soon saw Fes cannot be fitted into a day and so before long he was tagging along with us on house hunting/renovation advice duties looking slightly bewildered with these mad expats and their house fixation. But he could see the appeal, well who wouldn't?

While he was here I received an official looking Municipality letter demanding the sum of 1700 dh in back taxes but with the previous occupants name on the demand. Off I popped with Ben to clear up this possible anomaly at the tax office to be told the figure quoted was a mistake, phew well thats alright then I thought.....wrong! "No", the mild mannered gentleman behind the counter carried on from his previous statement, " The figure owed is 70,000 dh", gulp and again GULP.

Darting over to the Adoule who had done all the paperwork for the house purchase and was wise in all matters pertaining to bill paying or not as the case may be, he said in Arabic the equivalent of Cobblers, a lovely word in English that suggests all is not as it appears to be in no uncertain way. The bill was apparently for taxes owed in Rabat that had somehow found their way to a previous address. Giving us several sheafs of paper relating to the situation back we went to the office of tax affairs to find Mr Mild Mannered slightly more stubborn and not budging on the situation.

Now in these situations it could be cause for alarm if you let it get to you, but the best thing is to go with the flow, show a bit of patience and then when you least expect it something gets resolved hopefully to your advantage. If you didnt think like that you could spend the majority of your time "climbing the walls" as we say or "pulling your hair out". So as I am not too good with heights and am to all intents and purposes bald, neither of these two panic options is applicable so I just went back to my daily routine leaving all responsibility to the Adoule.

Thats the way to do it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Get the message

Thought I would post this photo as it tells you in no uncertain terms to keep out. Spotted on a Mosque door in Meknes probably because too many stray English stragglers had ventured over the threshold and we all know that is strictly taboo. Respect.

Now on a lot lighter note, overheard at a table at the ever bustling Cafe Clock from a bemused customer "Two days ago I was riding a camel and now I'm eating one (between a bun) so my holiday is complete". Ahhhhh well done Mike for the fitting finale to Bart and Jessicas sojourn (they will be back, swapping a Brooklyn studio for a medina love shack no doubt).

New Lonely Planet book Fes Encounters is out now with photos by burly Doug Mc and featuring yours truly as male model so I have been told, hopefully gazing moodily into the distance, but I suspect its more likely to be a back of head shot or propping up a Volubilis pillar in the far background. Oh fame, you fickle mistress.

Well we have escaped the rigours of what was essentially a mild winter as we ease into March and I don't hear too many grumblings from the guest house owners as February panned out quite nicely. One popular and vivacious owner announced an 82% occupancy so someones doing something right. Still frustrating for all you Brits trying to get here from England but we have seen a marked increase in our American and Canadian friends from across the pond who bring with them that brightness, vivacity and ebulliency that is inherent in their nature. Always a pleasure. The major plus also is they do not talk about housey matters all day long but rather dissect the merits of Obama or living life in Brooklyn or Minneapolis so it makes a nice change huh.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Peter Lippmann Experience

I love photographers, there I've said it, I love them, when a few years back it was musicians and DJ's that I literally raved over now I feel my affinities definitely changing.

Over the last few months I have had several of that peculiar breed staying at the maison from Doug Mc the burly, ex war photographer cum Lonely Planet snapper to Simon G the gin swilling, weddings r us, websiter. And now to add to the illustrious list we have Mr Lippmann whos promo featured here was shot on location in Morocco with the help of yours truly scouting locations and driving off piste in Rif country.

The brief was for lush green foreground with colour and mountainous background for a Poland Spring water advert, so packing the Lippmann family in the voiture, daughter Kelly and sister Nancy plus Mr L himself we headed Rifwards from Fes in search of the perfect shot.

I had no idea that this entailed multiple stops enroute whereby Mr L would leap from the car, tripod dangling, stomping over muddy fields, lying prone amongst the wild flowers to frame his magic moment foreground shot. Then scampering back in mud encrusted jeans and trainers he complained about faulty batteries and light meters whilst enthusing graphically about the light or complaining ceaselessly about lack of it!

Kilometre after kilometre we passed potential Poland Spring backdrops which were captured for posterity on Pentax. Stopping for lunch at Motel Rif, a good halfway haven two hours from Fes, we then motored on through the verdant countryside and hilly switchbacks arriving in Chauoen to book into a classy, funky new maison d'hote. No sooner had we all unpacked our toothbrushes and enjoyed a mint tea on the terrace overlooking the blue medina than suddenly Mr L announced his perfect shot on reflection was back at the Motel Rif 60k back from our present location. Ho Hum. He was looking to get a 6am start to get the light, of course, so repacking our toothbrushes we hightailed back to the motel post haste settling in for the night after a hearty repast and several glasses of good grape product.

Luckily it rained at 6am but at 8am pronto after a snatched coffee we were on the road and guess what, no go on guess.....we found the perfect shot 100m (thats metres not miles) from the motel which had Mr L almost deliriously describing the light, the flowers, the light meter, the colours. We were all very happy for him of course as the perfect shot paid for this family outing to Morocco so was quite important. I was just glad I was able to find him such a spot and several more besides to make up the composite picture you see here on the page and it made for a tiring but ennervating few days out of Fes.

The passion and attitude and attention to detail all these photographers apply to their art is admirable, but I would question sometimes their compete sanity as they dive headlong towards their intended target, camera in hand, ignoring mud, insults, donkeys or whatever to get THAT shot. For instance Doug would shoot 5000 pictures and then announce he had probably 8 good shots, what!! Thats either lack of confidence or obsession with quality or a combination of the two. With Mr L he knew exactly what he wanted and when he had got it I thought. However even he could not resist taking more and more till his film ran out. If he had more film I feel we would still be standing beside some flowery field while a mud spattered dad and daughter peered through the lens once again to frame another even more perfect shot.

But luckily he didnt.

As I said photographers....don't you just love them...they're not normal you know, bless them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No comment (well just a few words)

Well no words necessary for these shots but heres some anyway.

On a gorgeous mid February day what more of an excuse did I need to hotfoot it to Moulay and Volubilis in the company of some of our friends from across the pond (thats yanks not francs) who were ready for an excursion. In danger of repeating myself let me say once again these twin gems are the perfect antidote to the Fes Frenzy and are the soul sanctuary that we all need from time to time to wind down, take stock, switch off the grey matter and reeeeeelaxxxxxx ahhhhh. Now doesnt that feel better. Now take a deep breath of clean mountain air.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Expanding Fes Part 2

Having time to kill at the moment heres a furthur update on the rejuvenation of old Fes from a casual but observant observer. I know some of you out there are missing our fine city as you hold down proper jobs in the outside world to pay for your folly/palace/derb shack so let me fill you in with a little update on the previous post. Hopefully it will whet your appetite for your imminent return.

Lets start up near the Boujloud Square,with the rampart walls looking all shiny and new on the outside now the work is starting on the inside at the top end of Talaa KBira with the little vegetable stalls lining the wall being unceremoniously shunted to one side as the scaffolding goes up announcing in itself imminent improvements.

Not far away and across the square a little known project of a very large renovation is, so sources say, only months away from its unveiling. This is the old Jardin Publique Hotel and after a major makeover with no expense or time spared will boast two restaurants one on a stunning terrace and at least 30 rooms. These will be in the budget range but offering good quality throughout. I have watched its progress over the last year or so with great interest to be told at regular intervals it is 2 months away from finishing uh yeah right!

Over in the fantastic Jnan Sbil park one can glimpse inside the sparkling layout of fountains and seating and though I cannot hazard at guess at the opening date I would guess sometime this year. This is set to be a major tourist and local draw for promenades, contemplation, sitting and watching or just appreciating the flora and fauna and sky high palms. This will be a fitting end to the Palace and Gardens Tour which these days draws the tourist to Jnans multiple locked gates so they are reduced to peeking through the bars, not quite the finale they envisaged. Anyway just outside the gardens walls en route to La Noria restaurant the tin hoardings can't quite hide a rather fine specimen of Moroccan modern workmanship. This is to be a funky new restaurant in a Riad style with pillars and zellige aplenty and a terrace which will overlook the garden itself. I know who is behind this great project and applaud his vision and aptitude, bastard!!

Over on the Talaas within a few weeks two top quality modern shops have opened one on Sigheera the other just down the road on Derb el Horra. They both boast fine filigree light fittings and brass and bronze artifacts, and are very large so obviously trying to capture the attention of guides of tourist groups, commission aplenty then! The shop of more interest to me is the one on el Horra which only 2 months ago was a fully functioning albeit rather dark and dismal bakery. It has been transformed with lead light windows, funky tiles and fresh plaster and multiple shelving and the stock arrived and was on the shelves artfully displayed within hours after the last lick of paint. How impressive, which begs the question why do house renovations take so long then?

Further afield on the Route Immouzer is the Royal Golf Club and after wondering for 2 years why some enterprising spark hasnt built golf villas overlooking the course, lo and behold as if by magic row upon row of said villas is apparent on the near horizon. All sold before completion which comes as absolutely no surprise.

If I had a euro for every building, renovation or investment project that entered my little head which has been acted upon successfully by people with slightly more acumen and financial clout I would be 57 euros richer by now, enough for a slap up meal at Riad Fes and two bottles of sparkling (water).

Friday, February 15, 2008

Expanding Fes

Took a drive out towards the Henri Laconte Tennis Academy the other day to check on Century 21 proposed residential units opposite. As always its such a bonus to have the car to go exploring sometimes with no particular mission in mind. However it was quite obvious from the outset that Fes is expanding in all directions and very rapidly.

Not only is the Century 21 backed project growing rapidly with the large billboards showing palm lined mini boulevards throughout the site, on the drive there the massive Oued Fes site on the route to Marjane is also steaming ahead. The site has been cleared of all those pesky trees, thwarting any treehuggers, and huge pipelines are lined up presumably for the artificial lakes within the complex. Is this progress? Some people would say there is no such thing as progress only change, well in this case scenario lets say there is massive change happening throughout Fes.

Outside the Kings Palace, en route to the Mellah there is now a rather fine fountain within a newly formed roundabout and also a palmlined central reservation and multiple mini fountains changing colour on the new dual stretch of road leading to Hassan 2. I can honestly say this looks great and a real improvement on the area and so well done it looks like it has been there years rather than a matter of weeks.

So continuing my drive past the Leconte Academy I ended up in areas of Fes I had never been but what was noticeable was EVERYWHERE were new builds and huge residential developements for low cost social housing, these are definitely not for tourists. So this is where the medina house owners aspire to live in and I can see their attraction. The prices are reasonably affordable and if they can unload their crumbling, unsanitary derb den onto a thrilled European visionary with pockets full of Euros, then everyone is happy, arent they?

Later on that same day I bumped quite literally into an old friend who is trying to finish his project after several years on the heights of Mt Zalagh, which when finished will have one of the coolest settings in Fes. He was excited and as far as I can gather its because the authorities had just announced the expansion of the city boundaries, rezoning several areas from agricultural to urbanisation and tourism projects. Of course this will have a massive effect on land prices and should entice more entrepreneurs to this fine city. Hope it doesnt choke the life out of the city though as its quite busy enough at the best of times thank you very much.

So although for many Europeans here the topics of conversation are still flights, house renovation, flights, house renovations and a slight drop off in clients if they looked out and beyond they would see this city is now officially a BOOM town. I'm not saying this is necessarily a good thing but there seems to be no stopping it now so either go along for the ride or move to Meknes!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Come and Go

As the last GB Airways incoming flight arrived the other night it wasnt hard to spot all the Blighty contingent who owned houses here. Over the last year or so the same crop of people have been jetting back and forth in a budget stylee to check on the progress of their Dar, Riad or Wreck, take your pick, and sometimes a combination of all three. For a lot of them it has been a long, tiring and financially draining experience as being true Brits we buy first and ask questions or deal with details later after the initial buying experience which in itself can be traumatic.

A quick tip for those contemplating coming over soon from London try the train to Paris and then cheapo flight direct to Fes for all of 50 euros with Jet4you I believe.

No names mentioned but a certain friend has arrived on his tenth trip in as many months, six of them fruitlessly trying to nail a house and the last three in which he is now the proud possessor of three, count them, properties. The phrase making up for lost time springs to mind or strike while the iron is hot. So is the iron hot or not, well its hard to judge from where I am sitting as I havent really been paying attention although my friend Fred popped over the other day to look over this house and gave it a very healthy valuation, which is nice. Always nice to know when you have sweated blood and euros that your efforts have not been in vain.

Ross and Bill, a very dynamic duo who are my near neighbours who live maybe 32 secs away are seeing their gorgeous riad come to fruition, and no wonder as Ross attention to detail in every aspect of the renovation ensures there is little leeway for error. There are photos, plans of every inch of the place with exact fittings for every item. If you could afford his talents, which most of you cannot, you would be guaranteed a palatial reform every time. Clever Bastard!!

How I managed without a resource such as Ross I will never know but suffice to say it came together when it was supposed to come together and in only nine months really, not bad for a lad. Also over for a flying visit was my best friend Tony who is a partner in the house and we chewed the fat, had a few tipples and discussed progress and future plans for projects which I will not divulge yet. Good to see him after such a long while as he hadnt seen the house finished with basement and apartment so that was a bonus for him, hopefully he can get out sooner next time round.

Popped round to see Fred at Laaroussa (top ten hidden gems of Africa) with Kevin a restauranter friend from Minneapolis, check out www.cafemaude.com, and there was a palpable concern voiced by him about the effect of flights on the Riad and the real estate business over the coming season. This is because the Brits were so high profile here last year on their buying frenzy will they be more creative in getting over here or settle for a wet weekend in Cromer! Not quite as exotic now is it, so forget the plane, catch the train folks.

By the way you can see more about us and the house on www.darmernissi.com.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Deep Joy or Budget Blues?

With unseasonal sunny weather throughout the last few weeks we could be forgiven in thinking spring is in the air. After spending on gas heaters and blankets in December in anticipation of the big chill its nice to be able to bask on the terrace to top up my paleface. My feeling is we should make the most of it as probably in February we will be suitably drenched by the winter rains.

In town for a flying visit at the moment is good friend Doug the photographer and journalist who is here on assignment for a well known magazine and journal. I cant really go into detail about the story as it would let the proverbial cat out of the bag and spoil the element of surprise. Suffice to say its a very interesting and positive take on tourism in the general region. So thats frustrating as I would love to spill the beans, as those that know me know I hate to keep a secret for too long.

The general topic of conversation around my neck of the Medina is less about renovation updates now as most of the immediate circle are coming to the end of that aspect of the project, but generally what is happening with the flights from London. Several friends are having difficulty getting to Fes without a hop, skip and a jump around Europe. For the guest house owners also they are trying to think back on this time last year to compare notes on tourism and bookings. Undoubtably over the past year or so the budget airlines have had a dramatic effect on the influx of visitors to Fes. This has resulted in shoals of prospective riad renegades and dar desperados anxious to get their mitts and money into an historic medina house.

Now of course lest we forget there have been many foresighted individuals who as long ago as 10 years were realising the future potential here and investing. I can think of several nearby owners who have literally put their heart and soul as well as probably millions of dirhams into their personal idyllic retreat. My point is they did not need the requirement of a Wizzair Budget Bucket Seat to decide to relocate or return to Fes. It was a call, a duty, a love or blind faith call it what you will, they just did it. I actually do not know in what category I would put myself but I know I seemed to have no choice in the matter, the house chose me and it was I feel a duty of sorts to renovate it to the required standard.

For some people it was a case of lets buy a few and sit on them and see how the market progresses, and thats all well and good and they are probably a lot shrewder and canny businessmen than I. For some bravehearts though it has been or still is a labour of love that can at various points shred your nerves, make you weep in frustration and continuously check the bank balance to see if all the noughts are in the right place. Ahhhh but when you have finished, Deep Joy and a true sense of achievement makes up for all those horrid hurdles, trust me.

And then what? Well for every individual here it is a different story whether you are Cafe Clock Mike or Classy Kleo, along the way your dream and your focus changes as Fes and the project changes shape. We all have to adapt and I for one have no idea where the rocky road leads. So if the flights for instance make it trickier to get here well we are only back in the spot we were a year ago when said investors were well into their projects. What we WILL see is the return of the discerning buyer who is captivated and charmed as we all were with Fes and is prepared to take up the challenge of buying and renovating on top of getting that pesky connecting flight.

The upsurge in European flight connections could ensure that other nationalities now take up this unique challenge ensuring a multicultural mash-up instead of one heavily weighted, or so it seemed at one point, towards the Budget Brits. We Shall See, Wont We.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Back and Forth

Hello blogmates, its all quiet on the Moroccan front after the Xmas rush which is to be expected. Have been away for a few days to the rather photogenic Spanish haven of Vejer de la Frontera and if i thought it was quiet here its tumbleweed central over there, with lots of the cafes and restaurants closed for winter and friends scrabbling for work.

What was very noticeable were the notices in estate agents windows announcing price reductions on lots of the properties as through the past few years the Brit influx married to favourable tabloid reports led to escalating demand for the rinky dink old town properties. Of course throughout Spain now this era of silly year on year building concrete Disneylands and asking monopoly money for a ruined shed (lets call it a Cortijo to make it sound grander) in an illegal suburb, has come to a grinding halt. There is of course here a comparison with Morocco, which although in many ways is a mirror of how Spain was a few decades ago, gorgeous, virgin countryside, unspoilt beaches and cheap property could fall victim to inflated prices bouyed by the international not the local market.

We have seen here in Fes over the last few years the rocketing prices for the medina houses which though still good value for money when compared to dealing with European property, specifically London, could be a case of too much too soon. For instance the dream of local Medina house owners is to sell their almost habitable wreck to a an enthusiastic Brit renovator and move into a modern flat in the Ville Nouvelle. However the knock on effect has pushed up prices of these flats so the local has to put up the price of their old house to make the move financially viable for the family involved.

Its a tricky situation and one I feel that will find a more sensible pricing structure as we enter 2008 after the goldrush effect of recent years. For a lot of buyers however it is not just an investment in financial terms but a lifestyle choice as they fall in love with the perceived easygoing stressfree nature of life here plus the bonus of owning a slice of history. What is important is they prepare themselves financially, emotionally and also allow adequate time to realise their dream and the commitment needed. When you hear six months for a renovation best practice would be to double it. In fact if you double everything you perceive its going to take as a rule of thumb then you wont go far wrong and have a built in cushion.

The mood in Spain is one of uncertainty and its a palpable feeling and coupled with the US woes spreading its tentacles eastward this could have effect on all markets. Here in Morocco with the amount of investment not just from individual investors but the big players such as Emaar and Fadesa I think as it stands its in a very healthy position as long as greed and inflated expectations dont get in the way.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Into the new.

All around the Medina there are huge sighs as the frenetic Xmas and New Year rush for beds eases off, to be replaced by slight consternation regarding the soon to be axed direct flights to Fes. How will this affect tourism, well time will tell, but in the meantime I guess its time for everyone to get their own house in order. By this I mean continuing those snags and running repairs that inevitably crop up in the old medina houses after heavy guest use and also after the last bout of heavy showers(its not all sun and fun folks) where do those pesky leaks come from.

Its also a time to get out and about to see what else is going on in the immediate environs, so a trip to see my good friend Lionel and famille seemed to be in order in the imperial Meknes.

His newly renovated place overlooking Bab Monsour is coming on a treat with the guest dar now having a fully tiled courtyard and budding garden since my last visit, well done mate! We spent my couple of days there walking about 100 miles so it seemed up, down, through the medina and the palace sights picking up stray simsaars who showed us an incredible variety of houses. As with Fes the prices are shooting up but Meknes has a lot to offer although unfortunately not the same variety of restaurants, but a budding nightlife so I am told and a calmer less frenetic pace than good old Fes.

Lionel was snapping away at the various houses and you can see the results on his new blogspot mekneshouses which has a link under my notable bloggers section. Several maison dhotes are springing up to cater for the individual trekkers as opposed to the coach parties of before of slightly older clientele shall we say. Bab Monsour itself is being renovated and all around this area there is massive repaving and restructuring ongoing due to the Kings insistence I believe, after all it is an Imperial city and does not want to lag behind its illustrious neighbour Fes, 50k away.

I saw a couple of houses that piqued my interest in the 40,000 euro bracket although out on a limb regarding access to the main tourist trail but in areas due for regeneration and having a realness not always apparent as such in the tourist areas. Although not near to an airport apart from Fes, Meknes is in the loop of the picturesque micro climate grape growing region that encompasses the ever wonderful Volubilis and my fave town Moulay Idriss.