Creation of both traditional and modern golf houses in Morocco

Golf has grown in popularity in the Middle East and North Africa, from Algeria to Qatar. But one country in the region has a considerable head start: Morocco.

The sport has been around since the British exported it at the turn of the 20th century. But it gained momentum in the middle of the century, thanks to King Hassan II – ruler from 1961 to 1999 – who was crazy about golf and saw the sport as a tool to help his country enter a market economy.

The King built several courses designed by some of the best designers in the world, and in 1971 created a golf tournament now called the Hassan II Trophy, a permanent part of the European Tour.

The country now has more than 40 popular courses, and their number and popularity is growing rapidly. It doesn’t hurt that golf is at the center of Morocco’s latest tourist surge and that Prince Moulay Rachid, son of Hassan II and younger brother of King Mohammed VI, is a golf enthusiast. Or that the weather is sunny more than 300 days a year.

Along or near the country’s courses – which can be found near its coast, mountains, or popular towns – are some of the region’s finest mansions. Unlike many newer residences in places like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Egypt, which often feature Western styles and aspirations, these homes, whether traditional or modern, appeal to patterns and to classic Moroccan approaches.

Inspired by their older counterparts in downtown areas, they often adopt sturdy earth-toned walls and subtle abstract shapes and are bursting with vibrant colors, detailed adornments and woodwork, ceramic, metal and finished textiles. by hand. They are often softened by lush plantings, fountains, screens, shady patios and spotted interior courtyards. And their designs are often a hybrid of Islamic, Berber, Moorish, and French styles.

“When people come to Morocco, they want to feel like they are in Morocco,” said Maud Faujas, director of the Marrakech office of international real estate company Emile Garcin, which has around 200 residential properties for sale or rent in the country. , most of them near Marrakech and its more than 20 golf courses. (Properties near courtyards typically range from $ 1.2 to $ 3.6 million for sale and $ 950 to $ 1,400 per night for rent.) Originally from France, Ms. Faujas went on vacation to Morocco in February 2000 and never left again, a fairly common theme among expatriates in the country.

The secret of this fusion of modern and classic, she emphasizes, lies in the country’s extraordinary artisanal tradition. Almost anything you could wish for can be handcrafted to measure by a virtually unlimited cadre of expert local craftsmen, from masons and carpenters to weavers.

“It’s just the way they work here,” Ms. Faujas said. “It’s the only way they know how to do it. Often craftspeople learned from their parents, who learned from their own, with specialized skills and a willingness to build anything.

During a (virtual) tour of one of her company’s homes, designed by famous Moroccan architect Eli Moyal, next to the PalmGolf Marrakech Palmeraie golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, she highlighted the vaulted ceilings in hand-cast cradle, combined brick walls, handmade floor tiles, handmade glass and metal chandeliers and a hand-installed bamboo ceiling by the pool.

Ms. Faujas also noted a few contemporary style houses located next to the Al Maaden Golf Resort, which opened in 2008, just minutes south of the winding streets of Marrakech. (Many of the city’s new courses are clustered south of its center, in a less traditional area.)

These types of housing, more widespread in recent years, are more square, refined, with large windows and fluid. But on the outside, they often mimic the clay-like burnt orange surfaces of traditional Moroccan houses – usually a mixture of trowel concrete, lime, and earth – and their fluid connections between the inside and the outside. And inside, they feature handmade craftsmanship and abstract details, like filigree screens, shiny fabrics, and geometric ceramic tiles, whose abstract patterns work well with traditional and modern settings.

“The know-how you get is very specific,” said David Schneuwly, another French transplant. Mr. Schneuwly founded Villanovo, a company that rents villas across the country and around the world. (About 20 percent of his Moroccan listings go to golf vacationers, he said.) “It shows in the details of the moucharabieh. [projecting wood latticework windows] and the subtle variations in color and line.

This level of craftsmanship, according to Vincent and Sophie Rambaud, owners of a Villanovo classified property about 10 minutes from the PalmGolf Marrakech Palmeraie, allowed them to build the type of house they wanted.

This house, built 15 years ago, has come to include a mix of traditional and modern shapes and surfaces. It wasn’t easy – they went through several architects and builders – but the only constant was the amazing craftsmen, each focusing on something specific.

A specialist only worked on tadelakt (waterproof surfaces subtly textured with plaster, lime, water and pigment). “You have to apply it in a certain way and it has to be made from a special lime from a certain region of Marrakech,” Mr. Rambaud said. “You can’t see the colors until it’s finished, and you have to wait three weeks for it to dry.”

This type of skill and attention to detail continued in every corner of the house: plasterers created intricate custom moldings and intricate ceilings; an old carpenter created scalloped doors (their shapes first designed by Mme Rambaud) for each room; a blacksmith in the medina of Marrakech made bronze door handles (also designed by Mme Rambaud) for each room. The wooden furniture was designed by both Mme Rambaud and local artisans and produced by a variety of local talents; colorful geometric textiles come from Morocco and other parts of Africa.

Unsurprisingly, sometimes these ultra-personalized creations – which remain affordable due to the preponderance of craftsmanship in the country – could be unpredictable.

“You just need to be patient and calm,” Mr. Rambaud said. “In the end, you get more or less what you want, and sometimes you get something better. “

As evidenced by the mix of French and Moroccan design visions that have entered the house, artisans are often open to combining aesthetics and even periods.

Popham Design, a Marrakech-based concrete tile company created by an American couple, Caitlin and Samuel Dowe-Sandes, is a good example of this varied approach. The couple employ 65 people in their workshop, most of them local artisans who create the couple’s riffs on ancient zellige mosaics by making brass molds, filling them with colored concrete, pressing them by hand and pressing them. letting them harden for about two weeks.

Mr. Dowe-Sandes explained how the prevalence of craftsmanship permeates all aspects of life. “If you want a wicker laundry basket for your house, you’ll go see the guy who makes it, measure it and four days later you get it,” he said. “We renovated a house and no power tools were used. There are still lots. You realize that there is still a lot you can accomplish without Home Depot.

Apart from traditional craftsmanship and mundane eclecticism, another major influence on these homes is the same thing that helps golf courses flourish: the sunny North African climate, which shapes homes to embrace outdoor gathering spaces, strategic shading and protection against cold nights.

The Rambauds worked with a team of gardeners to create Mediterranean gardens containing palm trees, olive trees and orange trees of various sizes and groupings. They created patios and semi-enclosed outdoor rooms for hearty outdoor times (“We live between the inside and the outside,” Mr. Rambaud said), and they installed a fireplace in almost every room. rooms.

Audrey Lebondidier, a French-born landscape architect based in Casablanca, is still amazed at an indulgent ecosystem in which almost everything grows with just a little water. She works with owners who want Mediterranean landscapes like that of Rambauds but also creates landscapes of houses in tropical, Asian, European and other styles.

Golf course homes in Marrakech have the added benefit of not only looking over the grounds, but also the lakes and mountains in the region beyond, said Mehdi Amar, deputy office manager of Barnes International Realty. in Marrakech. He said properties adjacent to the golf course had been one of the most important areas of growth for his office before the pandemic put international travel on hold. But business, he said, is slowly picking up.

While homes are almost always open to the elements, there are often still surprises inside. The Rambaud house, like many in Morocco, contains its own hammam (a ceremonial bath and a hammam), in this case a dome-shaped space with natural light peeking in from above.

As you move around the house, you go from open and bright rooms to darker rooms with unpredictable openings and varied perspectives. It’s almost like walking through the medina, the old, walled part of town, which isn’t far away. Like Morocco itself, it sometimes seems familiar and sometimes totally foreign.

“We love Morocco and Marrakech; the people, the life, we have the time, the sight ”, declared Mr. Rambaud. “We feel a bit at home and at the same time absolutely elsewhere. “

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