Sunday, 23 July 2017

Best Day Excursions from Marrakech

The first time you visit Marrakech there is so much to see in the medina and in the close proximity of it that if you're only in town for just a few days we seldom recommend making any longer excursions. But if you come for more than three-four days, or it if you are returning to the Red City, there are so many cool places to see also outside the medina. The beautiful Atlas Mountains for instance, on a clear day you can see them from the rooftops in Marrakech and it's only a short drive to visit the blooming Ourika valley and the amazing Imlil valley.


A lunch in the Atlas Mountains with breathtaking views is just amazing!

Easiest way to get to the gorgeous Ourika valley is to book a private car with a driver for the day and ask them for the scenic roads and that you want to visit the authentic parts with some Berber villages that cling on the side of the hills and perhaps an Argan oil co-operative. There you can get your hands on some real Argan oil (and not the fake you are risking to get when shopping in the medina). In the middle of the valley you will find the Setti Fatma falls, 7 cascading waterfalls that go into the Ourika River. Depending on the day you will also be able to visit local typical Berber markets.


A private car and driver is the best way to go!

If you go a bit further south you get to see even more spectacular valleys in the Imlil valley. Here you can visit the highest peak in Northern Africa, Mount Toubkal (4 167 metres). There are loads of authentic Berber villages here and you can also do a lot of interesting trekking excursions.


Beautiful Imlil Valley

To see some amazing waterfalls and apes you should go to Ouzoud in the Grand Atlas village of Tanaghmeilt where you will find the prettiest waterfalls in Northern Africa. It is about 150 km north-east of Marrakech and on the way you will pass lots of beautiful landscapes with fields of olive trees. At the waterfalls you should stroll along the network of trails leading to the lake below the falls. If you are lucky you get to see some of the Barbary apes that live here.


Why not see some huge waterfalls and apes?!

If you are a film buff and want to do something extraordinary you should take a day trip across the High Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate and the dramatic stone and mud-built fortresses known as Kasbahs and the fortified villages known as Ksars. You will visit Telouet and Taourirt Kasbahs as well as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ksar at Ait Ben Haddou. This is where a lot of films have been shot including "Gladiator", "The Mummy", "Alexander", "Babel", "Prince of Persia" etc.


The architecture of the Ksars and Kasbahs are just the coolest!

Another great excursion is to the stunning coastal town of Essaouira, an UNESCO world heritage site. This picturesque place has been the favorite retreat for both hippies and stars for decades. Here you can explore the atmospheric alleyways of the ancient Medina, and the old ramparts that protect from the strong winds. You should also visit the long white sandy beaches and the bustling fishing port with excellent seafood and all the blue wooden fishing boats.


The harbor in Essaouira is filled with fortresses and blue boats.

If you want to see the desert, Sahara is unfortunately too far away to make it just for the day. But there is a stone desert just one hour from Marrakech that you could visit instead. The Agafay desert is not exactly the same as the Sahara with the magnificent sand dunes but it's all the same a very cool desert excursion. You could take a 4x4 car and drive off the beaten tracks as an adventure! After the desert you should go and have lunch or a mint tea by the beautiful Lake Takerkoust.


The stone desert just outside Marrakech has camps where you could stay over night in cool tents. This is the Scarabeo Camp.

If you come to Marrakech in the winter (Jan-Mar) and it has been snowing in the Atlas Mountains you could take a day excursion to go skiing in Oukaimeden, a ski resort about 80 kilometres from Marrakech. The skiing area is at an altitude of around 3 000 metres and there are two ski lifts.


The ski lifts go above the clouds!


You could rent skis and snowboards on location.

There are so many more suggestions on excursions and there are a lot of guiding companies that can help you with your plans and booking. We always use the very professional tour operator Toubkal Guide for our trips and excursions, they are brilliant!


Excursions are even more fun with some best friends!

So to summarise, the best 1-day excursions are:
1) Ourika Valley
2) Imlil Valley and Mount Toubkal
3) Ouzoud and the waterfalls with the apes
4) Ouarzazate and the Ksars and Kasbahs
5) Essouira by the Atlantic coast
6) Agafay, the stone desert
7) Oukaimeden (in winter)

Adventure is always around the corner in the Red City!
P&P

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Runmarö - our Swedish island hideaway

Welcome to Runmarö!
 
After a very busy spring with lots of projects, both in Morocco and Italy, it was time for vacation and to head back to our little house on the island Runmarö in the beautiful Stockholm archipelago. Time for an ocean break in our little island paradise in Sweden and getting back to basics. We are looking forward to almost six weeks of vacation, where our summerhouse will be our main base. There are some Red City PR projects that we can work on remote and we will mix up our island life with some city breaks, friends and family. But most of all we look forward to sunny, relaxing days on this charming island.
 
Our house is located in an area on the island called Söderby, that used to be a fisherman's village
 
Söderby on Runmarö, this is where we have our jetty.
 
Our place consists of three small houses, some terraces and a huge garden with meadows and some forrest. It's total privacy and close to our jetty and the ocean.
 
We got this place some 14 years ago and really love the relaxed, laid back lifestyle on the island. Living here is total relaxation and we spend our days reading, running (we have a 12 km track), swimming and hang out with friends (ok, maybe doing some work as well, but from a deck chair). We cook and eat almost all meals outside on the terrace and enjoy wine in the sunset on the jetty.
 
Beautiful ocean views.

We barbeque almost everyday in the outdoor kitchen.
 
We actually have three kitchens: one in the main house, this summer kitchen and then our outdoor kitchen with a huge BBQ.

Lazy days with coffee and a good book
 
Outdoor living
Beautiful sunsets by the sea.
 
Runmarö is a quite big island, approx 5x5 km and it boasts a very livley little community with both all-year-around islanders, as well as those coming just for the summer season. We have a charming bakery, a well stocked grocery store and a restaurant. Fish and meat can be bought directly from the farmers on the island. There is even a theatre performing a few shows every summer and of course a number of local markets and events. 
 
The best way to get around the island is on one of these mopeds ("flakmoppe")
 
Runmarö is a very idyllic island close to Stockholm city and with a lively local community.

There are multiple daily ferries connecting Runmarö to the mainland and it takes approx one hour to commute from the island to Stockholm city center.

Lazy and (mostly) sunny days

But most exciting this summer is of course to welcome our new tribe member Cicero, a short haired dachshund, and hang out with him. More about this stylish puppy in a future blog post.

We wish all of you a sunny and relaxing summer!
P&P

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why Arpino?

When we decided to move to Morocco and make the Red City our primary base people kept asking us "why Marrakech?", "why Morocco?". You can read more about our reasons for settling down in the magical city of Marrakech on the edge of the Sahara Desert in a previous blog post HERE.
 
Arpino, a beautiful hillside town, close to Rome.

Last year when we started to renovate our Italian townhouse Casa Colle in the ancient Italian mountain town Arpino, outside Rome, our friends did not ask us "Why Italy?" (after all, everyone loves Italian food, wine and history). But they did ask "Where is Arpino?" and "Why Arpino?". So we thought we would try to explain our love for this amazing and genuine Italian little treasure of a town in this blog post. A town we are lucky to, alongside our houses in Morocco and Sweden, call home.

Our townhouse, Casa Colle

There are so many reasons why Arpino is simply amazing, but let us give you our top-5 list:
 
1. Location, Location, Location
Arpino is one of the major medieval hilltop towns, perfectly located in the beautiful landscapes of the region Frosinone of Lazio, in the heart of Italy. You can reach both central Rome and Naples as well as three major airports (2 in Rome and 1 in Naples) in 1-2 hours by car. If you stay out of the rush hour traffic you can be in Rome in a little bit over one hour for lunch or shopping. There are also high speed trains if you prefer not to drive.

Arpino is also a great location to explore the fascinating region and within one hour's drive you reach the coast with beautiful, genuine and charming coastal towns like Terracina and Sperlonga. This coast line is at least as charming as the more tourstic areas up North like Portofino and Cinque Terre. A one hour drive in the other direction from Arpino takes you to Abruzzo National Park, one of the most beautiful nationalparks in Europe where you can also go skiing in the winter time. You could also go trekking or hunt for truffles in the rolling hills surrounding Arpino. 

Two hours drive south from Arpino brings you to the stunning Amalfi Coast, where you can also catch a speed boat to Capri or explore Pompeii. The enchanting town of Arpino is a well-kept secret but is a place that provides a genuine Italian town experience in a truly historic setting and with an optimal location to explore the middle and south of Italy.


Arpino is the perfect base for exploring, within 2 hours you reach the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Naples. Within 1 hour you reach Rome, coastal towns Terracina & Sperlonga and Abruzzo National park.
 
2. The Fascinating History
Arpino's long and distiguished history goes back over 2700 years and there are landmarks everywhere in the area. It was first a settlement of a local tribe, the Volscians, in 7th century B.C. They built the huge Cyclopean Walls with a pointed arch gate that is almost 4 meters high, this is the only existing pointed arch left in the world by the way!

Then there is the 2000 year old Roman road Via Latina that went straight through Arpino, parts of it can still be admired in the main piazza. Several famous Romans came from Arpino, the most prominent one was the consul and famous orator Cicero, whose statue now can be seen in the main square of the village. Other Romans born in Aprino are Gaius Marius (The 3rd founder of Rome) and Marco Agrippa (The architect of the Pantheon in Rome).

During the Middle Ages the town belonged to the Kingdom of Naples and King Ladislaus of Anjou-Durazzo built the massive "Ladislaus Castle" on the Falconara hill, overlooking Arpino. Before 1861 (when the textile industry was moved up North by political decisions) Arpino was one of the leading textile producer in Italy featuring many successful businesses and prominent families. During these wealthy days many beautiful palazzos were built in Arpino and today both Italians and foreigners have started to renovate these beautiful buildings.

 
Via Latina, the 2000 year old Roman road is visible in the main piazza.

3. The Spectacular Views
We have travelled all over the world and seen some pretty spectacular views but Arpino has by far the most stunning sunsets that we have ever experienced. The main reason for buying our house Casa Colle was the undisturbed views over Arpino and the mountains in the backdrop. The photos below explain better than words. To sit on our terrace with these views is better than any meditation or therapy in existence.

These sunsets!
 
Love the view from our terrace!

4. The Food & Wine
In Italy food and wine are very important, it is all about great quality and almost everything is locally produced. In Arpino, a region of some 7000 people, we have several local butchers, excellent wine and cheese shops, a pasta factory (where they custom make your pasta according to your wishes) and a number of grocery stores with locally produced olive oil, fruits and vegetables. Not to mention all the charming bars and cafes surounding the main piazza of Arpino where you go to enjoy your daily espresso or apertivo and watch the daily life pass by.

The best pizza we have had (honestly!) is the white four cheeses pizza made in the local pizzeria, behind the square in Aprino. There are several amazing restaurants in and around Arpino, many with mentioning in the prestigous Guide Michellin. Great food and wine experiences is part of everyday life here and it is super cheep compared to the touristic areas up North (an espresso or capuchino is 0,9 Euros and a pizza dinner with wine would cost 20 Euros for 2 persons)

A typical Italian lunch at La Perla.

5. The Friendly People
Arpino is a living community with a lot of young people, some even moving into Arpino to start up new businesses like agritourismos (eco friendly hotels/restaurants), working in administration or agriculture. Many are farmers and the region produces some high quality olive oils, vegetables and wines. When moving to Arpino we felt so welcomed by the whole community and all the amazing people living there. This is still a town where people seem to help eachother and actually care about one another. If you need a plumber you just go down to the piazza and have an espresso and you will find one. Whatever your questions are (and they are many when you buy a house in Italy) people are happy to help out.

Our amazingly skilled builder Claudio and his entire family soon became very good friends and continue to support us in our daily life in Arpino. The local real estate agent Alison Holland (check out her agency Via Romana if you are interested in properties in the region) and her daughter Katherine were so very helpful to make the transition to Italy as smooth as possible. The translator Daniela, our amazing notary Alice, the hotelier Sonia (whose beautiful hotel was a second home before our house was ready) as well as Jackie (who looks after our house when we're not there), Connie and Peter, our cool neighbours from Texas, all became part of our local Arpino tribe. After all, living in Italy is all about people and making new friends (oh, and the food and wine of course).

Spontanious drinks with some Italian friends in the piazza

 

Some more great Arpino friends!
 
Oh yeah, then there is the climate!
Being a hillside town, Arpino enjoys mild summers as well as mild winters. It does generally not get crazy hot in the summers or super cold in the winters. We spent November, December and January in Arpino and actually could sit most days outside in t-shirts during lunch time. In summer there is a nice breeze. So, the climate, like the views, history, people, location and food is perfect!

 
Blue skies and great weather most of the time

Where to stay in Arpino
1. Hotel Il Cavalier dÁrpino, a charming hotel located in a renovated palazzo with great location, beautiful views and a stunning garden.

Where to eat and drink
1. La Perla, amazing restaurant with true fine dining ambitions and very friendly service.
2. Il Ciclope, charming and rustic family run restaurant with great local food and wine.
3. Barnabas, best wine bar in town with excellent selection of Italian wines. The best place to enjoy an apertivo by the square and shop for fine wines.
4. L'ottavo Vizio, easy going Italian restaurant in the cantina of an old palazzo.
5. Il Casale della Regina, excellent restaurant with a modern take of the Italian kitchen.
6. Bar Sport, despite the terrible name, a very charming coffee and wine bar.
7. Pizzeria Trattoria Del Corso, where you find our favorite pizza!

What to do in Arpino
1. Explore the old town, the acropoli, overlooking Arpino.
2. Walk through the narrow streets and enjoy the historic remains on display evrywhere.
3. Go trekking or truffle hunting in the hills around Arpino
4. Enjoy the magical sunsets
5. Sit on the piazza with an aperol spritz and watch the local life go by

Beautiful nature of Arpino

A new dog, named...
In a few days we will get our new dog, a short haired black tan dachshund puppy. When thinking of a name for our new family member we decided to call him Cicero, in honor of our beloved Italian town Arpino and the famous Roman born there. It will no doubt be a very stylish dog and we can't wait to return to Arpino with him in August as soon as his EU passport and vaccinations are ready. But first we will enjoy two months in the beautiful Stockholm archipelago on the little island Runmarö where we have our summer house.

Meet Cicero, our new tribe member
 
See you soon Arpino!
P&P