A Lamb Couscous at Dar Chibania, Our Little Paradise in Marrakech

I will never forget the way the morning sunshine embraced the stacked and layered architecture of the riad Dar Chibania, casting a complex tapestry of light and shade on an already super textured space. It took some time for our eyes to adjust to all the novelty: the vibrant zellij tiles, ornate antique lanterns and hand-carved wooden doors curved into elegant arches; the breezy inner courtyards like lush sanctuaries, flooded with the fresh green leaves of a fern, a tree, a palm; the pop of bright blue on the cushions laying languidly against the baked orange clay of the pool lounge, and the deep red of the life-saving parasols watching over the multiple levels of the solarium area. And that rooftop… a labyrinth of tastefully designed spaces under a sky that seemed to reflect the orange-pink-red hues of the red clay (pisé) from which almost the entite city is built.

Now imagine this remarkable kaleidoscope of color and texture with its very own soundtrack: the chirping of swallows, the crowing of a territorial neighborhood rooster and the somber yet beautiful and rhythmic Call to Prayer blanketing the entire medina in a moment of collective devotion.

Built in the 17th century, Dar Chibania is today owned and operated by a lovely French expat couple named Isabelle and Pascal, who welcomed us with a pot of Moroccan mint tea and shared medina tips before giving us a tour of the riad. From the very beginning, the staff at Dar Chibania was also just so attentive, doing everything possible to guarantee a perfect experience. The suite was sumptuous and spacious as all hell, the common spaces designed to inspire total zen. I felt beautiful in the massive antique mirrors strategically placed throughout the space. I felt totally calm and absorbed in my book in my favorite round sunbed on the rooftop.

I even managed to put aside my deep-seated aversion to cats long enough to connect with Praline and Miel, the two ginger felines that call Dar Chibania their home. These two can often be seen gracefully strolling through the galleries, defying gravity while scaling the various levels of the building and taking pecious moments to cool down in the marble fountains at the center of each inner courtyard.

In fact, I felt quite cat-like myself in certain moments, as their poised and carefree vibe seemed to transfer. Tip-toeing, barefoot, across the sizzling, sunbaked clay floors to the pool. Deftly crackin open a well-chilled bottle of Domaine de Sahari Vin Gris du Maroc to sip at sunset. Enjoying a laid-back, leisurely breakfast of goat yoghurt and msemen with almond butter, argan oil and honey in the cool comfort of the main courtyard. These were moments that I will not soon forget. On one evening, we decided to stay in for a dinner prepared by the hotel staff. Although the dish of the day would have normally been tagine, we asked for a couscous (as we’d had tagine the day before), a request which the team accommodated without issue. On a quiet evening, we descended from our room and chose a particularly cozy spot in the main courtyard.

After a glass of wine, our couscous arrived – in a portion large enough to feed a whole family, as always, and damn was it good. So good, we both wished we had multiple stomachs to fill because, as it were, we could finish only half of the thing. The couscous itself was perfectly moist, the fine grains soaking up the flavors of its cooking liquid and plumping up to form fluffy, juicy mouthfuls. Tons of nutty, crumbly chickpeas were loaded over the top, as well as silky-smooth carrots, zucchini, turnip and cabbage stewed in a delicious broth. There were also skewers of fabulously seasoned minced lamb and a giant hunk of what was probably one of the most fall-of-the-bone tender bits of lamb either of us had ever tasted. Some extra veg was served on the side, along with a big bowl of magical broth, which I unapologetically gulped down at the end of our meal.

Our dinner at Dar Chibania was much like the experience at this riad in general: tasteful, genuine, kind and always generous. To anyone visiting Marrakech, this place is high on my recommendations list.

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