When Mike and Lucie Wood found an old property in the Marrakech Medina to add to their small group of Marrakech Boutique Riads, they named it Riad Star, for not much more reason than their daughter liked the name. It was only when neighbours asked them if they were naming it after the star who had lived there, that they learned this had once been home to Josephine Baker; the American born cabaret artist of the 1920s, 30s and 40s who had been the toast of Paris, who had been awarded the Legion d’Honeur by Charles de Gaule for her wartime work in the French Resistance and who was a leader in the civil rights movement for racial equality. In honour of Josephine Baker, the renovation of Riad Star, with its art deco woodwork and coloured glass took a new theme, incorporating jazz age glamour and sparkle and a sprinkling of objets and memorabilia from the period.
I hope you enjoy the video below of Finding Josephine Baker at Riad Star in Marrakech
We spent a weekend staying at Riad Star in May, taking advantage of the new easyJet direct flight from Bristol with a schedule that is well timed for long weekend breaks. Our taxi from the airport dropped us as close as it could could get to the Riad, where Abdel, the energetic Riad manager greeted us and led us through the narrow lanes to the unassuming door of the Riad, marked only with a small star. Miriam, the Riad’s excellent cook had prepared a traditional Moroccan meal for us with a selection of side dishes as starters; coleslaw with walnuts and sweet dried fruits, a delicious rice dish with green and red peppers, courgettes and green beans cooked with oil, lemon, parsley and cumin. After such a feast we barely had room for the succulant and fruity lamb tagine cooked with prunes, a dish that is often served at celebration meals in Morocco.
The Josephine room where stayed is thought to be where Josephine Baker herself slept, and the white walls were hung with Jazz age prints from the Revue Negre as well as a large portrait of Grace Kelly who befriended Josephine Baker and invited her to perform in Monacco. The double bed covered with a soft gold bedspread was framed by an arch of traditional carved plasterwork, while silver cutwork metal lamps threw patterns of light on the ceiling. On the tiled floor was a Zayan Berber marriage shawl serving as a rug, with silver sequins woven into the fabric to represent money and a few small tables and stools scattered with catalogues and records from Josephine Baker’s musical performances.
Our en suite bathroom was a similar fusion of traditional Moroccan polished plasterwork and art deco inspired polished black marble with delicious orange blossom shower gel and body lotion from Les Sens de Marrakech. The powerful shower was contained in a bathing area with a high step which I tackled rather carefully for fear of slipping on the tiled surfaces. At the internal window from which voices wafted up from the kitchen below, was a wire sculpture of Josephine Baker dangling in the space, complete with banana skirt and pouting lips.
From reading the books and biographies about Josephine Baker that were scattered around the Riad, I learned more fascinating stories of her time in Marrakech. In the early years of the Second World War, Josephine had started to work for the French resistance, secretly passing information about German operations within occupied France which she hid in her underwear or wrote in invisible ink on her music scores. In 1941 she received orders to move on the North Africa, arriving first in Algiers and then moving on the Casablanca and Marrakech, and it was during this time that she met one of the most powerful and wealthy men in Morocco, T’hami el Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakech. Josephine had left France suffering with pneumonia and fatigue but now El Glaoui offered her a place to rest and recuperate in his palace, now the Museum of Marrakech next door to Riad Star, putting on a grand dinner in her honour.
The two became close friends and in 1942 Josephine became pregnant and late in her pregnancy suffered a miscarriage in the clinic in Casablanca. She developed an acute infection from which she nearly died and had an emergency hysterectomy which meant that she could never have children of her own. When she was well enough Josephine returned to Marrakech where El Glaoui offered her the use of the guest wing of his palace, now Riad Star, to recuperate. It is said that the Pasha paid children to stand under her window and recite verses from the Koran, as we might say a prayer for someone’s good health and speedy recovery.
As the Josephine room where we stayed is the only room in the riad that overlooks the street, which is unusual as most look inwards to the courtyard, it is believed that this must have been her bedroom. In the street she was known for her generosity and the elderly neighbour remembered being given sweets and modelling clay by her when he was a child. After her recovery Josephine Baker spent the remaining war years touring North Africa entertaining the American, English and French troops and later adopted a ‘Rainbow tribe’ of thirteen children to make up for the children of her own she could never have.
We loved the fusion of Moroccan craftsmanship at Riad Star with the elegant furnishings and metalwork from the souk and the Art Deco antiques and objets that owners, Mike and Lucie Wood have collected on their travels. Each room is decorated in unique style and is named after a part of Josephine Baker’s life; The Paris room after the Casino de Paris that made her a star; the Rainbow room after her Rainbow tribe of adoptive children and the Chiquita room on the roof terrace after her pet cheetah.
Each morning we were served a delicious breakfast of fruit salad, pancakes and scrambled eggs, seated at the green banquette in the alcove to one side of the inner courtyard, which had a small dipping pool to cool off on hot days. While many of the Riads of Marrakech have been converted into holiday homes or small boutique hotels, they were originally family homes designed to house extended families, with different generations living in the rooms that overlook the internal courtyard. The narrow street outside may look a little scruffy, but the unassuming door opens to reveal an elegant private world, designed to shield the women from prying eyes and to keep the house cool in the heat of summer. Owner, Mike Wood told me how most of the skilled craftsmen he had employed to recreate the traditional Beijmat teracotta tiled floors, Tadlakt polished plasterwork and hand carved plasterwork friezes and arches, could be found within 10 minutes of the Riad. From the souk had come embroidered cushions, small silver poufs and stools, silver cut metalwork lanterns and berber sequin marriage rugs, as well as art deco statues and ornaments in keeping with the Jazz Age theme.
The roof terrace has been converted into a delightful area for relaxation, with a wrought iron ballustrade around the central opening which has a clever retractable roof to keep the courtyard below dry and warm in the cooler months. The terrace is cleverly designed with different seating and sunbathing areas separated by arrangements of shrubs and herbs in pots, and in the evening the fairy lights twinkle in the bouganvillia with a fireplace for cooler evenings. There’s also a private hammam that leads off the terrace, where private treatments can be arranged, which is ideal for couples who want to try the hammam experience together, as the public hammams are strictly segregated.
In keeping with the Josephine Baker theme, there’s a rail of sparkling, sequinned dresses and other costumes provided for guests to dress up, with a jewellery box of 1920s style hair ornaments and necklaces to try. While we were there, the Riad had a special display of costumes for the Marrakech Bienniale cultural festival, including a red evening gown worn by Josephine Baker in during one of her final performances in Paris before she died in 1975. The Woods managed to purchase the dress, along with a sequined costume worn by the celebrated French singer, Mistinguett, letters, a movie script and other Josephine Baker memorabilia at a recent auction at the Casino de Paris.
We very much enjoyed our stay at Riad Star, being looked after by the wonderful staff, relaxing in the beautifully restored surroundings and reliving a little Jazz Age glamour. I’m sure Josephine Baker would have approved.
Visiting Riad Star and Marrakech
Thanks to Riad Star who hosted our stay in Marrakech. Rooms at the Riad start at £140 per night bed and breakfast. The Riad is one of four in the Marrakech-Riad family, which are all well located close to all the major sights of the Medina, with English-speaking Moroccan staff who will offer advice, airport transfers, book restaurants, and lend you a local mobile so they can rescue you if you get lost in the Souk! Each Riad has between 4 and 7 bedrooms, making them ideal to book as a group if you are planning a gathering of family or friends, or for couples planning a romantic getaway.
Heather and Guy flew to Marrakech courtesy of easyJet who fly from Bristol to Marrakech on Tuesdays and Saturdays – perfect for a long weekend break. EasyJet also fly to Marrakech from Gatwick, Stanstead and Manchester so you really have no excuse!
We also found the free Marrakech-Riad app was indispensable for finding our way around the Medina and full of useful tips and information about sightseeing, restaurants and shopping. The app features a GPS responsive map of the old town medina which saves you from getting lost in the maze of narrow lanes and the latest version has been extended to cover the new town area of Marrakech. Download the free Marrakech-Riad app from iTunes here
More things to see in Morocco
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In this article our guest writer, Sophie Couwenbergh shares her experiences at Fiesta Hermosa in Southern California that takes place over the Labor Day weekend on Hermosa Beach, featuring live music, fish tacos and hippie underwear.
When I was researching my first trip to Los Angeles in 2012, I found out that we would be there during Labor Day Weekend. I thought it would be fun to experience some of the festivities held during that weekend. After some more research a friend and I decided to go to Fiesta Hermosa and we had so much fun that I even decided to go back when I was in LA for another trip last year.
Fiesta Hermosa was organized for the first time in 1972 and has since been the largest arts and crafts fair in Southern California. The festival takes place every Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday), right by Hermosa Beach. The stands are stretched out over Hermosa Avenue (from 10th St. until 14th ST.) and Pier Avenue (from Palm Dr. until Pier Plaza). Here you can find anything from jewelry over clothes to paintings.
Plenty of food and entertainment
That’s not all that Fiesta Hermosa has to offer, though. There are also two stages – one at Pier Plaza and one at the Charity Beer & Wine Garden at 11th Street – where live bands play different kinds of music all day long. Last year we saw a Beatles tribute band performing at the main stage.
Although there are enough bars and restaurants in the festival area to grab a bite, Fiesta Hermosa also has its own food court with stands offering tastes from all over the world. There’s pizza, fries, Mexican food and I later learned that the Hermosa Beach lifeguards even have a fish taco stand there. I somehow missed that, otherwise I would have definitely gone for a fish taco. I did see the Holy-Guaca-Moly stand and got a sample of their nachos with guacamole. Yum!
By the way, right next to the food court you’ll also find Fiesta Hermosa’s ‘kids department’ with different rides and games, just like a mini carnival.
We didn’t have lunch at the food court but instead decided to head back to this small place at Pier Plaza where we had a coffee in the morning. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the name but it was about two shops away from a big clothing store selling surf brands like Rip Curl. When you enter there’s a counter at the left and some tables to the right. Pier Plaza isn’t that long, so I’m sure you’ll find it. This place has fresh orange juice, a multitude of coffees and teas and it serves great quiches. I liked it because it was much less crowded (because it was such a tiny place) and noisy than the other places in that area and if you manage to get a seat outside you’ll be ideally placed for some people watching.
Fiesta Hermosa highlights
I found this cute little cupcake shop quite by accident. Some of the stand owners were talking about it and while they weren’t selling cupcakes outside, the shop was actually right behind one of the stands. I always have to get a cupcake when I find some abroad.
We loved this stand full of hippie colored clothes, including underwear, and just had to get a picture of this. Luckily the stand owner thought we were funny.
I don’t know if this is typical for the Californian coastline, but we saw such cool bikes at Hermosa Beach, such cool models, in all possible colors. If I could’ve taken one home with me (meaning: if it wouldn’t have cost a fortune to do so), I would have.
Practical information for Fiesta Hermosa
Be aware that Fiesta Hermosa is a daytime festival. It starts at 10 am and finishes at 6pm, except for the Beer Garden, which is open until 7 pm. Glass and plastic containers are recycled and the plates and cutlery used at the food court are all either recyclable or compostable. Fiesta Hermosa is green! The buses that bring in visitors as well as the generators that supply power for the festival run on biodiesel.
If you want to visit Fiesta Hermosa you could drive there, but I don’t know if you’d easily find a parking spot. Parking in Los Angeles is tough, with different parking restrictions on every block and pretty high fines if you don’t keep to those restrictions. That’s why I love Fiesta Hermosa’s shuttle bus system. You can park your car at the Northrop Grumman Building O4 at 15092 Aviation Blvd. (near the intersection of Aviation Blvd and Marine Street in Manhattan Beach) for free and then take a shuttle bus (also for free!) to the festival area.
The buses drive constantly between Fiesta Hermosa and the parking lot from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm. I made use of the shuttle system both times I visited Fiesta Hermosa and I’m glad I did. No stress searching for a parking spot and the bus drops you off right where the fair begins. (Note: dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle buses.)
What else is there to do at Hermosa Beach?
If you’re in the area during Labor Day weekend you should definitely spend a day at Fiesta Hermosa, but even if you’re in Los Angeles another time of the year, this beach town is worth a visit. Even when there’s no fair you’ll be able to do some shopping on Pier Avenue. It’s not like spending an afternoon on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, but there are some nice boutiques there. If you walk down Pier Avenue you’ll get to the beach. A nice big stretch of sand where you can catch some sun and watch people play volleyball on one of the beach volley terrains.
Often there are also some surfers out in the water, working on their best tricks in the hopes of getting a spot on the Surfer’s Walk of Fame. You can find this collection of surfer names engraved in bronze plaques on the Hermosa Pier.
If you’d like to get active yourself you can mingle with all the runners, bikers and walkers on The Strand. This beachfront sidewalk is also great for some people watching. And if you happen to be in Hermosa Beach on a Sunday, you might want to check out the Comedy and Magic Club. Jay Leno often performs here on Sunday nights to try out new material.
Many thanks to our guest author, Sofie Couwenbergh, a Belgian language lover and travel aficionada who combines a full-time job with a never-ending wanderlust and an upcoming freelance business. She uses her weekends, vacation days and public holidays to travel the world and share her experiences with you on Wonderful Wanderings. Be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
Whether you’re just-getting-to-know-you or celebrating many years of happiness together, you’ll want your romantic weekend away to be just perfect. Copenhagen, with its delightful parks, sparkling canals and delicious cuisine could fit the bill perfectly. From the Tivoli pleasure gardens to fairytale turrets of the Rosenborg Palace, here are my suggestions for ways to spend your romantic weekend in Copenhagen, whatever your budget;
When to visit Copenhagen?
The best time to visit Copenhagen is from the spring through to the early autumn when the Copenhageners are out enjoying the green spaces, harbour walks and pavement cafes after the chilly Nordic winter. That’s not to say that you won’t find romance in a cosy cafe with flickering candles in the winter months up to Christmas or in February when the city puts on the Wondercool festival encompassing a jazz festival, the Copenhagen Cooking festival and many design events.
The fairytale Rosenborg Palace and the Kings Garden
You’ll find parks and green spaces all over Copenhagen, but the most romantic is considered to be the Kongens Have or Kings Garden in front of the fairytale turrets of the Rosenborg Palace, with a rose garden, formal hedged enclosures and the moat around the palace. Eat nearby at one of the inexpensive food stalls at the Torvehallerne Food Market or pick up something to eat from one of the deli stalls and relax on the grass under the trees with a picnic. For a delighfully romantic restaurant on the edge of the King’s garden, try Orangariet which is set in the old orangery of the palace and serves smorrebrod at lunchtime and a set menu in the evening. While you’re there take a look around the palace where all the rooms are furnished from the period of different kings of Denmark and see the crown jewels in the Treasury in the basement of the castle. The botanical garden with a lake and palm houses is right behind the Rosenborg Palace and is another pretty place to have a picnic or go for a walk.
The Tivoli Pleasure Gardens
Tivoli is one of the treasures that Copenhageners of all ages hold dear to their heart, with landscaped gardens and lakes, the Moorish palace that houses the Nimb Hotel, roller-coasters and rides for the more daring and plenty of great restaurants. The parks has a slightly old-fashioned, fairy tale atmosphere with bandstands where you can sit to listen to the music and a pantomime theatre where mime shows are performed. Visit in the afternoon to listen to the musical entertainments and stroll under the magical Chinese lanterns as dusk falls, then enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants where you’ll find everything from hot dogs and pizza, to traditional Danish and Nordic cuisine. In summer I recommend a romantic meal at the Brasserie in the Nimb Hotel where you can dine al fresco on the terrace overlooking Tivoli pleasure grounds.
Around the harbour
Copenhagen is a city that’s founded on the water and you’re never far from one of the canals or the harbourside. A good way to get your bearings and see all the sights around the harbour is to take a harbour tour with DFDS or Netto boats, from the quays near Gammel Strand. If you want something more intimite, you can hire a rowing boat in Christianshaven and use it to explore the canals with all the houseboats on your own.
In summer join the Copenhageners sitting along the harboursides and canal sides, dangling their legs or sitting on the steps outside the Royal Library, also known as the Black Diamond. Nyhaven is also a favourite spot for a stroll, with pretty coloured merchant houses and plenty of cafes to sit outside and enjoy the atmosphere while the small bridge that crosses it has a collection of love locks similar to those found in Rome and Paris.
Artworks and sculptures at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
The art museum of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is full of classical sculptures and French impressionist artworks is a romantic place to visit at any time of year, and it’s free on Sundays or with a Copenhagen Card. Wander through the spacious halls filled with white marble statues from Danish neo-classical sculptors and see the impressionist collection that includes paintings by Renoir, Van Gough and Monet including the Degas “Little Ballerina” sculpture. At the centre of the building is a winter garden with glass roof and greenery with a cafe at one side that is a romantic place for lunch.
Climb the Round Tower
The Round Tower, in the Latin quarter is a fun place to visit for couples, as it’s an easy climb up the internal ramp (no steps so the carriages were able to ride to the top) to get great views over Copenhagen from the top of the tower. Look out for the Kissing Bench near the top where you can sit with your loved one by the window with a view. Half way up there’s also a large art space in the former library with a small cafe, and modern artworks and installations, where they also hold concerts and musical events.
Romantic places to eat in Copenhagen
For that special celebration we recommend the top end Alberto K in the landmark Royal Hotel (Now SAS Radisson Blu) designed by Arne Jacobson. Although this is a blow-the-budget experience, you’ll be dining in an intimite candle-lit restaurant on the top floor where every table has views over the city. For a similarly high end gastronomic experience, try the Mielcke og Hurtigkarl in the Frederiksberg Gardens with sparkling crystals dangling from the ceiling and views over the gardens. If you’re looking for a romantic place to eat on a more moderate budget, try the colourful but cosy dining room with a fireplace at Cap Horn in Nyhaven or Orangariet in the Kings Garden. If you enjoy jazz then check out The Standard, where the old Customs House near Nyhaven has been converted into three different restaurants and you can have dinner and then follow with the jazz performance in the club upstairs. If you’re on a tight budget, we recommend the Tollerhallerne food halls at lunchtime, where you can squeeze in at one of the many stalls selling inexpensive lunchtime dishes or take them to eat on the benches outside in fine weather.
Romantic places to stay in Copenhagen
If money is no object for a luxurious romantic break then consider the Nimb Hotel at the Tivoli Gardens, with 17 individually furnished rooms filled with antiques or the classic and elegant Hotel d’Angleterre where you’ll feel like a princess. For those of us who have to live on a more realistic budget, try the Avenue Hotel in the affluent neighbourhood of Friederiksberg where we love the cosy atmosphere of their salon with Moroccan lanterns and flea market finds or the Axel Guldsmeden Hotel in trendy Vesterbro where contemporary design meets Balinese styling. If you and your loved one want to be truly alone then try the Central Hotel in Frederiksberg “the smallest hotel in the world” with just one room where breakfast is served in the retro neighbourhood cafe. To breathe some sea air, travel to the northern edge of Copenhagen for the Skovshoved Hotel with rooms decorated in light and romantic Scandinavian style and sea views.
For more information about visiting Copenhagen, see the Visit Copenhagen official Tourism website. Thanks to Wonderful Copenhagen who sponsored our weekend visit to Copenhagen.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey