A Sanctuary of Well-Being on Morocco’s Atlantic coast

Situated on a dramatic stretch of Atlantic coast in Morocco, just north of Essaouira, the Serai is a traditionally built sanctuary from the modern world. Set amidst a tiny and very traditional fishing & farming community, this kasbah of rock, earth and lime offers an immersive experience of slow living and slow food wrapped in a silence so profound that nothing interrupts your power to simply be whoever you really are.

The Serai is unique in many ways.  It is the result of a 17-year DIY project by us – husband and wife team, Mark & Ayelen (Scottish & Argentinian). Working in Ibiza each summer and then, each winter in Morocco, investing all our savings in building materials and help from the villagers, stone by stone we turned an idea into reality. We had almost no money for such a huge project but we had energy and time. We set ourselves only three rules: no cement in the walls, never borrow any money, and never hire anyone from outside the immediate community. We knew it might take 10 years or more and that we must simply push forward and follow the flow.

In effect, realising that the true value in the project lay in the journey, not in the end result, we turned the construction of the Serai into a lifestyle choice. And that made it so much fun: learning from books and Youtube how to use lime, how to build vaults and domes, furniture from recycled wood, how to weld all the doors and windows from steel, plumbing and electricity and so, so much more. We made mistakes, many mistakes, but then found imaginative ways to fix and disguise them, and these are the details that people love the most. Friends and volunteers flocked to help us and almost every local fisherman has sweated alongside us. We had to learn Arabic very quickly indeed!

And in taking our time, we produced an illusion of time: the passage of centuries. Visitors and guests find it hard to believe that in 2005 there was nothing here, nothing but a field of rocks and dust, for the Serai looks, and feels, as if it has been here for hundreds of years.
 

Retreat Leaders’ and Event Organisers’ Information Pack available here.

Join us 01 – 05 March for a Sound Retreat with Ravi Freeman. See here for details of this and other forthcoming events.

10% of revenue from the Serai goes to The Fertile Roots Foundation and thus to the local community.

Unplug To Recharge

The difference in feeling between being in a healthy building and the modern cement box is as dramatic as it is difficult to describe; you have to experience it. But clean air is not all; everyone tells us the Serai’s atmosphere is also truly magical. Maybe that’s because so many volunteers came together to become friends while building it? Or maybe it’s because it stands as a testament to what’s possible if, sometimes, you dare follow your heart? On the other hand it might just be because of its phenomenal location.

Retreat To Grow Stronger

From the very start, the Serai was designed as an inspiring space for people to come together and grow together. We imagined it full of dynamic groups learning interesting things; a big old house vibrating with music, dance and laughter. So we built stages, designed for acoustics and created a space to inspire.

A House that Breathes

“This building is so unusual it takes your breath away. The detail, everywhere you look, and the amount of work it must have all taken simply beggars belief. It’s so hard to believe that there was nothing here ten years ago; it looks as if it’s been here for centuries.” David Le Sueur, 2018

Part of the Landscape

Situated at the foot of a forested hillside and a 10 minute walk from the beach, the house enjoys some of the finest views in the region. From every window there is woodland or ocean, or Essaouira itself, just visible beyond a patchwork of fields and honey-coloured stone walls, and a long, sweeping, deserted beach.

Texture & Form

Despite difficult conditions and a lack of water we managed to use only lime in the walls of the Serai, no cement at all. This makes the building, as far as we know, unique in this part of the world and you can feel the difference the moment you step inside. The walls breathe, absorbing and transferring humidity and the sun’s heat.

Dramatic Coast

Off The Beaten Track But Not Remote

The ancient walled citadel of Essaouira is only 25 minutes away yet only since 2017 has it been possible for normal cars to reach the Serai. Should you choose to approach by the forest route there’s a strong sense of leaving the modern world behind you as the hillside drops toward the ocean. Many still do choose to arrive on foot, Hafed’s donkey carrying their bags; it’s part of the magic. Then there’s the feeling of space, the endless empty beach, the silence so striking that it’s almost a noise to get used to, and the bright, beautiful starry sky.

Secluded yet Included

The Serai feels remote from the world also because the way of life in Azrou Issa is starkly remote from our modern hi-tech lives. The house does not stand apart from the community behind high walls; it’s right in it. A symbiosis grows and strengthens each year.

Interactive Environment

Not a gentle coastline for lying around on, rather one that begs to be explored and discovered afresh each day. At low tide the whole community might be on the beach: fishing, harvesting seaweed and mussels, playing football or just messing around. At high tide, it is empty, just for you.

Slow Food

Trying to grow anything here, with almost no water and exhausted soils, led us down the path of permaculture and sustainable agriculture. From a windswept field of stone and dust, the garden is still being coaxed back into productivity, the emphasis being on finding water-efficient solutions that will be affordable for the local farmers to replicate. Slow food is all about eating what’s produced locally and seasonally, to reduce the carbon footprint of a meal and protect livelihoods.

Fishing & Farming

Rural life in such a place as this has not changed very much for a long time. Our neighbours still plough the fields with animal power and sell their wares in a weekly market; most also fish at low tide. Cattle roam freely in the forest with wild boar while down near the beach you’ll run into small boys and old men herding the camels and goats.

Supporting the community at every level

Whoever is doing the cooking, we source as much of our food as possible from the surrounding farmers. Vegetables, forest-fed mutton and beef, free-range chicken, milk, eggs, and the catch of the day are all delivered to the door. Fruit comes from the local farmers’ market.

Positive Impact

10% of revenue generated by the Serai goes to the Fertile Roots Foundation. We established the foundation to help our local community make the transition from destructive farming practices over to sustainable, profitable agriculture, through a program of informing, researching, experimenting and, where necessary, awarding small grants. It’s a tremendously exciting project that links the people of Azrou Issa to a growing worldwide network of pioneering farmers and scientists. Our aim is nothing less than to change the future for this community, and have that change spread to others. It will be a long and hard road, but immensely interesting and satisfying.

A School of Permaculture

 We are part of the growing and influential Regrarians movement. By running courses in sustainable land use and design we bring to Azrou Issa some of the world’s  brightest minds to help us and the community here empower ourselves towards a brighter and more resilient future.

 

Research, Experiment, Build

We were not builders when we started this, and like to say that we did it all with Google and YouTube. That’s quite true, but we didn’t always find the answers we were looking for and often had to simply experiment, over and over again.  Then we made our own youtube videos. And we’re still at it; there is always something going on in the workshop.

Lifestyle Choice

“Be part of the solution, not the problem.” This is our guiding philosophy for a happy and contented life. It’s all about ‘walking the talk’: recycling everything possible and buying only what’s really needed; using locally available resources and helping our neighbours to supply them. It means finding the cleanest and greenest solutions for energy and vigorously protecting valuable resources like water. It’s the reason we don’t have a big swimming pool; less income but more authenticity, more contentment and more future.

Patience and Determination

We have spent 17 winters developing this project, with whatever money we’ve managed to scrape together and save during the summers. We knew it would take this long and we knew it was less about the end result than the journey itself. Teaching ourselves to build with natural and modern materials, learning to speak Arabic, gardening with almost no water: so much to learn along the way. The only limits we set ourselves: no cement in the walls, never borrow money and never employ anyone from outside the immediate community.

Love for Nature

Turning a barren ridge into a haven for birds, insects and other wildlife has been one of our greatest joys. And nor are they barred from inside the lodge. Within the walls we’ve built houses for geckos and birds, and in the courtyard, a perfect home for chameleons. Buntings fly freely through the house and clean the crumbs from the table.

Become one of our 'Fertile Roots'

Please add power to the people by ‘liking’ and ‘following’ our work towards healthy and resilient landscape here. You won’t be bombarded – we are far to busy to send out more than one newsletter or whatever a year – and perhaps in the future we might have something going on that you’d like to be a part of.

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