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.
Retreat Leaders’ and Event Organisers’ Information Pack available here.
Join us 12-18 May for a Hatha Vinyasa Yoga Retreat with the Shamanika Yoga School.. See here for details of this and other forthcoming events.
10% of revenue from the Serai (catering excluded) 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. Take away any WiFi signal also and you have a recipe for deep and pure, childlike sleep. Of course there is internet available but we like it best when it’s switched off. In fact, to fully wallow in the luxury of silent, clean air beneath our glittering night sky, we suggest you leave your phone in a box by the front door.
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
The Serai is unique in many ways. It is the result of a 17-year DIY project by husband and wife team, Mark & Ayelen (Scottish & Argentinian). Working in Ibiza each summer and then, each winter in Morocco, investing all their savings in building materials and help from the villagers, stone by stone they turned an idea into reality. They set themselves only three rules: no cement in the walls, never borrow any money, and never hire anyone from outside the immediate community.
“We had almost no money for such a huge project but what we DID have was energy and time. And it was clear to us that it might take ten years or more, but that didn’t scare us; we would simply have to keep pushing forward, following the flow.” (Ayelen Aguilar, 2021)
“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 very unusual 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.
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 donkeys carrying their bags down through the forest; 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.
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.
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.
10% of revenue generated by the Serai (catering excluded) 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.
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.
“In effect, realising that the true value in this project lay in the journey, not in the end result, we turned the construction of the Serai into a lifestyle choice. And what a revelation that was; because it made it all so much fun. Friends and strangers alike flocked to help us, to toil alongside fishermen from the village. And we all had to learn everything: 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 electrics and so, so much more. Ayelen and I would lie in bed at night reading books on natural construction techniques, or watching ‘how-to’ videos on Youtube, but mostly it was trial and error. So many mistakes were made, but we’d always find imaginative ways to fix and disguise them, and these are the details that people love the most.” (Mark Anstice, 2021)
“In taking our time over this project, we inadvertently 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.” (Mark Anstice, 2021)
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 the courtyard is visited by chameleons and mongeese. 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 a 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.