Morocco was everything that it promised, with blue skies, brilliant sunshine and dazzling views. Our old friend and host Ali Mouni greeted us upon arrival at the Hotel La Vallee in Ouarzazate. Early the next day, we embarked for the desert, enjoying many scenic delights along the way. Heavy rains in February had given us an unusually spectacular array of desert flowers, more than I have ever previously seen. A delicious lunch in the sleepy town of Tinjedad fortified us for the remainder of our journey. A couple of hours later, after a cup of Moroccan tea, we settled into our charming rooms at Ali's Nomad Palace, a family owned and run hotel at the edge of the dunes.
Before we started painting, I showed everybody around the delightful shade dappled courtyard, the new roof terrace, and the elegant arches that lead to the swimming pool. Amongst all the visual treats, everyone found a suitable subject, and I started my first demonstration, utilizing a handy pillar and a Moroccan clay pot. More advanced painters took on the challenge of more complex views through the grand gateway to the desert dunes. Satisfied (hopefully) by the day's efforts, the evening was filled with happy banter, exchanging experiences of the day over a glass of wine, before indulging in the plentiful quantities of delicious food coming from the kitchens.
Day two found us at the Merzouga Palmerie, an area on the edge of the nearby village where vegetables and crops are tended under the shade of date palms. One can add to the scene with the image of traditionally dressed locals about their business, giving our paintings a splash of colour from a different palette.
The following morning we received quite a surprise to find that a huge lake had recently appeared for the first time in six years, right in front of my usual view of the Great Dunes! The reflections of the desert buildings in the still water of the lake were stunning. We painted in the clear light, soothed by the mellifluous tones of my husband James, singing and playing guitar quietly in the background, and incidentally providing an extra life-model! Later in the afternoon we left our hilltop, and drove around the rest of the vast expanse of sand known as the Erg Chebbi, pausing along the way for a glass of tea with some Nomad friends of Ali's.
On the non-tuition day, some students chose to remain at the Nomad Palace and paint, while most of the group came with me on a tour which included a visit to a fascinating fossil museum, and a shopping trip at the local Nomad Depot, where we haggled over carpets jewellery and crockery. We ended the day at another seasonal lake, far larger than usual this year, where a wide variety of desert birds could be spotted by the keen watcher, including distantly seen flamingos!
Camels are notoriously difficult to paint, so we kept ours for the whole day as we attempted to catch their superior expressions, liquid eyes, and gangling limbs. Their attendants, dressed in traditional Berber garb, also made excellent subjects, and were preferred by some to the noble dromedaries! The reward, for those of the group who wanted it, was to ride our sweet tempered four legged models into the dunes, from the top of which we watched a beautiful desert sunset.
Before we knew it, the last desert day had dawned. Another scorcher, where shade at our location, a deserted village near the Nomad Palace, was provided by Ali's men erecting an open sided Berber tent. Our picnic lunch was consumed in an artistically converted ruin overlooking the scene. We celebrated the end of our wonderful week in the desert with the appearance before dinner of Groupe Zaid, local musicians with an international reputation.
Departure from the desert was sweetened by our arrival at the outstandingly beautiful Dades Gorge the next day, where we got down to work straightaway, eager to capture the curves of the mountains and colours of the lush green valley below, viewed from the Panorama Hotel terrace. Lunch and dinner were lovingly prepared by our hosts and fellow painters Mustafa and Ibrahim.
All of which meant that we had reached the last day, and a short journey back to Ouarzazate, where many of this group showed their mettle by painting until the last rays of the sun were fading from the distant snow-peaked Atlas Mountains.
"Thank you, once again, for organising it all - it was, I think for everyone, a huge success."
"You were brilliant in every way and your sense of humour added cream on the cake."
"I would like to thank you for arranging such a wonderful holiday. It was really a unique experience and a great painting time."
"I do hope to join you again sometime.I have learnt a lot and made progress."
"Had a really enjoyable time in Morocco. You were most helpful and your organization was was excellent in every way."
"I enjoyed so tremendously going back to Morocco that I immediately want to do it all over again. I felt I had improved on my work from last time."