Truth be told, I travel around the world looking for the most romantic accommodations. I have found some of the most lovely places; a rustic bamboo treehouse in Bali, an overwater hotel room in the ocean with a glass floor offering a stunning view of sea creatures and coral and the magic of life under the sea, and enjoyed the most special birthday/spa day at La Mamounia.
Today, I am bursting with excitement because I have found something extraordinary for you, unlike any other place I’ve shared.
There are a few luxury accommodations that are on my list of dream hotels I hope to one day collaborate with, like the ostentatious and uber-flashy Burj Al Arab in Dubai, “the world’s first seven-star hotel,” an honorary title given by travel writers around the world, also voted the “best hotel in the world,” by the Ultratravel Awards.
But even more exciting would be to get invited to a hotel as a guest in one of the secret hotel room most travelers have never heard of. Certain luxury hotels around the world have private rooms so elite they never mention or advertise in any way their most expensive and exclusive suites.
Many of these mysterious chambers are available only for the wealthiest travelers who learned about them from other well-connected friends who can afford to splurge for a night in a room that costs more than what the Average Joe budgets for his entire vacation.
These secret hot spots are purposely not advertised, and often do not even have a website.
You won’t find them on Instagram, no detailed description or postcard-perfect fancy photos, and for sure, no prices. Guests are assured of the utmost privacy and discretion and need not worry about their identity being exposed. They simply want to disappear and to enjoy being pampered and catered to while relaxing. And of course, there is the thrill of exclusivity.
But, my darlings, I am bursting to tell you about my little adventure while being “stuck” in Morocco during the corona lockdown.
This is the story about the day I met “The Saharan Godfather”. The very Godfather who owns a super secret luxury camp that has never even had a guest yet.
Many times over the past few months, I have cursed this deadly pandemic, praying for the world to be healed quickly so that somehow we might be able to get back to “normal” again. At least somewhat normal, especially within the travel industry, which has been all but decimated almost overnight.
At the same time, I wake at 5:00 am almost every day to work on my new book (stay tuned, it’s coming soon!) and connect with others in Morocco’s travel business. So, for the past six months, I’ve been networking and hobnobbing with the Who’s Who of the Moroccan travel world; including head honchos from the tourism board, board of members of boards of directors from the best travel agencies, owners of the most luxurious camps in The Sahara, and managers and owners of some of the finest hotels, riads, and kasbahs in the country, and in fact, the world.
This week I was thrilled to be introduced to a man who’s family has welcomed VIP guests to their hotels, restaurants, luxury camps, and bivouacs for decades. Houssine Lemnaouar. The man I call, “The Godfather”, a powerful, charming, charismatic man who runs his empire in The Sahara with the brain of an unstoppable bull and the heart of bunny…while running his business barefoot.
“The organization of the bivouacs is a profession practiced in my family from father to son. This fascinating area allows me to use my dynamism and enthusiasm and pay tribute to our culture and Moroccan heritage. In this sense, my idea was to create an event agency within our current structure to take charge of the complete staging of the services that our clients entrust to us. I am surrounded by a professional and qualified team. We have designed a variety of products with an innovative concept and high quality. We meet all the needs of our customers through attentive and personalized service.
I invite you to discover our product offer.”
Houssine Lemnaour, Managing Director
I was interested in meeting the man who had become the managing director of his family business. But his words initially meant little to me as I prepared for what I had no idea would become one of the most unforgettable days of my life.
Oh, I was happy to be meeting Houssine. Our mutual friend had introduced us, thinking we may be interested in working together somehow, us both being in tourism. I mistakenly assumed I was on my way to meet yet another luxury camp owner who had experienced, like most of us in the tourism industry, a devastating blow and who was hanging on to a thread, looking for ways to promote his business, preparing for the day when the Moroccan government opens its doors to tourism once again. I often work with hotel, camp, and riad owners, and expected to meet with Houssine to discuss a possible collaboration to promote his camps.
I was wrong.
I was quickly humbled when I realized that Houssine had no interest in my small (but lovely) travel site and no desire to help promote the newest addition to his families’ already enormous empire, Kalyptus Camp.
Oh, this handsome “Saharan Godfather” wanted to only discuss business (to my dismay), but proceeded to discuss an entirely different business venture that had nothing to do with this stunning new luxury camp.
When I put aside my pride and probed to find out why, I realized that his well-heeled clientele would most likely never read about his luxury camp on my, or any website. In fact, most of his guests do not usually come to him through tour company referrals or by reading articles or advertisements.
Houssine’s clients are invited by a select, small circle of those who have been allowed to enjoy the chosen type of experience. Only the most discerning and tasteful luxury travelers are given, so profoundly unforgettable and unique that one shares only with their closest friends and associates.
He had arranged for a meeting to consider hiring me to write about specific events. Our meeting’s location just happened to be at Kalyptus, a camp that so far (thanks to Covid) had not had even one guest yet.
I was absolutely thrilled to be the first.
Still secret, perhaps partly due to the pandemic and the fact that borders are still closed, as well as the fact that Houssine’s empire has so many satisfied clients who rave about their vacations at the Lamnaour families’ camps and hotels, that they are always booked thanks to word of mouth advertisements, Kalyptus Camp is one I did not even know about to include on my list of dream hotels to visit.
Houssine and his driver assured me the drive from Marrakech is no more than 40 minutes. Still, as we drove further away from the noise and chaos and excitement of the city, I wished the drive would never end.
A considerable part of the camp’s appeal, in fact, maybe the ultimate feature, is its location, perched on the edge of Lake Lalla Takerhouse. This dreamy retreat is a hidden oasis that only emerges from the winding roads that curve around the lake, past quiet valleys and villages, and sits quietly with the spectacular mountains in the background.
Kalyptus is seemingly a million miles from Marrakech, or away from anywhere, really, and the isolated location only adds to the allure of its exclusivity.
It may look like a basic tented camp from the outside, but oh, how I was fooled; Kalyptus Camp is one of the world’s most glamorous and stylish accommodations, and if you know anything about Morocco, you know that there are thousands of stunning riads and desert camps to choose from.
Mind you, it’s not the loud, brash sort of ostentatious luxe hotel some may prefer. Kalyptus Camp is more simple yet elegant.
For starters, it’s tucked away from the tourist crowds in the hip and edgy Marrakech and feels more like a (very stylish) friend’s luxury home than a typical luxury camp.
I do love many of the traditional Berber camps I have visited, camps that assault the eyes with vivid, clashing colors and textiles and lack the more refined, minimalist style many of the world’s affluent, jet-set favors.
But at Kalypso, there is just the right amount of accented modernity mingling with a more subdued décor. The rooms at Kalyptus are surprisingly plush and beautiful, with vintage lanterns, thick Berber carpets, and Moroccan art that accentuate the room, adding to its beauty but not hitting you over the head with its opulence.
There’s even a communal lounge area strewn luxuriously with pillows and handwoven rugs, as well as a dining tent lit by candelabras.
Kalyptus is unsurprisingly grandiose, with small touches everywhere that remind you that you are here to be pampered and catered to. Detailed are laced and edged in marble and adorned with brocade silk, crystal chandeliers and glassware, elegant antiques, and original artwork are everywhere. The unique color palette and design of each individual room gives the feeling that you have been transported back in time in Arabian history, that you are actually living the 1001 nights fantasy in real life.
The tents are grand and spacious, decorated with Bedouin artifacts and Arabian-style furnishings, but are unlike any tent I’ve ever seen. In fact, they feel more like mini villas, which feature private plunge pools and sundecks.
Rooms at Kalyptus boast an eclectic mix of traditional Berber décor with modern, uber-elegant furnishings. These patterned carpets invite and seduce you into walking barefoot, patterned throws and cushions handmade by local artisans.
I tried damn hard to breathe as Houssine himself personally gave me a tour. I attempted to gracefully glide from one tent to the next with a nonchalant air of blasé as if I had been born into a lap of luxury.
Until I walked into an enormous bathroom with the most gorgeous gold (or maybe 24-karat gold leaf), clawfoot stand-alone bathtub.
I wanted to cry.
I seriously felt as if I’d died and gone to heaven, as I’m sure whichever hotel awaits me there has this bathroom and this tub with my name on it. It took every bit of restraint for me to not get naked and jump into that baby right in front of The Godfather.
But I put the ghetto fabulous little girl in me aside. I sniffed haughtily, saying only, “nice,” before walking to the next, even more, breathtaking tent/ villa. ‘Cause I’m cool like that.
Everywhere you look, there are handcrafted mosaic tiles, gorgeous, elaborately carved doors, carpets to die for, velvet brocade furniture, and Venetian crystal. Okay, I have no idea if they are Venetian because the type of crystal seen here I’m guessing is far superior to anything I have ever seen, sipped, or eaten from.
Remember the scene in “Pretty Woman” when Julia Robert’s character dines in a fancy restaurant for the first time, overwhelmed with the selection of utensils and glassware, and staring confused at her escargot?
Yes, this was the type of lunch I enjoyed at Kalyptus. The kind of meal that makes you forget immediately whether or not you’ve used the right damn fork as you hesitantly take the first bite, not wanting to destroy the work of art on your plate in front of you. You can only simply exclaim, “Oh. My. God.”
I immediately and quietly placed my fork on my plate as every Miss Manners rule I had ever learned was erased from my mind. All I could think of was whether or not it would be a classy move to slip the very married chef my number in the middle of a business meeting.
No, I don’t date married men, but ladies, I can guarantee you, you have never tasted anything like the food served at Kalyptus Camp. It will make you consider leaving all your morals at the door in exchange for just one of his delicious, decadent, sinful dinners.
It was the kind of meal you may experience once in your life, on your wedding day, perhaps.
It’s no surprise that the chef, who was “gently persuaded” to come work for “The Godfather,” had spent years serving patrons at La Mamounia, Mandarin, and a few other crème de la crème restaurants that only the upper crust has been privileged enough to sample.
I guarantee you, whatever the price for one night at Kalyptus Camp (and of course, the owner did not disclose this to me), guests will get their money’s worth by one meal alone here.
Set apart by its location, sheer luxury, history, and most of all, the finest of hospitality, guests will feel more like royalty here, perhaps even than those at hotels that offer a team of 24/7personal butlers waiting to attend to your every desire.
Whatever you need, be it a freshly made juice mocktail, an elaborate meal of international or Moroccan cuisine, or an ultra-plush, white cotton robe, the discreet yet attentive butlers, chef (“stolen” away from the top hotels in Morocco), and driver will attend to your every need.
The atmosphere and design of Kalyptus will bring you to a new level of modern luxury, redefining the meaning of exceptional hospitality, which is extremely difficult to do in Morocco, which has a reputation for having a high standard of service and hospitality.
Other highlights include an oasis-like pool surrounded by rose bushes, and its location, built amid the mountains and valleys of Lake Lalla Takerkoust, Morocco, this resort is worth visiting for its stunning scenery alone.
But it is not the pure opulence and luxury that makes this the most fantastic place I have, or perhaps ever will have stayed at. I’m sure I will be invited to Dubai one day or to Bora Bora to collaborate with even more fancy, romantic hotels worldwide (thank you, God, in advance).
There is a reason I will never forget Kalyptus Camp or the man I secretly named “The Saharan Godfather.” For some hotels, luxury is a title given when it contains private balconies and cabanas overlooking tranquil gardens or set in the perfect location for viewing the sun setting over Arabian sand dunes. Many places are able to conjure a magical atmosphere for the guest, making them feel pampered and special. Houssine does this for sure, by not only selecting the most exquisite physical objects and furniture and lighting and location for his camps.
But I fell madly in love with Kalyptus Camp because of the family he created behind the super-secret walls around this “home away from home,” set apart from the stresses of the world outside. In this private community, I not only felt like a VIP pampered guest but a returning member of this family where my every whim and desire would be fulfilled. Houssine’s father may have started this business years ago. Still, the values and integrity he instilled in his son, and the expertise at providing the most excellent hospitality and service shows in every detail, every aspect of his now great Arabian empire.
I left Kalyptus Camp touched in a way most hotels have never been able to affect me. Kalyptus is not merely a luxury camp, but a place with a soul that will profoundly touch you, thanks to the staff; the Kalyptus “family.”
And of course, “The Saharan Godfather.”
It isn’t just because Houssine made sure his staff was taken care of during the devastating pandemic, a feat very few can boast of in Morocco where business owners have struggled immensely, or worse, have been completely ruined financially and had to close companies that have been in their families for decades.
I call him “The Saharan Godfather” because of the loyalty and love I witnessed from his staff. In fact, they are not employees, but he considers them his family.
During our meeting, Houssine’s workers repeatedly called, from conferences to significant decisions that urgently needed to be handled, and every single person approached him with the utmost respect and admiration. Not because he was paying them. No, this is the respect rarely given, but earned from the finest of men.
I unabashedly stared at him as he responded to each of them (apologizing to me repeatedly, although I never minded each time our meeting was prolonged) with equal respect and kindness.
As I watched him, I wondered about his beloved father, the amazing man who raised him to become the kind leader he is today. Houssine glows as he talked about his parents and his awe and admiration for his father obvious.
My favorite moment of my exciting day with this king was not enjoying the decadent meals, or imagining myself a princess as I took a hundred selfies in front of the endless roses in the garden, or when I swam in the pool with the magnificent view of the sun setting behind the mountains. No, my favorite part of the day was when one of his employees called him to share the news of his arrival and his wife’s new baby, asking Houssine to choose the name of the child.
One breathtaking night at Kalyptus Luxury camp is an absolutely enchanting desert experience that most people can only dream of.
Surrounded by fragrant flowers, stunning architectural details in the elaborately carved doors, furniture, and mosaic tiles, there is simply no setting that is more peaceful than Kalyptus Camp, the perfect location for a relaxing retreat.
Of course, many of us dream of enjoying a temporary escape from our stressful daily lives, wishing only for a night or two of comfort and luxury when we travel. But rarely are we allowed to live like royalty, a VIP guest at one of the finest luxury camps in the world. This camp exudes effortless elegance and sophistication. It is definitely worth treating yourself to a stay at one of them at least once.
Hopefully, you will get to meet “The Saharan Godfather.”