Morocco’s F.O.O. Fighters
The Rabat-Tangier A-5 is a modern, four lane tollway traversing some of Morocco’s most fertile agricultural land, crossing several major rivers just before they finish their course in the nearby Atlantic, and passing beside the main coastal towns of what was once the Spanish protectorate of Morocco, namely Larache and the colourful artistic medina of Asilah. Following the tollway closely, Morocco’s first high-speed train line was inaugurated in 2018, shuttling passengers on the Al-Boraq express between Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier at around 260 km per hour, a remarkable advance forward for the North African kingdom. These achievements are no doubt to be applauded and an indicator of the huge changes underway in the country. But they also conceal rural communities stuck in another time where grinding poverty is an unfortunate reality and clandestine immigration to Europe is perceived for many as the only way out. A far cry from the glitzier metropolises of Casablanca or Marrakech with world class hotel chains, luxury vehicles, and fancy boutiques with Paris-level prices, experiencing this piece of the Moroccan countryside has the dual effect of evoking nostalgia for the country’s pastoral past while shocking the visitor into asking, what else can be done to help here?
Few people understand this conflict between modernity and history better than Yasmina Antonia Filali, who in 1994 created the Fondation Orient-Occident with headquarters in Rabat and other centres around the country. Broadly speaking, the Foundation’s aim is to provide a safe space for disenfranchised Moroccans and immigrants seeking help, with initiatives providing education, job training and coaching, pre-school for children, as well as a variety of services designed to help develop autonomy and entrepreneurship. A recent tour of their headquarters in Rabat revealed an active centre with numerous classrooms, studios where immigrants offer African dance, music lessons, an arts and crafts bazaar, and a workshop where women are engaged in a fair trade business of designing and confecting women’s apparel and accessories, among many other initiatives.
The FOO is the first and last word when speaking about the newly opened La Fiermontina Ocean, a fabulous luxury property in the north built by Yasmina and her brother. Set along the coast outside Larache, the exclusive La Fiermontina Ocean offers the visitor access to one of the most isolated stretches of pristine beach I’ve come across in Morocco, as well as the chance to experience local village life in one of the four self-catered bungalows they’ve erected in the nearby village of Dcheir, complete with a traditional hammam and café. The main property consists of twelve Suites of 1 or 2 bedrooms and two 3-bedroom villas, set up high on the hills all of which have private infinity pools and sweeping views of the Atlantic. On my recent stay (the hotel opens officially this month), we enjoyed beach time without seeing anyone other than a few local fishermen in any direction, dinners with wonderful ocean views from their restaurant, dips in our private infinity pool, and beautiful hillside walks.
Yasmina is clear however that without the social development side of the FOO, La Fiermontina Ocean would not exist. “I wanted to create something that would serve the village, not the other way around,” she states. The land access is through old growth cork forests and the villages of Dcheir and Mzgalef, and the Filalis quickly realized that they could help improve the villagers lives by creating a FOO outpost here and addressing the immediate needs for running water, electricity and sanitation. Through the FOO, the hotel is providing job training, employment, and rural development projects, having recently completed a new school and restoration of the village mosque. The housekeeping team are from the village and Yasmina encourages everyone to experience a traditional breakfast or lunch at least once over their stay in the women’s homes. Offering hospitality to strangers is a badge of pride for Moroccans, and the experience is designed in such a way that, according to Filali, “we’re not just employing the ladies from the village. By having them host guests in their home, they’re doing so with dignity.”
Fiermontina Ocean is the sibling’s third instalment of a collection of hotel projects in Lecce, Italy and Paris, which pays tribute to their maternal Italian grandmother, Antonia Fiermonte, a woman with a life story so intriguing it’s pure Hollywood film material. A stay here is ideal not only for a deeper dive into the Northern enclaves of Tangier, Asilah or Chefchaouen, but would make an amazing tucked away beach vacation on its own, easily accessible from Spain and a complete contrast to the crowded beaches of the Costa del Sol.
Luxury accommodations, beautiful surroundings and amazing cuisine are all trappings of refined travel and things to be sought after and appreciated. But too often these things come at the expense, rather than the betterment, of the local communities where these projects are located. La Fiermontina Ocean aims to leave their surrounding communities better off than they were before and asks for their guests to participate in that effort, and for that, they deserve our praise and support.