Essaouira, Morocco: Organic Beauty for Women, One Nut at a Time

Goats Climbing An Argan Tree, Morocco

Argan… doesn’t the name remind you of a dark roguish beard from Lord of the Rings? In reality, it’s a tree that only grows in Southwestern Morocco, an equally tempting image (for a botanist). So what makes the argan tree so special? They say, “It’s nuts.” No, really. It’s nuts… and the oil extracted from them. Deemed ‘liquid gold’ by locals and international beauty addicts, it’s organic, naturally rich in vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants said to help heal skin conditions including wrinkles, acne, and dry skin. Women of Morocco have used it for generations to combat the dry desert air and reduce the signs of aging. Now, in the West, it’s slowly developing a very devoted following due to the extraordinary results it delivers.

By law, the Berber women are the only ones permitted to extract the argan oil, a labor intensive process that can take up to a day to produce a single liter of oil. In 1999, Morocco’s argan forest was designated a Unesco International Biosphere Reserve, but the argan trees still disappeared in large numbers, often used for fire wood, despite preservation. As a result, the women’s argan cooperatives were developed by the government to provide economic opportunity for the Berber women. These cooperatives now offer one of the only roads to financial and social independence.

In addition to providing the means to earn a living, many of the argan cooperatives also offer literacy and women’s rights programs, as well as work training and life skills programs. These simple skills provide a level of independence they ordinarily wouldn’t have, not to mention as increased sense of pride and self-esteem. We love the idea of sustainability, independence, and liquid gold. So get thee to Morocco! And ride a wave while you’re at it.
Essaouira, Morocco

From Marrakesh to Essaouira, you’ll find a majority of the women’s cooperatives. Through sandy roads you’ll pass rolling yellow hills, olive groves, sheep, and the occasional donkey or two (or three), signs will announce cooperatives like the Argan Co-Op, Women’s Argan Collective, and Miracle Oil. Visitors can stop in and have a demonstration of how argan oil is made while they taste the culinary argan oil and amlou – a concoction made with argan oil and honey – served with bread. Most of these have shops onsite where people can buy locally produced argan products. There’s also some rock star lore… people like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens came here for a good dose of Moroccan hippy-style inspiration.

These days, Euros come for the fact that Essaouira is know as one of the top spots in the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding. To reach Essaouira, all you need to do is fly into Marrakesh. Rent a car at the airport; Avis ( and Sixt ( both have offices. The drive takes about two and a half hours and is well marked.

Which brings us to Kahina and Giving Beauty, the new line of argan-based skin care founded by socially conscious entrepreneur Katharine L’Heureux. Named after a Jewish Berber queen (700AD) who successfully resisted the first Arab invaders, Kahina is a heroine to the Berber women and represents empowerment for women worldwide. Sourcing key ingredients from Moroccan argan oil cooperatives, L’Heureux not only buys their ingredients, but spends valuable time with the women, donating 25% of the profits from the sales of the skincare back to the women of the argan cooperatives who work to provide the raw materials for the Giving Beauty products.
Kahina and companies like hers also help preserve the forest by creating an economic incentive for the locals to protect the forests. Formulated with organic ingredients and manufactured in an eco-friendly, carbon neutral facility with recyclable materials, Kahina’s packaging is designed with a compilation of signatures by the Berber women that Katharine has met during visits to the cooperative. Most of them are just learning to sign their own names so their signatures also hold a great deal of meaning for them. Here are just a few of their uplifting stories, told by Katherine L’Heureux.

Aarbia Amzil
Aarbia’s personality is as colorful as the clothes she is wearing–multiple layers of yellow and red. She claims to be 70, but doesn’t know her age exactly. With no children of her own, Aarbia finds comfort in the company of the women of the cooperative. When I ask her how the cooperative has changed her life, she says, “Thanks to the co-op, I have gone from having nothing to having everything.”

Fatima Achkich is a pretty woman who often appears to be containing a smile or laugh. Fatima, who has two children she is raising on her own, has worked at the cooperative for 9 years. When I ask about her life, she tells me that she is happy, and that she especially enjoys the companionship of the other women she works with. In the positive manner she shares with all the women, she says, “Thanks to my work at the cooperative, I am able to afford all I need to live.”

Essaouria’s Hotels

L’Heure Bleue

Essaouira’s first luxury hotel. It even has a heated pool!

2, rue lbn Batouta
Rates @ $400/night

Villa Maroc
This is the oldest hotel in the city and offers spa treatments with the aforementioned liquid gold… argan oil.
10, rue Abdellah Ben Yassine
Rates from $120/night

Essaouira Dining

Try the fish stalls around the sea for lunch. It’s fresh and you can’t miss fresh fish.

After Five for fusion food using local ingredients
5, rue Youssef El Fassi

To purchase Kahina, Giving Beauty’s kick-ass products made with argan oil:
Retails from $15-$72.

Travel-Sized Skincare Set: KaplanMD

Finding the right travel-sized face products isn’t easy, we should know. We have sensitive skin that goes nuts during our international travels. One minute we’re dry, the next minute, we’re oily. So, as we ready for our summer jaunt to the Middle East (and attempt to cram all of our face products into one bag), we came across Beverly Hills Dermatologist, Dr. Stuart Kaplan, M.D. who has created the kaplanMD Travel Kit for times just like this. The kaplanMD Travel Kit contains all the products in the kaplanMD skincare collection in smaller sizes. You have his gentle Cleansing Lotion, Revitalizing Toner, Day Cream SPF 15, Replenishing Night Cream, and Perfecting Serum. The products can last anywhere from 2-3 weeks and won’t irritate your skin like those cheap over-the-counter products.

In short, we give it two cheekbones and a clear chin’s up.

Retails for $75

Honolulu, Oahu: The Best Boutique Hotel in Waikiki

When most of us think of Waikiki, we think of Japanese tourists in matching Bermudas, Reyn Spooner shirts, and that big old statue of Duke. Though not much has changed in Waikiki since the 70’s, it’s one place everyone needs to see at least once in their lives. Far from the relatively tranquil atmosphere of Maui or Kauai, it carries an interesting edge that surprised me. That said, I journeyed around the place to find the best boutique hotel close to all the action, but far enough away from throngs of tourists or bad ‘stuck-in-the-popcorn-ceiling past’ design. That’s when I came upon a little gem called… Hotel Renew.
Priding itself on high design and personalized service, the staff not only helped me navigate a bus route, but they even offered to walk me there. The property, the first designer boutique hotel on Oahu, was designed by Jiun Ho who has certainly created a casually elegant oasis of tranquility – think a more quiet, peaceful W property – a calm contrast to the energy of Waikiki. Of the 72-room hotel with Japanese touches, all rooms offer luxurious, contemporarty amenities like feather beds, bathrobes, eco-friendly bottled water, in-room refrigerators, oversized beach towels, state-of-the-art in-room technology, including complimentary wireless throughout the hotel (we love that!), 80″ inch projection televisions, flat screen HDTVs, dimmable lighting, and iPod docking capabilities.

With close proximity to Diamond Head, Oahu’s most photographed landmark, and just steps from Waikiki Beach, Hotel Renew is poised to become one of Oahu’s most treasured boutique hotel.
This summer, they’re also offering the Sun & Fun package including: a deluxe guestroom, a convertible car or Jeep from Enterprise, an organic Hotel Renew beach bag, a pair of Hotel Renew flip flops, complimentary use of beach gear (based on availability), complimentary continental breakfast each morning, and a complimentary cocktail each evening.

Rates @ $179/night
Sun & Fun Package starts at $199/night

For those visiting Honolulu, we also wanted to mention a few other great things to do. While strolling the streets near the hotel, we came upon an adorable two-in-one vegetarian restaurant called “Ruffage.” During the day, it serves healthy veggie fare, while at night, the space turns into a reasonably priced (and delicious) sushi joint called “Morio’s.”

2443 Kuhio Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 922-2042
(c) Kathleen Walling Fry

Bar 35 is another two-in-one restaurant/bar that does some amazing beer tastings on Wednesdays where a professional brewer (the owner/founder of Hawaii Nui Beers) walks you through each beer, as well as the brewing process. It’s one of the latest hot spots in the newly energized Downtown-Chinatown area.

Bar 35
35 N Hotel St
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 537-3535
Featuring indoor and patio bars, happy hour, DJs and live bands, Bar 35 also has something else sure to please… a pizza place inside the bar, owned and operated by Chef Valentini. His handmade gourmet pizzas are seriously some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Don’t miss the ‘Sweet Bangkok’ with Chinese Sausage, Sweet Chili Sauce, Cilantro, Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella Cheese and the ‘French Kiss’ with French Brie Cheese, Cooked Ham, Fresh Pesto Sauce, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella Cheese and Fresh Basil. From Bar 35, there are a number of great spots like Indigo with it’s outdoor tiki bar feel and The Loft where DJ’s spin wild music and locals (and a few in-the-know vacationers) eye each other in between moves.

If you’re looking for more nightspots to enjoy, check out this link:

Our Favorite Honolulu Nightclubs

Virgin Atlantic: Le Tourment Vert!

Either that’s one hot green fairy or I’ve had one too many absinthe cocktails aboard my Virgin America flight. Check this out! Authentic French absinthe Le Tourment Vert announced its partnership with Virgin America as it becomes the first airline to serve absinthe cocktails in the sky.

We think there’s no better place to ride high, don’t you? Le Tourment Vert, imported from Cognac, France, is a real treat, hand-crafted in small batches by master distiller Bruno Delannoy, and made with anise, fennel, grand wormwood (artemisia absinthium) and aromatic herbs including rosemary, eucalyptus and sage. As a tribute to this fine elixir, on May 1st, 2009, Virgin America began serving Le Tourment Vert cocktails complimentary in the airline’s First Class and Main Cabin Select and available for purchase in the Main Cabin.

Tres chic.

“Virgin America is reinventing the typical flight experience… and the addition of Le Tourment Vert absinthe is sure to be a hit with our discriminating guests,” says Porter Gale, VP of Marketing Virgin Atlantic. We are so discriminating, Porter, particularly when it comes to our alcohol.

Launched in August 2007, Virgin America, in just over a year flying, was named “Best Domestic Airline” in the Condé Nast Traveler 2008 Readers’ Choice Awards and “Best Domestic Airline” in Travel + Leisure’s 2008 World’s Best Awards. No surprise when you’ve got hottie Branson at the helm. The inaugural absinthe journey featured the “Mile High Cocktail,” made with Le Tourment Vert, Sprite and a lemon wedge.

So we say, “Get green with absinthe, not envy.”