We had planned a trip to the Anima Garden by Andre Heller for our last full day in Marrakech. A close friend of mine had highly recommended a visit to these new gardens while we were in town. I had checked their website, for directions, as the Anima Garden is located about 30 minutes from the centre of Marrakech, towards the Atlas Mountains in the Ourika valley. They offered a free shuttle bus, three times daily in winter, four times in the summer. The bus pick up point was directly next to the Koutoubia Mosque near Jemaa El-Fna, right in the heart of the Medina.
We took our hotel bus into town and still had some time to spare, before the bus to the Anima Garden would leave at 11:30. We had been to a cute little Café Kif Kif opposite the Mosque a few times before and sat on their roof terrace, playing cards and drinking hot mint tea, while enjoying the warm sun.
We made sure to be at the pick up location, which is right next to the Koutoubia Mosque’s car park with plenty of time. Just as well, as we discovered, despite booking seats online for the free shuttle bus, there were already plenty of people waiting. Once the bus arrived we realised that we would not all be able to board. We were lucky and got seats, others were less fortunate and had to wait for another driver to come back and collect them. I am sure that this problem will eventually be sorted as the Anima Garden has only been opened for a few months and they have not quite worked out how many people are likely to visit each day. It was also still holidays everywhere and there were more tourists around than at other times of the year.
The bus took us past the Medina’s walls, through the outskirts of Marrakech. We could see school children having a break outside their school, locals going about their daily jobs and lots of big hotel complexes. The closer we got to Anima Garden the less populated and bare the landscape was. The Atlas Mountains topped with snow appeared larger and more impressive with every kilometre passed. At some point we turned off the main road, down a dirt track, through pine trees and scrubland. Shortly afterwards we could see the entrance gate to the Anima (means soul) Garden by Andre Heller, also named Le Retour Du Paradis (Return to Paradise).
You might not have come across Andre Heller before, but he is a well-known personality in German speaking countries. He was born in Austria and has many talents, including being an author, singer, songwriter, actor and artist. We could see his creativity and interest in art throughout our visit in the Anima Garden. The garden was once a large empty desert plot, before he and his partner took it on to make it their dream garden in 2006. The story of the garden is shown in pictures near the entrance.
We could not believe our eyes that this lush, green paradise was created in such a short period of time. We almost thought we saw a fata morgana. My friend had told me to just immerse our selves into the garden and drift along its paths. There was no pre-planned route and we took my friends advice and turned which ever way we fancied. We passed artworks by unknown artists, whose pieces of art suggested that they are from the African continent or have been influenced by it. Some of the artworks were very recognisably from famous artists, and it was really incredible to see them outside in such beautiful surroundings.
We saw a sculpture by Keith Haring, one of the original twelve thinkers by Rodin and one of Jerome’s favourite’s which I called “The Eyes” by American pop-art artist Andy Warhol. I could imagine children would love to run along the paths to discover what lies around the next corner or plant. There were so many little things to spot and discover, most of it colourful and appealing, even to children’s eyes.
The garden itself changed vegetation every now and then, from the mesmerising sunken garden; Andre Heller’s own take on of a traditional Moroccan garden, with colourful and mirrored mosaics and a black marble fountain in the centre, to a rose garden with a red pavilion, a cacti garden and bamboo grove…
It was an absolute pleasure to walk around not knowing what lay hidden around the next corner. The influence of Morocco was ever present, not only by the giant striped cones that reminded us of the spice markets. We climbed a little hill with a Berber tent; from there we had an amazing view towards the Atlas Mountains. There was also a little pond, which Jerome loved to cross on the bridge, reminding us of our visits to Japanese gardens.
There was so much to be discovered and seen but we also needed to take a break and eat some lunch. We found some seats at in the warm sunshine on the terrace of Café Paul Bowles, while Chris went to order some fresh juice, salad and pizza. The food and drinks were very reasonably priced, unlike other similar places where they would charge over the top. The food took a while to arrive, but it was freshly prepared for us. The café is housed in a building with brightly coloured stripes, I especially liked the holes in its ceiling over the walkway, where we could see flowering branches of bougainvillea hanging down. Next to the café on either side were two exhibition rooms, one filled with local artworks in honour of one of Andre Heller’s late friends, the other with photographs of upcoming artists.
We still had time before we needed to head for our return bus and strolled back into the garden. Jerome stood under the African mask, which was spying mist every few seconds, but decided in the end that it was too cold to get too wet. I could imagine that this giant mask would be a favourite of many, especially children, during the hot summer months. I really enjoyed the collection of Zodiac signs, they reminded me of Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition at Somerset House in London, and the mirrored Glasshouse. We all agreed that the giant ship laden with animals, a modern day Noah’s Arch, was depicting the crisis of refugees and provoked us and hopefully others about the political situation at the moment.
Sadly it was time for us to leave this piece of paradise behind and to head back into the mayhem of Marrakech. Again we were lucky to get seats on the bus, while others had to wait for the second run. Back in town we still had some time to kill before our shuttle bus to the hotel arrived. We went back to Café Kif Kif, where we got seats on the first floor as it was already starting to get a cooler and the sun had set.
We can definitely recommend the detour out of town to visit the Anima Gardens during a stay in Marrakech. I am sure once the garden is listed in all the guide books it might become as crowded as Le Jardin Majorelle, so catch it while it is still a calm and peaceful piece of paradise.