When I first moved to Rabat, I heard whisperings that there was a “pottery village” across the river in Salé and I was intrigued. When I finally checked out Oulja Pottery Village, or as I call it Oulja Artisan Village (because it’s more than pottery), I was gobsmacked. There exists a peaceful complex filled with gorgeous and affordable things and there is zero pressure to buy anything (which is probably not how you’d normally think of shopping in Morocco). But you will want to buy everything.
You just stroll the aisles and pop into shops spilling over with gorgeous hand painted plates, platters, and cups, woven baskets, wicker and rattan furniture, tiled tables, and more. And perhaps the best part: The prices range from “Holy crap this is the deal of a lifetime” to “Now that right there is a good price.” Do you know how many times I utter “Do you have any idea what this would cost at Anthropologie?” each time I’m at Oulja? The answer is “a lot” and because I’m usually there by myself, it falls on ears that are probably like “What the hell is Anthropologie?”
Oulja is a jewel in Morocco’s abundantly bedazzled crown. If you’re a tourist with a penchant for affordable and fabulous Moroccan home goods, you should pencil Rabat into your Morocco itinerary. Rabat may not have the biggest selection of home goods (that distinction would go to Marrakech, followed by Fez), but it’s where you’ll get the best deals, and there will be much more on that in a future post on shopping in Rabat.
But for now, Oulja. You really just need to know where this place is. Here’s a link for Google Maps, and it comes up on Waze as “Complexe des potiers Oulja” and “Oulja Poterie Salé.” (There’s a Moroccan town call Oujda. Don’t accidentally go there). A store-by-store guide to this paradise is not really needed. It’s not terribly big, and it’s not intimidating. You could go into every single shop if you spent about two or three hours here.
The pottery section of Oulja hugs the parking lots. On the street-facing side are things like large clay pots in every color that would look amazing on a big balcony or in a yard.
In the pottery section there are also probably 10 stores that sell plates, platters, vases, cups, and all sorts of cool pottery gadgets like a soup tourine that perfectly fits eight small hand-painted bowls, or little stackable “nut bowls.”
The real standout for me amongst the pottery shops is Pottery Slawi, which is in a white stucco building with a pink door and awning and has this little sign affixed to the wall outside.
Mustafa’s selection of hand-painted pottery is drool-worthy, his shop is packed to the brim. You’ll have a seriously hard time deciding which platters and huge serving bowls to buy and you’ll be aghast at the prices. Like they’re much lower than they should be, and I don’t say that too often. Mustafa doesn’t speak English or much French, so unless you’re a Darija pro, you’ll only be communicating in ecstatic expressions, like I do. But it works! (Tip: If you’re trying to bring home pottery, pack it in your carry-on if you can, not in your checked bag. Less likely to break).
Further back in the complex are a few zellige shops, where you can order customized tables and fountains with that gorgeous geometric mosaic Moroccan tile. They ship!
Then you hit a few furniture places that specialize in outdoor wicker and rattan furniture. I just brought home this set for my balcony and no one is enjoying it more than Boj.
There are a number of stores that make wooden furniture to order, mostly made of cedar, juniper, or a local evergreen tree called thuya. I do wish they had a little more variety on display, but plenty of people from the Embassy community have gone with West Elm print-outs in hand and have had custom armoires, benches, desks, and tables made-to-order for a fraction of what they’d cost in a fancy furniture store. Why I haven’t yet done this is beyond me. Among the U.S. Embassy set, the most popular custom item from Oulja is an expandable, hand-carved wooden bar, made of juniper wood, which I think is pretty cute because gin comes from juniper berries, so it’s sort of spot-on.
There are a few basket stores further in that sell amazing hand-woven laundry baskets, storage baskets, hanging baskets, picnic baskets, wall-hanging baskets, and purses. It smells incredible and while the prices here tend to be a tad higher than I’d like, you can bargain them down a bit, especially if you buy in bulk.
There are a few larger stores in Oulja that occupy entire free-standing buildings. One specializes in metalworking – this is where you go if you want giant funky lawn sculptures or a custom swing set.
The largest store in in the artisan village is Dar Al Assala, which filled with custom Moroccan lanterns and lamps. This store is enormous, and in the back there’s a bunch of African and Middle Eastern antiques, like the world’s heaviest and gaudiest Knights of King Arthur-style table that costs something like $30k. Maybe avoid that section, but do check out the lamps, which are nicely made and probably cheaper than what you could get in Fes, which is where most of this style of lamps are made.
Upstairs in Dar Al Assala is Oulja Artisan Village’s only carpet shop. This is a good place to get your introduction to Moroccan rugs because you’ll probably be the only person there and the selection is large. Don’t say no to the offered tea, pop a squat atop some folding carpets, and ask to see a few different styles if you’re not sure what you like. Najib is usually the guy working when we’re in there, and his English is good. As you may know, there are not really any set prices for carpets: It’s all about what you’re willing to pay and what the rug seller thinks you’re willing to pay. You’ll get overwhelmed with the selection, but I’d recommend choosing the one that made you gasp when you saw it, because that’s the one you truly love. (You usually see that one early on in the process of seeing dozens and dozens of rugs). More rug shopping tips in the future…
In conclusion: Get thee to Oulja Artisan Village. It’s a mystery to me why tour buses don’t just drop their passengers off here for an afternoon. Oh, a few other tips: Bring plenty of cash because most stores (besides the carpet store) don’t take cards, and the ATM in the complex never seems to work. There’s one cafe under construction on the complex that has bathrooms. It looks very cute – hanging chandeliers, cute tile floors, so I hope it opens real soon.