Taking a detour to the High Atlas and Kasbah du Toubkal means arriving to a place where warmth, smiles and a beautiful natural setting make it much more than a simple guest house; Kasbah du Toubkal is a place where time seems to stop.
Our adventure starts at Menara airport in Marrakech.
After a turbulent negotiation for the taxi price, the car rapidly toils up dusty roads and leaves behind us the chaos of the city.
Along the road we spot isolated groups of houses and locals who inevitably protrude to see who’s behind the car window. Our driver is quiet, but he must have a real passion for a compilation of arabic music which we listen repeatedly, the scarf covering our nose and mouth to try and not breath all the dust coming from the window.
Only four hours ago we were at Milan airport, and now I feel I’m on another planet.
It’s about 65 km to Imlil, a Berber village perched on the slopes of Jbel Toubkal, North Africa highest mountain (4167m), which seems to look at you from up there, the peak whitened by some perennial snow.
The taxi finally drops us off and we walk to the Kasbah office in the village.
“Just wait one minute, I’m going to call the mule” says the receptionist after asking for our name.
Quickly enough one man arrives and takes our two suitcases (luckily they are small!) places them in the bags on the mule’s back, fastening them with a rope.
From here it’s a fifteen minute uphill walk to the majestic door of the walled Kasbah du Toubkal. Now I understand why berbers call the mules “the 4×4 of the High Atlas”: while walking up we met many locals, each with his own mule carrying a multitude of differerent things.
Hassan, who has worked here since everything started, opens the door, with a wide smile on his face and welcomes us inside.
I look around and I instantly feel home.
Kasbah du Toubkal was home to a local baron, then after being abandoned for decades in 1995 was restored with a particular attention to respect the traditional methods by Mike Mc Hugoe, founder of Discover Ltd.
The kasbah is an oasis in the middle of the mountains, with flowers, and green, and animals roaming around: a feeling of relaxation and peace pervades the area.
I have a tip for you: if you want an incredible view over the Kasbah and the valley, go up the tower near the entrance.
I must admit that before researching Moroccan destinations I had no idea that Morocco actually had mountains this tall, but they are so impressive that Martin Scorsese chose the Kasbah du Toubkal and its natural surroundings to film Kundun …. and you thought that was Tibet!
Life is slow in Imlil: often a refugee for people looking to hike around or ascend Jbel Toubkal, after a few hours the sense of relaxation is overwhelming. You don’t look at the clock anymore, the hours are marked by the muezzin chant, which echoes in the valley with a sweet and melodious sound. Birds fly at high speed in the clear sky, and time seems to stop.
Hassan welcomes us by washing our hands with rose water, an ancient ritual, and offers us some dates sopped up in milk, which is the traditional berber source of energy (highly needed after the trip!); this is followed by our first of many cups of hot and delicious mint tea.
After a restoring break we are brought to our room, in our case a Deluxe Room, which strikes me right away with its feel of warmth and authenticity, the walls and interiors decorated with local crafts.
The prices for the private rooms are not for the low-budget kind of traveller (although they have beautiful Berber style dorms if you are looking to spend a little less), but this doesn’t mean you should expect luxury, canopy beds and personal butlers: your stay at Kasbah du Toubkal is not about that, yet it is totally worth it.
We all know indeed that it’s the little details that make a place unique: the rooms, the terrasse and the exteriors are uniquely and thoughtfully decorated, and each little detail makes the place as special as it is.
Think like Berber clothes, leather slippers and wool ponchos at your disposal in the room, oranges, fresh fuit, and some other special touches like the ones below.
The bathroom has the same warm feeling, and I love the fact that the toiletries are not your usual ones: here you find henne (used for dyeing the hair and decorating the skin), gassoul (a moroccan black soap), and argan soap (next time I’ll go to Morocco I’ll have to remember to bring something bigger than my hand luggage so that I can bring tons of argan soap home!).
It’s a perfect day to have lunch in the terrasse: the sun is bright and shiny, and the view…oh boy! It”s almost moving to dine in front of such a dramamatic view over the surrounding wide valleys and the mountain range.
I choose a mix of fresh tomatoes, olives, eggs and juicy oranges as a starter, followed by meat skewers and rice; Daniela on her part seems to be in heaven when she’s told that at Kasbah they have vegetarian options as well (it seems not to be too common in other parts of Morocco).
You really can’t leave this place without experiencing the hammam, especially since it’s free for guests to use it, you just need to reserve your spot at the reception. Having said that, right before dinner Daniela and I decided it was our turn to try it.
The process of the hammam is pretty easy once you get the hang of it: you enter a steamy room, scrub yourself with the black soap and a rough glove, then you mix in a bucket hot (and with hot I mean HOT!!, now you are warned) and freezing cold water, and you use this mix to rinse the soap off.
…then you are gonna tell me if your skin isn’t as soft as a baby’s!
When the sun goes down it gets quite chilly in Imlil, so make sure you bring a warm sweater; if not, being cold is always a good excuse to snuggle with your love in front of the fireplace in the common room!
As for romance, can it get more romantic than a candlelight dinner? Next time I’ll have to bring my boyfriend!
I definitely can’t complain about the food at the Kasbah: everything we tried in our two days stay was delicious! Tagine, couscous, soup and veggies… oh let’s stop it! Each plate is savoury and made with fresh, genuine ingredients. Mouthwatering.
WHY I CHOSE KASBAH DU TOUBKAL: SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Kasbah du Toubkal has won multiple awards for its Corporate Social Responsibility and the attention to respecting the environment and local communities.
The Kasbah adds to the clients’ bill a five percent levy: this funds the Association Bassins d’Imlil which works in the area to make the local communities’ life easier, for example by creating a rubbish clearence system and providing an ambulance.
The levy also funds Education for All, a charitable association which provides education in boarding schools to girls from the rural High Atlas, which otherwise would have no means to geeting educated.
All of the staff employed at Kasbah du Toubkal are locals coming from Imlil or the surrounding villages.
If you want to know more about the story and the project of the Kasbah I highly recommend dowloading and reading the Reasonable Plans booklet.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT KASBAH DU TOUBKAL
Truthfully, nothing – I loved every single minute of my stay.
The Kasbah is a truly special place, and it’s in one of the most beautiful and untouched locations I’ve ever been.
The info box
Kasbah du Toubkal is located in the heart of Toubkal National Park, about 65 km from Marrakach. To get here you can either arrange transportation with the Kasbah, or you can take a grand taxi in Marrakech (we took it directly outside the airport). The right price to haggle for is 250-300 dirhams (we got a little ripped off at the airport so make sure you tell the driver you’re not going to pay more than that!).
Rates for a private room start at 160 euros per night, which includes breakfast. Access to the hammam is free, as well as an introductory trekking to the surrounding villages with a local guide (I will tell you more about that in another post).
For more infos on the Berber dorm style rooms, contact the structure. Kasbah du Toubkal and Discover Ltd. also organize trekking trips and Jbel Toubkal treks.
Have you been to some place so special that you felt in another world? Tell me about it!
I was a guest of Discover Ltd. and Kasbah du Toubkal. All the opinions expressed are my own, as always.