High Atlas Retreat

Heidi Kemsley on 19 October 2011
I last visited Morocco and Marrakech just 18 months ago with a group of travel agents. We were lucky enough then to spend an afternoon in the stunningly beautiful Atlas Mountains and I promised then to return.

So given a few days off Mid-October my boyfriend and I found ourselves in one of Morocco’s most beautiful mountain retreats – Kasbah Tamadot. It was bought by Sir Richard Branson approx. 10 years ago when per chance he flew over it on one of his famous Hot Air Balloon record attempts over the High Atlas Mountains. He fell in love with the Kasbah –( then the home of Italian Antique Collector Luciano Tempo) , and bought it for his mother Eve. She actively works with the local Berber people, enriching their lives by encouraging them to produce and sell their rugs, silverware and assisting them to raise goats for their special cashmere wool.

The road up to Asni in the foothills is not for the faint-hearted although I think improved on my last visit. The journey takes approx. 1 hour from Marrakech Airport and on arrival at Kasbah Tamadot you are warmly greeted by the smiling doormen and reception staff who whisked us off onto the sun-filled, garden terrace for a welcome glass of champagne. Sitting in the hot sun amongst the fragrant rosemary and jasmine filled gardens was just the most perfect way to chill after our early start that morning. The advantage of the early Gatwick flight means that you arrive in time for an Al Fresco lunch over-looking the magical pool and fragrant gardens with the most idyllic views along the green valley to Mount Toubkal – the highest peak. That afternoon was hot – around 28 degrees so following a delicious seafood lunch we chilled beside the long pool until the sun went down around 4.30pm.

We had booked their special offer – Suite Dreams which is a 4nt stay in either one of the Suites on a Full Board basis. Each antique -filled room or Suite is completely unique in design and décor. If budget allows the Tented Berber Suites are to die for, however all rooms are so special you would not be disappointed to have a lead-in Deluxe room which open onto the stunning, courtyard with reflecting pool. This pool is scattered with rose petals each day and is one of the most enchanting courtyards I have seen. Perfect during the day to read a book in the shade or in the evening when pre-dinner drinks are served poolside. Even on cold evenings one can still enjoy drinks as cedar-wood fires are lit in fire-pits around the pool and you are provided with Hooded - Berber capes which caused a lot of laughter but were cosy for an October evening.

In truth we came here to chill for a few days, however reading about the activities on offer we found ourselves meeting Mohamed – a local Berber guide. The 2nd morning we set off with a small group to trek through the foothills to a local Berber village. 2 hours later, after walking through cedar and juniper clad hillsides we descended into what I can only describe as a truly biblical scene – a verdant valley spread out in front of us, a small collection of earth-coloured houses clinging to the side of the hillside with a goat-herd heading toward us!! The smell of the cedarwood burning from the Hammam, children laughing and small goat kids calling filled the air. We were invited to take mint tea at Mohamed’s house where we met his whole family and learned that amongst his trekking guests he had previously entertained the likes of Princess Beatrice, Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela !!

Other activities are on offer such as Mule -Trekking through the walnut forests, Half and Full Day Treks, Quad-biking in the Desert, HotAir Ballooning and Horse-Riding trips through the mountains. A weekly market is a high spot in the local village of Asni on Saturday mornings. The hotel has an amazing Spa, Assounfou which offers a wonderful array of aromatherapy based treatments and in particular a Hammam Spa Experience which we both enjoyed with a traditional Rosemary Oil massage to follow.

The food, ambiance, accommodation, service is some of the best I have ever experienced anywhere in the world. I read an entry in the visitors book which describes how we felt perfectly – ' We booked for a week but could have stayed a lifetime' !