Atlas Mountains

atlas mountains [kasbah bab ourika].

[atlas mountains soundtrack. slow it down]

Less than 45 minutes from Marrakesh, in the foot of the Atlas Mountains, lies this incredible mountain Kasbah. Perched majestically on a hill, overlooking the Ourika Valley and beyond, the Kasbah commands breathtaking views - quite possibly one of the most spectacular settings of any hotel we have visited so far.

In a former life, owner Stephen Skinner was a barrister in the UK. Stephen traveled to Morocco for the first time in 1998, and this is where his love affair with this country began. He bought (and renovated) a beautiful riad in Marrakesh (Riad Edward). And then in 2004, bought the land here. Taking 5 years to build, the Kasbah opened to the public in 2009 (in the heart of the recession). Stephen’s brief for designer Romain Michel-Meniere at the time was to create a simple, Berber-style oasis.

Bab Ourika extends well beyond a simple oasis, this heavenly retreat is at once not only stylish but also eco-friendly. Made from rammed earth – a traditional Berber building technique – the Kasbah has admirable eco-credentials and sustainability practices. Thick walls provide environmentally sound insulation so air-conditioning is unnecessary, hot water (and underfloor heating) supply is heated by solar panels, there is a water recycling system, and there is also a programme in place to generate its own electricity and to assist the local community with projects funded by the hotel for the benefit of local Berber schools and villages.

Sourcing most of the furnishings locally, designer Romani Michel-Meniere paired natural earthy tones with Berber textiles. The Moroccan influence both lovely, and subtle. We love the hand-made leather chairs (made by local craftsmen), rugs and lanterns.

The Kasbah has 15 rooms in the main building and 6 suites, with incredibly comfortable beds, and fine linens. Most rooms have private terraces as well. At the time of our visit, Stephen was putting the finishing touches on a new pool suite, which once revealed, will be beyond amazing. To the left of the most magnificent herb and veggie garden we have ever seen, this beautiful new suite will have a large terrace and infinity pool, with sweeping views of the entire valley. It is so beautiful here.

We fell in love with the completely mesmerizing 360 degrees views of the Atlas Mountains and the Ourika Valley, the endless sunshine, the changing colors throughout the day, the lush and shady terraces and hidden alcoves. In winter, you can cosy up by the fire in one of the many common living areas.

The restaurant and the service found here are both outstanding. Rashid, our porter, gets a special mention for his kind, sweet smile and warm hospitality. Despite neither of us speaking the same language, we were able to communicate easily over my two day visit and Rashid helped me find friendly hiking paths and gave directions into the nearby villages.

This is a breathtakingly beautiful retreat, and easy to see why it was named one of the Fodders Top One Hundred Hotels of the World in 2011. We cant wait to return.

To eat.

The in-house restaurant serves locally sources food, as well as seasonal finds from their very own (and very impressive) herb and vegetable garden. Traditional Berber recipes, with a more modern twist. Meals can be served in the garden or in the beautiful colonnaded indoor restaurant. Our beef tagine with peas was served with homemade Berber bread and local Moroccan wine. For breakfast, enjoy eggs anyway (try their Berber omelette), fruit salad, yoghurt, granola, and fresh bread. The coffee is good as well.

To do.

Lounge by the lovely secluded pool.

Hang out in the garden – find a shady spot under the trees – read, relax, play cards, nap.

Explore nearby Berber villages, and be sure to visit the local Monday Berber market at nearby Trine Ourika.

Hike, trek, ski or ride in the nearby mountains.

And visit Bab Ourika’s sister properties…

In Marrakesh…Riad Edward  // In Skoura…Dar Faracha (House of the Butterflies). A beautiful private house with 3 bedrooms. Can be rented with a maid/cook, or without.