Kasbah Bab Ourika
Although it is just two years old, Kasbah Bab Ourika looks like it has always held its hilltop perch in the Atlas mountains. For one thing, it is made of the same red adobe as the surrounding Berber villages. “We relied primarily on local materials,” says owner Stephen Skinner, a Brit who also owns Ryad Edward in Marrakech. “The walls are made of mud and limestone in the traditional rammed-earth fashion, and we used palm tree trunks as ceiling beams.” The eco-minded approach extends to every detail of the hotel. Solar panels heat the water, which comes from a well (which now also supplies the nearest village, a game changer for the local community) and is recycled through the garden. The 20 guest rooms, though spacious, are simple and spare: no tv, wifi or phone, no artwork on the walls, just a comfortable bed with Egyptian cotton sheets, handwoven Berber rugs, big bathrooms with soaking tubs and views to take your breath away. The real luxury of Bab Ourika is the setting, which is unforgettable. On one side is Salt National Park, a spectacular red rock canyon (reminiscent of Utah’s Bryce Canyon), where guests can go trekking with a guide on foot or on camels or mules. Turn your gaze and the snowy Atlas mountains spread before you, with Berber villages in the foothills and a verdant creek bed below.
In the mornings, you might choose to stroll around gardens before having breakfast under a pergola covered with flowering vines, near a burbling fountain and a pool (unheated). In the evenings, fires blaze in the cozy sitting rooms and guests (many of them Brits) compare the day’s adventures over a glass of wine: hiking, camel rides, water water rafting, exploring the countryside or heading into the medina. The food is excellent and the staff (mostly Berbers) lovely and warm, although quite leisurely in pace. Dinner, much of it sourced from the kasbah’s vegetable garden, might consist of a salad with smoked duck and goat cheese, then salmon with grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes. The portions were small and the choices limited, but the flavors and freshness were memorable. Rooms from 150 Euros per night.
Who It’s Right For: For those who appreciate a rustic, low-key vibe, Bab Ourika is a serene, family-friendly oasis with a marvelous sense of authenticity. But it’s an eco resort, so you will need to forgive certain quirks: electricity (which comes from a generator) is inconsistent; the temperature of the guest rooms isn’t perfectly regulated (there’s no A/C); your shower drain might be a touch slow; the pool is chilly. You also need to be somewhat flexible regarding your meals. The menu is limited (a typical dinner would feature two choices for each course: appetizer, entrée and dessert) and if you don’t like it, you’re out of luck, as the hotel is pretty isolated and there aren’t other dining options nearby. The hotel attracts a largely British clientele, and guests often end up befriending each other during their stay.
Who It’s Wrong For: For those who want an Atlas mountain resort with five-star everything (heated infinity pool, posh suites, lots of amenities, in-room Nespresso machines, seamless experience), Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot is a better fit; however, it’s also a lot more expensive and only takes kids certain weeks of the year.
Getting There: Kasbah Bab Ourika is about a 45-minute drive from the medina in Marrakech. Parts of the drive are quite pretty. When I arrived (mid-day on a Monday), the Berber town of Tnine Ourika was holding its weekly market, and traffic proceeded at a glacial pace as we drove through town. (I enjoyed watching the action.) The last part of the drive is on a pretty rough dirt road that winds up the side of a hill. It’s not a drive I would want to do at night or in the rain.
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