Morocco : Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains are the biggest mountain range in North Africa and run east to west along the backbone of Morocco. It is a beautiful destination for active visitors keen to trek, mountain bike or horse-ride, though it can be equally enjoyed from a more gentle perspective. Of the three separate mountain ranges, the most popular destination is the High Atlas. Running along the central part of the country, it is the highest mountain range in Morocco, with peaks reaching 4167 metres, and is home to some of the most beautiful valleys and mountain passes as well as the Dades and Todra gorges. The ascent of the neighbouring Jbel Toubkal (4,167 metres), North Africa's highest mountain, is achievable during the summer months without specialist climbing skills. Most people who are reasonably fit and determined can achieve this goal and the views are magnificent - on a clear day you can see the Sahara.
The Middle Atlas in the north has endless rolling hills and thick forests which could easily be mistaken for areas of southern Europe, where you can walk through thick cedar forests, see Barbary apes, impressive waterfalls and climb Joubal Bou Iblane as well as other peaks. If you really want to explore, the Anti Atlas, the most southern range before the Sahara desert, is off the main tourist trail and is for more intrepid trekkers as guides and local knowledge are difficult to come by. We can organise treks in the Atlas Mountains for overnight or over a week with expert local guides and mules to carry your luggage. Overnight accommodation is simple and comfortable, with hearty local meals and it gives you a really authentic mountain and cultural experience.
Bab Ourika is a luxury hilltop Kasbah in the pretty Ourika Valley, just 45 minutes from Marrakech. Set in colourful gardens, the Kasbah enjoys majestic 360 degree views of the Atlas Mountains and the Ourika Valley below with its traditional Berber villages. The Kasbah is personally run by its owner and it has a great eco ethos. The building is constructed principally from rammed earth, the traditional Berber building technique, and has solar panels providing hot water and the under floor heating, and most of the food comes from the local villages. There are 15 bedrooms, all individually decorated with natural materials and muted colours, and with fantastic views. Some rooms have fireplaces and private terraces. Meals are served in the gardens or in the colonnaded restaurant, a mix of excellent traditional Berber recipes and international dishes using principally local ingredients. The Kasbah is ideally situated for hiking, trekking, biking, rafting, and horse-riding or even skiing nearby in the Atlas Mountains.
“First-class welcome from the manager, wonderful local walks and people, and very well kept gardens.”
Edward and Jane, Balquhidder
Kasbah du Toubkal is above the village of Imlil in the High Atlas, and is one of the most famous places to stay in the region. A brilliant joint project between a Brit and the local Berber chieftain, it is a warm and welcoming retreat in a beautiful setting overlooking mountains, villages and waterfalls. Once the home of a feudal caid, it has 12 bedrooms spread around the walls and gardens, and a variety of terraces, salons and cosy corners to enjoy the views and a good book. Stairs lead to the large flat roof where you can sleep under the stars in warmer weather and enjoy the spectacular views. There is electricity, plenty of hot water, big baths and a hammam. The food (set menu) is hearty and very good, served on low tables in the cosy communal dining area. From here you can go on short, full-day and overnight treks, mountain bike and pony trek. The longer treks are supported by local guides and mules to carry your luggage, and you stay in local Berber houses or mountain huts.
"Amazing views and loved the trek. The dinner menu is just one choice but they were happy to cook an alternative if you asked."
Rosie and Peter, London
"Nothing was too much trouble for the staff at this outstanding place."
George and Sheila, Stirling
Douar Samra is a charming Berber-style guest house in the village above Imlil, filled with the warmth and vitality of its owner, Swiss artist Jacqueline Brandt. Jacqueline re-built the douar (house) with the help of the local villagers, using traditional building methods and filling the interiors with a mass of colourful Berber cushions and blankets. It is run day-to-day by a local Berber lady, who cooks traditional meals and makes you sweet tea made with herbs from the garden. The bedrooms are on various levels (the house has been built on a slope) and are all simply and warmly decorated with Moroccan bedspreads, rush mats and most of the rooms have open log fires. There is also a new tree house, set slightly away from the rest of the house with its own balcony, and shower in the bedroom. The main sitting area is a mass of leather stools and blankets, candlelit by night, and this is also where dinner is served at low tables. Meals tend to be a sociable affair, all the guests socialising and sharing stories. Douar Samra has its own vegetable garden, chickens and donkey. Low key and authentic, it is a fantastic homely base for exploring the surrounding mountains.
Kasbah Tamadot is Richard Branson's Moroccan retreat, and is a magical walled hideaway in the High Atlas Mountains with lovely peaceful courtyards, landscaped gardens and breathtaking views. There are 24 striking bedrooms, including eight suites (one with its own private pool), six tented Berber suites with private plunge pools and a Master Suite with three bedrooms. All the rooms and suites are very stylishly and individually decorated with traditional Moroccan furnishings and antiques. An infinity pool looks straight out to the mountains, and there’s a spa and gym, hammam, floodlit tennis courts, while excursions, including trekking, horse-riding and hot air ballooning can all be organised from here. The restaurant serves superb Moroccan, African and international dishes.
La Roseraie is a stunning property tucked away in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains next to the village of Ouirgane. Set in 50 acres of beautiful rose gardens, park and farmland, it has 44 cottage-style en-suite rooms and suites, all with patios leading into the gardens and some with an open wood-burning fireplaces. There are two swimming pools (indoor and outdoor) and two tennis courts, a jacuzzi, hammam, sauna and fitness equipment. You can also relax with various Shiatsu facial and body treatments. Meals are served on the shaded terrace or the indoor restaurant, and there is a cosy lounge with a roaring fire for the chilly winter evenings. The well-established riding centre at La Roseraie has superb Arab horses which guests can ride by the hour or by the day or trek with a local guide into the surrounding countryside. La Roseraie is a perfect haven for relaxation and for artists, birdwatchers, gardeners and ramblers alike.