From Hilltop Kasbahs to Opulent Riads
A Report by Steve and Sara Cameron – Company Co-Founders
In June, we visited Morocco and were completely captivated by the architecture, souks, spices and riads. We flew into Casablanca and then headed straight out to the High Atlas Mountains, where orange-and-ochre Berber houses cling to the hillsides and the river valleys are green and lush with walnut, cherry and apple trees fed by irrigation channels. When we reached Imlil at the end of a long valley we had to continue on foot, our bags loaded onto a mule, for the short 15 minute walk up to our kasbah.
The historic Kasbah de Toubkal is surrounded by a majestic backdrop of mountains, including snow-capped Jebel Toubkal (4,165m) the highest mountain in north Africa. It has been beautifully restored and offers warm, friendly Berber hospitality, ensuite rooms, delicious, healthy meals and rooftop patios perfect for taking in the absolutely stunning views, or to enjoy dinner under the stars.
These mountains are perfect for trekking and the kasbah offers daily guided walks exploring the surrounding villages and discovering the traditional Berber culture. Or you can head further afield, as we did, on an overnight trek with mules to carry your bags and comfy accommodation in a private camp or the kasbah’s own private lodge.
Leaving the mountains behind, we drove to the ‘Rose Red City’ of Marrakech, just 45 minutes away. We stayed at one of the many beautifully restored riads the city is famous for – old courtyard houses with inner gardens, tranquil pools and rose-petal filled fountains. Behind the heavy front door at the edge of the medina, Riad El Fenn is a heady mix of Arab architecture and modern chic, with jewel colours and serious, contemporary art works. Yet it
has a relaxing, laid back atmosphere.
We visited other riads too and were enchanted by the perfect gem of moorish architecture that is Riad Kniza, and the seductive Villa des Orangers. We also splurged on dinner at the famous La Maison Arabe restaurant, sitting by a pool in a courtyard oasis surrounded by arabic arches and flickering candles.
Our guide was an incredible repository of knowledge who led us through the labyrinth of the medina, and explained the history and architecture of the city. At the mysterious Saadian Tombs and stunning El Badi Palace we marvelled at domes and arches decorated in colourful zelije tiles and intricately carved wood or plaster. We visited the Koutoubia Mosque, the fascinating Ben Youssef Quaranic school and the Lezama synagogue in the Jewish quarter built in 1492. We wandered the famous Majorelle gardens, created by French painter Jacques Majorelle and later bought by Yves Saint Laurent who set up a museum to display his outstanding collection of Berber jewellery, clothing and antiques.
It was hard to leave all this and head for Europe, but luckily we were bound for Andalusia in Spain where the Moors left their amazing heritage in the forts, palaces and mosques of Cordoba, Granada and Seville.
For a custom-made Morocco holiday, please contact our experienced consultants.