Our car speeds up the Atlas Mountains, past sheep grazing in green fields, through small villages, over streams, navigating turn after serpentine turn. The drive scares Ellen but I’m enjoying the view. Our reckless/confident (depending on which one of us you ask) driver came recommended by the lovely staff at the Riad Malika, and the cost is $80 one way for the hour journey to Kasbah du Toubkal from Marrakech.
We stop at the village of Imlil.
Mules (“Berber Mercedes” as the Kasbah du Toubkal website refers to them) haul our luggage from Imlil to the property, a ten-minute walk.
KASBAH DU TOUBKAL
Booking the Kasbah du Toubkal was easy: Ellen and I emailed with their office in the U.K., which never seemed to close, always responding immediately to our questions.
A group of young Berber men (the Kasbah du Toubkal employs only from the community) receives us. They are respectful, polite and friendly, such a welcome change from the borderline-harrassment we frequently received in Essaouira and Marrakech. The staff here has obviously mastered the art of genuine hospitality reminiscent of the wonderful treatment I received from the Bedouin in Jordan.
Ellen and I are escorted to the library, where we are presented with chilled diet cokes from a silver tray as we learn about the Kasbah du Toubkal and review our hiking options. These guys don’t overlook any detail — including a Hello! magazine to leaf-through while we wait so I can catch up who’s sleeping with whom in the U.K. (I need to know these things). There’s wi-fi service in the library as well.
The Kasbah du Toubkal offers accommodations in every price range, from a $40 cot to its sumptuous (that view!) garden suite, which can accommodate six people. Ellen and I opted for the deluxe suite for 250 Euro a night.
The room is average size, and not particularly luxurious, but we’re elated. It radiates coziness and charm. Someone very deliberately laid out our slippers and towels, turned on the bathroom lights, stocked our mini-fridge with American beverages (more Diet Coke), and filled bowls with dried fruit and nuts for us. We feel welcome here.
Our view from the deck is spectacular, a far cry from the Crate and Barrel store blocking the view from my front window back home in Chicago.
Lunch is served in an open tower overlooking the Atlas Mountains from 360 degrees. The tower, lined with benches and pillows, becomes our favorite place to hang out, read, and observe our fellow guests.
The first afternoon we hike the Atlas Mountains by ourselves and get lost. We meet a kind, kind man selling beverages from a small wooden concession stand who closes up shop to escort us back to the resort.
The second day we hire a hiking guide.
Dinner is served in tagines (clay pots) in the dining room, where we sit side-by-side with the other guests over candlelight. The ecolodge doesn’t offer alcohol, but we’ve come prepared with our own wine, as have all the other boozy guests. Friends are made. Everyone moves to the library to polish off our bottles, then the pack migrates outside for a stargazing session. The atmosphere is so clear and pure in the Atlas Mountains that the path back to our room is naturally lit.
Of the hundreds of hotels I’ve stayed at in my life traveling extensively for work and pleasure, the Kasbah du Toubkal is definitely in my Top Five. Prior to our trip Ellen and I seriously considered staying at the sleeker and sexier Kasbah Tamadot, Sir Richard Branson’s Retreat down the road, and we probably would have if the price had been right. I’m sure it’s beautiful, and swanky, but I doubt it could match Kasbah du Toubkal in terms of genuine hospitality and charm. And those qualities are priceless.