Morocco, once a place to which only backpackers and intrepid explorers ventured, has become the go-to destination for European shoppers and it-girls looking for that perfect Instagram photo. Thousands of tourists flock to Marrakech every month to raid the souqs for silver jewellery and leather goods, or to the Jardin Majorelle to get that iconic selfie with the towering cacti and royal blue-painted walls, and to the rooftops of riads for sundowners overlooking the medina.
But if you’re anything like me, after a few days the hustle and bustle of the city, the smell of the meat and fish vendors and the constant haggling with shop owners can leave you feeling drained and in need of a holiday to recover from your holiday! Four years ago on a sweltering summer trip to Morocco, I found the perfect antidote. Just an hour’s drive outside Marrakech at the end of a windy road in the Atlas Mountains sits a place so beautiful and peaceful you’ll never want to leave.
Kasbah Bab Ourika is a boutique hotel stunningly set on the edge of a mountain overlooking the picturesque Ourika Valley.
It succeeds – where so many other hotels try and fail – in blending seamlessly into its surroundings, with terracotta walls reflecting the bright orange dust of the mountain and cacti and orange trees everywhere you look. Four years on, I finally returned to Kasbah Bab Ourika and it was as beautiful and tranquil as I remembered.
On arrival you’re met by the Kasbah’s friendly and welcoming staff, who are all recruited from the surrounding villages and strike the perfect balance between attentiveness and respect for your privacy and space. After walking you through the riad-style courtyard to the garden they’ll offer you a welcome drink while they take your luggage to your room. As you sip Moroccan rosé – Gerouane Gris is a reasonably priced local favourite – overlooking the jagged mountains with the gentle sound of donkeys braying and the muezzin calling for prayer in the villages below, you’ll get your first glimpse of the blissful remoteness and connection to nature that makes Kasbah Bab Ourika so special.
The first time I visited I had no idea what to expect. I was blown away by the stunning views across the lush, fertile Ourika valley, dotted with quaint villages distinguishable by their towering minarets and set against the dramatic backdrop of the Atlas mountain peaks – which are snow-capped in winter and boast an array of dusky oranges and greens in the summertime. A walk around the grounds reveals hidden corners with epic views, perfect for reading, sunbathing or enjoying a romantic glass of wine overlooking the valley.
The kasbah’s interiors are simple yet sophisticated and luxurious – think dark woods and brown leathers interspersed with splashes of colour and pom-pom blankets. Fluffy Berber carpets adorn the stone floors while striking portraits of the local people hang on the terracotta walls, paying homage to the local culture that attracts many to visit these mountains. Though cool and airy in summer, the wood burners and log fireplaces make it an ideal spot for a cosy winter getaway.
This time, we stayed in one of the kasbah’s private villas with a glorious infinity pool overlooking the mountains – the peace and quiet made us feel we’d left the rest of the world behind. For the two of us, it was the perfect romantic getaway, but the little house would also have been ideal for a gathering of a group of friends, with a supply of mats for morning yoga and a speaker system for sundowners.
The Kasbah Bab Ourika kitchen is also a highlight, and it’s clear that much of the food is homegrown and locally inspired.
Start your day with the Moroccan breakfast, which consists of freshly squeezed orange juice, sweet tea, Berber eggs (scrambled egg with tomato and spices served piping hot in a tagine pot), bread, honey and fluffy pancakes known locally as melaoui (insanely delicious but not so good for the bikini body!).
The glorious-smelling kitchen garden is home to an array of vegetables, herbs and spices which make their way onto your plate throughout the day, from your breakfast orange to your afternoon mint tea and the chillies spicing up your evening meal. The Kasbah offers cookery classes, teaching you to make signature Moroccan dishes so you can take the flavours of your holiday back home with you.
Other activities Kasbah Bab Ourika offers its guests are treks in the surrounding mountains, visits to local villages and authentic Moroccan beauty treatments using traditional products such as argan oil, black soap and ghassoul clay. Whether you’re camel-trekking to a local village, cooking with fresh rosemary from the garden, or enjoying a good old-fashioned massage on an outdoor patio overlooking the mountains, each one of Kasbah Bab Ourika’s activities focuses on being present, connecting with nature and putting our busy lives on hold.
I seriously can’t recommend Kasbah Bab Ourika highly enough. Its authenticity and deep connection to the local environment shine through in every detail – from the rose petals scattered on your pillow on arrival to the bowls of home-grown oranges on every table top. Just a stone’s throw from Marrakech, it’s the perfect place to relax, recharge and come back to yourself.
If you enjoyed this, you might also like: