Heatwaves are sweeping through Europe. They say the hot winds are coming from Northern Africa and the Sahara. When a lot of people go to Morocco, they think Marrakech, beautiful opulent cities or glamping in the Sahara, but Morocco has two large mountain ranges. During Michele’s and my trip for my birthday last year, we saw both of them and were able to experience sultry hot desert climates, historical city exploration and hiking, waterfalls and properly cold mountain temperatures in one trip lasting 10 days! It might not be what you expect, but it’s in these mountains that you can discover the heart, the origins of Moroccan culture.
Morocco is famed worldwide for Moroccan hospitality, taking in guests like they are honored members of the family. Predating the Arabic influence is Berber culture and with almost half of the population of Morocco speaking a Berber dialect and more claiming Berber descent. Those famed Moroccan rugs, are often times Berber made and Berber designs (I bought one while in the mountains as well as tableware) — stunning silversmithing too. Berber history goes back 4000 years, maybe more and has resiliently weathered the Romans, Arabs and French. Calling themselves Amazigh or Tuareg, Berber is a name given by the Arabs. Berbers were actually mostly Jewish, Christian or Animists before the Arab invasion of the 7th century.
For a vacation exploring the Atlas Mountains skiing or climbing it’s highest peak, Toubkal — 4,267 meters — (just 40 miles from Marrakesh!), you should start in the Imlil Valley and stay at Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco’s premiere mountain retreat. Kasbah Toubkal is actually one of NatGeo’s Unique Lodge of the World.
“Whatever you want. Anything you need. You’re a guest in our home.” That was the policy at the Kashbah and from the delicious dates in goat milk, to their birthday cake for me (surprise!). We relished in the Berber hospitality — even a bit reluctant to return to Marrakesh!
A kasbah is an old city keep or fortress and summits in the area are dotted with them. Including one owned by Richard Branson. They are essentially ancient walled compounds, this one being a colonial mansion that had been abandoned. Kasbah du Toubkal opened in 1995 servicing an area that didn’t have very many luxury accommodations for trekkers. Martin Scorcese even shot parts of his film Kundun here!
Kasbah du Toubkal is one of those properties where every traveller seems to have a great story. We met newlyweds, families, trekkers and it was wonderful to share this experience with them. After a long trip, we were immediately welcomed with food and had my birthday dinner watching the sunset in the mountains as the air got crisper. Smiling at Michele, breathing in fresh Atlas mountain air, when I close my eyes now I can still remember it. I walked to the edge of the balcony and took a mental panorama, wanting to register how the air grazed my skin, the herd of mountain goats making their way home almost vertically, the rust color the sunset created on the mountain, Michele’s peaceful spirit. I wanted to remember it all, so I can do exactly what I’m doing now, close my eyes and just got back there.
We were welcomed with Moroccan mint tea as well as local dates dipped in goats milk. Traditional bread, amazing coucous, fresh yogurt at breakfast, we very much enjoyed meal times at Kasbah du Toubkal.
The property is also quite spacious so more often than not Michele and I felt like we were the only ones there!
We spent the night of my birthday gazing at the starts from the watchtower at the Kasbah.
We were heading to North Africa in the summer but were woefully unprepared for the Atlas mountains where the temperatures drop dramatically at night. I think it was in the 40s F while we were there and we could see our breathe in the night. We were so happy to have traditional Berber mountain robes in our room to put on for stargazing. During the day, I made use of the straw hat provided in our room too!
The next day, well rested from a wonderful night in our cozy cabin, we were ready to explore the Imlil Valley! Most of the guests were up and out while we were having breakfast as they were hiking big summits.
If you’d rather just take a day trip exploring the surrounding villages in the Imlil valley, the Kasbah can arrange that too. We went with Ali and had an amazing time.
After trekking, Michele and I booked a private session in the wood heated hammam — you do have to book it with the front desk so they prep the room for you.
We flew into Marrakesh and Kasbah du Toubkal arranges for a driver to pick you up from the airport and driver you about two hours through beautiful vistas into the valley town of Imlil. Your hosts will meet you in the town of Imlil with a trekking donkey to carry your things up to Kasbah du Toubkal. It is a little bit of a hike and surprisingly gets steep at some points!
You guys are in love. Do you love her? I know a man in love. Happy wife, happy life! – salesman in a carpet store in Imlil Valley
Every trip Michele and I take together is special, but Morocco, without a doubt holds a place in our heart. We grew and truly blossomed as a couple. It actually could be the first place where Michele told me he loved me!
The Imlil Valley and Atlas Mountains are truly magical. Kasbah du Toubkal gave us a completely different taste of Morocco that we were truly lucky to experience. Have you been there? Have any other recs for the Atlas Mountains? Let me know!
PHOTOS BY NNEYA RICHARDS & MICHELE SCAGLIONE