Mohammed drove us from Marrakech through dozens of tiny villages. We arrived in the Ourika Valley when he nervously started to tell us the many reasons why going to the Kasbah Bab Ourika was a bad idea.
We parked outside a vast and ghastly rambling edifice in the valley floor with a spectacular view of the river and the mountains beyond. Here, he announced, was a very splendid alternative place for lunch. His father had helped build it. And it was at least 900 years old. And the food, he said, was going to be marvellous.
We toured the vast and empty tourist restaurant. Huge armies of staff scurried around painting, hosing down the stairs, varnishing walls and cleaning furiously. Floor upon floor of function rooms were piled high with overstuffed cushions, and each vast room smelled of very fresh paint. We were invited to admire the new bar. We ooo'd and ahhh'd, admired the new paintings and even had a ride in the elevator.
We told Mohammed that his choice was lovely but that we'd be going to the Kasbah Bab Ourika - with or without him. He sulked and got back into the car. My travelling companion wondered if we'd made the right decision. Tthere was silence in the car for a few tense moments
10 minutes later Mohammed veered off the main road and hurled the car down a dirt track through a very scruffy little village and then over a precarious bridge and on to an even smaller road. And then there was no road at all. There was still silence in the car. I leant forward and said to Mohammed that we hoped he wasn't too cross that we wanted to go to our place rather than his. He paused briefly as he negotiated a hairpin bend on a dirt track half way up the mountain and came clean. He had, he announced, considered telling us that Bab Ourika was closed today, but he'd changed his mind because we were ok people. Then the reason for his reluctance became clear.
In a cloud of dust and potholes and hairpin bends we crawled up the side of the mountain in first gear. Mohammed shrugged and as he negotiated a three point turn to get the car round the worst bend of the road said that it'd be ok, it would just mean that he'd have to clean the car this evening.
20 minutes later we pulled into the driveway of what can only be described as paradise. A vast building perched on the most felicitous promontory offered sweeping views of the surrounding hills. Bab Ourika is exquisite, courtyard upon courtyard leads out to a panoramic terrace with shady seating places and beyond a crystal pool, croquet lawn, gardens and more stepped terraces.
Delicious food was served with winning charm. A resident Maltese puppy bounced around people's legs demanding attention. The food was simple but delicious. The lamb meatball tagine was outstanding, served with a crisp Moroccan wine and the crumbly meringue for desert was dressed with herbs from the garden. The other guests had descended into a silent torpor lazing on the vast terrace sofas under artfully draped canvas sunshades.
If you come to Marrakech and only experience the old town and the small palatial riads in the medina without visiting the Atlas mountains, you're missing a trick. Morocco’s old town houses are introverted, tucked away behind their high walls and expensive wooden front doors. The life of a country kasbah retreat in the mountains is quite the opposite. It’s all about facing outwards and admiring the view and about breathing in the grandeur of the mountains. And this particular kasbah is the perfect complement to being lost in the Marrakech medina.
This wonderful place is built on traditional principles designed by Stephen Skinner an English architect in partnership with rammed-earth specialist Argus Hardy and French designer Romain Michel-Ménière. Between them they have embraced the organic, rural character of the kasbah and by using Berber rugs and textiles, as well as natural wall and floor finishes and contemporary cleverly sourced accents and furnishings, have created something quite spectacular, restrained, elegant and seductive perched on the edge of the valley.
Kasbah Bab Ourika seduces its visitors with the surrounding landscape, the cool courtyards filled with orange trees and blinding pink bougainvillea, the terracotta floors overlaid in thick wool rugs. There are ancient Berber chests, great brass candelabras, open fireplaces for long winter evenings, and a resounding sense that you've been welcomed into something that feels like Skinner's own private country estate where the air is crisp and fresh and rich with the smell of wild herbs.
Ourika valley perfection.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Bab Ourika perches majestically on a hilltop at the apex of the Ourika Valley, guarding the gateway to the snow-capped Atlas Mountains – yet it is only 45 minutes from Marrakech’s International airport. With 360 degree panoramic views, this innovative new hotel receives warm sunlight all day, ending in spectacular sunsets. From its unique eyrie-like position it offers a birds eye view of the Atlas, of traditional Berber villages and of the lush river valley below. The Kasbah is one of the most eco-friendly hotels in Morocco; constructed principally from rammed earth, the traditional Berber building technique, it seems almost to have grown out of the rocks beneath. The thick walls provide such good insulation that air-conditioning is unnecessary. Solar panels provide hot water for the hotel and and the underfloor heating in the dining and bar area. Soon a biodigester will provide electricity and compost not only for the hotel but also for the village below. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Kasbah Bab Ourika Hotel Ourika