Chrissy's Collection: Kasbah du Toubkal, Imlil, Morocco
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What is Chrissy’s Collection?With her lengthy travel background, Chrissy has years of experience assessing accommodation with quality and customer satisfaction firmly in mind. She was also a hands-on Director of an upmarket Kensington apartment-hotel for five years.
As our own Silver Travel Advisor we are delighted that Chrissy brings her experience and eye for stylish detail when she reviews Boutique and Country house hotels. Chrissy’s Collection are her personal recommendations of hotels with something extra that makes them stand out from the rest: discreet and exceptional levels of personal service; stylish, contemporary and comfortable interiors where relaxation is key; smaller, quirky or character properties; luxury hotels with super spa facilities, exquisite dining or amazing locations. In short, very special places.
As soon as I saw photographs of the Kasbah du Toubkal I knew I wanted to include it as part of our Moroccan tour as I couldn’t quite believe a place like this existed in Morocco. It looked as though it should be Bhutan or some other exotic eastern mountainous destination. As I later learned, the Kasbah was actually used in Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film about the early life of the Dalai Lama, ‘Kundun’, as the set for his Tibetan hideaway. So good to know that Martin and I were at one on this and if he’s ever looking for a location scout I’m available.
Located in the High Atlas Mountains in the Imlil valley, the Kasbah is not only a shining example of good tourism (more of which later) but it is a truly magical place. Surrounded by remote scattered Berber hamlets that haven’t changed for centuries and with Mount Toubkal (13,665 ft and the highest mountain in North Africa) as the backdrop the location is spectacular.
Just over an hour’s drive from Marrakech this is another world. After checking in at the remote reception in the village of Imlil, the end of the road, my husband handed over the car keys for ‘valet’ parking, our luggage was loaded onto mules and we began the walk up to the Kasbah through the village and passed numerous shops and cafes. The walk up the rough track was quite steep with some steps in places and took about 10 minutes so we had to stop a couple of times to catch our breath. Well at least he did. For anyone who may not be up to the walk mules can be arranged. The guide skipped up the slope with the ease of a mountain goat as did the mules, despite their heavy loads.
Walking through the large wooden door and up the steps into the Kasbah it almost felt like we were entering a self-contained fortress kingdom of old where everything was contained within the walls: vegetables and herbs amongst the flower beds and fruit trees, a clay oven baking bread and fresh mountain water. The Kasbah is run by local Berbers from the Imlil valley who were all extremely smiley and welcoming. We were shown around the Kasbah and climbed up the steps to the top terrace to marvel at the view. Here we lounged on locally made woven cushions sipping mint tea served in a large pewter teapot with a platter of olives, bread and cheese. We happily stayed here soaking up the sunshine and the stunning views as the calls to prayer from the surrounding village mosques echoed around the valley.
Bought by two English brothers with a strong affiliation to the area and its people, the first stage of the Kasbah was completed in 1995, unbelievably before electricity came to the village in 1997. The refurbishment was carried out by the locals who after hauling everything up the mountain either on their backs or by mule brought all their skills to bear to restore the Kasbah to its former glory of a mountain retreat.
The Kasbah does not promote itself as a hotel. The owners feel ‘Berber Hospitality Centre’ more accurately reflects the standards, ambience and the culture of the Berber people, who are known for their friendliness. My take is a quirky combination of the two that doesn’t meet 5* standards but wins hands down for good quality, traditional, rustic comfort and service delivered willingly and genuinely with a smile.
Simply but comfortably furnished in traditional Berber style and with all mod cons, the locally woven rugs, tapestry cushions, low Moroccan tables, old sepia photographs, ornaments and books, all create a harmonious well-loved place to stay. Our deluxe room, which was quite large, had an en-suite marble bath with overhead shower, and all the usual comforts but a particularly nice touch were the hand made djellabas and babouches, the traditional robes and slippers you are invited to wear during your stay. These were particularly handy following our steam in the Hammam when relaxing in the deck chairs on our terrace.
The reception rooms, including the open terraces where meals are taken in the summer months, are all reached by stairs and, not surprisingly, there are no lifts, so may not suit everyone. However, most of the guests at the time of my stay were silver travellers from around the world specifically staying at the Kasbah for mountain walking and guided walks are offered to suit all abilities. As the Kasbah was full at the time of our stay and we were only there for a night I opted for the one hour introductory walk. Accompanied by Abdul, one of the mountain guides whose house was part of a small cluster of buildings next to the Kasbah entrance, he was very good company and enthused about his life in Imlil, his English learnt entirely from visitors to the Kasbah.
The food was typically Moroccan fare and was very good. Out of respect for the locals and their Islamic faith no alcohol is sold, though it is perfectly acceptable for guests to take their own and as each room has its own fridge, you can happily enjoy your G&T on your terrace without guilt whilst watching the sun set over the mountain. Bliss.
The Kasbah du Toubkal has won many awards and accolades, not only for its unrivalled, stunning, location but also for sustainable tourism and what it has achieved for the local people. 5% of all tourist income at the Kasbah is ploughed back into the community and used as a basis to fund much-needed projects to make life easier in these little-changed remote villages of the High Atlas Mountains. Over the years the village association have purchased a four-wheel drive ambulance that has dramatically reduced the number of deaths, particularly during childbirth, a dustcart for rubbish collection and many other worthwhile necessities that we take for granted. Additionally, a contribution is also made to Education for All, a charity to educate young girls from the villages who would otherwise not have the opportunity for schooling.
A stay at the Kasbah du Tubkal means everyone benefits. Guests enjoy a truly memorable and special experience with genuine traditional Berber hospitality and also make a valuable contribution to the local economy. And you are helping to educate girls who will educate the next generation.
What’s not to like? Take a look a their website and see what good tourism can do to bring about change. Most importantly, go and visit.
Kasbah du Toubkal
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