I was floating in the pool, my vision full of rocky desert peaks glowing in the sun against an achingly beautiful blue sky. If the colour was a paint I swear it would be called heaven. The skies here always look warm and inviting, and the contrast with the earthy mountains is a match to remember. Needless to say I was enjoying a spot of relaxation at our Atlas Mountains guest house during an otherwise hectic trip around Morocco. Yet the peace didn’t last, and moments later my contemplations were rudely interrupted by a dive-bombing Hubbie who just can’t act his age when there’s a pool involved.
Usually when travelling through the Atlas Mountains between Marrakech and Ouarzazate we take the picturesque detour along the Ounila Valley route via Telouet. The panoramas are exquisite, as is our favourite guest house, Kasbah Ellouze in Tamdaght. Yet if you don’t fancy this side loop (where 4x4s are recommended) you can just remain on the N9 for a more direct route. If you want to break your journey with an overnight, especially if you are travelling to or from the desert, then you won’t go far wrong with the I Rocha, an Atlas Mountains guest house about 3.5 hours south of Marrakech.
The Atlas Mountains Guest House
Run by a French-Moroccan couple, I Rocha is an authentic earth-built Atlas Mountains guest house perched on a hillside overlooking the small Berber village of Tisselday, about 50 miles north of Ouarzazate. The best part has to be the multiple outside terraces. The fabulous views stretch across the valley and there are lots of hidden nooks in which to while away a sunny afternoon. Meals and drinks are all served out here in good weather (which lets be honest, is most of the time!), and there’s simply nothing more relaxing than a leisurely breakfast in the fresh mountain air whilst watching the village come to life.
Apart from perhaps a dip in the pool!
Tucked away in an earth-walled patio and set slightly apart from the main guest house for privacy, Hubbie proclaimed it the best swimming pool we’ve had the pleasure of using in all of Morocco. Not only did it come with superb views of an ancient hilltop kasbah, it was also big enough to actually do some lengths! A great and refreshing way to stretch those legs after a long drive and make up for all those Moroccan pastries!
Bedrooms in this Atlas Mountains guest house are simple, clean and functional with a touch of traditional décor. Prices range from DH550 for standard rooms, to DH850 for family apartments. We opted for a standard since we were only staying one night, and found it surprisingly comfortable and perfectly adequate for a stop-over.
The bathroom area was tucked around a corner with just a curtain for privacy so it helps if you know your room-mate pretty well! Hubbie and I have seen and heard it all over years of travelling with upset stomachs and the like (one day I’ll tell you about our honeymoon!), but I’m not sure I’d have been happy had I been sharing with anyone other than him. There was of course the usual hot water one minute, cold the next, but this is pretty normal in rural Morocco.
There was only one slight niggle.
Staff were all very charming, friendly and welcoming, but we did feel they were a bit preoccupied by the French tour group of artists who were also staying that night. Check-in was a rather casual affair, they had to ask us how much we’d been quoted for a standard double, and we weren’t given a room key (we had to go back to reception to ask for it). There was also no welcome information pack in our room (other rooms had them) and we didn’t get shown around the guest house (there are lots of passageways and doors to explore) or have meal times explained. None of this really mattered, and I guess was in keeping with the very relaxed vibe of the place. If we needed anything, we simply had to ask.
And the mint tea we took on the terrace after we’d settled in was surely some of the best in the country. Just the right ratio of sugar to mint!
We certainly weren’t disappointed with the evening meal, which at DH150 per person was very reasonable for a 3 course spread of local cuisine, all freshly prepared and delicious. The Harira was perfect, and our olive chicken and rice was a welcome respite from the multiple tagines we’d been feasting on during the previous weeks. Tagine is one of my favourite dishes ever, but when you’ve had about 10 in a row you really do need a break!
Unfortunately for Hubbie the dessert was creme brulee (his nemesis when it comes to puddings) but I didn’t mind sitting there, happily eating 2! And I’m sure the cook would have rustled something else up had he asked. Sitting on the lamp-lit terrace watching lights twinkling across the valley, with some of the multi-talented Atlas Mountain guest house staff playing traditional instruments and a glass of Moroccan red in our hands, we agreed that life could be worse.
After dinner we sat writing journals by candlelight and watched the tour group dancing, and having a go at the drumming with varying degrees of success. Ahmed the owner came over for a chat and said we were more than welcome to join in the evening entertainment too. Not wanting to make complete fools of ourselves (we’d not quite had enough wine for that) we pleaded full bellies, but it was good to feel included. We finally settled into bed that night, happy in the knowledge that the tour group would no doubt be sleeping in late after the evening’s excesses.
Alas it was not to be. We were rudely awoken at 6am by the group congregating noisily on the terrace right outside our door. Not amusing considering we’d been up early enough to climb a sand dune and watch sunrise in the Sahara the previous morning. Tour groups are inconsiderate the world over, and I guess the down side of the smaller Atlas Mountain guest houses we like to frequent is that they can’t absorb large parties as easily as bigger places would. Still, I’d take small and cute over big and brash any day.
Wide awake we padded sleepily out onto the terrace for a simple yet tasty breakfast of breads, jams and yoghurt. The view was tasty too!
Then all too soon it was back in the car and off to Marrakech for the last leg of the journey. Although I personally think the Ounila-Telouet drive is more dramatic, the road on this route wound up into the Atlas Mountains through pretty Berber villages, and we enjoyed rocky panoramas and the occasional dash of green nestled in the valley bottoms. Certainly not a disappointing second choice!
I Rocha is a lovely little Atlas Mountains guest house, and perfect for a stop-over night on a long journey. Although we received perhaps a little less attention than we may otherwise have experienced due to the presence of the tour group, this didn’t really impact greatly seeing as we’re pretty private people, preferring anonymity to exhibition. Plus, I’d opt for somewhere with a pool and views like that any day!