Have you ever come across an image that sticks in your mind and refuses to budge until you jolly well do something about it? The Kasbah Tamadot near Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains had been doing just that to me for years, but I’d left it alone because after all, it is one of Sir Richard Branson’s luxury Virgin retreats and not being A-lister movie stars we assumed we wouldn’t exactly blend in.
Yet the image remained, and after reminding ourselves it was in fact years since we’d been crusty backpackers, we decided what the hell and booked a stay. We could preen and strut with the best of them, even if underneath we were still wearing our dusty sandals.
In true Conversant Traveller style, we rolled up to the opulent mansion in a clapped out taxi, our arrival heralded by an embarassing cloud of dust. Hoping to sneak in quietly without drawing much attention to ourselves, we were dismayed to see the doorman rushing down the length of the parking area to relieve us of our suitcases, anxious we didn’t try to carry them ourselves. The poor man then struggled back up the hill with us trailing behind, feeling guilty that all we were carrying were our sunglases.
We were welcomed into the cool marble interior and thankfully took a seat on a sofa, tucking our offending footwear under the table whilst we sipped mint tea, and nibbled on dates and nuts. I don’t actually like mint, tea, dates or nuts but here (and elsewhere in Morocco) they were delicious. Things always taste better when you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery and are ridiculously happy.
Whilst our luggage was spirited off to our room, the House Manager gave us the grand tour. We were wearing the exact same kaftan tops so I’d clearly judged my wardrobe correctly for the occassion. Phew.
Finally shaking off the un-natural yet pleasant feeling of having everything done for us, we sauntered along the cool and romantically lit corridors of the main house, already thoroughly enjoying the experience of being treated like royalty. I could get used to this! The kasbah is a delightful warren of hidden rooms, plush living areas and gorgeous little courtyards, just ouzing with eastern promise.
The tranquil Kasbah is all about decadent suites, lush manicured gardens, breath-taking views and little courtyards with rose petal strewn pools. It’s the sort of place you go for a few days to unwind, be totally pampered and not mind spending a small fortune since the experience is worth every penny.
It was so quiet we felt we should be whispering, with just the calming sound of trickling water in the background. Exotic spices and sweet incense lingered in the air, mingling with the delicate perfume of flowers as we wandered down through the gardens to the panoramic patios and infinity pool.
It was at this point I realised I’d forgotten my swimming costume. God damn it! Now under normal circumstances I would’ve pretended my matching underwear was a bikini, but this didn’t seem the sort of place I could get away with such shenanigans. The nearest swim wear store was probably in Spain, so I resigned myself to siping cocktails and ordering hubbie to fetch and carry. I’m sure the staff would have found me a costume had I asked, but I didn’t think of that until later!
Sleeping like Sultans
Assuming most guests wouldn’t blink an eye at levels of decadence with which they are accustomed, we feigned nonchalance upon discovering our room opened out onto the cutest courtyard and even had it’s own little corner of museum pots. Yet once the House Manager completed her tour and the door closed behind us I couldn’t help but do a very unladylike dance before rushing around the room to examine all the luxurious amenities.
We’d chosen to stay in a Deluxe Bedroom and were given Asarar meaning ‘Mountain View’ (room 26). It was right in the heart of the original part of the building, with windows and a little private balcony overlooking the Ait Mizane Valley and the berber village across the river.
Since the aspect was to the front and side of the Kasbah, it was a very secluded room, and one we felt was much better situated than many of the others, including the suites, some of which opened up directly onto the footpaths, or had their verandas in direct view of everyone in the gardens.
The room was undeniably sumptuous, with all the drapes, artefact-filled nooks and crannies, and luxurious bedding that you could dream of. It’s the room that they use on their website photograph, enough said!
Of course we had to immediately dress up in the thoughtfully provided djellabas, babouches and straw hats, although in practice we only used the babouches, which were also complimentary and are now our upstairs slippers back home (yes, we’re that posh we have different sets of slippers for upstairs and downstairs!).
The bathroom was huge, the minibar well stocked and the décor more than worthy of the front cover of Conde Nast Traveller! We wondered if this was the quality of ‘just’ a deluxe room, what were the suites like?
It is worth noting that although the berber tented suites with their own plunge pools look stunning and we would’ve loved to have stayed in one, there is a large pond next to them which at night comes alive with a deafening chorus of frogs! In some ways this could have been quite romantic, but we were silently thankful we were staying in the Kasbah as there’s no way I would have slept through that.
Feasting like Kings
Lunch was taken up on the panoramic terrace, tucked away in one of the shady pergolas dripping with vines. Despite choosing the ‘berber burger’ and chunky chips we felt rather refined as our meal was served with sophistication and champagne. It didn’t take long to settle in and relax, finally realising that whilst Kasbah Tamdot is top of it’s game and subsequently entertains clientele of a similar nature, it’s also totally unpretentious and welcoming to guests from all walks of life. We were beginning to fall in love with the Branson brand!
Dinner in the restaurant was a grand affair. It began with pre-dinner drinks in the rose pool courtyard, with strategically located fire pits for atmosphere and warmth, and a local musician performing on the terrace. Magical.
Next followed a magnificent berber buffet feast with everything from monkfish tagine, and what must have been a million different Moroccan salads, to lavender crème brûlée and delicate little melt-in-the-mouth pastries. The waiters were more than attentive, standing by with a remarkable second sight to anticipate the exact moment their guests would stand up ready for another attack on the buffet. Seriously these guys knew before we did when the lure of the deliciously stacked delicacies was reeling us in for a second (or third!) time, and our chairs were pulled back accordingly. Just glad no-one changed their minds mid-way or they might have ended up sitting on the floor!
Our glasses were continually topped up, which was great once we’d accepted we were never going to finish them! After we’d eaten as much as we’d wanted and far more than we really needed, we waddled down to the seductively lit terraces and gardens for a moonlight stroll, the scent of jasmine and symphony of frogs heralding the onset of night.
Beyond the relaxation
You could easily spend the whole day strolling around the gardens, leaning luxuriously on the edge of the infinity pool gazing out across the valley (if you have your swim stuff!), and enjoying a cocktail or five up on the grape-draped terraces. There’s also an open-air cinema with two viewings a week where guests are given wireless headphones and can order drinks from the bar. For the energetic there is a spa with sauna, jacuzzi, gym and indoor pool, as well as tennis courts where Sir Richard himself has been known to hit a ball about with his guests when he’s visiting. You can book tennis or cooking lessons if you really don’t know how to relax!
There’s also a whole host of activities for those who want to explore the local area, including walks around Imlil, visits to local villages and craft houses, mule and horse trekking, mountain biking, quad biking, full on treks in the Toubkal area as well as day trips to Marrakech and local valleys.
We decided to explore Imlil and hiked up to Armed, the highest village in North Africa with great views of Mount Toubkal.
When to go
We went in June, so we could enjoy the warmth of the summer but make the most of the low season prices (which run from June to the end of August and knock around DH1000 off your nightly rate!). Visiting Marrakech in July and August would be pretty unbearable in the heat, but it’s cooler in the mountains. June is therefore the best of both worlds.
We had a wonderfully relaxing stay, the perfect antidote (or should that be compliment) to the frenzy of Marrakech and were treated like royalty despite our sandals! I’m still cross to this day that I didn’t get to use the pool and I’ve vowed to myself that one day, insha’Allah, I will rectify that!
The other Virgin Retreats
Kasbah Tamadot is just one of several world-wide properties expertly brought to life by Sir Richard, and once you’ve dipped your toe in the water, it’s hard not to plunge straight in. We’ve also visited Ulusaba Private Game Reserve and Mont Rochelle in South Africa and loved every minute. Next stop Necker Island?