Berber Castle Retreat – Kasbah du Toubkal
Kasbah du Toubkal is possibly the most remote place I’ve ever lodged in. Located in the heart of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, it is the stunning result of an extraordinary venture between Berber and European entrepreneurs. Part of the properties listed with Pure Life Experiences, Kasbah du Toubkal is not simply a centuries-old castle in a stunning location in North Africa (although that in itself is already amazing), but an experience unto its own.
As a testament to the beauty and mystery of the Kasbah and the village of Imlil in which it is situated, Martin Scorsese shot an epic biographical film about the life of the 14th Dalai Lama in the region. For the month of November, back in 1996, Kasbah was temporarily transformed into Dungkar, a Tibetan Monastery.
The story of Kasbah du Toubkal is one of rags to riches. Found in complete ruin in 1989 by two British brothers who loved trekking in this area of the Atlas Mountains, they, with their Morrocan partner, began realising their vision of a unique retreat. One that would stay true to the heritage of the Toubkal, the Atlas Mountains, and most importantly, to the town of Imlil and Berber culture.
They succeeded. After years of refurbishment, with the help of the surrounding villages, Kasbah du Toubkal is one of the most authentic places we have had the pleasure of visiting. Perched on a hilltop, with the tallest peak in Northern Africa soaring in front of its balconies, its location is unique and unlike any other. All around are winding roads cutting through many little valleys, populated with small villages that hark from a more pastoral time. Its remote location definitely made us appreciate what a feat it was to have refurbished the Kasbah. Even today, the only way of getting there is first with a donkey, than by foot. In order to build it, the builders and artisans must have brought up the building material with donkeys, or on their backs. And they must have built it all up by hand, rock by rock, brick by brick.
We were told by our guide, Mustafa, that most of the area was only connected to electricity not that long ago. Much of life is conducted today as it had been centuries ago. Carpets being washed in river and hung on rooftops, firewood being collected, garden agriculture and subsistence farming. Many do leave the area for life in the city, but the ones that stay preserve their traditional ways of life. Now, whether they would prefer more technological progress or not, I won’t make any judgements. But as things stood, they certainly loved where they lived, and their present way of living.
Kasbah du Toubkal was a beautiful complex. We could have stayed there for many more days, despite there having been nothing else to do save read, hike and eat the amazing food prepared by local chefs. It sports a cosy courtyard, populated by several families of beautiful cats which we had quite a lot of fun with, many roof balconies on which to lounge and read, and a traditional sauna, perfect for resting sore muscles after a long day’s hike.
The best thing about staying at the Kasbah though, were the staff. Lodging here felt far more like staying in a Berber home than in a hotel. We were here pretty much all throughout the day and were completely in the hands of the Berber staff that took care of us. They were very enthusiastic about showing us how things were done and were always up for a chat, whether it was about the property, the food, or even the cats that lived in the courtyard and the plants which grew there.
Our rooms were simple but comfortable. We stayed in two different accommodations during our time there – an older room and a newer one further away from the central courtyard. Both were lovely – the older one had more charm, but the newer one was more spacious. But ultimately it didn’t matter. We were truly in paradise, wherever we looked. Although it was a beautiful, cheerful place, it still retained a powerful sense of mystery and exoticism. Stepping into the Kasbah felt like entering a world that we could only ever sneak a glimpse of.