JANE SLADE discovers a hilltop oasis 30 minutes from Marrakesh offering walks in the Atlas foothills
Winston Churchill once said that Marrakesh was the nicest place on earth to spend an afternoon. He loved watching the sunset over the mountains.
Of course in the 1930s, when he first discovered Morocco on a painting holiday, the road out of the city into the russet hinterland did not exist. Neither did Kasbah Angour, a stunning Berber chateau that stands 1,000m high surveying the snowy peaks.
Just 30 minutes from the mayhem of motorbikes, souks and searing heat is the dusty track up to Kasbah Angour, a haven of stillness, and lushness built by an Englishman from Surrey.
The expression ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle,’ could not apply better than to Paul Foulsham, who gave up a career in the oil industry to build Kasbah Angour on 10 acres of hillside, and cultivate a verdant paradise of olive, cypress and fig trees, as well as palms and a vegetable garden.
The boutique hotel which opened in 2011 oozes Moroccan charm inside and out; the terrace is peppered with wrought iron tables decorated in colourful mosaic tiles which were bought in Fez, and the woven fabrics, bedspreads and rugs in the rooms came from the local Berber villages, which speckle the rolling hillsides around the Kasbah.
Kasbah Angour is a secret jewel built in sandstone which looks as though it has been there for centuries. The moment my husband and I arrived in the airy lobby (the hotel can arrange transfers from the airport) we were greeted with warm, friendly smiles. I immediately thought ‘this is going to be my kind of place’.
Our spacious, simply-decorated, suite had breathtaking views of snowy mountains, lush lawns and swimming pool and everything we needed.
There was no TV and Wi-fi only in the public areas. What joy! Our entertainment would be walking in the Atlas foothills, reading books, lounging by the pool and watching sunsets to the music of the cicadas and calls to prayer.
This is the place to bring your yoga mat, paint brushes and easel.
But we were on a training mission. We had booked a trek to Everest Base camp a few months after our visit in February and thought this would be an ideal opportunity to acquaint ourselves with our walking boots and explore a different mountainous landscape.
Jbel Toubkal (4,167 m) is the highest mountain in North Africa – about half the height of Everest and some thousand metres lower than Everest base camp. And Kasbah Angour is an ideal base to make the two-day climb which is really a trek. The hotel can organise an experienced mountain guide and overnight stay in a mountain refuge the night before the final ascent to the summit.
As tempted as we were we decided instead to do two guided walks into the foothills, directly from the hotel. Paul has trekked extensively in the area so ideally placed for advice. There are all sorts of walks, half day and full day, no matter your fitness or age, ranging from gentle ambles to testing treks. We opted for a moderate hike through olive groves, eucalyptus and pine woods. We discovered man-made caves where locals keep their cereals and even women and children in times of war, and passed through traditional Berber villages meeting friendly local farmers, chickens and donkeys.
Other excursions the hotel offers include a visit to the local souk on Tuesdays, an outing to the village of Imlil with mule trek and picnic; four-by-four adventures in the mountains; camel rides, and trips to Marrakesh and golf.
Even though it was wintere we had blue skies and sunshine throughout our four-day stay. The unheated pool was a bit chilly for me, but the dry, warm climate was perfect for al fresco lounging.
Winter, spring and autumn are the best times to visit if you are seeking a dry heat with a gentle breeze. And for winter sports enthusiasts a double-peak mountain nearby has a ski area.
If you prefer to stay put the Kasbah has plenty to offer – a table-tennis table, areas for practising yoga including a roof terrace, a hammam and massage room.
There are benches in the garden and comfy chairs in shady alcoves for quiet meditation or uninterrupted snoozing. There is so much space that I can’t imagine the hotel feeling crowded even if all 25 rooms are occupied.
The food is delicious too. We dined in the smaller cosy bistro; there is a larger dining room for when the hotel is busy. Don’t expect haute cuisine – this is the chance to try tasty tagines mixed with seasonal vegetables picked from the garden. The lamb comes from sheep which have grazed on wild herbs in the surrounding fields, and the olive oil is pressed from Kasbah’s own trees. Even the water comes from two wells in the grounds.
The Kasbah is in a remote, unspoilt spot. There are no restaurants or shops or light pollution – or any pollution come to think of it. So perfect for star gazing – and recovering from a few days in Marrakesh’s medina. One couple we met was doing just that and amazed that such an oasis was so close to the big city.
Kasbah Angour is for those seeking a peaceful sanctuary and a good walk and families looking to engage with nature and local Berber culture. As for my husband and I we are looking forward to return to tackle Toubkal – it should be a doddle now we have completed our trek to Everest Base Camp.
B&B is priced from £108 per room per night.
Half-day walk prices range from 295 dirhams (around £24) per person for a group of two to 150 dirhams (around £12) per person for a group of six
Various carriers operate direct flights to Marrakesh from various UK airports including EasyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook and Ryanair