Some get their kicks hurling themselves down snow-covered mountains with planks of wood attached to their feet; others order highly poisonous (and hideously expensive) fugu fish in Japanese restaurants and hope the prep chef threw the right bits away. After a visit to Marrakech, however, I can confirm that comparable thrills can be had by anyone willing to hop into a city-centre taxi.
As a general rule, it seems, you slow down for donkeys and speed up for dogs. Donkeys will get out of the way eventually, as will pedestrians. Dogs are virtually impossible to hit, so cabbies just drive straight at them. Stop completely for either species, and you get stuck in a crowd for whom trying to flog you cartons of cigarettes and strings of sweets is just their way of saying hello.
We also quickly pick up on the etiquette of when you use the horn. That is: (a) when the car is moving; (b) when the car is stationary; (c) at all other times. And yet, despite the apparent chaos of Marrakech’s teeming streets, there is method in the mayhem. Not once do we see a car crash, or even an example of donkey-driver rage. The trick as a newly arrived tourist is to just relax into it, although this can be tricky if you have a friendly driver who wants to practice his English phrases.
‘You are from England? I have a cousin in London,’ says our chap, turning around to give us a winning smile.
‘That’s great, but you’d better look out for that donkey gridlock up ahead.’
‘Is that near Stanmore? His shop is there.’
What blessed relief then, to be met for the transfer to our luxury north African retreat by the charming and loquacious Abdul III (two other Abduls were already employed at Kasbah Tamadot when he started). The 45-minute drive in the back of an air-conditioned VW 4x4 is an absolute delight in comparison with the sweaty bustle of Marrakech’s dusty streets.
It’s a inspirational journey, and gives you a different take on Morocco. The road winds up through the Atlas Mountains, passing 1,000-year-old Berber villages which, if you removed the electricity poles and kids in logo’d T-shirts, would look much the same as when they were built by nomadic tribes. A big part of Tamadot’s charm is the way it fits with these surroundings.
It is perched dramatically on the edge of a valley, with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop; it is clear why Richard Branson was so taken by the location. Apparently, when the tousle-haired tycoon used the Kasbah as a base prior to his 1998 attempt at a round-the-world balloon record, his mother was so taken with it that Sir Richard decided to add it to his stable of holiday outposts. Seven years later, Kasbah Tamadot was born: a boutique hotel in the Atlas Mountains. With its landscaped gardens, five-star spa and infinity pool looking across the valley to an ancient village, it combines atmosphere with luxury in a most relaxing way.
Given the lateness of the hour, Mrs Smith and I expect nothing more than a cup of mint tea when we arrive. The staff, bless them, clap their hands with delight when they see our surprise at being offered a full meal in the restaurant. We are whisked past carved doors, Indonesian statues, elaborate mosaics and silver chairs on the way up to our table. We’re lucky enough to have arrived on the night of the traditional Berber feast and, if the contented smiles of our fellow diners are anything to go by, it’s going to be a waistband-loosening treat.
It starts innocently enough: a few buttery pastries and a tangy Moroccan salad, with some fresh-baked flatbread. The latter is so good I wolf it down like a man who’s not sure when he’ll eat again. Big mistake. The main course of tagine arrives and the ‘feast’ bit begins to make sense. For the uninitiated, a tagine is a domed clay pot designed for slow cooking. In days of old, such a method was necessary to render tough cuts of meat edible. Here and now at Tamadot, married with the finest ingredients, it brings out the richness of every flavour, from sweet dates to savoury stock. It’s a complex and delicious dish. Or dishes – four of them, to be exact: beef, chicken, fish and vegetable tagines, all spread on our table. We briefly wonder whether someone might be joining us – a herd of tribesmen, perhaps – but no, this is for two reasonably hungry Londoners. We’re determined to show the chef that he kept his kitchen open for good reason.
We waddle off afterwards, giggling and giddy with the sheer loveliness of it all, following a candlelit pathway until we come to our room. With its elaborately carved ceiling, highly covetable dark-wood wardrobe and enormous rainfall shower, it’s the sort of place that makes you hum with quiet contentment. And when I wake up briefly in the middle of the night, there’s none of that ‘where the hell am I?’ oddness. We left the curtains open because, frankly, we were too full of food to move much, so when I open my eyes at 4am I see a great silver moon shining over the mountains. Taking stock of my surroundings before drifting off again, I have that most delightful of hotel moments: the thought of ‘Oh yes, everything’s all right here’. Content, remote and in a blissful bed with your nearest and dearest – if there’s a better thought on waking up, I’ve yet to find it.
There are only 17 rooms here, so service is excellent. Besides the spa treatments, you can go ballooning, trekking or riding, or play tennis. Our days consist of lying by that stunning pool, gazing over the valley and being embarrassingly romantic. Sorry, but it really is that kind of place. There’s also a library with surprisingly good contemporary novels to choose from. Although the Kasbah’s chill-out ethos means no TVs, the staff are happy to fetch one for you if you ask, and there’s a DVD menu featuring Virgin’s current top 50 choices. When we’re feeling particularly slothful one night, we take this option: the tiny Moroccan chap who brings a TV set to our room is so bent under the huge telly that we feel we have to tip him handsomely.
Afterwards, we figure that we probably parted with a small fortune for the favour, but Tamadot inspires this sort of behaviour. There’s such a sense of bonhomie and general good feeling that throwing a few dirhams around seems a trifling matter. Opulent, tranquil and about as far removed from the madness of Marrakech as you can get, Kasbah Tamadot is a flawless operation, and perfect for a long weekend of lounging and loving.
Anonymously reviewed by Scott Manson (Rock-star writer)
Whenever you book a stay at a Mr & Mrs Smith, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what real-life guests had to say in Kasbah Tamadot's guestbook below.
The fact that they employ 90 local people brings a special atmosphere, which you just don't get at an international chain hotel. The setting is a mix of biblical scenes with all the modern comfort you could wish for. We shall certainly return.
Anne, SilverSmith stayed on 2 Oct 2012
The location set amongst the Atlas Mountains. A quiet, little oasis.
Nothing, absolutely perfect.
Carolyn, BlackSmith stayed on 4 Sep 2012
This was our second visit. The Kasbah is just beautiful, best of all in the evenings, when the smell of roses and jasmine hangs in the air. We stayed and read by the pool for our whole stay; why bother moving when attentive bar staff constantly serve you drinks? The food was wonderful throughout our stay but the evenings -when Moroccan food was served- were the moments that stood out the most.
Andrew, SilverSmith stayed on 27 Aug 2012
Kasbah Tamadot was divine. We received the warmest of welcomes as we arrived and, after being shown around the kasbah, were taken to our room and pleasantly surprised. They had thought of everything: electric blankets, comfy beds, windows that looked out to spectacular views and the staff were incredibly friendly. We went mule trekking, hiking, enjoyed the kasbah surrounds and visited the local market. Kasbah Tamadot made everything so easy for us. We will definitely head back.
Natasha, SilverSmith stayed on 7 Apr 2012
This has to be one of the most warm, inviting places we have stayed at in a long time. Outstanding service, delivered warmly. Nothing was too much trouble in a perfect location for a rest. Amazingly attentive management and staff. Just well worth it and we will recommend to everyone. Thank you.
Neil, BlackSmith stayed on 26 Mar 2012