In the final of this three part series exploring Morocco, Judy James shares her experiences of her and her husband Robins trip into the Atlas mountains.
Escaping to the Atlas Mountains
We left Marrakech to drive up to the High Atlas mountains. As you come out of the Medina and head north, you are immediately into flat, stony, arid ground with sheep and shepherds scratching a miserable living among huge construction works and developments of golf courses, hotels and villa complexes, before reaching the river and the start of the Valley. We travelled through Asni, a prosperous town at the beginning of the Imlil valley from where the magnificent snow covered peaks of the Atlas range start to form a towering backdrop to the fertile terraces along the river where apple, peach, quince and almond trees grow in abundance. We climbed the valley, over a high pass through sheer rock cliffs towards the little village of Imlil which nestles right up against the mountains and is the end of the road for vehicles. We were met by a young man with a mule, loaded our suitcases into the baskets and we followed on foot along a little track to where the Kasbah du Toubkal, owned by Mike McHugo, is situated, looking up to the highest peak in North Africa, the 4,167-metre high Mount Toubkal.
Kasbah du Toubkal
Kasbah du Toubkal is run through a unique partnership with the local Berber community, with a five per cent levy included in guests' accommodation bills being funnelled back to the villagers via the Imlil Village Association. To date, this association has built a hammam - the region's first community steam bath - and recently assisted in the construction of a school for 80 children in an outlying valley. It has also instigated a much-needed rubbish disposal system, as well as providing the region's first ambulance and driver.
Genuine Berber friendliness
It is more of a Berber hospitality centre than a traditional hotel, where the genuine friendliness and warmth of the Berber people who run it are exceptional. A Berber custom, when greeting guests, is to sprinkle their hands with rosewater which you, as the guest pat onto your face - and then enter the house. The rooms are rustic yet comfortable, with wonderful views, and simple Berber adornments such as hand-woven carpets, blankets, intricate carved woodwork and oleander branch panelled ceilings.
Trekking in the mountains
We had a day trekking in the mountains with a Berber guide, Mohammed, walking down below the Kasbah, passing terraces along the banks of the river with ancient walnut trees, apple trees and irises. We headed up into the hills, to a high ridge and Col where you could see way down the valley and also had a wonderful view of the Kasbah and Imlil way below, then further up over rock and shale to where, in a bowl in the hills, a mule was tethered, and a carpet and some cushions awaited us. Hussein had come up with lunch from the Kasbah and immediately started brewing very welcome mint tea, and produced a delicious lunch of meatballs with egg, and salad. A group of children from the village below had come up to play football on a flat area in the stones, and came over to see what was going on and happily finished off what lunch we could not eat before going back to their game. Sadly, we had to take our leave early the next morning, just as the sun was touching the peaks, and drive back to Marrakech for the flight back home. These few days were just a taste of Morocco - it is a huge, fascinating country and there is much more to explore, so I hope one day we shall be going back.