Marrakech is famed for its heady assault on all senses. A colourful and vibrant city that simply jostles with life; hordes of travellers continue to flock here to embrace to its intangible essence. A rich tapestry of sights, smells and sounds, the city overflows with cultural activity from the thriving souks – packed wall-to-wall with glistening pottery and textiles – to the palatial mosques dotted all around the city. However, when the restorative powers of travel beckon (as they so often do), the pulsing heart of Marrakech may offer a far cry from the relaxation you seek. Here’s how Emily Wilson, a freelance writer for Eden Luxury Travel, discovered another side to this animated destination.
Having stayed in Marrakech with my husband years ago – then both child and carefree – we jumped at the chance to embrace the heckling, bartering and blistering heat of the dust-baked city. Staying in the heart of the old medina, we opted for a traditional riad (a small Moroccan-style house) with a picturesque inner-courtyard and minimal creature comforts. Armed with little knowledge of the city, and a slightly misguided backpacker’s brazenness, we scoured as many mosques, palaces and walled gardens as we could. Days were spent fending off local tradesmen flaunting their handcrafted wares in the souk (firmly but politely, in true British style) and evenings entailed decadent dining in noisy, bustling restaurants, adorned with bejewelled decorations. When we returned back to reality, the three-day adventure left us in an incredible hazy blur; somewhat delirious but by no means relaxed.
Several years later, and decidedly more jaded by daily life, we agreed to revisit Marrakech with a newfound desire for tranquillity. Our first proper child-free getaway, we wanted a place where we could completely relax, embracing the art of doing nothing. Just outside the city walls of Marrakech, extending 2,500km across north-western Africa, The Atlas Mountains offered just that. A picturesque mountain landscape spanning all the way across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, this scenic area is accented by snow-capped peaks, lush valleys and traditional Berber villages, ideal for rest and relaxation. Away from the jam-packed streets of central Marrakech, littered with well-known tourist traps, small pockets of boutique hotels and guesthouses have arisen to offer travellers a more authentic and relaxed experience. Here small Berber villages are abuzz with local life, offering a glimpse back in time; children skip along the street happily, men fervently discuss daily trade and women busy themselves looming colourful textiles.
As we made the hour-long journey away from Marrakech Menara Airport, the crowds of the city slowly faded away to unveil new vistas of lush, winding ravines and burnt-orange houses, etched into the side of the mountains. Heading to our luxury boutique hotel, Kasbah Tamadot, we were greeted by a peaceful sanctuary and oasis of calm. A plush five-star haven, hidden in the heart of traditional Berber village Asni, Kasbah Tamadot offers a breath of fresh air, far removed from the city’s bedlam. The antithesis of our previous modest accommodation, we drove up a winding road to reveal breath-taking views of a lofty red-bricked Moroccan palace. Here, opulent Berber tents sat beneath a jaw-dropping silhouette of the High Atlas Mountains and blended seamlessly with a landscape of emerald-green palms and pristinely manicured gardens. Unlike the never-ending hustle and bustle of central Marrakech, the only sounds to distract you here are of nearby braying mules as well as the smells of freshly-baked bread, wafting from the onsite Berber kitchen. At Kasbah Tamadot, our mornings were spent indulging in long, leisurely breakfasts on the hotel’s sun-baked roof terrace and afternoons consisted of relaxing beneath shaded poolside cabanas.
Away from Kasbah Tamadot’s peaceful refuge, however, self-guided hikes through the surrounding High Atlas Mountains offered the perfect way to satisfy our itch for adventure. Outside of the hotel’s protective walls, twisting trails take you through the rugged landscape, leading to various panoramic lookout points and areas of natural beauty. Take in the hushed murmur of indigenous wildlife or simply bask in the magnitude of this picturesque mountain range. Head to Asni’s popular weekend market, every Saturday, to gain a glimpse into daily Berber life; where mule-lined streets bustle with busy trade and locals barter for colourful produce. Those looking to venture further afield can also enjoy guided trips to High Atlas locations including Imlil Valley, Ait Souka, the cascading Azroul waterfalls and traditional town of Taourirt. Whilst decidedly more touristic than simply wandering the streets by yourself, many of these guided excursions culminate in a traditional Berber lunch; a great way to embrace living like a local.
Our last stop before returning home was a visit to the Eve Branson Foundation, a philanthropic project spearheaded by Eve (mother of Richard Branson) to support the local communities of Asni. This programme, which has been developed over a span of ten years thanks to Eve’s particular passion, fosters long-lost artisanal skills from all around North Africa including looming and intricate woodwork. Well worth a visit should you find yourself in Asni, discover how these beautiful textile and wood trades support the local villages all around the area.
As we sipped our final cup of freshly-brewed mint tea in the shaded tranquil courtyard and breathed in a long, healing breath of fresh alpine air, we agreed to return as soon as possible. It turns out relaxation does exist in Marrakech; you simply have to know where to look.
All words and photos by our guest blogger Emily Wilson.