Kasbah Tamadot MoroccoFirst Look - Rockin’ the Kasbah: Kasbah Tamadot
A private island. A mountain lodge. A game reserve. Sir Richard Branson knows how to live the good life. His Moroccan retreat, the Kasbah Tamadot, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, is no exception. Well, except that it also puts your priorities in perspective. And by priorities we don’t mean imbibing champagne on the beach or table-dancing at the Farmhouse in Verbier. Turns out that Kasbah Tamadot is as much about pleasure as it is about philanthropy. You won’t leave here the same.
This is Our Kind of Camping
As you would expect from the Virgin collection, you’ll be ensconced in your very own paradise. Rooms are luxurious, whether you’re rockin’ the Kasbah in Moroccan-themed suites or kicking back in serene Berber tents with private plunge pools. The decked-out, spacious Amalou Berber Tent, which is named after the shade of the tree during the midday sun on the terrace, could fit an entire Eagle Scout troop. It’s done up in an “Out of Africa”theme, with a large living room furnished with local Berber rugs and silver-tray coffee tables. You’ll find treats in all the rooms, from the soft-as-butter Moroccan slippers, your gift to keep, to straw sunhats to the traditional djellaba– traditional brown robes – that help cut the evening chill. So now you’re not only living Berber fabulous, you’re looking it too.
They don’t nickel and dime you at the Kasbah. The mini bar is gratis, and refilled every day with wine, as well as copious amounts of fruit and nuts. They understand that a Titan of the Universe like yourself needs to stay connected, so with their WiFi, you’ll be multi-tasking in no time. But probably not for long: Kasbah is all about chilling out – soaking up sun at the pool, taking in some table tennis, eating lunch on the terrace, and relaxing on your private deck.
International flights from the U.S. arrive in Casablanca, from where it’s a 3–4-hour ride, depending on traffic and weather, or a quick hour flight to Marrakech. Alternatively, you can travel to Paris from the U.S. and then fly directly to Marrakech. While Casablanaca sounds Humphrey Bogart romantic, that’s all in the movies. Skip it to spend more time in other cities like Essaouira, Fez, Marrakech, and the Atlas Mountains.
The Kasbah offers a chauffeured scenic-route option from Marrakech to the Atlas Mountains, but our opinion is that you can have a similar experience by taking the direct route. Keep in mind that your mode of transport makes a big difference in Morocco; between destinations, you’ll spend hours in the car, so it’s worth spending up for a service that has headrests and beverages. Vehicles at the Kasbah Tamadot are plush – comfortable leather seats, perfect climate control, professional drivers, and great music.
An Activity Book the Size of an Encyclopedia
The activity book at the Kasbah Tamadot is like an encyclopedia. For an adrenaline rush, explore the Atlas Mountains on quad bikes – ATVs for us Americans. You’ll zip from narrow passages and unpaved rural roads to harrowing mountain heights. These are some pretty intense trails; your guide will help you navigate if it becomes too difficult, but know that this is not about driving Miss Daisy.
It’s choose-your-own adventure at Kasbah Tamadot, and one of the most popular is lunch in a Berber village, located high in the Atlas Mountains. About 44% of Morocco's population is Berber. Contrary to preconceived notions, the Berbers are not isolationist; they’re interested in building an infrastructure of roads and electricity, and creating a healthcare system and reliable communication with the rest of Morocco. You’ll notice many satellite dishes on houses that are barely more than rock and dirt roofs. Education has come to the Berber villages as well, and the children look like any other school kids around the world, in their gym shoes and neatly pressed clothing.
On the way to the Berber village, you’ll pass the villages of Imlil and Armed, which are dotted with numerous small shops selling local wares, from amethyst and quartz rocks to jewelry and painted pottery. Shopping here is a way to support the community – and to bring home some really great loot.
You can hike, donkey-ride, or drive up to the Berber lunch, which is in one of the highest inhabited towns in the Atlas Mountains. And by inhabited, we mean a village of about a dozen people, where Main Street is a dusty, half-block road. As you ascend the steps to the outdoor rooftop of the Berber home, you’ll find a simple yet beautifully presented feast, where you can choose to sit on the ground with pillows and low tables, or at tables with brightly colored umbrellas to shade you from the strong Moroccan sun. You’re served four courses, including nuts and olives, a delicious vegetarian Moroccan soup, a beef stew, and dessert. The food, though, doesn’t matter: From this perch, you’ll feel like you’re the only person in the world.
These Chefs have Skills
Your culinary expectations might not be high for a place that’s in the middle of nowhere, but the Kasbah Tamadot guys have skills. The restaurant has a Moroccan nights vibe,cozy yet elegant and warmed by a roaring fire. Lunches are served on the terrace overlooking the pool and an ancient village. Virgin recently brought in Lee Cowie, a self-trained Kiwi chef who cooked at Necker Island for everyone from Mariah Carrey to Harry Connick, Jr. The gourmet ten-course meals would put any Top Chef to shame.The menu changes daily and may start out with crayfish cigarettes in a light cream sauce followed by a goat-cheese-and-tomato tart. The main course can be served as two dishes – a fish tasting of salmon, shrimp, and scallop; and a juicy beef tenderloin. Dessert is also dual: a whipped-cream-and-pistachio parfait, and a cantaloupe-and-melon sorbet. Top it off with traditional Moroccan mint tea, in front of the fire in the library.
The chef’s favorite meal to prepare is the Berber feast. Most of his kitchen team are local Berbers, who he’s not only trained, but who have become like family. Not many kitchen crews cook and sing together. When you love what you do, it shows through. The feast includes a traditional Harira chickpea soup, exploding with flavor; Moroccan salads and delicately fried phyllo filled with cheese, vegetables, and other delights; and light-as-air couscous and the famed Moroccan tagines. In short, the Berber feast will be one of your top meals in Morocco.
The Mum of Sir Richard
The Kasbah Tamadot is not just a hotel in the Atlas Mountains; it’s part of the community. Eve Branson was the inspiration for her son to set up house in Morocco. She’s a long-time philanthropist, who aspired to help the local Berbers develop sustainable enterprises. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Eve at lunch – just don’t bring up the Kate Winslet/Necker Island incident. She’s one spunky lady: We can only hope to be that vibrant in our 80s.
Mrs. Branson’s foundation has helped women in the area learn crafts, which they sell in their Craft House and in the Kasbah Tamadot shop. The cashmere is from local Cashmere goat, the only species of its kind in the country. And, for those looking to volunteer on a visit to the Kasbah, the staff could not be more helpful to make it happen. You’ll feel it from the moment you arrive: Kasbah Tamadot is much more than a luxury getaway – it’s an experience.