Our clients and many other Americans must have been impressed with Moroccan World Cup prominence; the country is a sizzling visitor scene this year! Marrakech is packed with luxury riads and lodges, as much as I love it, after a few days of the colorful chaos, most travelers seek a tranquil escape in the Atlas Mountains for a few days of serenity.
Keeping my eye on the pulse of the new important hotel properties before my fall visit, I’m very intrigued by a new hideaway in the Atlas Mountains. Olinto is a luxury Atlas Mountain retreat situated in the Berber heartland of Morocco, a mere 55-minute drive from Marrakech airport.
The nine vine covered cottages sit at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. The Retreat has been created by Prince Fabrizio Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, a pioneer in establishing legendary Moroccan properties. In fact, on my first to Marrakech, I stayed in his glorious riad, the five-star Maison Arabe and still dine in the enchanted gardens.
A petite footprint on a massive piece of land provides the ultimate in seclusion. Each of the nine majestic pavilions has been designed with privacy and the utmost comfort at its core. Those in search of utter harmony and a much needed get away from it all, will find themselves surrounded by stunning vistas and pure mountain air.
Set on 10 acres amid groves of olive trees and perfumed gardens, above the Berber village Imlil. The retreat provides dramatic views, the cottages enjoy rooftop havens for private sunbathing, and secluded gardens, in some cases, small pools. A spa will open sometime next year, for now, guests can enjoy massages in the traditional hammam. I know of two clients who request private gardens or beach pavilions for nude sunbathing. Sunshine, a gentle breeze and privacy equals sybaritic heaven for many!
Set at the foot of Mount Toubkal, the highest northern peak, Olinto is the perfect location for hiking, adventure sports, mountain biking and climbing. Our clients who have stayed in the area, enjoy hiking with Berbers and visit women’s cooperatives and take cooking classes in local homes.
Shaded courtyards and vine covered pergolas provide places to read or just let the quiet take over. A natural grand swimming pool has majestic views of the reddish mountain peaks over a thick cluster of silver leaved olive trees.
One always needs a time out from Marrakech, and this retreat appears to be the perfect antidote.
My formal RSVP has been posted and my personal review coming in fall. Olinto has received much press since their opening.
Morocco is a land of legends and fascination, despite its closeness to the European continent, its soul lies in the cradle of its North African coastal home. A historically independent nation, it has always been a multi-cultural ancient crossroad for trade, ideas, and migratory people. There is a rhythm and beauty and an ethereal light, its charms have wooed travelers, poets, and artists, inspiring some of them to never leave. Kandinsky, Matisse, and Renoir were pleased by its evocative temptations. A heady mix of the Orient, Arabian nights, and Muslim influences.
The imperial cities of Marrakesh, Rabat, Fez and Meknes offer innumerable architectural buildings left by former rulers. An enchanting country, a favorite of mine and our clients for many, many years. Besides intimate city exploration, we can include authentic desert tents along with dauntless camels to scale the dunes at sunset and sunrise…let your imagination be boundless! From the desolate deserts to domed mosques, splendid imperial palaces and tombs, the impressive tranquil Atlas Mountains, where the rich and colorful Berber culture beguiles every visitor. Morocco is truly an enticing destination. You will hear the call to prayer, Adhan, one of the finest resonances in Morocco, which takes places five times a day. Recited or sung by a muezzin at prescribed times of the day. The root of the word is ʾadhina أَذِنَ meaning “to listen’. The beauty of the call lies in its melody reverberating from the mosque minarets in the still of night or the chaos of the day. I’m captivated by it. Why not practice being quiet five times a day and be grateful for life? https://www.middleeasteye.net/discover/adhan-muslim-call-prayer-melodies-maqams
To truly explore, allow three weeks for a deep immersion, less time would focus on several cities and a sojourn in the Atlas Mountains. A thumbnail look at a longer Journey, follow me in autumn when I return to this charmed country of colorful souks, the melodious call to prayer and a visit to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, where women are allowed to visit. Although it is only the 7th largest mosque in the world, Hassan II claims the title of having the largest minaret in the world. Capped with a spotlight that shines east towards Mecca, the minaret is 700-feet tall, towering above the Atlantic Ocean.
Southern Morocco is a land of tales and legends. Khamilia home of ancient Gnawa tribe where you can stay and sing with these magicians by the fireplace, the road of the ancient Kasbahs, the Drâa Valley, Tamegrouote and its ancient library counting books from the 14th century brought by pilgrims, the dry lake of Iriki.
Moroccan cuisine has gained massive followers among food connoisseurs. Staples of most meals include lamb, fish, and fowl, including pigeon, which is considered a delicacy when baked in pastry, the b’stillah is a national favorite. Vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants and onions are typically served with the well known and loved couscous. Bread, or Khob, as in many Middle Eastern and North African countries is considered a deep cultural symbol as well as a daily staple. Crusty, round flattish loaves are often baked on a girdle over an open flame or earthen ovens. Mint tea is served everywhere in dainty tulip glasses.
An ancient Moroccan proverb: “manage with bread and butter until God sends honey”.
Home to Morocco’s primary international airport, Casablanca is the main gateway into the country for many visitors and often their first taste of the country. This city is an industry and business powerhouse and compared to the exotic charms of Marrakesh and Fez, it can’t compete. There is a European touch to much of its architecture, and the city has a modern swagger that is unseen in other parts of the country.
Although Casablanca’s tourist sights and attractions may not be as obvious as those elsewhere, you will find some gems if you dig a little deeper. The medina quarter is a charming area and much smaller and easier to navigate than those elsewhere. And the colossal Hassan II Mosque is top of the list on most sightseeing checklists. For film buffs, there is nothing more synonymous with this city than the 1942 cinematic classic Casablanca. Apart from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the movie’s real star was Rick’s Café, where much of the action took place.
TGV to Tangier and Chefchaouen. Tangier has long been romanticized by artists, writers, and esoteric Beat poets, who arrived at its lively shores chasing escapades. On the Northern tip of Morocco, Tangier, an ancient white walled seaside city is the crossroads to Europe. In the 1920’s to the 1950’s it was long known as a haven to bohemian artists and an avant-garde literary community. Known for its brightly tiled interiors and in particular, a rambling estate garden of legendary Italian horticulturist and writer Umberto Pasti and his celebrated garden Rohuna. Like Matisse and Delacroix before you, wander through streets lined with whitewashed houses and allow yourself to be transported by the dreamy atmosphere of the city. With wide boulevards, a medina revealing Moorish craftsmanship, and European colonial influences, Tangier retains an enduring eccentricity, and an undeniable charm.
Two hours southeast of Tangier, is Chefchaouen, the Blue City, the Blue Pearl of Morocco, an otherworldly escape sits high up in Morocco’s Rif Mountains. Surrounded by striking green valleys which are a vibrant contrast to the beautiful blue and white houses and mosques. There are endless opportunities for scenic hikes and walks in the Rif Mountains that surround Chefchaouen. Artisan shops offer traditional hand-made goods including handwoven rugs, Moroccan lamps, Berber textiles and ironwork, jewelry, caftans, and woven baskets.
Further south lies Fez, Morocco’s spiritual and cultural capital. Fez vies with Marrakesh for the title of Morocco’s most exotic city. This is the country’s spiritual capital, and despite the encroachment of modernity, it has maintained its authentic appeal down through the ages, holding onto its stately bearing as an Imperial City. Its minaret and dome-punctured skyline and timeless, crumbling Islamic architecture are top things to see for travelers.
Only one suggestion of the multiple exclusive torus we can offer here. Architecture and Islamic garden Tours Lose yourself in the gardens of ancient palaces and exotic Riads perfumed with orange blossoms, citrus, blood red roses and the sweetest jasmine. The tour combines an overview of the fascinating and beautiful world of Moroccan Architecture which showcases all the main ornamentation and decorative techniques from floral motifs, geometry, ceramics to calligraphy, symbolic of the rich cultural heritage of the vast Islamic empire and uncovers the mysteries of the Islamic concept of Chahar-bagh, the four-fold garden and leads us to discover earthly paradise revisited.
Overnight at Riad Fes Restored to its original glory, this Relais & Châteaux property is in the Medina, in the heart of the ancient city of Fez. Riad Fès is renowned for its luxury, impeccable service, and fine restaurant, it has been restored to its original glory in the heart of the ancient city, a serene atmosphere with decor reminiscent of Arabian Nights.
Sahara Desert. Overnight Desert Luxury Camp
Skoura. Surprisingly lush and abrupt as it springs from the tawny landscape, Skoura deserves a lingering look for its kasbahs and its rich concentration of date palm, olive, fig, and almond trees. Pathways tunnel through the vegetation from one kasbah to another within this fertile island—a true oasis, perhaps the most intensely verdant in Morocco. Skoura is such a magical place, that if you’re on a grand tour of the Great Oasis Valleys, think about basing yourself here.
Stay Dar Ahlam. On the fringes of the Moroccan desert, shaded by the palms, lies Dar Ahlam. Terracotta colored stone meets cerulean skies as this traditional Kasbah cuts an imposing shape across the landscape. Experience a land of adventure from this Kasbah near Ouarzazate, gateway to the Moroccan desert. Unwind in a haven of manicured lawns and fragrant almond blossom. Or step out into the wilderness of the desert for a night under the stars, where you will soak up the elegant beauty in the privacy of your own luxury tent. Secluded by palm groves and almond trees at the edge of the Moroccan desert, this two-hundred-year-old rammed earth Kasbah the color of Champagne is an original maison des rêves. Gracefully made over with all modern comforts and the necessary technology, this singular fourteen room hideaway overlooks the Atlas Mountains, with a palm shaded swimming pool, hammam and candle-lit massage room. Dar Ahlam is not so much a hotel as a team of over 100 people dedicated entirely to you. Meals are customized and served to you among a selection of distinct, private settings like their flourishing gardens by Louis Benech, the gifted designer of the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris and the Bosquet du Théâtre d’Eau at Versailles.
Trek into the Valley of Roses, explore among the corn stalks and pomegranate trees of a nearby palmeraie and drive to the hilltop vestiges of a 12th century Berber village for a traditional tea ceremony at dusk.
Off to the High Atlas Mountains at indulgent and magical Kasbah Tamadot, where days are spent hiking to nearby villages, doing sunrise yoga, and immersing oneself in the unique Berber culture. Situated in the spectacular Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the award-winning Kasbah Tamadot is owned by Sir Richard Branson. This 28-bedroom hotel is perched at the top of a valley with views up to Mount Toubkal and over to some of the traditional Berber villages that dot around the region. Postcards soon from my Berber tent, the private deck is equipped with loungers to soak up the views and where I will enjoy outdoor dining under an ebony sky bursting with a thousand stars. My Berber Tent Suite is awaiting my arrival!
In the Berber language, Kasbah Tamadot means ‘soft breeze’. It’s easy to imagine you’re a million miles away from it all in the gorgeous surroundings of Kasbah Tamadot. Located in Asni, a little village and marketplace in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, an area inhabited by the friendly Berbers,
Depart the magical Kasbah for a short ride through the mountains to Marrakech. The maze of souks must be explored in the covered bazar, I wouldn’t navigate without a guide, pedestrian movement can be interrupted by beasts of burden, mostly donkeys; the scent tells you of the wares. Every type of similar object sits side by side, the leather merchants rest on mounds of bags, prices aren’t marked, it’s a plucky game of negotiation. The Spice Traders Square is the epicenter of the medina, the fabric covered market tables groan under the weight of conical towers of pungent spices. Mysterious herbalist concoctions, baskets brimming with rose petals, this is the best place to purchase the well-known ras el hanout, the famous Moroccan spice blend. Argan oil is best found in a pharmacy as it is a staple product. Open air vendors will tempt you with their colorful wares and snake charmers do exist on the famed Jamaa el Fna Square, in the Marrakech medina quarter.
Marrakech’s Jardin Majorelle is a must visit, designed in 1920 by famed French painter Jacques Majorelle. Historic museums, surfing on the coast and trekking in the great Atlas Mountains are only a few of the striking and authentic offerings. Private visits can be arranged to the Yves Saint Laurent home, Villa Oasis, followed by a privately guided tour to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, where guests are taken into two worlds dear to Yves Saint Laurent’s heart: fashion and Morocco. This awe-inspiring museum exhibits a significant part of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent’s collection, and is a legacy to Marrakech, a city that held such a crucial place in Yves Saint Laurent’s life. The Museum of African Contemporary Art is the first museum dedicated to African Art in Morocco, giving a voice to young, emerging, and established artists, to be proud of their roots in their continent.
Many exclusive tour options but two I am interested in doing besides roaming the souks and private gardens. Calligraphy means “beautiful writing” and Arabic calligraphy (or more properly, Islamic calligraphy) is considered a high art form in the Arab world and is increasingly gaining recognition and appreciation worldwide. Evening Cocktails with Private Storytelling The Moroccan tradition of Hikayat, or storytelling dates back almost 1, 000 years. Some stories were recorded and other stories are passed orally. Hikayat was used as a way to pass on cultural beliefs, such as moral lessons to children and to entertain people on long winter nights. This form of entertainment was found in cities throughout Morocco but today Marrakech’s Jemaa El Fna square is the only city that’s keeping this tradition alive. Reserve one evening to enjoy a private session of this dying art in the comfort and peace of your hotel with the master Storyteller Ahmed Ezzarghani in both Arabic and English before dinner.
In Marrakech as in other larger metropolitan cities, there are two choices for hotels, authentic chic riads within the walls of the ancient medina for a truly cultural mix or at larger hotels outside the medina. Or stay in both, enjoy the medina culture in the old walled city, where you can walk everywhere amid the fascinating maze of streets or escape the constant activity and slumber outside the walls in luxurious five star hotels. Something for every taste.
Activities have been carefully designed to provide our clients with some of the best experiences that are available in Morocco. We can tailor the activities to your needs, creating full day programs and include meals, fun elements or romantic touches to make your stay in this exotic country truly magical and memory making! An awe-inspiring country with a solid sense of culture.