Ancient Rural Tourism Morocco with Dar al Hossoun

More exploring in Morocco, focused on the countryside, the ocean, and secret gardens. I’ve made multiple visits to the sweet riad Dar Al Hossoun, in Taroudant, three hours from Marrakech. The French owner has become a friend, and we love the engaging staff! It’s a perfect base for exploring ancient Citadels, walled villages like Kasbah Of Tizourgane and collective graneries known as Igoudars. These stacked mud buildings reflect an ancestral history and a rich culture in the area.

Dar al Hossoun

Taroudant is called the “Grandmother of Marrakech” because it is a scaled down, slower paced town that physically resembles Marrakech with its orange-colored surrounding ramparts. It has the feel of a small fortified market town on a caravan route and is known for its local crafts. Unlike Marrakech, Taroudant contains almost the whole city within its ancient walls. The thick city walls built in 1528, are almost completely intact. It’s directly south of Marrakech, about a 3-hour drive.  A little unhurried Berber town, it can be over-looked by many tourists, perfect for me! Imagine the caravan route dotted with charming communities, don’t dismiss these little hidden gems.

At Dar al Hossoun, enjoy the tranquility of the gardens, painting, taking pictures, swimming, or dining on traditional Moroccan cuisine at their cookery classes, or simply relaxing at the Spa or by the pool. For those who wish to be active while at Dar al Hossoun, there is much to choose from: hikes, or carriage rides, visits to the souks and tannery nearby, discovery of the “lost” valley of the High or Anti-Atlas region, old Berber villages and tours of private homes and gardens.

The routes between the main Anti-Atlas cities of Taroudant, Tafraoute, Tata and Tiznit make great road trips and biking areas. This area is also rich in ancient Igoudars. A few have been restored, some are easy to find!  This countryside area abounds with architectural treasures: Medinas, Walls, fortified granaries called Igoudars, Ksours and Kasbahs. A guide from Dar al Hossoun can take you to any number of these nomadic remote locations.

Last fall, I visited for the second time – specifically to discover ancient walled citadels a few hours from the property. The Souss area is abundant with exceptional hiking and there are two accessible ancient sites, we spent a day exploring both.

Off a country road, in the midday heat, we walked down a steep stone path to the granary. My initial thoughts included, how will I get back up that hill in the blazing heat. The alleyways are packed with the individual ‘safes’. Mint tea and cookies in a small mud den with the local woman who is the ‘keeper,’ provided a welcoming respite from the heat.

These are real safes for the villages of the region. Collective granaries, seen from the outside, can look like a kasbah. Some granaries are still in operation but most tend to be abandoned. Some of the most remarkable marvels of southern Moroccan architecture have been left out of the main tourist trails and guidebook highlights.

Kasbah Of Tizourgane is a few hours drive from Dar al Hossoun, it’s a small, fortified village dating from the 13th century. In the Land of Ida Ougnidif, you can spend a few hours exploring the century-old wooden doors, walk the steep stone ramparts, and narrow winding lanes, and enveloping stone walls. Welcome to the fairy-tale village of Tizourgane! Lunch at the top of the citadel with breathtaking views!

The Kasbah has been rebuilt in coordination with the original construction techniques. It has a small guest house with a roof top restaurant. In February, the argan and almond trees in bloom enhance the beauty of the austere location.

The village is being restored by descendants of the original three families who lived here. Using heritage funding and income from the on-site guest house, the communal areas of the mosque and agadir are slowly being restored providing visitors an authentic view into kasbah life.

Each hand carved wooden door is distinctive, the complex detailed rock placement in unique patterns is mostly assembled without mortar, its truly worth the hike up the steep stairs. I felt like I was in an ancient cathedral, in a quiet sense of awe.

A high wall surrounds the Kasbah, protecting approximately fifty houses and an Agadir. It can only be accessed by a single gate with a watchtower, which is approached by ascending a long stone stairway.

In the 1930’s, the French army would have seized the citadel, but they failed.  Soldiers camped around the ramparts for weeks, cutting off all water sources. Legend has it that an old woman soaked her clothes in oil before laying them out in the sight of the soldiers. Believing that it was laundry, and that water was abundant at the citadel, the attackers became discouraged and left the village.   

The Igoudars. These stacked mud buildings reflect an ancestral history and a rich culture in the area. Consisting of shops, a local gathering place, and a strong sanctuary were important to the original tribes. This Agadir, built entirely of dry mud and stone, is one of the region’s oldest community granaries, dating back to the 17th century. It is notable by a wide corridor that divides it into two blocks of three stories. There are over 100 storage compartments, with the highest accessible via flat stones embedded in the walls.  Walking across the uneven ground, one can imagine the old life here – the call to prayer, mules laden with vegetables, chickens running free…

An agadir is usually placed on top of a mountain or carved into the rocks of dramatic escarpments, strategically located on higher ground beyond settlements, with good vantage points. Although each granary is remarkable in design, their bee hive like labyrinth interiors of interconnecting tunnels and passageways holding padlocked chambers collectively resemble a style of architecture of mystical Middle Earth. Most of the igoudar that remain are thought to date to the 16th and 17th century, although the tradition of building and using collective granaries is estimated to be as old as a millennia; evolving from a time when many southern Amazigh tribes were still nomadic. 

Kasbah Tizourgane

Communal granaries – often fortified – were constructed in pisé – rammed mud, in the hilltop villages to store and keep safe a long list of items. Made from the local earth, an Agadir, as they are known in the local Berber, – the plural is igoudar.  Each tribe or family would have their own compartment, an elaborate wooden key and lock protects the goods from plunderers. Sections were stacked on top of each other, many are built up over three stories with wooden doors, a wooden ladder is necessary to gain access.  

A handful of families may have formed each village, so there was a shared incentive to protect the Agadir. Each village appointed a guardian, the Agadir I visited was guarded by the son and widow wife of the last guardian. She excitedly shared the enormous wooden key that easily fit into an ancient hand carved wooden lock.

The crops which are agriculturally viable amid the dramatic climate conditions of the Anti Atlas, such as saffron, almonds, and argan are high in value, with saffron only offering a short annual harvesting window and the stigmas needing optimum storage conditions to preserve life span. 

Everything from important documents, money and jewelry to the seasons harvest could be stored inside the locked chambers. These well ventilated, shaded rooms built from thick stone walls remain at cool temperatures during high heat. It is possible for grains to be stored in some agadir chambers for up to 25 years, and natural butter for 10 (which is also believed to have medicinal qualities after being preserved for such a long period of time). The structures weren’t only built for storing harvests, medicines and possessions; the Amazigh (Berber), ancestors also constructed them to function as an ancient form of a high security bank vault. The strategic planning of each granaries location meant only one security guard, amin, was needed to ‘man the fort’ at any one time. The amin was also responsible for holding the keys to the main door and all the chambered storage rooms inside, a tradition which is still kept alive today. This responsibility has always been a well respected role within the local communities. 

The agadir was also a method of defense, tribesmen stored their arms inside. The central courtyard could be used to shelter women and children and their livestock.

In peaceful times, strategically placed igoudar could increase their revenue from the transitory camel caravans, offering nightly shelter and bartering. Some agadir included shared facilities such as a small mosque, a council chamber or a blacksmith and are thus recognized as early urbanization of the Berbers.

This 64 year old woman’s husband was the ‘amin’ and she and her son are now appointed by the village to guard the granary.

Dar al Hossoun guides can organize this day tour, hiking and other off property adventures!

Highly Recommend!

House of Dreams – Dar Ahlam

There’s little about this 19th-century Kasbah that won’t leave you wanting to return. Dar Ahlam the House of Dreams. Relish a land of adventure from this Kasbah near Ouarzazate, the gateway to the Moroccan desert. One of the most luxurious properties in Morocco, in a 19th Century Kasbah.

Dar Ahlam, Skoura

On the fringes of the Moroccan desert, shaded by the palms, lies Dar Ahlam. Pale terracotta colored stone meets brilliant blue skies as this traditional Kasbah cuts an imposing shape across the landscape. Perched between the town of Skoura and the imposing Atlas Mountains, in what was once the hunting grounds of a Sultan. Unwind in a haven of manicured lawns and fragrant almond blossom, olive groves, dates, and oranges. 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.

The décor changes with the seasons, sumptuous fabrics and colors bringing the environment to life. Days at Dar Ahlam are long and luxurious. Without the distractions of television and technology, you can truly unwind. Instead, indulge in a massage under the olive trees or head off for refreshments by the river. A perfect blend of French antiques, African art, create the perfect harmony of old-world charm and modern luxury comforts. Spend a balmy evening atop the Kasbah, aperitif in hand, before feasting on a freshly prepared supper under the vast endless sky.

Beyond the walls of Dar Ahlam lies all the mystery of the desert. Explore the dunes on camelback for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, surrounding yourself with the golden sands of the Sahara as you’re pampered in your private luxury tent for a night under the stars.

Kasbah where I enjoyed a private lunch

Dar Ahlam does not allocate the suites in advance, but all are spacious, with air-conditioning, fireplaces, roomy bathrooms, and a view of the Atlas Mountains. The 1920s Kasbah building has 18 rooms, some inside the seductively dark main building; others, with intimate terraces sit amid the gorgeous gardens. I circled around the Kasbah amid the vast chambers of cool tadelakt plaster walls to locate my suite, hidden behind a massive arched wooden door that quietly slid closed. The interiors are muted tones of sand and earthy grey which repeat the neutral, natural furniture materials, local Berber rugs warm up the floors.
There’s a sapphire tone to the outdoor heated pool, which has massive Roman steps and is surrounded by comfy sun loungers, request an umbrella and it instantly appears. I read one morning as birds fluttered and chirped around me, I have very fond memories of my days here at the Kasbah.
Vegetables and herbs used by the kitchen are grown on the grounds and there is also a large patch of olive trees that are harvested by locals.
Meals are an enchanting daily surprise: tables are set up in different locations depending on the day’s theme. The menu combines traditional Moroccan specialties and the latest culinary innovations. My meal locations ranged from an olive tree shaded garden table to a private lunch in a nearby ancient Kasbah. The call to prayer sounded nearby, I closed my eyes and could imagine an ancient village with sounds of wooden donkey carts, and the clippty clop of horses. One particularly enchanting private dinner was set amid a thousand candles in a ruby red room, it was exquisite. The first evening sunset found me at the top of the highest hill, enjoying an exclusive tea ceremony, a bonfire outlined the darkening sky as a poet recited sonnets.

A traditional hammam and spa offers authentic scrubbings.  Make your way down dim, candlelit corridors to discover small, tiled treatment rooms. Say yes to full body scrub, shampoo and dry!

One common denominator, all the mountain ranges have in common: The Berber people. Berbers are a welcoming people with strong traditions, it’s more than dates and rosewater. Traditional subsistence farming is the norm in the Atlas Mountains, with small farms producing nuts and fruits, local sheep and goat herders can be seen along the roads.
I would return in a heartbeat to enjoy morning hikes in the Atlas Mountains and afternoons basking poolside. I left a piece of my heart at Dar Ahlam.

Sunset Tea Ceremony with a Poet