STAY IN A THOUSAND YEAR OLD KASBAH IN A MOROCCAN DESERT OASIS

DAR AHLAM | SKOURA, MOROCCO

[SKOURA, MOROCCO] — “Welcome to Dar Ahlam. Our goal is to redefine the hotel experience. There is no Reception. No restaurant. No keys. No hours. No menus. No itinerary. Just surprises. When you are hungry, just show up at any time and we will take you to a different place we’ve arranged for you.”

And that is how it started.

And that’s how I was introduced by “Flo” (Florent) who runs the very remote and very exclusive Dar Ahlam kasbah in the oasis town of Skoura, in southern Morocco. Okay, this trip….ummmm, I really splashed out on…because it is the Sahara and what better place to go all-in? And Abercrombie & Kent is the one to go with, they arranged everything, from pickup at the airport to transfers, to guides, to hotels, to a wifi-whopped Mercedes van (not that I spent anytime looking inside the van!)

From Marrakesh, you travel up the scary/windy Tizi n’Tichka Pass and then down the other side to the big town of Ouarzazate then on another hour to Skoura. Surprisingly, Northern Morocco is quite lush, green and bountiful, all fed from snowmelt from the High Atlas mountains. But as you cross the Atlas, almost instantly the scenery changes. To desert. With verdant and thick oases, noted by the palmieres, thick and deep green against the one hundred shades of ocher that is Morocco.

Tizi n’Tichka Pass Morocco from YouShouldGoHere on Vimeo.

As you descend into the desert side, you pass one picturesque town after the other. And if you take Route 9, even more-so. Talouet is the most beautiful and stunning, nestled into canyon walls. It really is an awesome drive. Once you arrive in Ouarzazate, take a quick tour of the movie studios, yes, movie studies. Movie production is the biggest business in town and has made Morocco famous. Google it. Tons of pictures have been made here and everyone can cite everyone one. (And a surprising amount of Nicholas Cage movies.)  It is a massive backlot with moviesets and vistas galore.

When you arrive in Skoura, you can’t figure it out. This supposedly magical hotel, here?  You pass dusty streets, everywhere. Donkeys. Little shops and homes with metal doors. Anas zooms around tight corner after tight corner, cats, dogs, people. You dip down into a dry riverbed, someone watering their mule. The roads get tighter, the road, dustier. Finally you pull into a small carpark. HERE? Really?

Skoura, Morocco from YouShouldGoHere on Vimeo.

In Skoura, you are at the top of the Sahara, which is 60 days of camel to Timbuktu. And this was the caravans’ old stopping (and dropping) point to reload. And probably take a shower. You’ve read about caravans as a kid, but this really brings it all to life, especially when you see nomads who have been doing this for hundreds of years.

Dar Ahlam view of Skoura

Dar Ahlam view of Skoura

Dar Ahlam sunset

Dar Ahlam sunset

And then, passing through the ancient heavy door, “Oh, this is it. This is definitely it.”

Dar Ahlam entrance

And then you get to Dar Ahlam. Past windy dirt alleys, no signs indicating it is there. A nondescript parking area and then a slew of people to meet you. Including Flo (Florent) the young master of the kasbah and coordinator of your happiness for the next several days.

Dar Ahlam is a sensuously restored old kasbah — Skoura has over a thousand old kasbahs in its palm groves — owned by a visionary French company called Les Rêves (Dreams).  As opposed to the opulent hotels in Marrakesh, this is understated, yet rustically elegant as only the French can do. A walled compound amidst the dusty roads and Call to Prayer of Skoura. You have your own warren of rooms in the cool rammed-earth construction and only run into the few others around the pool or in passing to/from adventures.

“Welcome to Dar Ahlam. Our goal is to redefine the hotel experience. There is no Reception. No restaurant. No keys. No hours. No menus. No itinerary. Just surprises.”

 

Dar Ahlam pool

 

CLICK ON THE PICTURES BELOW FOR SLIDESHOW

 

When you are hungry, you just show up at your own time and Flo has already picked out a new, isolated little secret place for you to eat. A different place each day. One day in the garden, on pillows and flowing drapes. Others in a candle-lit alcove. Once by the pool. A crescendo last night on the roof — which I didn’t even know was there.

I didn’t realize it until after, but I never once was shown a menu — they just start bringing you food — but they served exactly what I was in the mood for every single time. It was eerie. Everything single thing I love; different each day, but always seeming perfectly chosen, perfectly flavored. Moroccan food is now my favorite on the planet. I talked to other guests and they realized the same thing. THAT is remarkable.

And candles. Candles and lanterns and fire glowing everywhere. I want to work here, being the fire-lighting guy. What a magical place.

“When you are hungry, just show up at any time and we will take you to a different place each time.”

 


This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. And well worth every single burning cent. And Flo and Dar Ahlam was the hotel experience to redefine them all. With surprises at every turn. Save up all your money and give it to Flo and you’ll walk away with one of the most memorable experiences, ever.  Here’s what Conde Nast Traveler had to say about a similar trip, staying at Dr Ahlam. And Travel & Leisure’s article Morocco Beyond Marrakesh

Adventures & Surprises. That’s what Dar Ahlam is all about. Each day you decide what you’re in the mood for, then they take you there. On a hike, to visit local Market Day in Skoura, lunch by a grand lake. Every day is different.

TRAVEL TIPS:

It’s a long way from Marrakesh, only a couple hundred kilometers, but takes about 4-5 hours with pictures. And that’s just to Skoura, from there it’s another 4 hours or so to get into the edge of the Sahara, where camp is. There are no real autostradas in Morocco so most the roads are windy and often bumpy two-lane roads.

It is amazing what shade does in the desert, you go from frying like an egg to cool as a cucumber in seconds, just by standing under a few scant limbs of a stubborn tree.

Gas stations are few and far between. So gas-up when you can. Or look into drivers, which are fairly common. You do need a car/driver, though to get around.

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