AN AIRY OASIS IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS OF MOROCCO

Kasbah Bab Ourika | Atlas Mountains | Morocco

[OURIKA VALLEY, MOROCCO] — The road out of Marrakesh is a great unwinding.

Leaving the crowded and bustling Medina behind, the criss-crossing crowded intersections and roundabouts, vehicles of every different size and shape. Donkey- and horse-drawn carts take their place alongside screaming mopeds, belching buses and trucks loaded with construction supplies and produce. Vendors selling everything out of their trunk on the side of the road or at a waiting stoplight. Well-dressed Moroccans and expats enjoying a coffee in the many outdoor cafes. It’s an insane cacophony.  

Then you pass thru the suburban apartment blocks, women in full headdress walking their kids to school. Guys repairing cars on a wide sidewalk. Then the sprawling Palmeraie, a palm grove of several hundred thousand trees, huge estates hidden behind high stucco walls that go for miles. Man, how much do those cost to build?  You get glimpses of luxury over the walls and passing gates. Golf course developments and condos sold to Europeans wanting a quick escape from the harsh winters of Paris, London or Brussels, the white capped Atlas Mountains always beckoning their presence in the near distance.


The road soon open up out across the palm-studded plain before you start the jut up the pink colored canyons, with pink colored mud houses and angular pink apartment houses showing signs of daily life. Countless roadside pottery merchants line the narrow highway, with thousands of pink pots answering to no one. In Morocco, everything is pink.

IN MOROCCO, EVERYTHING IS PINK. PINK DIRT. PINK HOUSES. PINK MOUNTAINS. PINK POTTERY.

You see a crooked sign with an faded arrow that says KASBAH BAB OURIKA >>> pointing down what looks like a disused alley, the driver abruptly leaving the tarmac to descend down a rutted crooked road, little kids playing in the morning sun outside the dark doors of their houses, just inches from the passing car. Smiling. Waving.

The road twists and turns through gully-washed narrow road, passing men in bright vests picking up litter. Slow men with shovels and lumbering backhoes stand knee-deep in mud repairing a washed out bridge. Uhhhhhh.. this is where this killer hotel is??

Entrance road to Kasbah Bab Ourika

You zigzag up the side of a skinny, eroded pink ridge marked with the shadowed crinkles of the earth showing signs of years of torrential rainfall. The road is studded with skinny pines, holding their own just inches from the steep drop-off. The car turns its last tight corner into a broad courtyard, men in brown uniforms scurrying to welcome the new arrivals.

Ahhhh. We’re here.

___________________________________________

I feel sorry for them.

So many people just come to Morocco and hit Marrakech, Fez and that Instagram-ruined blue city, maybe take a camel ride and then leave. “We did Morocco.” But they’re really missing out on not going into the Atlas Mountains. Lush, green and snow packed most of the year — you can ski Morocco even. It’s perfect all year round, except the painful heat of summer. All less than an hour from the airport. 

So many people visit the Moroccan cities but completely miss the beauty of the Atlas Mountains.

Kasbah Bab Ourika in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco is about as good as it gets. Perfectly perched on a high red rock butte, it has views for miles down multiple valleys. I wondered what the weather would be like over Christmas, but it was just perfect. Warm and sunny by day, cool and fireplace weather at night. With hikes and waterfalls to visit.

Totally lucked out and they gave us the perfect suite on the edge of the cliff, with panoramic views in all directions. A full moon all week that messed with my sleep but the stars and moonlit snow capped mountains were amazing.

The perfect antidote to the crazy crazy scene in Marrakesh.

 

Kasbah Bab Ouirka view from Room 27

I might suggest this hotel… and this room. Ask for room 27. 🤪 This is the view from our terrace.

 

It’s hard to find a more perfectly situated hotel, high on a ridge overlooking snow-capped bigs and lush green valleys — and looking for perfectly-situated hotels is my hobby!  The sound of the river below wafting over the entire valley.

I first read about this place years ago in a travel magazine, tore the pages out and filed them for the future. On my first trip to Morocco in 2015, I told the travel agent that I wanted to go here, but they said it was only twenty minutes from this great place so I opted to save it for another day. Now, on my second trip, this was my day.

It’s hard to imagine this paradise in less than an hour from Marrakesh.

The hotel’s position sits high on a ridge overlooking a vast green valley. I sat here for hours, scrambling up at dawn to catch the sunrise, then again to capture the completely different scene at sunset.

 

Sunrise closeup of Kasbah Bab Ourika

You can get up before the sun and take a short walk up a nearby hill and watch the sun creep across the valley, highlighting ever crevasse, peak, tree and building. Then be back for noss-noss coffee before the breakfast rush.

 

We arrived early in the day — it’s only an hour from Marrakesh — knowing that our room would probably not be ready, but knew that we could hang out in the sunny gardens looking at the stunning mountains. We went through the perfunctory check-in, then the smiling man lead us out into the vast gardens the sprawl to edges all around this magnificent ride. And sat. And smiled.

 

Kasbah Bab Ourika garden views

Gardens spread all atop the ridge, with sculpted nooks and manicured sitting areas looking out on the Atlas and the looming Mount Toubkal.

 

Kasbah Toubkal shaded sitting area

You can tell this place was designed for relaxation. Tons of places to read a book, stare at the mountains or take a nap.

 

 

View of Kasbah Bab Ourika at sunset

This is exactly where I want to be on a Christmas Day.

The Rooms at Kasbah Bab Ourika

When we checked in, the manger Damien came out and said “Ahhh Monsieur Dan. Welcome. When you confirmed your reservation, I know you said you like to take pictures and asked for a room with a very good view. All of our rooms have good views (I started to frown) but I have a very special room for you.”

I got tingles. Frown upside down.

The bellman walked us down a rocky path on the edge of a cliff, past manicured gardens and secret sitting areas and a delightful looking pool. Our bags had been previously whisked to the room, he unlocked the ancient door and walked us through its narrow opening. “Watch your head, please.”

The room opened up before us, creamy in the morning sun. Cool smooth plaster walls the color of pale cafe au lait and buttery colored leather chairs. I raced to the terrace doors and flung them open. “Huuuuuuuuuuu.”  I tried to take a breath.

“Hot damn.” I cried. “This is exactly what I was looking for.”

 

Kasbah Bab Ourika master suite terrace

You can spend a thousand a night at other famous Atlas kasbahs, but what makes this place amazing is that it’s reasonably priced, especially for this nice, out in the middle of nowhere. Rooms can be had for $150 to a couple hundred a night. This gigantic suite with amazing views was in the three hundreds… peak season!

 

Most of the rooms are located in the tall main kasbah building, each with amazing views and private terraces. Some are scattered across the grounds, like our suite, Suite 27. Despite the remote location, huge grounds and delicious decor, I was surprised how affordable the rooms were. You’d easily pay $750-1,000 for similar anywhere else. And there are tons of gardened nooks and crannies to hide out, read a book or nap in the shade.

The decor is shabby chic meets Casablanca. And pink, of course. I could live here.

 

 

Sunrise at Kasbah Bab Ourika

Woke up early with an orange glow around my head, ran outside and saw this amazing sunrise. The birds chirping, the sound of the river roaring below.

 

Dining at Kasbah Bab Ourika

Dining terrace Kasbah Bab Ourika

There’s a main restaurant indoors, but lunch and drinks are served on the jaw dropping terrace overlooking the crinkled pink rock formations below. Some days a la carte, other times a buffet. Some people take a taxi out from Marrakesh just for lunch.

It was Christmas time when we were at Bab Ourika, wanting to get away from the over commercialized holidays back home and, increasingly, in Europe. What better place than a Muslim country?  You’d never know it was Christmas, no endless replaying of the same 12 songs, no garish lights to distract from the incredible natural views. The only thing significant was a fancy Christmas Day dinner and a few red ribbons wrapped around posts for a day or two, just like a like it.

 

Main dining room Kasbah Bab Ourika

This is how I like my Christmas Day meal. Low key, under decorated, but still something special.

 

Hiking in the Ourika Valley

Itchin’ to get up in those glorious hills, we took a guide from the hotel and did a two hour hike up to a series of waterfalls in the High Atlas, near the town of Setti Fatma. The hotel arranged for a driver to take us, meet with a certified climbing guide and who then took us for our hike in the Salt Natural Park. So easy.

Ends up, the waterfalls we chose weren’t that cool — not the waterfalls I had in my head which were actually three hours in the other direction — but still was a good Get Out. Plus, the areas we hiked were nearly devoid of foreign tourists, mostly populated by Moroccans and their families, which was cool to experience.

 

Village view Ourika Valley Morocco

The mountains are all this vast gnarly rock that always mess with the camera. Similar to the rock in Corsica. Hard to take a good picture, always lumpy and mean.

 

Ourika Valley hiking

See what I mean. It’s like it messes with the chip, particularly in the shade. The trails in the national park were all nicely maintained, but no signs. You definitely should hire a guide show you around.

 

 

The coolest part was stopping for a picnic along the roaring river on the way back. The hotel provided the vittles but the Moroccans provided the atmosphere and decor.

This whole river is lined with these crazy riverside cafes for ten kilometers or more. Chock-a-block all down the riverbanks, plastic chairs of every color, crooked tables and thick bright rugs and pillows line the banks.  From afar you go “really?” but once you get down in it you realize why.

Dining by river Setti Fatma Ourika Valley Morocco

In the summer, when Marrakech reaches 45c, everybody heads up the valley in taxis to cool off for the day, lallygagging by the swirly current, kept awake by this riot of colors. Even on Christmas Eve, the rugs and cafes were choked with people having a good time. All the way down the river, smoke from tagine fires wafting into the cool mountain air.

 

 

location Bab Ourika

You can see that the kasbah sits right the edge of the High Atlas Mountains. North Africa’s tallest mountain Mount Toubkal is just down the valley. Nearby is a national park loaded with rivers and waterfalls and good hikes. Imlil is the center for mountain hiking, loaded with backpackers and tourists. We barely saw any foreign tourists in the Ourika Valley.

 

Walking the gardens of Kasbah Bab Ourika

So many cool and different little private sitting areas around Kasbah Bab Ourika. You get a different view from each.

More Information About Kasbah Bab Ourika and the Atlas Mountains

Atlas Mountains

Here’s a story on the Atlas Moutains on CNN.com.  Here’s a great roundup of all the cool places in Morocco from Vogue.  Great overview of cool places in Marrakesh and Kasbah Bab Ourika from the Wall Street Journal.

Here are other posts I’ve made about the Atlas Mountains from my past trip in 2015.

Kasbah Bab Ourika

Location of Kasbah Bab Ourika on map

The Ourika Valley and the Atlas Mountains are less than an hour from Marrakesh. Easy to get to, even by taxi, which people regularly do, even for day trips.Here’s a great honest review from The Telegraph. Here’s the hotel’s website.

Here is I-escape’s always honest review (love this site).  Great pics of the place on Scott Dunn’s fantastic website. Kudos from Net-a-Porter’s hip website.  And super good information from Lawrence of Morocco — which is also a great booking site exclusively for Morocco.  Cool comments from The Financial Times.

 

— Last Visited December 2019 –vi

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2 Discussions on
“AN AIRY OASIS IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS OF MOROCCO”
    • Oh this place was awesome. And the Atlas Mountains are just incredible. So many contrasts. And this place was very reasonably priced for being in the middle of nowhere, growing their own organic food, etc.

      Thank you!

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