Escape the hustle of Marrakech and head up to Richard Branson’s sublime mountain-top retreat. Un-plug, relax, and take in the beauty of Morocco.
I ran into Sir Richard Branson at the Commons Club, the trendy-yet-approachable bar on the second floor of the brand new Virgin Hotel in Chicago. A rainy, freezing night had diminished the tipplers by the time he arrived, and he was more than happy to say hello to the few of us who remained. Looking effortlessly cool in jeans and a blazer, we congratulated him on the opening. I told him that his first Virgin Hotel was my second favorite of his properties and some eyebrows raised until I clarified that I had the privilege of staying at the Kasbah Tamadot. “Oh, that is a special place,” he beamed, and both of us seemed to take a few seconds’ vacation there.
Kasbah Tamadot was first spotted by Branson’s parents as they were ballooning over the High Atlas Mountains. They convinced him to buy the compound in 1998 for $1.5 million, and the fortress retreat has been operating for the past ten years, hosting rock stars, foreign dignitaries, and enlightened travellers who find themselves wanting a retreat from the bustling nearby Marrakech.
Tourists aren’t the only ones enthralled by this hidden paradise. It’s a source of pride for the staff as well, 90 percent of whom are locals from the nearby Berber villages. Branson’s mother’s Eve Branson Foundation employs many of the local women to make crafts that are sold on the premises and in the nearby boutiques. All locals are offered free instruction in English and French, regardless of whether they apply to work at the resort.
Upon arrival, guests are treated to mint tea and encouraged to explore the property. Each of its 27 rooms boasts a distinct personality. I opted for the Virgin Suite, with private veranda and chairs for sunning, but there are beautifully adorned Berber tent rooms with private pools. Tamadot is designed for those wanting to disconnect: accommodations have no TV’s, and Wi-Fi is unreliable at best.
Tranquil during the day, you fully appreciate the exquisite charms of this Kasbah once the sun goes down. Enjoy a cocktail on the roof terrace while a local musician plays traditional Moroccan music, then head to the sophisticated Kanoun Restaurant, which serves local Berber cuisine such as tagine of couscous as well as international dishes. There might be a celebrity at the pool by day, but at night the actual stars steal the show, as at 4,300 hundred feet above sea level, it’s as if they were hung just above your head by the thoughtful people who daily festoon your room with rose petals.
As we walked away from Branson in the glitzy Chicago bar, I raised my glass in appreciation and said, “Next time in Morocco!”
How to Get There: Kasbah Tamadot is under an hour drive from downtown Marrakech. It’s also accessible by helicopter and hot air balloon for the more adventurous. But the roads are for the brave as they narrowly traverse the mountainside.
What to Do: Relax. This place was made for long, lazy lunches, sipping mint tea poolside, and enjoying the tranquility. For those looking for adventure, you have access to Tamadot’s four mules: Peanut, Paprika, Peppermint, and Parmesan, plus two camels and three donkeys for local treks.
Pack for a Purpose: For those with a little space available in their suitcase, Pack for a Purpose is a program developed by the hotel and the Eve Branson Foundation to outfit local Berber children with proper school supplies and sports equipment. You can find a list of what to bring with you at: packforapurpose.org.
Photo Courtesy of Kasbah Tamadot