Place: Kasbah Angour, Tahanaout, Nr. Marrakech, Morocco
Type: 4-star Hotel
Operator: Owner and Creator Paul Foulsham
Date of Visit: March 2019
A man with a dream – no, a Yorkshireman with a dream. A geologist working for oil companies buys a barren hill some 40 kilometres outside Marrakech and starts to create an oasis, an idyll, a garden on its top. ‘Kasbah’, so the taxi driver tells us, means castle, and the architectural form strongly reinforces the name – or is it that the name reinforces the perception of the architecture? Either way the name is reinforced by the winding track up from the road outside the provincial town of Tahanaout leading to a blank walled car park through which entrance is made, almost like a defensive castle entrance.
Yorkshiremen think of their home county as ‘Gods own country’, but here the owner has created almost his own Garden of Eden in Morocco, shielded completely from prying eyes by the way the architecture works with the location. It achieves a privacy for guests the nearby Richard Branson property notably fails to achieve. Rooms turn their backs onto the valley in the most part, turning instead towards the glorious gardens and the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains not too far away. Those same snow-capped peaks provide a steady supply of water from the hotel’s own bore hole, control of which ensures exclusivity on this hill top.
Currently just 26 bedrooms, the owner has almost completed purchase of the rest of the whole hilltop and talks of growing to 50+ rooms with maybe an indoor pool and a spa operation. Meanwhile he personally supervises the operation of the existing romantic property having fought his way through three architects to realise his vision. Bedrooms make a semi-circle around the garden and use stone and building techniques recognisable locally. Based on local materials and furnished with locally manufactured products his interiors reflect the Moroccan traditions of carpets and hard floors, stonework, polished plaster and shuttered windows.
A couple of suites provide the towers that punctuate the bedrooms, most of which have individual balconies and patio areas. All open onto the gardens, an oasis of green full of bird and insect life. Certainly, it is the first hotel I have been in where I have been kissed by a butterfly – I say kissed but I think it was an alcoholic butterfly wanting the beer off my lips, but it sure beat kissing the blarney stone…
This is an hotel for relaxation and contemplation with nature. Rooms are free of television, but there is the internet for those who feel discombobulated by the idea of simply listening to the cuckoo call, or just relaxing on a terrace or by the pool in the quiet of the gardens. There are excursions into the mountains to a local souk or to take tea in a village house, guided walks, camel treks or for those who miss the noise and bustle of the city, an easy taxi ride into Marakech.
For me waking each morning to birdsong together with the ability to just sit and relax in the warmth of the March sun (22° to 29°C whilst I was there) was enough. Bird life is a mix of African and European, and the garden, said another guest, reminded him of the Stellenbosch winelands of South Africa, and the Moroccan wine on offer was very quaffable too. Food was local, vegetables from the hotel garden (the broad bean is a major local crop, as are of course, oranges although they don’t make marmalade…)
I didn’t intend to write a Review of this hotel – spent enough time doing hotel reviews in my life, but the charm of the spaces and their use of the local vernacular as well as their African feel led to me to write about it again. That an individual can create such a little gem with his own efforts (he even created his own building company) deserves approbation and applause. Yorkshire it is not. God’s own country? Well its different but maybe this Garden of Eden has a stronger claim to that label than much of our English county.The pool