The sun had long retreated below the horizon and replaced by the moon when our driver and guide – dubbed ‘Fancy’ to reflect his tastes – pulled the white van over on the gravelly dirt road.
Our troupe of self-proclaimed ‘Spinster Sisters’ – as we were deemed unfit to be Moroccan wives due to our lack of mint tea brewing knowledge – emerged into the crisp air of El Kelaa M’gouna, eyes adjusting to the darkness and ears to the deafening quiet. We were in the middle of a huge, empty stretch of land outside of town, only barely able to make out a looming building through a thicket of trees in the faint glow of the moon.
Full of trepidation, I thought to myself: “This is it. Kelly has finally bartered me for 3,000 camels and a shoe store and this is the hand-off!”
It was an inopportune time to remember that the last thing that my dad had told me before I left for this trip was “Be safe. I’m not Liam Neeson so I can’t come get you if you’re abducted.”
That morning, Fancy picked us up from our riad in Marrakech to begin the 10-hour drive to the Saharan Desert. To make the lengthy trip bearable, Fancy organized stops along the way to familiarize us with Moroccan culture, from learning about argan oil at a woman’s co-operative to exploring the infamous Ait Ben Haddou.
What better way to cap off a day full of authentic Moroccan experiences than to spend the night in a kasbah?
What is a Kasbah?
Also known as qasaba and quasabeh, in Morocco, it is like an older type of medina – a pedestrian only, core of a city – but with high walls and small windows to act as a defensive fortress to protect inhabitants. Generally situated on hilltops of a village for a better vantage point to spot enemies, a kasbah is where a local leader – like a ruling sheikh or king – would live. Despite being constructed out of layered dirt and straw, these mud castle-looking fortresses were a sign of wealth.
Why stay at a Kasbah?
Where else in the world can you stay in a legit kasbah?! No matter where you stay – hotel, riad, kasbah – the craftsmanship in Morocco is unparalleled from the intricate carvings on the walls to the woven rugs on the floors. You may not get all the creature comforts that you’re accustomed to in a fancy hotel but…when in Rome…
What Kasbah did you stay at?
Recommended to me by my ever-helpful hosts at Le Riad Yasmine (our accommodations for the first leg of the trip), we stayed at Kasbah Ait Moussa, located about the halfway mark between Marrakech and our ultimate destination – the Saharan Desert. What was once a fortified edifice was converted into a charming B&B, the atmosphere more like a cozy cottage, full of character.
INSIDE THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
Upon entering Kasbah Ait Moussa, the thick walls of the building created a protective cocoon around our little group, trading the frigid December air behind us for the comforting aroma of dinner. After our luggage was carried in from the van on a wheelbarrow, we sat in the dining room and demolished THE MOST delicious beef tagine I had the entire trip and believe me, I ate a LOT of tagine in Morocco. It was bursting with tender chunks of beef, covered in carrots and green olives, and stewing in a flavourful gravy that I still dream of to this day. After a dessert of a bowl of fresh pomegranate seeds, our crew wandered up the winding staircase to claim our sleeping quarters.
After plugging my phone into the wall outlet (can you believe they had wall outlets?!) and setting my personal heater up as high as it could go (without bursting into flame) to stave off the Moroccan winter cold, I set about exploring our home for the night.
With Rock the Kasbah playing on repeat in my head, I padded around the maze-like fortress in my socks, discovering a courtyard around one twist and another living quarter at another turn. While the walls were rough – as one would expect of a building made of dirt and straw – the floors were smooth and polished and the rooms seemed as if the insides had been scooped out like the seeds from a pumpkin.
While Janelle and Kavel’s room was a single bedroom with a living quarter and ensuite bathroom, the section I shared with Kelly and Jackie were two bedrooms and a huge, clean bathroom (complete with hairdryer!) with a sitting area outside.
The rooms were high ceilings and simply adorned with artisan crafts garnered from the souks of Marrakech from lush rugs and circular metal serving trays on short wooden legs in place of coffee tables to killim pillows.
After the long day, we were all too bushed to do any kind of Moroc-and-rolling and passed out, bellies full of tagine.
IN THE LIGHT OF DAY
With still a long of road to cover, we rose early to explore more of the kasbah in the light of day, specifically the views from the rooftop. The frigid air woke us up better than the most caffeinated coffee could – all the better to enjoy how the morning light illuminated the surrounding almond groves and the charming ruins of the old Kasbah. From our vantage point, we got a clear view of the Atlas Mountains in the distance, set against the bluest sky, perfectly complementing the red brick of the riad.
After breakfast, we wandered the mini courtyards and admired the pool from afar. It was an idyllic place, more like a summer cottage than a fortress.
Worried about delivering us to Merzouga – the gate of the Saharan Desert – on time to Kam Kam Dunes, who’d be hosting our night of glamping under the stars, Fancy hustled us out of the kasbah and into the van to continue our journey. We still had a lot of road to cover before we reached our destination and while we only had enough time to rock the kasbah for 12 hours, it was the essential Moroccan experience to have under our collective belts.
Kasbah Ait Moussa
Taswit Azlag Ait 400,
El Kelaa des Mgouna 45150, Morocco
We hired a private guide/driver who was local which was really helpful. He contacted the kasbah ahead of time to get exact instructions on how to find the place PLUS the owner doesn’t speak much English (from my experience). You can arrange this through you accommodations in Marrakech.
Cost: 800 dhs / room / night / 2 people
Number of Rooms: 6
Room Capacity: Between 2-3 people
Breakfast and dinner is included
Air Conditioner and Heaters in rooms
To Do: Sightsee Dades Gorge, get a hammam treatment, check out Roses Valley
To Eat: I am not exaggerating when I say the beef tagine I had at Ait Moussa was the best I ever tasted. Why go anywhere else?!
- If you go in winter (like we did) bring layers to keep warm
- If you hire a driver/guide, make sure they contact the kasbah ahead of time so they know the exact location since it can be hard to find, especially at night!