We began our morning at Kasbah Ait Ben Moro with breakfast on the outdoor terrace overlooking the palm growing area. With the many birds flying about the palm and fruit trees providing the only sounds we heard, except for the occasional annoyed donkey, it was a beautiful way to begin the day!
The morning air was crisp and a bit cool, belying how hot it would be in just a few hours. After a very good dinner at the Kasbah’s restaurant, but not a very restful sleep, we decided to leave, rather than stay another day, as were considering.
The Kasbah, while a beautiful restoration of an 18th century building complex, and obviously a labor of love by Juan, the Spanish owner, whom we met, had not been very comfortable to stay in, and our suite, while very spacious, did not have a functional shower in its tiny bathroom.
Tali remarked, after noticing that all of the workers there were men, that the lack of comfort was due to the absence of a woman’s touch – all of the details, like better quality linens and pillows, or a more comfortable bathroom, or more hot water, weren’t present here, which would have made the Kasbah a true luxury hotel, which is what it was pricing itself to be. It seemed to me, judging from some of the female Riad owners we have met, that it didn’t work so much by gender, but more by the owners needing to see their pride-and-joy renovation jobs from a guest’s perspective, rather than just from the point of view of the incredible amount of effort and expense it took to rescue the old buildings they’ve turned into accommodations.
Another issue with these renovated adobe buildings, which we’re quite familiar with from our experience in renovating a mud brick house in New Zealand, is that the interior walls, unless they’re coated with a sealer of some kind, tend to steadily flake off particles of the mud and hay they’re composed of. These particles get into the air you breathe, and can be very irritating to the nose and throat. I started coughing almost as soon as I laid down for the night, and I wasn’t even sick, as Tali was!
So we decided to continue our tour of this region, and drive on, to at least Ait Benhaddou, where we had seen that another very nice accommodation was available. It is also possible we will continue further, depending on how the day is going…another benefit of independent travel, with our own car and no reservations!
We drove through some of the palmaries nearby, where the palms are just now giving up their delicious dates, bright yellow-orange in color when just harvested, turning by stages to golden brown and then dark brown when dried. The grand Kasbah Amahidil, whose image is used in countless coffee-table books, as well as appearing on the 50 dirham note, was nearby, and we stopped to take a few pictures of it. It’s quite a big structure, with impressive towers around a central building, but with exactly the same architectural details we had seen on the Ben Moro where we had just spent the night, and on many other Kasbahs, both decaying and fully renovated, that can be seen throughout this area.
On we went, to see another grand building project, this one also in a state of decay, but of much more recent origin – the Royal Sultana golf course development just outside of Ouarzazate. This area of Morocco has provided the backdrops for feature films since Marlene Dietrich starred in the Joseph Von Sternberg film, “Morocco,” in 1930, and David Lean shot “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962. Noticing all of this continuing international attention (in the last twelve years, Ridley Scott has shot both “Gladiators” and “Kingdom of Heaven” here), private developers started a huge building project, featuring many Moroccan-themed mansions, some with lake frontage, on winding roads bordering an eighteen-hole golf course, which was intended to be just the beginning of an international resort that would also include a hotel and several casinos. Unfortunately, the global economic slowdown led to the abandonment, at least for now, of this grand scheme, with the hotel finished, and some magnificent houses completed, landscaped, and occupied, and others left boarded up, partially finished. No golf course, or casinos were ever built, and the entire development feels like a bride abandoned by her husband-to-be on her wedding day – sad, but still beautiful.
We decided to stop in the center of Ouarzazate for lunch, and we quickly saw a stage set and many trailers and production trucks parked nearby – another feature film was being made here, evidently, and the cafe we found had older Europeans, looking more like the film crew than like tourists, mixed in with backpackers, trekkers, and mountain climbers. We joined this eclectic clientele for a surprisingly good pizza, and then continued on to the Ksar at Ait Benhaddou.
These ksar ruins are certainly the most photogenic we’ve seen, since the walled buildings of the town sit dramatically on top of a hill, here in the Atlas Mountains, overlooking a now-dry riverbed, lined with reeds, that in the wintertime, can have water as much as a meter in depth running through it. Because of the risk of flooding in the winter, as well as the steady deterioration of the ksar buildings, virtually all of the townspeople have moved across the river to the Nouvelle Cite of Ait Benhaddou, leaving only a constant stream of tourists and the souvenir sellers in the historic town.
But it is at sunset that the true beauty of the ruined town on the hill becomes most evident. As the sun drops to the horizon, there are precious moments when its golden light bathes the Ksar on the hill in a most amazing, brilliant light…the place looks like it is the source of the golden glow, rather than only reflecting the sun. We were able to capture some photos of this awe-inspiring and unforgettable sight, and then we went north a few kilometers to our hotel for the evening, the Riad Ksar Ighnda.
This Riad, which is a large square compound tucked in at the end of an alley near the tiny village of Tamdaght, is a bit of luxury in a most unlikely location. The bed in our room is soft and comfortable, the restaurant serves wonderful food, and there is even a jacuzzi with an attached Hammam. I’m happy to report that Tali finally had her first Hammam experience of our trip, and she loved it! We will stay here two nights, to give Tali a chance to work her way through her cold.