Kasbah Ellouze, Tamdaght, Morocco

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Location – The Kasbah Ellouze sits next to the ancient kasbah of Tamdaght, on the edge of the village overlooking the extensive gardens that stretch half a mile or so to the distant riverbed and mountains. We approached the kasbah on foot up the valley from Aït Benhaddou. It took about three hours (it was only 5km but we didn’t rush as it was so scenic, and we were walking on sand most of the way) although most guests arrive by private car or taxi along a sealed road. Here’s the view of Tamdaght Kasbah as you approach from Aït Benhaddou (the Ellouze is tucked behind the main mud structure). If it looks familiar it’s probably because it did feature in the film  ‘Gladiator’.

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You can also approach Kaasbah Ellouze from the High Atlas village of Telouet, which we have also done before. It’s possible to drive the entire way (best in a 4×4 but if no rain has fallen then a regular car is fine) but we prefer to walk along the easily followed track; the extreme beauty, enveloped in a grand silence, can only be fully appreciated when one is exposed and vulnerable.

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There are four small shops in the village of Tamdaght itself selling general goods, basic snacks and water, and a cafe. As for excursions, Aït Benhaddou is three hours away on foot…

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…and the Troglodyte Caves are one hour away, which you can walk to or take a camel ride (the Ellouze can arrange the camels).

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There are also numerous hikes available in the area ranging from gentle strolls through the shady gardens to more strenuous full day adventures into the dry mountains that you can see from the Ellouze’s terraces. Here are a few snaps that show views, and our own wanderings.

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As you can see the local dogs are friendly and make great companions, just remember to take enough water to share with them, the mountains are dry of waterholes.

Before we continue here’s a short film we made whilst staying at the Kasbah Ellouze. It’s not meant to be a glossy promo video, just a representation of what you’d experience if you stayed at the Ellouze yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvkpXNf8Bp4

The Staff – Michel and Colette from France own the Kasbah Ellouze and have nurtured it into half family home, half luxury desert retreat. Colette is an English speaker but was in France when we stayed for a week so we were hosted by Michel. Michel doesn’t speak English but he made big efforts to understand our broken French and was very patient with us. He has worked in the hospitality industry in France for much of his life and the expertise he’s gathered shows in the level of service on display. He’s also a great jazz music lover, a fact evident whenever we entered the indoors dining room. Jazz is always playing in the sound system and the walls are covered with old photos of jazz stars.

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The two other staff we had most dealings with were Hashim and Lahsan. Hashim spoke English as well as Arabic, Berber, French and a little Spanish. Lahsan spoke French (with great enthusiasm! When we finished our meals he would appear and announce, joyfully, ‘Tres Bien!!’), Arabic and Berber, but little English. Both were genuinely welcoming, friendly and gently refined.

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The Room – Our room was spacious and the comfy bed was positioned so as to face the window looking out at the mountains. To wake up facing the sunrise illuminating the mountain a deep orange each day was an amazing start to the morning.

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As you can see we had two large windows; one overlooking the garden and mountains and the other the terrace. The room definitely had more than a hint of 1930′s Provence about it, although other touches like the multi-coloured rattan ceiling made it a truly unique French/Berber mix. The windows were shuttered and the furnishings and decorations were sparse but adequate; three pictures on the walls, a metal table, a single chair and a couple of Art Deco lamps at the side of the bed.

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The wifi was ok, more on than off, and overall I really enjoyed spending time in this room. There was no noise, apart from the sparrows that nested in the outside walls…

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…and the view out of the window around sunset was every bit as memorable as that of sunrise.

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The bathroom was, like the ceiling, gaily colored and bright.

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A thing to note is that the water isn’t great to drink – something to do with the salt mine up the valley that releases a little salt into the local water supply – and you don’t get much lather in your soap or shampoo either. The drinking water issue isn’t a big deal though, you can buy 1.5 litre bottles from the Ellouze for less than £1 at meal times and if you’d like to buy it in bulk, the village shop sells 5 litre bottles.

There’s air condition and the room was made up daily. If you stayed for more than a few days as we did and need laundry done then there’s also a washing machine that you can use. The windows all have mosquito grills so we didn’t get bothered by insects. All in all the room was a perfect balance of North Africa and Europe; not an easy marriage to make but Colette and Michel have achieved it admirably.

Outside the rooms begins a split level terrace with a large amount of seating; some in shade, some in the sun, most with fine views over the gardens and mountains.

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On the gound floor, reached by wrought iron steps, there’s a swimming pool which is always refreshingly cool and clean. It’s bordered by a row of sun beds and a shady sitting area made comfortable by large, deep cushions and small coffee tables where you can also have lunch. A menu on the wall tells you the snacks you can also have here, including homemade ice-cream, local cheese and olives.

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Hopefully our photos highlight just how visually stunning the pool area, and the view from it, is. Magnificent.

The Restaurant –  We stayed at the Ellouze half board (you’ll need to do that, there are no restaurants in the village). Breakfast was taken on the lower outdoor terrace overlooking the garden. There was always a lot of birdsong here because, like in the walls around our room, sparrows live in the decorations indented in the mud.

Breakfast was always hearty; fresh orange juice, homemade yogurt, warm crepes/donuts or parathas, toasted French bread, a choice of three jams and butter, spreadable cheese and your choice of tea or coffee or hot milk.

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Dinner can be taken in the terrace overlooking the green gardens or in the jazz-inspired dining room. We always preferred the jazz room; the terrace was beautiful but the jazz room was unique and for us one of the main centre points at the kasbah. It’s a unique room where the personalities of Michel and Colette really shine through. With it’s comfortable sofas rather than upright chair and low-level art deco lighting, it was very cozy indeed.

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You can order vegetarian as long as you give Michel good notice but apart from that there was no menu, so each night we just appeared at 8pm and waited to see what was brought to us.

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Each meal was a pleasant surprise, was never repeated and was always of a high standard. To give you an idea of what is on offer, our first night main course was meatballs in sauce topped by eggs. Second nights main was lemon chicken tagine with a tasty dessert.

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Third night we had fish and fourth we had beef and vegetables, and so on. It’s important to note that the standard of cooking, presentation and service never dropped during the week we stayed at the Ellouze. This isn’t always the case at other Moroccan hotels we stayed at, where the first night would be lovely and the nights after that would get steadily worse as they got used to you and didn’t try to impress you any more. At the Ellouze though the last night was as good as the first, and the first night was brilliant.

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Michel has, as we explained, worked in hospitality within France most of his life and it certainly shows. The cooking and presentation of the food at the Ellouze is superb. There’s an extensive wine and spirit list and of course soft drinks and mineral water on offer.

My favourite meal was the beef on the fourth night. The first course was hummus salad served with Berber bread that we’d helped to bake that morning in a nearby house instructed by a Berber lady (it was still soft by the time evening came). Here’s the lady baking the bread.

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It tasted lovely smeared with hummus.

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The main course was huge chunks of perfectly cooked, moist beef with local vegetables.

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For dessert, homemade banana ice-cream and whole banana pan-fried and glazed with honey, cinnamon and a dash of icing sugar.

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Now, imagine eating such fare in complete comfort, then leaving the soft jazz behind you and going for a stroll on the quiet upper terrace under a very bright, starry sky. It’s an incredibly romantic experience.

Downstairs, apart from the jazz room and the terrace, there are two reading rooms. One that leads straight off the central patio (there’s a fountain in the patio which is lit in the evening) and the other is at the end of the corridor past the jazz room. Both are lit softly, very comfortable and have a mix of guidebooks, general travel books and walls decorated with paintings and other pieces of well chosen art.

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Tamdaght is a very quiet village; the only sounds you’re likely to hear when staying at the Kasbah Ellouze (outside of the jazz room) are sparrows chirping, goats and sheep bleating in one of the surrounding courtyards, storks clattering their beaks (a family lives in the tower of the village kasbah) and the frogs croaking in the distant river.

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Some people use the Kasbah Ellouze as a one night stop on their way up the ancient trade route to Telouet and others as a three or four night hideaway in the desert; we’d recommend the latter. Ours was a very tranquil week there, incredibly romantic too. Sitting on the upper terrace, watching the sun go down over the mountains, enjoying a drink and the warm wind blowing in off the gardens and then walking through the softly lit kasbah to a perfect dinner was the ideal way to spend our first marriage anniversary.

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To discover more about the Kasbah Ellouze, please visit http://www.kasbahellouze.com/

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