Off The Grid in Morocco

By Rona Berg / March 4, 2014
A remote mountain trekking lodge, a tented camp in the desert: Morocco is the perfect place to get lost and find yourself.
Desert golf at La Pause in the Agafay Desert.

Desert golf at La Pause in the Agafay Desert.

I love to wander down alleyways, get lost, double back, do it again—and again. So it’s no surprise that a souk turns me into a delighted five-year-old child. Too bad it’s almost impossible to get lost at the souk in Marrakech. But there are many things to find.

Tiny hand-painted tea glasses, elaborately embroidered flat shoes, a delicious light lunch at Terrasse des Epices (terrassedesepices.com), on the second floor. A women’s weaving cooperative (ask your guide or concierge how to find the carpet coops) where, to my great surprise, I bought a rather large carpet, made with vegetable dyes. The staff rolled it into a tiny package, fashioned a rope handle, and I carried it home on the plane.

Le Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech.

Le Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech.

At dusk, I headed to Djemaa el-Fna, the huge main square in the Medina, and the perfect spot to sip coffee and watch crowds gather for cobra charmers, street-peddlers and delicious smells that rise into the night from cook-stalls lit by gas lanterns. Next morning, a visit to Le Jardin Majorelle (jardinmajorelle.com), a cobalt blue art-deco-style villa with luscious desert gardens created by French painter Jacques Majorelle and later made famous by then-owner Yves Saint Laurent. (There is a tiny homage to the designer inside.)

I stayed at Les Cinq Djellabas (hotel-les5djellabas.com), a new French-owned boutique hotel about a 15- or 20-minute drive outside the heart of the city. At first, I wasn’t sure that driving away from the city center was what I wanted to be doing. But Les Cinq—located on a quiet winding road past families and goats, without even a sign to guide you—is the perfect respite from the sensory overload that is Marrakech.

The rooms, more like African huts made entirely from local materials, are spacious, and the decor is chic and modern. The dining room is romantic (dine outside by lantern-light on one of a few plush cushions in the open air) and the delicious food (especially fragrant tajine and Moroccan pastilla) is locally sourced—the Moroccan chef learned from his grandmother. At the end of a dusty day in the Medina, a lounge around the beautiful outdoor pool and a relaxing massage were perfect. The only thing lacking was a hammam, which is in the planning stages, and thankfully, will be built by the time I go back.

Kasbah du Toubkal in the High Atlas Mountains.

Kasbah du Toubkal in the High Atlas Mountains.

An hour and a half south of Marrakech, the Kasbah du Toubkal (kasbahdutoubkal.com) sits ringed by the High Atlas Mountains, at the foot of the highest peak in North Africa. It is one of the most spectacularly rugged views you will see anywhere in the world. A car will only take you as far as Imlil, a nearby village, and you need to hike the rest of the way up to the lodge with your luggage strapped to the back of a mule. Once you arrive at the atmospheric trekking lodge, you will be welcomed with a cup of mint tea, invited to rinse your hands with rosewater and your Berber hosts will treat you like family. A visit to the tiny hammam is refreshing after your travels. Kasbah is run in partnership with the local Berber community and is managed by a local village leader, Haj Maurice and his wife, the Hajji. (We were invited into their home for a cooking class—lamb tagine—which we later enjoyed for dinner.) You can arrange for guides to take you on treks into the mountains nearby where you are not only off the grid, you are out of this century.

Dining al fresco, Berber-style, at La Pause

Dining al fresco, Berber-style, at La Pause.

Head back to Marrakech, and 45 minutes in the opposite direction you will find La Pause (lapause-marrakech.com), a stylish bivouac run by a French expat with a love of horses. He found the beautiful spot in the dunes while riding through the Agafay Desert one day. Enjoy an exquisite lunch under a Berber tent, swim in a freshwater pool, enjoy a crisp white wine and relax—completely and utterly. Rooms are spacious, private and lit entirely by candlelight. No electricity, no distractions—the silence is as thick as any you have ever heard.

If you can forget about the modern world for a while, Morocco is the perfect place to go get lost and find yourself.

Rona Berg

Rona Berg

Editor-In-Chief at Organic Spa Magazine
Longtime journalist, author and current editor-in-chief of Organic Spa Media, Rona Berg is the former Editorial Director of ELLE and Deputy Style Editor for the New York Times Magazine, and she has contributed to and been quoted in dozens of publications. She co-chairs the Personal Care Committee of the non-profit Green Spa Network, is a Charter Advisory Board Member of the Nutritional Aesthetics Alliance, best-selling author of Beauty: The New Basics and Fast Beauty (Workman Publishing), and is a frequent speaker and guest on radio and television and at conferences around the globe.
Rona Berg

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