Tuesday, 17 March 2009

A Brief History of the Kasbah Du Toubkal by Mike McHugo

The highest peak in the High Atlas mountains in Morocco is Jbel Toubkal (4,167m) and is only about 80 km from Marrakech, the imperial city in the south of the country and a centre of commerce and tourism for over 900 years.
The original inhabitants of North Africa are the Berbers or Amizgh meaning Freeman in their dialect. Marrakech is a Berber city and the end of the trade route from the Sahara to Europe. As successive invaders – the Phoenicians, the Cathaginians, the Roman, the Arabs and the French colonised the countries of North Africa the Berbers retreated into the high mountains and eked out a subsistence living in this harsh environment.
In 1978 Mike McHugo battled his way up a dirt track for 20 kilometres to reach the Berber village of Imlil where he met Omar Ait Barmed a mountain guide. !0 years later Mike’s brother Chris met Omar in Imlil.

The following year they were both visiting Omar with their mother when they noticed a derelict building in a commanding position. As the management of a small UK tour operator with an overseas property in France another in Morocco seemed a small step.
Whilst not knowing what they might do with such a base the McHugo brothers felt they could be a safe pair of hands to help tourism to develop but with the local community – their 10 year friendship with Omar and other villagers – at the core of any initiative.

This pragmatic approach to tourism development has led to the acquisition and renovation of the ruined building, by small incremental steps, to becoming the award winning Kasbah Du Toubkal which Conde Nast Traveller said had the “ …. Finest rooftop views in North Africa” and the Cadogan Guide says “ It is worth flying out to Morocco for just one night in this remarkable hotel” and National Geographic Adventure lists in its Top 50 Ecolodges.

The Kasbah Du Toubkal now has 14 en-suite rooms and 3 Berber salons (dormitory / family rooms. It is open all year round, has a small conference room, 2 steam baths, no swimming pool and no road access. It charges a 5% supplement to its published prices which goes to the Village Association to provide rubbish clearance and incineration, 4x4 Ambulances for Imlil and the surrounding villages, a community bathhouse and improved flood defences.

All the staff at the Kasbah have been trained in house and the permanent staff now number 44 with additional guides and muleteers numbering over 50 on some days.

Many visitors to Marrakech come to the Kasbah for a day excursion arranged through their hotels concierge.

For those who like walking but do not like the roughing it out at night the Kasbah has 3 additional rooms in a remote valley 4.5 hours walk away. But don’t confuse the rooms when booking as 4.5 hours is very different from 15 minutes.

To see the Kasbah Du Toubkal listing in Eco Hotels of the World, click here

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