Through beautiful roads with hairpin bends and infinite views over valleys we drive in a nine-hour bus ride from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. In between we stop in Ait Ben Haddou. A town located in the breathtaking mountains of Morocco.
Most people come to visit the major movie studios built in the vast landscapes of Ait Ben Haddou. The famous movie Gladiator was made here and Morocco and its people are still more then proud to show it to you. Of course, these are impressive to watch, but to get to know the real Morocco we wanted to experience a stay with a local Berber family.
Early next morning we drive off into Morocco’s countryside. While the 4×4 powerfully drives up the mountains I start to dream about all the highlights Morocco has to offer. After a stunning first week with all the colors and smells, all the people we have met and the incredible landscapes that we have seen so far you think you can’t be surprised anymore. But with every bend a new tale begins. Children waving along the road, living in small villages built in the same colors as the mountains, with nothing but a vast landscape around. Morocco is a whole new world. I marvel at the white snowy tips of the Atlas Mountains and in the same view I see palm trees grow at the mountainside below. The contrast is stunning.
I noticed people welcome you with a smile everywhere. When we arrive in the village of Teleaout, only one and a half hour from Ait Ben Haddou, the lady of the house welcomes us outside. Happy to meet us, we hug each other and she gives us her brightest smile and she hustles us inside the little house. We make our way up to the second floor where we are seated on the couch in the television room, where the family spends most of their time.
Her sons come in, or it might be her nephew. Because the Moroccan families are so large and everybody takes care of each other you never know who belongs to whom. He takes off his shoes, gets a big silver bowl and a big teapot. We wash our hands above the bowl and a small towel is given right after you finish. The generous hospitality is overwhelming and I have to get used to it for a while. You start feeling like a movie star.
Mint tea is prepared. Dates, walnuts, bread with fresh oil and local sweets are served. When you enjoy dinner with a family, make sure your stomach is empty. Morocco is famous for royal meals. Sharing food is a way of life. Putting big plates on the table, with food for an entire family we are spoiled with the best chicken tajine we had so far. With salads on the side, bread and oil and couscous with fresh vegetables; we have everything we need. The lady of the house is full of joy. Sometimes she peaks inside the room to check if there is still enough food. Smiling all the time. Our guide makes sure we eat enough. When we are finished fruit is put on the table. Orange and bananas, knives, clean plates and happy faces to invite you to eat more. The lady of the house joins us for a mint tea after I invite her six times. Her nose is almost purple and wrinkled. Her forehead is red, you can see her skin hardened to the grimly wind of the higher peaks of Teleaout.
Next to the living room is a small room with many beds. The entire family sleeps together. I find it heartwarming, interesting and it is proven to be more healthy to sleep next to the people you love. A big weaving loom is in the room next to it. The entire family works in the carpet business. The original Berber carpets are made here in the villages and are brought to the capital to sell.
Hotel Skar Ighnda
This beautiful hotel located in Ait Ben Haddou is the perfect spot to relax after exploring the city and it’s amazing surroundings. The tropical garden has a large pool, there is a gym and a stunning view from the big rooftop. A vast breakfast buffet is ready for you in the morning inlcuding typical Moroccan pastries, fresh croissants, eggs in any style, coffee and tea. The fresh mint tea is amazingly sweet by itself if it’s poured quickly after serving. For dinner there is a menu everyday from which you can choose a starter you like and a main course and if you still feel like it, the deserts are delicious.
I experienced my first reel hammam in the beautiful decorated spa. You enter the hot room and are rubbed in with traditional black soap. After about ten minutes the real cleaning starts. With a firm hand the Moroccan woman rubs me all over with a glove. All my dead skin is removed and while we laugh together she shows me all the skin that is taken off. During our joyful conversation about the benefits of this treatment she stresses the importance of going for a hammam once a week. I feel the love she puts in her work. My body feels amazing and very relaxed after this experience. Make sure you take a visit to the spa while staying here! The only addition they made in the spa -which is not traditional- is a big jacuzzi where you can relax as long as you want. Sleeping in our authentic Berber style room we enjoyed a peaceful stay in this amazing place.