Kasbah du Toubkal

The Kasbah du Toubkal really is king of the castles when it comes to stunning architecture in the High Atlas Mountains, but also verging on royalty when it comes to responsible tourism practices. Often described as a “luxury place to stay”, because in tourism we feel a need to categorise things with clichés, the wonderful thing about the Kasbah is that it doesn’t really fit into any category. And it is about as far from clichés as the summit of its guardian mountain, Jebel Toubkal, is from sea level. However, the Kasbah du Toubkal is four things for sure: an institution, an inspiration and integrated in the community. And, of course, very importantly, an inn.
It is very hard to find a word to describe the Kasbah du Toubkal. It is physically, emotionally and spiritually, comfortable and this is why it really is a complete experience.

An institution

The Kasbah du Toubkal was founded in 1995 by Mike and Chris McHugo, British brothers who have been mountain hikers, and Atlas adventurers since the 1970’s. They bought it as a ruin and, in partnership with Omar Ait Barmed, a local mountain guide who first led Mike through the Imlil Valley in 1978 they have restored it to its original magnificence. The ruin, once the home of a feudal ruler, was rebuilt using local skills and techniques and, these days, it must be one of the most photographed kasbahs in Morocco. And what you see in the iconic photo is what you get.
The Kasbah du Toubkal has been part of Responsible Travel pretty much since we began, and won one of our first ever Responsible Travel Awards in 2004. It is completely unique in that it works hand in hand with the local Berber community, is sensitive to all the local people’s needs, and feels like walking into an albeit large Berber home rather than a big European footprint being plonked in the middle of their homelands.

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An inspiration

Travelling – it leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller.
- Ibn Battouta, 14th century Moroccan traveller and explorer
These words are also on the Kasbah's website, because this is the sort of business you are dealing with. The Kasbah du Toubkal does leave you speechless and in terms of responsible tourism storytelling, it has been cited as a case study the world over. Not only for its sensitive architecture and exemplary protection of cultural heritage, but also because of its total immersion in the local community. For example, the Kasbah team co-founded the Imlil Valley Association, and there is a five percent automatic levy on every tourist visit to the Kasbah that goes towards funding this. The Association manages everything from waste disposal, a community hammam and improved fresh water to an internet café. They also work at a higher level to ensure that the region is protected from inappropriate and insensitive tourism development, the likes of which has been seen throughout the Alps.
Most impressively, the Kasbah has been a major player in creating the extremely successful Education for All initiative, which has ensured that girls from remote mountain communities have been able to continue their education beyond the primary phase. In order to do this, they have opened two boarding houses which have catered for all the girls’ educational, social and cultural needs.
Sallie Grayson, from our volunteering holidays supplier, People and Places, on why she thinks the Education for All initiative, co-founded by the Kasbah du Toubkal is so impressive and definitely worth supporting:
“The way that Education for All has identified all the needs and concerns of the girls and their families from the remote Berber villages really impressed us. They needed to reassure the families that the girls had safe, respectful, appropriate and nurturing environment in which to live. The Kasbah du Toubkal, by setting up Education for All, has taken on this massive responsibility and they aren’t ever going to abdicate that responsibility, because they are so fully committed to it for the long term.”
At the Kasbah du Toubkal you are hugged both by the environment and by your hosts.

The Inn

Another reason why the Kasbah doesn’t really fit into any category is because it is open to everyone. That is the Berber way, and so that is the Kasbah way. Designed originally to be a Berber hospitality centre, it has an array of rooms and holidays to suit every traveller. There are stunning, boutique hotel-style rooms, but there are also Berber style salons, with mattresses laid out in sleeping galleries for hiking groups or students on field trips. You can enjoy the privacy of their large garden house, perfect for large families, or you can hike up to their trekking lodge in the Azzaden Valley for an even deeper Atlas immersion. That includes a private hammam, by the way; all part of the Berber hospitality.
The views and the vibe are both winners at the Kasbah du Toubkal, no matter what your age or income group. But so is the Berber hospitality. You don’t feel as if you have ‘staff’ looking after you, but are treated like an honoured guest in their home. People do whatever they can to help you or advise you, and yet with no sense of hierarchy. It is more like a true Berber community. The manager is just as likely to help you if you need something at the table, as your waiter or waitress. So if elitism is your thing, then the Kasbah may not be. If a deep understanding of mountain life, Berber heritage and a warm, ‘open to all’ welcome is, then the Kasbah will definitely rock your world.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Wei Pan] [Hiking Mountain : Louis Hansel] [Girls playing : David Rosen] [Children : USAID Morocco] [Door: Wim van 't Einde]
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