Authentic Home Stay in Atlas Mountains

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Last Saturday I was home for my son’s graduation and my daughter’s birthday. We had lunch with family in the Tennessee hills and watched The Kentucky Derby, traditionally toasted with Mint Juleps.
This weekend I was back in Morocco where I had lunch with friends in the high Atlas Mountains and road mules to the Berber home where we were traditionally greeted with mint tea.
Last week I wished my dad could have seen his grandson graduate, and yesterday I wished he could have ridden with me in a land so rugged, so beautiful. Always interested in American Indian culture and nature, he would have appreciated the history of the Berbers, the indigenous people of the Atlas Mountains and Dades Valley—land like Colorado where he hunted and like Arizona where our favorite westerns were set. Seen from a saddle, the sweeping grandeur of Imlil made me feel like I was in a movie. No wonder. The village is where trekkers come to scale Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in Northern Africa. Seven Years in Tibet was partially filmed here.
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In Imlil, our host, Lahcen of Authentic Toubkal Lodge, met us with the muleteers at our car. He is a friend of Kate who had invited me to join her and her daughter, Amy, just arrived from Melbourne.
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Photo by Kate Woods


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Photo by Kate Woods


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Mules carrying concrete blocks for a new mosque


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I’d been in a few Berber villages—one where I entered a rug shop, another a girl’s school, and a couple I’d trekked through with two other hikers, but this was my first private home visit. Just as medina walls can hide secret gardens, village houses made of mud and concrete– seemingly hard and dark–can shelter cozy retreats.  Such was the case here. Up the stairs, past a formal salon, then  down a decorative hall a door led to a  paradise of pure light.  From the comfortable, colorful terrace we saw snow-peaked mountains and heard the mosque’s call to prayer.
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Lachen made Amy the guest of honor, giving her Berber attire and the charge of making tea.


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He explained the proper way to make Moroccan mint tea.


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Large bricks of sugar are a must.


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As is pouring the tea from the highest position possible.


 
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Salad


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Tagine


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Photo by Kate Woods


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Full and happy, we rested before taking a tour of the house and the village.  The rooms’ design details and thoughtful touches–plush blankets, slippers, custom showers and tile — as well as the food, view, and hospitality have earned the home top ratings on Trip Advisor and Airbnb.  Though grateful, Lahcen says he doesn’t display awards to persuade customers.  Instead he preserves the authenticity of the home where he grew up and is confident “guests will come– inshallah.”  He adds that while “money comes and goes” what matters is offering people the best of nature and making them feel at home.
To book a lunch, tour, or home stay go here.
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Ready to continue our village tour, we received, as Kate said, “Rock Star parking” and curb service.


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Snowbird Report from The Atlas Mountains

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All winter, especially when stressed, I’ve looked to the Atlas Mountains from whence cometh my strength.  Surrounding Marrakesh the  snowy sentinels protect my heart and mind, particularly when work gets stressful.  I take my lunch and take to the hills.  Literally.  Staring at their beauty is a breather that calms my soul.
Seeing pictures from home of Kentucky and Tennessee buried under record snow  made me want to join the fun from afar. When teaching there I prayed with my kids that Channel 4’s Snowbird (a puppet penguin) would say schools were closed. NEVER did I get the time off they’ve gotten this year.
With predictions that temps in Marrakesh would climb to the low 80s this week, we wanted to play in the snow at least once this winter while it remained.  So last Saturday I went to Oukaïmeden, a ski resort 75 kilometers from Marrakesh. There was one seat left in Ismail’s van which coworkers rented for the day.  Who else would we trust to drive us on possibly icy roads winding 10,500 feet up?
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We left at 8 AM and by 10 were having jam, bread, and fresh squeezed OJ overlooking the slopes.
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Only one of us skied this trip, using a guide, while the rest of us sledded.
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Even whiter and brighter than the snow on the bunny slopes were simultaneous smiles.  And even louder than the rap Red Bull played for the ski competition was the sound of laughter.
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Our Crew Photo by Laurie Neeno

Our Crew at lunch on the way back Photo by Laurie Neeno


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We ate on this rooftop.


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Location. Location. Location.  So thankful I can be at the beach in 2 hours west, the mountains in 2 hours east, and back in Marrakesh by a pool for sunset.