English Heritage or Historic Scotland would never let you clamber over these crumbling rocks. A few miles north of the rather famous and very luxurious Bab Ourika, a ruin sits atop a small hill above the Ourika river. You can see it from the road to Marrakesh – a ruined Kasbah – haunted they say.
It’s an easy climb up the hill past the local women bent double tending their wheat fields. There’s no information board here, but you don’t really need one. You are transported back to a different era amongst the red mud walls and the collapsing archways. Some rooms and courtyards are still intact, offering some shade from the February sunshine for the locals and their flock.
African ground squirrels and tortoises share the living space now and you may see a dash of brown as the squirrel’s rush away. The views of the stunning Atlas Mountains and the valley towards Marrakesh spread out beneath your feet.
Afterwards, just a 10 minute drive away, you can bask in the decadence of Bab Ouika, described by some as one of the best Riads in Morocco. (Well in 2011 it was awarded the Fodders Top one hundred hotels of the World). After a bumpy and the sharpest hairpin bend I’ve ever driven, the Kasbah Bab Ourika sits like a king, high on its throne at the base of the Ourika Valley. It boasts a 360 degree panoramic view of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
They call it a boutique hotel and isn’t it just? The gardens are carefully maintained and a joy to explore –cubby holes with mattresses and pillows, designer chairs and intricate benches are placed carefully around the grounds to catch every viewpoint and sunset possible.
Of course it’s expensive; you’d want it to be. Apparently it’s one of the most eco-friendly hotels in Morocco. It manages to retain its traditional roots, having being built principally from rammed earth, the traditional Berber building technique. The food is excellent. The decor inside – each wall, rug and finely carved cabinets are difficult not to study and touch as you walk past.
Both Kasbahs rocked. But I have to say I preferred the ruin. An orange to die for from one of the roadside sellers in the heart of the ruin looking up to the Atlas heavens marginally triumphed over a chilled glass of white wine in the gardens of the glamorous Bab Ourika. But only just. Next time maybe a glass of prosecco might tip the balance.
At the Bab Ourika – Rooms range from € 150 (per room per night) in a superior room during the low season to € 660 (per room per night) in the garden suite in the high season.