Life & Soul Magazine’s Travel Guide to Eco Spas will whet your appetite for a vacation that brings healing to holidaymakers in accommodations that work in harmony with the planet.
17. Atlas Kasbah, Morocco
Morocco’s coastal city of Agadir, famed for its beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean, is by-and-large a resort destination. Located in the foothills of the the Anti-Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco, as bustling as Agadir is, it is fortunately not far from rural Morocco for those visitors who seek to embrace the land of this North African country in its natural and traditional grace.
A 20-minute drive from Agadir is Morocco’s award-winning ecolodge, Atlas Kasbah. Overlooking the foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains without any manmade obstructions, Atlas Kasbah is an authentic eco-kasbah that was built with a focus on respecting the environment, the deployment of traditional architecture techniques, and honouring the indigenous peoples, the local Berber communities.
The family-friendly 11-room ecolodge, which opened its doors in 2009, is the first of its kind in the area, and one of few but a growing number of accommodations in Morocco with ecotourism in mind. For those in search of nature and a traditional Moroccan experience, Atlas Kasbah is a welcome introduction to the natural charm of the country.
The terracota-coloured fortress was constructed entirely from natural products including mud brick and tadelakt, a waterproof lime plaster, while the interiors of the kasbah and the rooms lovingly showcase traditional Moroccan interior design with European accents – wooden furniture some of which feature ornate-patterned carvings, wicker chairs, Berber rugs, handmade artefacts and bright, bold coloured pieces including bedding.
Atlas Kasbah is set within the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve (RBA). The reserve which covers about 2.5 million hectares protects a unique world heritage, the argan tree also known as “Arganiaspinosa”. Indigenous to Morocco, the Argan tree is found nowhere else in the world. The main goal of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is to sustainably develop the economy of the area, while protecting and conserving the Argan forest.
At present, the two most prominent ecosystem types that are found within the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve are the sclerophyllous forests and the deserts, which fall into semi-desert and warm desert regions. As the Sahara Desert slowly eats away at the bordering territories, the conservation of the forests that are already in existence is crucial in the protection against the advancing desert. Various Berber women co-operatives within the region have become actively involved in the argan tree reforestation efforts.
The environment that surrounds the Atlas Kasbah ecolodge is typical of the region’s prominent ecosystem types. All views at the Atlas Kasbah – from the rooms, verandah and salt-water swimming pool area – boast wide open plains dotted with forest, and mountains in the distance. In addtition to the outdoor pool, Atlas Kasbah also has spa facilities which come in the form of the traditional Moroccan steam room or hammam and massage, offering guests the opportunity to sample the argan oil from the region itself.
Atlas Kasbah’s award-winning commitment to sustainability is very much present throughout its operations – 80% of the energy and water heating comes from solar panels, a 3RV waste management rule of reduce, reuse, recycle and valorisation is implemented; organic food production comes from an on-site garden where they also grow medicinal plants; and water conservation includes environmentally-friendly irrigation methods. These features are testament to the integrity and values of the Atlas Kasbah owners and husband-and-wife team, Hassan and Helene Aboutayeb, both of whom have studied sustainable tourism and sustainable development respectively.
While “sustainable“ is a modern term that has become familiar and widely accepted globally, the crux of sustainability or sustainable living is the very same as how indigenous people live and what is a natural part of their being and knowledge of how to take care of the environment as well as themselves. This is reflected in the Berber traditions that are at the very heart of Atlas Kasbah.
Hassan Aboutayeb, himself of Berber heritage, and his French wife Helene have done commendable work to ensure local Berber communities thrive. Atlas Kasbah employs local Berber staff from the nearby villages; and the business honours Berber healing techniques offering guests argan oil massages and Henna tattoos, which were traditionally used to moisturise the skin.
Encouraging guests to embrace and to experience Moroccan traditions, Atlas Kasbah also offers guests activities inckuding Berber language lessons, cookery classes, Moroccan pottery and tadelakt classes, and permaculture workshops. There’s also excursions to a local village to visit the women’s argan oil cooperatives, and the laidback coastal city of Essaouira, as well as hikes and donkey rides.
Whatever the circumstances – be a guest specifically choose to vacation at Atlas Kasbah or discover it in their search for some calm from the chaos of the city of Agadir – Atlas Kasbah is sure to delight.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com