Extreme desert: Venturing out from an oasis of charm in southern Morocco leads to a breathtaking landscape of endless horizons

"If you drink the tea you will die, but if you don't drink the tea you will also die", jokes Abdul, my guide, as he pours a frothy glass of freshly brewed mint tea. Better drink the tea then.

We are sitting atop a mountain outside the oasis town of Skoura, whose lights have begun to twinkle in the approaching dusk. Abdul has selected this scenic spot, scattered with the remains of a ruined 12th-century fortress, to teach me the serious business of tea, Bedouin-style, and to explain the simple way of life in this remote corner of southern Morocco.

As we sit and sip our tea, watching the fire dance in the gentle breeze, the desert silence is broken by the shrill tone of my BlackBerry ringing. Abdul laughs it off, explaining that most Bedouins have little need for mobiles. Yet, despite its remoteness, Skoura has probably seen more BlackBerries than you might think, being 30km from Ouarzazate, aka the Hollywood of Morocco. This majestic landscape of endless horizons has formed the backdrop of films from Gladiator to Cleopatra and given rise to a thriving movie industry.

This also goes some way to explaining the presence of one of Morocco's chicest, yet studiously low-key hotels, Dar Ahlam. Translating from the Arabic as "House of Dreams", there is indeed a fantastical quality to the hotel's environs. Surrounded by the hard, wind-bitten desert, its verdant palmerie is home to a cluster of ancient four-towered structures called kasbahs. Made from mud and straw, they look more like whimsical sandcastles, poking up through the palm and olive trees.

The whimsy continues inside Dar Ahlam, set in a kasbah built in the 1920s and restored using traditional building methods and liberal doses of insouciant Morroccan chic. A 14-room hotel with nine suites and three villas, it is a fantasy of stunning rooms, atmospheric nooks and crannies and beautiful gardens of swaying grasses, an olive grove, fountains and pomegranate hedges, a swimming pool and hammam.

No detail is too minor for attention, from the bowls of rose petals to hand-made almond milk toiletries. It might seem difficult to drag yourself away, but unlike luxury hotels that shudder at the notion of their cosseted clientele leaving the confines, guests here are encouraged to immerse themselves in the immense surrounds. You can hike around the palmerie to see the olive or date harvests in progress and marvel at the irrigation systems installed by the Romans; venture further to see the spectacular Dades Gorge, or into the Sahara to sleep under the stars at the hotel's cluster of luxurious Bedouin-style tents called Le Encampment.

But the truth is, you don't need to go that far to lose yourself in the landscape. Even after our unwanted technological intrusion, we are soon enveloped again by the stillness of the desert. We stay on the mountain until it is dark, surrounded by flickering Moroccan lanterns and listening to the distant drumming of a Berber wedding and, very quickly, the modern world seems far away again.

Suites at Dar Ahlam start at about £785 per night, based on two people sharing. The price includes all meals, drinks and activities (relaischateaux.com)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine