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)

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own