Halfway between Marrakech and the Sahara desert lies paradise. Outside of Skoura, Morocco, a restored 19th-century Kasbah is home to Dar Ahlam, one of the most private and luxurious hotels in Africa (and probably the world). With a focus on experiential bespoke travel, Dar Ahlam gives guests the royal treatment in an unbeatably chic and comfortable setting.
Dar Ahlam isn’t a grand or magnificent facade with an over-the-top entrance and an elegant driveway—in fact, it’s actually the opposite. Once you turn off the main road in Skoura, there are no signs for the hotel. A bumpy dirt road takes you through a residential area and over a dried-up riverbed to the property, which is simply a stucco wall with a small door.
From the moment you set foot in Dar Ahlam, everything is taken care of. Your bags are discreetly shuffled up to your room through a side entrance while guests are lead around to the front entrance—a tiny wooden door that you have to duck under to enter. The front entrance is dark—there are no windows, and only candles to light the way. The entrance twists and turns and finally opens up to a hall and courtyard. (Legend has it that this snaking entryway gave the ladies of the house enough time to put on their veils for visitors.)
The entire hotel is filled with intoxicating scents (created especially for the hotel by Parfum Lubin, one of the oldest perfume companies in the world)—jasmine and cedar and sandalwood candles situated throughout the hotel and in every room. Each nook and cranny is decorated impeccably with Moroccan antiques and handicrafts in earth tones.
There’s no front desk or waiting area. As soon as you arrive, you’re lead to the living room—the largest and most comfortable of the many lounge areas scattered throughout the property. There are games, a bar, and books in this room, and it’s the only one in the hotel with Wi-Fi.
As soon as you enter the living room, a hotel employee will materialize with something you didn’t even know you wanted—a hot cup of sweet mint tea, a scrumptious date cake, or a bottle of red wine. It’s all included in the (very steep but very worth it) price.
The Kasbah was once owned by a wealthy tea-trading family in the 1920s, but it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It was purchased in the late 1990s and completely rebuilt in traditional Berber adobe, opening its doors in 2000.
Most of the 14 rooms are situated in the main tower, although there are two cottage suites with private pools at the edge of the property. Each room is decorated differently and with luxurious touches: silk bedspreads, heated tile floors, extravagantly large bathtubs, and a different scent for each room. To get to the rooms, you have to snake through a narrow winding hallway and up a hidden set of stairs (there are many, many staircases at Dar Ahlam, and yes, you will get lost at least once—but it all adds to the romance). There’s no TV, phone, or Wi-Fi in any of the rooms, but each comes with a fireplace.
Insider Tip: If you think this property doesn’t sound like a good fit for an elderly or differently-abled person, keep in mind that there’s also an accessible ground-floor suite. (Kids should probably be left at home, though.)
The hotel is situated on two lush acres, with an herb garden and olive grove on the property. At mealtimes, the chefs source as much food as possible from the property and the local surroundings, like mint, dates, pomegranates, and oranges.
Mealtimes are especially magical here: there are no menus and there’s no set dining room. The hotel will work around any food preferences, allergies, or special diets to cook guests a perfect meal. Breakfast is set up in the living room, but lunch and dinner are set up in a different place for each meal. Once you meet in the living room at the right time, you’ll be led to a dark and candlelit room behind a curtain, to a picnic set up in the olive grove, or even to the roof for a Berber feast complete with lanterns, low tables, and pillows.
What to Do
Once you’ve spent a few hours here, it’s hard to leave. Between the sumptuous setting, the traditional spa and hammam, and the gorgeous pool, it’s easy to spend a few days here doing nothing. When you’re ready to explore a bit, there’s lots to see and do.
Skoura isn’t a busy tourist destination or a well-known town with a plethora of things to see. However, it’s uniquely situated between the Atlas Mountain and the Sahara Desert, so that anything from hiking to a picnic in the sand dunes can be arranged by the hotel. A traveling decoration department and mobile kitchen can accompany you on any outing for travel and dining in style.
Insider Tip: Nearby Oarzazate is Morocco’s Hollywood, where films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, and Babel were filmed. Rumor has it that Brad Pitt stayed at Dar Ahlam while filming Babel.
Staying here is a journey within a journey and one of the most magical hotel experiences in the world.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Morocco Guide