(This is a six-part series on rural tourism in Southern Morocco, told through members of the newly formed rural tourism association, Réseau de Développement Touristique Rural (RDTR), located in the Souss Massa Draa Region in Southern Morocco. Previous posts: Part I, Part II)
When most people think of Morocco’s coastal city of Agadir, long stretches of sandy beaches, mass tourism resorts, souvenir shops, and the sun shining 300 days of the year make this city a top destination in the country. Take a drive 20 minutes east of this touristy stretch of Agadir, pass through the UNESCO-designated Argan Biosphere Reserve, wrap around the windy roads at the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, round the corner and look up to the burnt rose-colored traditional Kasbah at the top of the mountain, and you have arrived at the Atlas Kasbah Eco-lodge.
Nestled on a sundrenched hilltop, the Kasbah is not only stunningly beautiful, but also the first eco-friendly accommodation in the Argan Biosphere Reserve. The vision of the Kasbah was conceived by Hassan and Helene Aboutayeb and their love for and desire to protect the beauty of the region, while also building a retreat that encompasses the authentic and traditional Berber culture of hospitality.
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While much of the sustainable practices happen behind the scenes at the eco-lodge, the Kasbah comes to life with its warm and friendly staff. Many of the employees come from surrounding Berber villages and are eager to share their rich culture with guests from mini Tachellet (the most commonly spoken Berber dialect) language lessons, educational tea ceremonies in the tea salon when you first arrive, cooking classes, or a trip to the local village to visit the women’s argan cooperatives to learn how local women are supporting their families by processing this beauty and health treasure that is indigenous to the region.
The 11 rooms at the Kasbah are warm and elegant—each with a stunning view overlooking the biosphere and a freshly picked flower arrangement from the garden. The Kasbah is also completely chemical-free from homemade cleaning products to the saltwater pool! Photovoltaic solar panels are used to heat the water and power the eco-lodge and a 3RV rule for waste is implemented its guest rooms.
However, these eco-tourism accomplishments did not come without a fair share of challenges beginning with the design of the hotel to the training of staff. To design the hotel in the true Moroccan fashion while practicing environmental sustainability required the development of new processes, creating partnerships with environmental specialists, and ongoing patience. An example is the development of a chemical free irrigation system that utilized recycled water from the hotel.
Another challenge is the sensitivity required when training the local staff on the cultural differences between traditional culture and hotel guests. For instance, Hassan and Helene trained the staff about vegetarianism and how to prepare vegetarian meals to accommodate guest desires, even though it is customary to prepare a dish with meat when welcoming guests in Moroccan culture.
After two years of operations, the eco-friendly practices and sustainable lifestyle at Atlas Kasbah are gaining attention and recognition from guests, the Moroccan government, and other tourism stakeholders who want to implement similar practices on their properties.
To learn more about Atlas Kasbah Eco-lodge, visit: www.atlaskasbah.com.
Atlas Kasbah Eco-lodge
Village of Tighanimine El Baz