Arguably the most luxurious hotel south of Marrakech, Dar Ahlam is more than just a stop – off point on the way to the Sahara desert, it’s a ‘must-do’ as it’s by far the most memorable place to stay in the region, maybe in all of Morocco.
Skoura is a 4.5-hour drive from Marrakech through dramatic, mountainous scenery. And to spend anything less than two nights at this 19th-century former kasbah would be a crime, so plan to stay a while.
There’s so much to do. All activities are organised in-house and led by the hotel’s outstanding guides, with tailored visits to the surrounding countryside using 4x4s, quad bikes, motorbikes, camel, horse or on foot. Also special is that each meal is served in a surprise location, making every occasion seem like another chapter from the One Thousand and One Nights folk tales.
Dar Ahlam, or the House of Dreams in English, is built on land that was the former hunting grounds, dating from the 12th century, of the Sultan of Ouarzazate. The property today cleverly mixes local design and handicrafts with chic, Western touches to give it a modern Moroccan style. Wander through the passageways to discover hidden rooms of tranquillity, open fireplaces and an unusual collection of antiques.
The hotel has a refreshing, home-style aura about it, reinforced by the absence of phones and TVs in sight, suites and rooms without locks, and no minibars. So if I wanted something, I had to call down for it. Either that or head down to the complimentary bar where thirst-quenching cocktails are the order of the day. The lack of modern-day distractions ensured I had more interaction with those around me, including the staff. When I wished to be connected to the outside world, the wi-fi in the communal areas was strong, but I resisted the urge to log on.
This year (2017), the hotel is celebrating its 15th birthday, with 15 special weekends focusing on in-house theatre productions, food events, wine-tastings and other themes on certain weekends. There’ll be magic in the air.
Alex Wix |
- Daily breakfast for two
- Locations change daily
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Spa Treatment
- A complimentary 50-minute massage for up to two people, per room, once during stay
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
- Detailed Review +
- Facts & Amenities +
As the sun was setting, I left the town of Skoura and drove through a picturesque wadi into a small village and palmeraie where the hotel is located. Four members of staff, including the general manager, were on the front steps to greet me.
I was escorted through a dark tunnel glowing with heavily scented candles, past striking antiques from India, Indonesia and Morocco, and up a spiral staircase to my suite, hidden behind a beautifully carved Moroccan door. As the hotel already had my details, check-in was swift.
Rooms and suites
My Junior Suite, one of nine and all individually themed, was the Ethnic Suite with African touches cleverly complementing Moroccan design. The room was light and airy and incredibly spacious, with an open fireplace that would, no doubt, be welcome during cooler evenings. Luckily, it also had a beautifully silent air conditioner for the warmer, summer Arabian nights.
After dinner on my one night there, I retired to my room to find subtly scented lit candles all around, creating a wonderfully romantic ambience, and as I slipped between the intricately embroidered sheets, I drifted off to sleep in one of the most comfortable beds imaginable.
The Superior Suites share a private terrace between them, worth upgrading to if you’re travelling with another couple.
The traditionally plastered bathroom was adorned with almond-milk amenities that had a heavenly fragrance, as well as three hand-made soap shavings to choose from: rosewater, lemongrass and amber. I did, however, notice that many bathrooms had cracked tadelakt plaster, which is notoriously difficult to mend without replacing the entire floor, a sign that, after 15 years, maintenance is needed. That aside, the attention to detail was evident in that they had only laid out one set of Moroccan slippers, one towel and one dressing gown, given that I was alone.
The rain shower and hairdryer were both powerful, and the bath was huge. A lavish touch was the underfloor heating.
I wandered downstairs for dinner and, as I walked into the grand salon, I had a distinct sense of déjà vu. I was offered the cocktail of the day (an immaculately mixed mojito with a kick, served with a bamboo straw) accompanied by delicate canapés and nuts. I sank into one of the sofas and enjoyed listening to the background jazz music. I could quite easily have been in an Aman hotel anywhere in the world as the service levels and design are not dissimilar, and the salon felt bizarrely very un-Moroccan.
Time for dinner, and I was escorted to a private table by the pool, surrounded by hundreds of candles, creating a dreamy setting. I had previously been asked about dietary requirements, and so a pre-set, four-course menu ensued. I had no complaints but fussy eaters who may wish to select their fare à la carte may feel restricted.
As one would expect from a Relais & Chateaux hotel with a general manager who once worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant, the meal was sublime, topped off with a mouthwatering chocolate pastilla, created by Pierre Hermé (the famous French pastry chef).
Other restaurant options
There is no specific restaurant as every meal is served in a varying surprise location, be it on a rooftop, in the garden, or even as a gourmet picnic on a river bed.
The cuisine tends to be Moroccan and French, influenced by fresh and seasonal ingredients often sourced from the garden. My breakfast never seemed to end, with fresh fruit, yoghurt, warm Moroccan pastries, toast, eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice.
They also serve complimentary tea all day with home-made rosemary water, light and fluffy cakes, and other yummy snacks straight from the oven. Should you wish to learn how to make some of their magical dishes, the chef will offer cooking classes free of charge.
Spa and wellness
The spa, also known as the Fragrance Room, is found off a tranquil courtyard with the all-important hammam and the option of indoor and outdoor treatment rooms. No visit to Morocco is complete without the obligatory hammam and gommage, where you are scrubbed within an inch of your life and left with silky smooth skin, ready to expose yourself to the African sun. Although there was a peaceful vibe, I was a little disappointed with the lack of ‘wow’ factor at the spa, and there was no gym.
Pool and beach
The pool is surrounded by extensive, well-kept gardens with date palms, almond trees, honeysuckle, roses and many vibrant plants. The 25m pool is heated year-round to ensure an inviting temperature, and it is long enough to do lengths or equally easy enough to wallow in the shallower parts to cool off after reclining on one of the nicely spaced-out sunbeds.
There were no children staying while I was there and, given the serene setting, I felt that, generally speaking, this is not a place for kids. However, the hotel does offer extra beds in their suites, and it has one large pool villa where the living room can be converted into a second bedroom. They offer donkey rides and other child-friendly excursions as well as babysitting on request.
Staff and service
There always seemed to be a member of staff who intuitively appeared when I needed something. With around 100 staff, you are never left wanting at Dar Ahlam, and they are incredibly unobtrusive and deliver within moments.
My stay was based on an all-inclusive rate, the standard for most guests unless travelling in low season. To my delight, this meant no extras on the bill, and the only time I needed to reach into my wallet was to give a well-deserved tip at the end of my stay.
The hotel has about a 15 per cent repeat-guest ratio each year. Guests were informally dressed European couples who tended to keep themselves to themselves.
With no bill to settle there was no check-out, and my bag was in my waiting car when I came out. As I was driven away from the hotel, something told me it wouldn’t be long before I returned to share this incredible experience with my husband, as romance looms large here.
How to get there
4.5 hours by road transfer from Marrakech Airport
13 Rooms & Suites & 1 Villa