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Four of the Most Dramatic Kasbahs in Morocco

Kasbahs are fortresses originally built to defend cities – a fact that places them far from the town-centre bustle that defines modern Morocco to many travellers. A stay at a converted kasbah feels like entering a stronghold away from everyday life, with the peace inside only matched by the magnificent desert-and-mountain scenery beyond. Here's a selection of four of the most dramatic kasbahs in Morocco , perfect for adventurous types and relaxation-seekers alike...

Kasbah Tamadot Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s Atlas Mountains getaway, is certainly the most lavish kasbah on our list. Staffed by locals, it’s a relaxed and homey affair despite the obvious no-expenses-spared remit – the attention to detail displayed in everything from the caring service and the beautiful design to the traditional Berber meals is spot-on rather than overly fussy, which is what's needed on a retreat of such grand scale. A check-list of luxuries lie in store: an infinity pool makes you feel like you’re swimming right into the mountains beyond and the toe-tinglingly relaxing outdoor treatments from Asounfou Spa aren't to be missed. But it’s the smaller joys that really make this kasbah feel special: there are six Berber tented suites on the hillside (enjoying the best views and their own plunge pools), and all 24 rooms and suites tastefully mix traditional Moroccan design with antiques from all over the world. Best of all are the stepped gardens, filled with flowering plants and evergreens, which are magic for a quiet stroll.

Kasbah du Toubkal A paragon for sustainable tourism, the Kasbah du Toubkal is a former feudal caid's home turned eco-retreat at the foot of Mt Toubkal, the Atlas’ highest peak. The Kasbah is all about promoting and protecting the surrounding Toubkal National Park and its villages, delivering 5% from each booking back to local Berber communities, employing local staff and encouraging interaction with the area and locals in the form of organised treks. If the tendency for kasbahs to be marketed as exotic enclaves for predominantly western travellers sticks in your throat just a little, this is a more accessible alternative to kasbah-living. In the spirit of this accessibility, the main lodge offers everything from Berber salons with shared bathrooms to garden suites with private terraces. All kinds of trekking options are available, too: go on day visits to surrounding villages, multi-day treks with overnight stop-offs at the remote Lodge Toubkal, or travel in style with five-day treks combined with luxury overnight stays.

Kasbah Bab Ourika Less than an hour’s drive from Marrakech, Kasbah Bab Ourika styles itself as 'the gateway to the Atlas Mountains' – and it does have the feel of a last port of call to it. Snowy peaks, valleys and rivers roll beyond the handsome sand-coloured building like the backdrop from a fantasy novel, giving you the kind of bedroom-window views you can't tear your eyes away from.All of the 15 individually-decorated guest-rooms come with such stunning scenes to look out on but, just as the outside feels vast in scale, inside there's a decidedly intimate and romantic atmosphere. Spend time here skiing, hiking, biking and trekking, exploring the Berber market at nearby Tnine Ourika or simply watching the sun go down in a lounger by the pool. A stay at Kasbah Bab Ourika means your environmental conscience can rest easily, too: solar panels are used to heat water and the whole place has been built using traditional Berber methods.

Kasbah AgafayWant the magic of a kasbah stay without the remote location? Head to Kasbah Agafay, which is only 20 minutes by car from Marrakech's medina. This lets you combine the experience of a world-within-a-world kasbah stay with day-trips to the souks (though many don't venture far from its four walls, except to travel from the similarly close Marrakech Airport). Granted, you're flanked by roads, which is a main source of contention for kasbah die-hards, but it’s a small price to pay if you want to keep a foot on the grid and avoid total isolation. Agafay has a few other strings to its bow: a gorgeous outdoor pool is perfect for sunset swims, vast landscaped gardens are great for a wander and cooking lessons are offered in the hotel’s organic herb and vegetable garden, with most ingredients used whipped straight out of the earth. Even better, the relaxed environment means you can tuck in to the fruits of your cooking labour anywhere on the grounds – olive gardens and luxury Berber tent suites included. -- Isabel Clift is a writer and hotel reviewer for luxury hotels specialists TravelIntelligence.com.

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Four of the Most Dramatic Kasbahs in Morocco + trip