Magazine article The Spectator

Rock the Kasbah

Magazine article The Spectator

Rock the Kasbah

Article excerpt

Hats off to Richard Branson's mum. If it wasn't for the formidable Mrs B, most of us wouldn't be able to stay at Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco, and that would be a terrible shame.

'As soon as I saw it and realised it was for sale, I rang Richard and pleaded with him to buy it, ' she told me when we met at the Hurlingham Club in south-west London.

'Fortunately, a few weeks later he was doing something with his flying balloon in the Atlas mountains and was able to go and see it. I think he was smitten as instantly as I was.' But surely not as instantly as we were.

We loved the place so much that on our last day we went to the nearby village of Tanasghat and put in a bid to buy a parcel of land. Negotiations are on-going -- and it's an unfathomably complicated transaction that's never likely to reach a happy conclusion -- but at least we've got to know a bit about the delightful Berbers. They were here long before anyone thought of building a place called Marrakech and are as enduring as the High Atlas mountains that look down on their mud huts.

Mrs Branson likes them, too. She's building a house in the village where the women can learn to knit and embroider, and where visiting doctors can stay while giving free check-ups. 'They must not beg for money, ' said Eve Branson. 'They have got to learn the skills that will help to earn them money.

But I have to tell you that this is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.' Almost the entire staff at Kasbah Tamadot are Berbers. They seem proud of what Branson has achieved since buying it from an eccentric Italian antiques collector nearly ten years ago. Quite honestly, he's worked wonders and I would put it in my top five all-time hotel favourites. There are only 18 rooms but there are acres of lush gardens, several little courtyards and plenty of hidden-away corners. If bohemian opulence as opposed to minimalist chic is your bag, then this is where you should come.

Two large black marble dolphins pour water quietly into the infinity pool and there's the odd jingle from a mountain goat down in the river gorge, but for the most part a Zen-like silence descends on the Kasbah and its mutating inhabitants -- although I gather that when Sir Richard is around he insists on communal dinners with lots of jolly japes around the pool afterwards. …

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