Kasbah Tamadot, Morocco
Sir Richard Branson’s first experiences with the Atlas Mountains were from the basket vantage of a hot air ballon. Acquired in 1998 during one of his famous dare devil, world record seeking ballooning expeditions, the Kasbah Tamadot is a North African retreat like no other on the planet. Tucked 4300 feet above sea level in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, the fortress delivers a luxurious experience replete with haute cuisine, a labyrinth of lush gardens, opulent Berber-style tent accommodations, and soft breezes making the heat of the African sun pleasurably tolerable. This ‘jewel of Morocco’ may just be the hippest spot on the continent to relax, star gaze, and experience the intersection of ancient tradition and modern convenience.
A bit under an hour’s drive from Marrakech, the massive wooden gates of the Kasbah Tamadot welcome guests. With 28 rooms, including 10 luxury Berber tents with miles of unobstructed mountain views, a limited number of guests at any one time are greeted on arrival by a staff of Berber natives intent on making a stay a unique and luxurious introduction to North African culture. For immediate immersion into an another world, visit the retreat’s Asounfou Spa. Dating back to the Ottoman and Roman empires, the hammam treatment, an integral part of Muslim culture and the oldest surviving bath tradition in the world, is a physical and spiritual experience.
Sir Richard Branson
At heart, Richard is a fierce competitor—less with others and more with himself. He is a business genius, a respectable tennis player, a philanthropist, a human rights activist, a kite surfer, a self-made billionaire, a triathlete, and a risk taker. At 68, he continues to push his mind, body, and spirit to new heights.
A high school drop out with dyslexia, who would have bet that this man would grow up to be a knighted, music business entrepreneur, friend of Nelson Mandela, and the head of Virgin Airlines?
When asked what the secret to his success has been, Branson is all smiles noting that “the only mission worth pursuing in business is to make people’s lives better.” He is well known for his warmth toward and respect for all people he meets in both his private and very public business life.
If a stay at the Kasbah Tamadot is in the cards, you may just see the handsome, shaggy haired Branson showing up for breakfast barefoot, or asking the staff which guests might be game for a bike ride through the mountains, or a set or two of tennis on the property’s courts.
If not, perhaps you’ll be the first to buy a ticket on his Virgin Galactic Spaceship—looks as if commercial space travel is only months away.
You don’t know me but I hear you are going through a tough time, and I would like to help you. I want to be open and honest with you, and let you know that happiness isn’t something just afforded to a special few. It can be yours, if you take the time to let it grow.
It’s OK to be stressed, scared and sad, I certainly have been throughout my 66 years. I’ve confronted my biggest fears time and time again. I’ve cheated death on many adventures, seen loved ones pass away, failed in business, minced my words in front of tough audiences, and had my heart broken.
I know I’m fortunate to live an extraordinary life, and that most people would assume my business success, and the wealth that comes with it, have brought me happiness. But they haven’t; in fact it’s the reverse. I am successful, wealthy and connected because I am happy.
So many people get caught up in doing what they think will make them happy but, in my opinion, this is where they fail. Happiness is not about doing, it’s about being. In order to be happy, you need to think consciously about it. Don’t forget the to-do list, but remember to write a to-be list too.
Kids are often asked: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ The world expects grandiose aspirations: ‘I want to be a writer, a doctor, the prime minister.’ They’re told: go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, and then you’ll be happy. But that’s all about doing, not being – and while doing will bring you moments of joy, it won’t necessarily reward you with lasting happiness.
Stop and breathe. Be healthy. Be around your friends and family. Be there for someone, and let someone be there for you. Be bold. Just be for a minute.
For me, it’s watching the flamingos fly across Necker Island at dusk. It’s holding my new grandchild's tiny hands. It’s looking up at the stars and dreaming of seeing them up close one day. It’s listening to my family’s dinner-time debates. It’s the smile on a stranger’s face, the smell of rain, the ripple of a wave, the wind across the sand. It’s the first snow fall of winter, and the last storm of summer. It’s sunrise and sunset.
There’s a reason we’re called human beings and not human doings. As human beings we have the ability to think, move and communicate in a heightened way. We can cooperate, understand, reconcile and love, that’s what sets us apart from most other species.
Don’t waste your human talents by stressing about nominal things, or that which you cannot change. If you take the time simply to be and appreciate the fruits of life, your stresses will begin to dissolve, and you will be happier.
But don’t just seek happiness when you’re down. Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts.
Allow yourself to be in the moment, and appreciate the moment. Take the focus off everything you think you need to do, and start being – I promise you, happiness will follow.
Morocco isn’t exactly a dry country, but outside of hotels and restaurants catering to the non-Muslim tourists crowds, it is difficult to find a drink other than Moroccan whiskey—a.k.a. non-alcoholic sweetened mint green tea—specifically Chinese Gunpowder tea. A ritual nuanced with expression, super sweet tea is a sign you are welcome and adored. Sugar is expensive and the more lumps piled into the traditional tiny serving glass, the more admired the guest. Pouring tea in Morocco requires an understanding of tea language….the higher the person raises the kettle from the glass and pours without spilling a drop, the more honored and revered the guest. The Berber people living in the Atlas Mountains drink tea when arriving and when departing, when celebrating and when mourning. Brought to Morocco by the English during the late 19th century, drinking tea has morphed into an art form with social and cultural nuances woven into the fabric of Moroccan daily life. In the Atlas Mountains, no one is in a hurry. Take your time and share a pot of freshly brewed mint tea with the locals.
When the sun goes down and the echoing horn calls through the valleys for evening prayers subside, one of the most memorable things to do in this fortress paradise is to find a comfortable spot on the hill, order a bottle of wine, and watch Casablanca, the only movie screened hillside, beneath a starry, starry night. The eternal and timeless Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman 1940s classic is an even more poignant and stirring love story when watched in the North African foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
Eat & Drink
An abundance of local produce, mostly grown within the fortress walls or the nearby town of Ansi, spices and dried fruit from Marrakech, fish from the Atlantic coast, and lamb slaughtered in the hills, make for fresh world class dining. Classic Berber plates such as spiced lamb tagine, vegetable couscous, traditional pigeon pastilla with roasted artichoke and spinach are served alongside more international fare. The food is plentiful and prepared flawlessly, but it is the ambiance that steals the show. Sometimes a magician performs table side, and other times Andalusian music is plucked on a five-stringed instrument called the oud. Dining around the reflecting pool, on the rooftop terrace at sunset, or poolside, one can not help but be enchanted with the peace and harmony of the surroundings.
A maze of serene courtyards, secret staircases, animal barns, and pristine gardens encased by ancient walls, the Kasbah Tamadot has a monastic, sanctuary appeal. Traditional ceramic pots, bronze statues, cactus gardens and fruit orchards provide places for reflection. Doves nest, peacocks and ducks roam under foot, and life in the mountains invites a slower, steadier rhythm that seems completely in sync with nature.
Far from the chaos of the Marrakech medina, seeking out artisanal Moroccan goods at the Kasbah Tamadot provides an opportunity to shop with a purpose. The Eve Branson Foundation supports several local craft workshops. In the on-site gift shop (down a long stone walk and out a back, 30 percent of the profits are returned back to the community. Traditional techniques are used to craft contemporary Moroccan designs and sold alongside antique items. Tea pots, tagines, painted bowls and plates, linens, Berber rugs, and other handicraft may be found inside the humble pink mud walled, windowless house.