The Berber Lodge

There's something so magical about traveling through the Moroccan desert, more so if you stop along the way at this chic boutique hotel which captures the allure of the country's Berber spirit with luxurious abandon

Under The Sheltering Sky: The clay walled entrance to the Berber Lodge, above, and below, the hotel's olive grove.

W hen the French-Swiss designer, Romain Michel-Ménière, created his own oasis in the desert outside Marrakech, he was not entirely confident that the Berber Lodge would become the hit destination that it has. For one thing, the retreat is located out of town, a half-hour’s drive from the bustling city and the journey there is unremarkable and dusty. Nevertheless, it felt like home.

Michel-Ménière’s guests felt it too. Once you step inside the pink clay walls, you’re instantly transported, you melt in. The magic comes from its intoxicating mix of old and new – the romantic Berber influences, the modern art, the oversized pool surrounded by a 100-year-old olive grove, the hotel’s divine clay lodges with thatched roofs and ceramic floors. Inside, a mix of local Moroccan wares, palm frond lamps and vintage Beni Ourain rugs contrast with mid-century furniture and Michel-Ménière’s own contemporary designs. The feeling is luxurious, cosy – and cool. The hotel was co-created with the Paris-based Studio KO (noted for its work on the ultra-chic Yves Saint Laurent museum adjoining the Jardin Majorelle), while Michel-Ménière has also forged a reputation here for his modern touch (notably Marrakech’s chic organic restaurant Nomad and the Riad Mena & Beyond).

Style aside, he is also a most charismatic host: Michel-Ménière and his little dog Rica are always about, chatting with guests or the gardeners who tend the vegetable beds; he is also there in the kitchen working the menu for dinner and then again as we arrive at the dining room’s terrace for a glass of wine at sunset. He has a wonderfully dry sense of humour, we loved his calamitous stories of establishing this hotel in the dust – the red tape! the electrical black outs! His efforts clearly paid off. ‘‘I want this to feel like an escape. Everyone should be at home,” he says. “I like for my guests to unwind and settle in, as though you do not need to leave for lunch or take an excursion – and you don’t. It is such a luxury to be still, to eat good food, to just be.’’

He has a point. If you collate all our family memories from Morocco, a constant theme is the food and the ceremony of eating at the Berber Lodge. No doubt it has something to do with the heat, which never feels stifling amongst the olive trees, and the scene setting: our wicker table on the lawn, the divine green dinner plates handmade in the village of Tamegroute (an obsession I am still feverish about), the mud walls and the view through the gate to the desert beyond. For lunch one afternoon, simple grilled chicken skewers are anything but simple: a fragrant sauce lends the dish its oomph — I’m guessing ginger, coriander, turmeric, garlic, chilli and lemon juice. The summertime salads – a modern Napa cabbage slaw with giant raisins, and a platter of butter lettuce with vine tomatoes and Dijon vinaigrette – are light and heavenly, while a zinging orange tart is no less hypnotic in the midday sun than the French rose served in delicate tea glasses. Breakfast, also taken on the lawn, is an elegant tasting of homemade yogurt and fresh fruit cut into small neat cubes, as is the French custom. Then more! An egg-white omelette, crepes, warm pastries, orange juice (god bless Moroccan oranges, which are sweet like no other) and fragrant local honey which inevitably invites the bees and sends my youngest son running. 

Later that night, in the candlelit dining room, it feels as though we have been invited to a dear friend’s party. Everyone is dressed in salute to Marrakech: floating dresses, djellabas, silk pyjama pants. The tables are dotted with heady bouquets of pink roses, red hibiscus, rosemary and sweet jasmine and we eat a tagine of the most delicious stewed fish served with a tepee of caramelised vegetables and couscous. Too divine.

During the day you can visit the nearby village and local school, take a day-tour through Marrakech’s medina or the Atlas Mountains, or just sink a little deeper into your lounge beside the pool. We really relished those quiet moments. Having spent the previous week in one of Marrakech's riads, amidst the noise and chaos of the medina, it felt like bliss to lie here in the sun, read books while lying on cushions in the grass, and be still. Best of all, our sons would spend the afternoons swimming and exploring the nearby sand dunes, and then play hide and seek amongst the olive trees before dinner. No gaming, no devices. Memories made.

The Berber Lodge
Douar Oumnes, Tamesloth, Marrakech.

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Tel: 00 212 6 62 04 90 43