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Reviews of Holidays and Hotels in Morocco - Desert For Dilettantes

The Sunday Times, 2 March 2003

DESERT FOR DILETTANTES

The resort: Tigmi, near Marrakesh

Whats it like?

Tigmi is set on the Haouz plain that stretches from Marrakesh to the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas mountains - so, strictly speaking, this is semi-, rather than fully paid-up, desert. It's bleak (the sand is more akin to building-site rubble than egg-timer-fine grains), and often flat (the seductive dunes are all in the Sahara on the other side of the mountains), but the area has integrity. When you see a shepherd minding his flock in time-honoured fashion amid this barren landscape, and know that he knows he is one thumbed ride from a thriving cosmopolitan city, you have to wonder if he knows something about life that we have forgotten.

Desert wisdom

"The desert is the garden of Allah, from which all superfluous life has been removed, so that there might be a place where Allah can walk in peace" - Berber saying.

Sun, sand and ...

nother round of drinks? Tigmi styles itself as Morocco's first rural retreat, a place to listen to silence, slow down and rediscover that precarious sense of wellbeing. So, I enjoy a suitably snail-paced saunter around the atmospheric alleyways of the local Berber hamlet, poking my nose into shops that don't appear to have anything much for sale. I stop to listen to some cheeky toddlers sing-song a poem before stretching out their dirty little hands for payment, and watch a herd of goats seeking shade in a courtyard. There are mountain walks, and you can go quad-biking and water-skiing at a nearby lake. But I just slip another CD into the poolside stereo and gaze down over an olive grove to the pink-walled city beyond. As evening falls, I watch men dressed in galabiyyas walk out to a vantage point to take in the sunset, and spy on the crocodile of boys who kick and encourage their donkeys up the hill to fill their water buckets at the hotel's well. It feels wonderfully time-warped.

Your oasis

Tigmi is a very different proposition from your average hotel. This is as ethno-chic as it gets: don't come expecting mini bars, or start reaching for the smelling salts at the sight of ill-fitting wiring. Converted from four abandoned dwellings bought in 2000 by Max Lawrence, whose father, Chris, runs the tour company Best of Morocco, it has just eight suites within an incredibly spacious labyrinth of elegant courtyards, roof terraces with spectacular views and gardens draped with bougainvillea. This is an organic enterprise, and as much as possible has been sourced locally: the earth from digging out the pool has been transformed into the 3ft-thick pise walls; eucalyptus trees from the plain have been turned into herringbone-pattern ceilings; and ornate local fabrics have been made into cushions and hangings to provide splashes of orange, red and gold against the creamy decor. The overall effect is chic to the max. This is the kind of place where you automatically suck in your stomach, just in case a photoshoot is under way. If Naomi Campbell hasn't stayed here yet, it can only be an oversight on the part of her travel agent.

Lawrence of Arabia rating

9 - my only regret was the westernised food and limited wine list.