Escape to the Atlas Mountains

I didn’t quite realise quite how much I needed to get away from the city until I caught a glimpse of the snow topped Atlas Mountains behind the large head of the camel I was stroking.

Atlas Mountains Kasbah Angour

After politely declining to ride one of the many camels that were walking towards us, we eagerly hop back in the taxi and speed off through the desert towards the beautiful snow caped mountains that fill the horizon. We almost can’t believe it, forty minutes out of Marrakech and here we are, sipping sweet Moroccan mint tea in the foot-hills of the Atlas Mountains surrounded by Kasbah Angour’s beautiful gardens and red sandstone walls.
Perched on a hill-top, this eco-friendl­y hotel offers stunning panoramic views of the highest mountains in Morocco and the surrounding Berber villages. Built eight years ago – partly by his own hands – owner Paul worked closely with local carpenters and craftspeople from the villages below to give guests an authentic taste of Morocco. The décor showcases Moroccan craft at its best, everything has been made either by local tradespeople or produced on site using cedar or walnut wood sourced directly from the Atlas Mountains. The walls have been built using local red sandstone and mud and the floors laid with handmade clay tiles from Meknes. Oh, and there’s also a pool, yes!
After basking in the warm afternoon sun, we pad up to our room and enjoy the same glorious views from our roof terrace. The suite is large and homely; colourful patterned rugs decorate the floors as well as the charmingly uneven tiles that feel warm under foot. The bed is large and comfortable, and the hand crafted wooden furnishings have Berber motifs carved into them giving the room as sense of authenticity and character.


Quiet, peaceful and with nothing but rolling hills surrounding us (seriously not even a shop) we pop our trainers on and scamper off to explore the villages with local guide Abdul. There are a variety of outdoor pursuits that can be arranged such as day trips to Marrakech, donkey treks, 4X4 adventures, camel rides, guided souk visits, rounds of golf, a variety of half or full-day walks and even skiing! But with our salopettes collecting dust back in England we opted for a six-mile, half day ramble around the Berber villages with four other guests – private excursions are also available.

We weave in and out of Abdul’s own village Agadir, before dropping down into the valley and passing through the National Park, all the while entertained by Abdul who stops frequently to fish for scorpions, search for quartz crystals or simply to tell us historical Moroccan stories. It’s brilliant fun and definitely worth my slightly pink shoulders – I really must wear more sun cream. Finally, we pass through Outghal, another local village made up of baked mud huts before heading back up to the hotel for a spot of lunch.
The food offering at The Kasbah is focused on seasonality and good quality produce. Fruit and vegetables are grown on site and the evening menu changes daily depending on what is ready for the eating. In fact, to avoid wastage, the friendly Berber staff offer guests the evening menu in the afternoon leaving time to prepare only what is needed. Healthy, hearty and with Moroccan and Mediterranean influences, you can expect dishes like pumpkin soup with argan oil and toasted corn croutons, coriander and garlic charcoal grilled chicken and, of course, vegetable and lamb tajines with apricots and sautéed potatoes. For dessert I enjoyed a plum tart made with plums from the garden as well as the majority of my boyfriend Jamie’s orange and carrot cake – well I had walked over six miles that day!
After another peaceful night sleep and a delicious breakfast of Berber eggs (eggs cooked in a bed of fried tomatoes) we find ourselves back in a taxi and hurtling towards Marrakech airport. I look out the window and see the camel I met a few days earlier chewing happily on some grass by the roadside. I give him a little wave.
“Who are you waving at?” Jamie asks.
“Oh no one, just a friend” I reply, smiling to myself.

Standard season: 2 people, 2 nights with breakfast from £81 – £217
High season: 2 people, 2 nights with breakfast from £131 – £346
Airport transfer £27
www.kasbahangour.com



For more information visit www.kasbahangour.com


 

A spot of luxury in County Durham

To say I fell head over heels for Rockcliffe Hall is pretty accurate. This Victorian/contemporary amalgamation is charming, comfortable and offers five-star luxury along with five-star service, on a beautifully presented plate.

Rockcliffe Hall

A little later than planned, my boyfriend Jamie and I hurriedly enter the grand lobby of this beautiful Victorian pile before I topple over my suitcase and land flat on my face. Slightly pink, I am grateful to be scooped up by the kindly concierge, along with the contents of my handbag. Half an hour later my embarrassment evaporates into contentment as I sink into the steamy open-air hot tub, munching frozen grapes and admiring the view. We spend the next couple of hours slipping back inside to the glass-walled sauna, curling up in front of the firepit and being pummelled by the jacuzzi before accidentally falling asleep on the warm, body-shaped beds in the tepidarium – a kind of low-lit sauna that relaxes the body and mind.

Delicious plates
Set in the quiet village of Hurworth-on-Tees, Rockliffe Hall is a stone’s throw from the North York Moors. There’s a long list of outdoor pursuits on offer, from horse riding to stargazing, but we decide to pad back for some R&R in our spacious room. Contemporary and with views of the grounds, it’s my very definition of luxury. King-sized bed and mood lighting? Check. Dressing room and lounge seating? Check. Marble bathroom with double sink and TV above the bath? Check. So, after yet another bath and an episode of Countryfile, we head to the cellar to sample wines with sommelier Daniel. Speaking as someone who only really knows the difference between red and white wine (the colour being a giveaway), this kind of exercise has been a bit lost on me in the past. But Daniel’s passion and knowledge is so infectious, I leave for dinner rosy-cheeked and with a greater respect for the drink I’ve been quaffing for well over a decade.

Dinner is served in
The Orangery, Rockliffe Hall’s flagship 4AA Rosette restaurant, whose extraordinary tasting menus come with optional wine pairings. We choose the whole shebang and eat our way through 10 delicious plates, including venison with savoury granola and pickled brambles, Landrace pork with charred carrots and marigold, and plum with sheep’s curd and lemon balm. It’s a menu that takes us foraging through the English countryside. By the last course we feel fit to burst but sad it’s coming to an end, as with our time at Rockliffe Hall generally. I have fallen head over heels for this place, literally
as well as metaphorically – I have the bruises to prove it.

Rooms cost from £220 per night, including breakfast and spa access (rockcliffehall.com)




For more information visit rockcliffehall.com and visitwiltshire.co.uk


 

Getting cosy in Wiltshire

I haven’t set foot in a stables since my schoolgirl riding days, but my boyfriend Jamie and I ended up having supper in one during our stay at this charming 14th century inn deep in the heart of Wiltshire’s Nadder Valley.


‘With bags in tow and the sun in our eyes, we trundle up the path to the quaint Compasses Inn. After a quick, rather squinty selfie, we push open the black wooden door and are immediately transported back to the 14th century. Tankards and lanterns hang from original wooden beams on the low ceilings and rusty horseshoes, leather tack and old farming equipment adorn the stone walls. A rich, smoky smell that’s hard to place but oddly comforting fills our noses. History wafts all around us, yet the pub feels surprisingly up to date.

It has all the charm of the old stables without the horses or, dare I say it, the muck. Apparently a stream once ran directly through the inn so animals could drink alongside the customers, but today, with no horses around to join us for a tipple, we enjoy a local ale in a cosy alcove before being shown to one of the four rooms above.

Our room is contemporary but with a country cottage feel; modern fixtures mixed with wooden furniture, and a plate of home-made biscuits to accompany our cups of tea. The bathroom is glossy-magazine perfect, with gleaming white wall tiles and gold detailing and, although there’s no bath, the luxurious shower more than makes up for it.

With glorious countryside on our doorstep and English Heritage sites Stonehenge and Wardour Castle a short drive away, we have every intention of heading off to explore. Instead, we end up conking out on the comfy bed. Oops.

Dinner is a hearty, unpretentious affair with the emphasis on seasonal and local produce. The menu changes daily but you can expect to find elevated pub classics with the odd wildcard. We opt for the rolled pork belly, chorizo and sherry sauce with mashed potato, plus a butternut squash risotto cake oozing with fontina cheese,and a bottle of Argentinian Malbec. But the real showstopper is the dessert: a sticky ‘cola’ pudding with bourbon toffee sauce and clotted cream. Truly inspired and certainly better than the cheese-and-pickle sarnies I used to eat after my riding lessons all those years ago…’

Doubles £110, including breakfast (thecompassesinn.com)




For more information visit thecompassesinn.com and visitwiltshire.co.uk


 

Exmoor ramblings

Welcome to the first of my travel blogs – because I can’t just waffle on about food all the time. So if you fancy a bit of escapism or just want to know what happened when I got lost on the Moors then read on. Normal service will resume next week after I have been paid and can actually afford to cook something…

View from the funicular railway to Lynton from Lynmouth

Getting dropped off in the middle of the moors and then realising you brought the wrong map isn’t the best start to a hiking adventure in Devon but, as I found out, there are worse places to get lost.
‘Jamie and I had been craving a bit of country air for a while. So we dig out our walking boots from the back of a cupboard and plot a few days exploring the Two Moors Way, a coast-to-coast route that links Dartmoor and Exmoor. After a five-hour drive from our home in north London, we find ourselves in a blissful hydrotherapy spa at Home Place Farmhouse in Challacombe, gazing out at Exmoor’s rolling hills. Nestled in a valley, our cosy adults-only self-catering cottage is a short stroll from 16th-century village pub The Black Venus Inn, a friendly, characterful bar with beer for dogs (yes, beer for dogs). After three delicious courses and a bottle of red wine, we’re ready to turn in, our bellies full of homemade apricot and raspberry crumble.

Walking the walk
The 102-mile Two Moors Way runs from Ivybridge in South Devon, across Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks to Lynmouth on the North Devon coast (visit-exmoor.co.uk). As we are only staying two nights, we focus on the last leg, walking eight miles from Prayway Head to Lynmouth. After being dropped off in a taxi, the wrong-map situation sinks in and we are relieved to find that our destination is signposted and the terrain not too challenging. The path flits in and out of woodland as you drop into the valley, and the views are extraordinary. Lynmouth is a vision nestling in green hills – it’s easy to see why visitors call this area Little Switzerland – and the bright green of the forests and deep blue where the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water meet is stunning. We stroll into town, past the pretty harbour, to the landmark Rhenish Tower, which was built in the 1860s to store salt for indoor bathing.

After a late fish and chip lunch admiring the harbour views at The Ancient Mariner Restaurant in The Bath hotel, we hop on the Victorian funicular railway to travel 500ft up to Lynton, Lynmouth’s little twin, an unspoilt town with a handful of independent shops, an impressive town hall, and home to Highcliffe House, our next overnight stop. With gorgeous panoramic views of Exmoor and the North Devon coastline, this luxurious boutique B&B is the perfect place to put your feet up after a long day’s walking. Dinner is a delicious meal at The Vanilla Pod, where, for a very reasonable £22 per head, you can share a mezze starter and have a main course each.

Home Place Farmhouse Spa in Challacombe
Lost on the Moors
A room with a view at Highcliffe House
Soaked after The Valley Off The Rocks walk

The next day we stay local and set off for a shorter coastal walk to the well-known beauty spot The Valley Of Rocks. Despite the weather taking a turn for the worse and soaking us to the bone, it didn’t detract from the spectacular landscape. Five miles and two soggy sandwiches later, we find our way back to Highcliffe House, where we dry off and enjoy a well-deserved cream tea. In the car heading back to London, our GPS efficiently sorts out our route home, but I rather miss the romance of our mapless amble across the moors, not knowing what lay over the next hill, or behind the next tree. And, of course, we still have another 94 miles to go…’


WHERE WE STAYED
Home Place Farmhouse Spa
Each cottage at these converted barns is cosy, charming and well equipped. A selection of cooked farmhouse breakfasts are served in your cottage or you can opt for a continental self-catered breakfast. Prices from £250 for a two-night weekend break for two, with use of the spa facilities. (farmhousespa.co.uk)

Highcliffe House
With stunning sea views and luxurious bedrooms, this period B&B offers complimentary cream tea on arrival, tailor-made breakfast and opulent décor.
We wanted to stay forever. Prices from £115 per night, based on a two-night stay for two people, including breakfast. (highcliffehouse.co.uk).


Exmoor ramblings


For more information about walking the Two Moors Way, Exmoor or the North Devon coast visit visit-exmoor.co.uk.