Kanz Erremal

Merzouga, South & desert, Morocco Book from Book from £27 per night

A kasbah-hotel deep in the southeast of Morocco, offering camel and jeep excursions into the spectacular Erg Chebbi dunes and beyond
Merzouga is the best place in Morocco to get a taste of the spectacular Sahara dunes. A newly-asphalted road leads right up to huge hills of golden sand; at their base, a string of hotels vies for your custom. We checked out a dozen, and chose Kanz Erremal - ‘desert treasure’ in Berber - for its superior service, comfy rooms and well-run excursions.

The kasbah is made of the ubiquitous mud-straw pisé which serve as bricks-and-mortar hereabouts. At its centre is an airy atrium, cooled by clay vases of dripping water, around which lie several sitting-dining alcoves. Upstairs are 14 simple but cosy bedrooms, most with views (and in some cases balconies) over those magnetic, photogenic dunes. The pool sits outside, enticing you to take a dip to cool off and overlook the dunes. It’s co-owned by 2 Spaniards, who make regular visits, and a dynamic Moroccan called Brahim, who oversees a handful of cheery local staff. They can arrange all manner of desert trips, including camel treks to an overnight oasis camp (a must), quad biking, sand boarding and tours in their Land Rover to mineral quarries, cave paintings and nomadic settlements.

Highs

  • The dunes of Erg Chebbi are right on your doorstep - walk 5 minutes and you can lose yourself (hopefully not literally) in a sea of wind-sculpted sandscapes
  • Their overnight oasis camp experience is magical (an exclusive to Kanz Erremal guests) - you'll have the silent dunes and starry skies all to yourself
  • The pool is a luxury in the middle of the desert; take a dip to cool off
  • Superb breakfast of crispy crepes, flan, jams, yoghurts, even chocolate spread
  • Excellent value for money

Lows

  • It's remote (5 hours from Ouarzazate, 7 from Fez, 8 from Marrakech) but don't imagine you’re in splendid isolation - there’s another hotel right next door
  • Recent feedback suggests the decor and furniture are starting to look and feel a bit tired
  • Touts hang around trying to sell you trinkets and camel tours (best to prebook one)
  • Dinners could be improved - though admittedly supplies are scarce round here
  • Not much to do in the middle of the day except laze by the pool

Best time to go

Late autumn (Sept - Nov) and early spring (Feb - April) are best, with daytime temperatures in the 20's and low 30's celsius. You can also go in midwinter (Dec - Jan) if you don't mind the chilly nights (typically 5-10 celsius). Midsummer (June - Aug) is best avoided, as daytime temperatures climb to the high 30's.

Our top tips

Don’t miss Kanz Erremal’s overnight camel excursions to their remote private oasis camp. We loved it - an experience to savour, and well worth the money. Tips: wear sunscreen and a brimmed hat, take lots of water (two 1.5-litre bottles each) and drink regularly. Come at full moon when the skies are so bright you can hike - torch-free - up the eerie monochrome slopes.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Eco
Great Outdoors
  • Desert Hotel
  • 14
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 24 Jun 2017 - 25 Jun 2017...
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Excursions
  • Cooking Lessons
Room:

Rooms

Twelve spacious rooms lead off the first- and second-floor landings. Traditional Rooms can be made up as double or twins; some have space for an extra single bed. The Superior Rooms come with double beds and dune views. Family Rooms may be on the second floor with dune views or housed up in the corner towers, on the roof terrace level. Each one has a double bed and space for 2 single beds.

Cane ceilings, woven rugs and rough straw-mud walls give the rooms a simple, rustic feel. Air-conditioning units keep them cool at night, and electricity is reliable (24-hour mains with generator back-up). Colour comes from plump black-red cushions and bright spangled bedspreads in yellow or blue. The mattresses are on the soft side, and you might find the occasional broken bulb or latch, but they are comfy enough.

If you take an overnight camel trek, you'll sleep at a semi-permanent tented camp which is only used by Kanz Erremal guests. Tucked away in a valley among low tamarisk trees and high sandslopes are 3 jaimas (nomadic carpet-roofed tents), one of which is the dormitory tent. The guide makes up foam-mattress beds with fresh sheets, thick blankets (it can be cold at night) and a pillow. Lighting comes from a candle and you do your ablutions à la belle étoile.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

Dinner is very laid back, sitting at low alcoves around the main hall and taking pretty much what you get (there's no menu, so warn them in advance of any dietary requirements). Fresh supplies are bought from Erfoud's kefs (markets), cooked by local women in the kitchen, and served with by cheerful young men in full length blue tunics.

When we visited, we started with a comforting bowl of warm chickpea and noodle harira soup, and a platter of 'salads' including aubergine paste, cooked courgettes and carrots. Then came a modern art installation of chewy lamb brochettes skewered into a half cabbage, and surrounded by mounds of chips and rice-filled peppers. On another day you might get tagines: chicken, fish, beef or lamb slow-cooked in clay pots with prunes, sesame, orange, aubergine and other herbs or fruit. Or you could request a 'Berber pizza', a round kesra bread stuffed with mince, spices and almonds; or, for larger groups, mechoui, a whole lamb cooked in a wood-fuelled, mud-and-straw oven and served with couscous and dates. Wines and soft drinks are available, but no beer. Given the remoteness, it's a respectable menu, but don't expect much western fare or variety.

Breakfast is superb: steaming pancakes with all manner of jams (including a chocolate spread), a bowl of Spanish 'flan' (like crême caramel), crunchy swirls of honeyed pastry, yoghurts, fresh orange juice, and mint tea or good strong coffee (with hot milk). You can take it outside on a tray for a tea-in-the-Sahara moment.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • If you really want to get a feel for the Sahara, take an overnight camel trek. From the hotel you spend 2 hours lolloping on camel-back over Martian-red dunes, led by a bare-footed, blue-tunicked Berber guide (who speaks limited English). As the sun sets, you descend into a secluded valley with tamarind trees and jaimas (big, carpet-roofed tents). The luminous night sky fills with stars while your guide rustles up mint tea, sets up your comfy bed and cooks a simple but finger-licking dinner (flame-grilled meat and salad). After a deep sleep, rise at dawn for mint tea, before returning to the hotel for breakfast
  • For a more bite-size dunes experience, opt for a short camel ride (sunset or sunrise), a half-day Land Rover trip or try your feet at sand-boarding (hard work but very satisfying when it gels)
  • The adventurous can try their hand at quad-biking in the Merzouga dunes (exhilarating, easy and expensive). We tried a 3-hour trip with Les Petales de Merzouga and loved it (just be sure to brake at the crest of each dune in case it falls away behind). Their Bombardier 330's are have a simple gear system, a comfy seat and good brakes. You're provided with a helmet, gloves and a basic level of insurance
  • Alternatively, simply hike directly from the hotel into the dunes - once you've got past the inevitable trinket-selling touts, you'll find beautifully contoured valleys of wind-sculpted sand
  • Longer desert trips are on offer (lasting 2-15 days). You'll take in the great sand dune of Merzouga, plus nomad settlements, river oases, stone and galena quarries
  • Back in civilisation, learn how to cook Berber-style, take a trip to the hammam, unwind in the massage parlour, bird-watch in the palm groves, relax by the swimming pool or enjoy an evening of Berber drum music

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Berber pizza making
  • Birdwatching
  • Camel Treks
  • Cooking classes
  • Horse-riding
  • Private guided tours
  • Quad biking
  • Swimming
  • Trekking

Kids

Children are very welcome but some treks might not be suitable for very little ones

Family friendly accommodation:

The best options are the Family Rooms, with a double bed and space for 2 single beds plus a baby cot.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 1 independent review from i-escape guests

6/10
Room
5/10
Food
5/10
Service
6/10
Value
6/10
Overall

Lovely location, friendly staff

7/10,

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Rates for Kanz Erremal