Kanz Erremal

Merzouga, South & desert, Morocco Book from

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 oasis camp is in a magical spot, not shared with any other hotels - so you can have the silent dunes and starry skies all to yourselves
  • 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; rates include dinner and breakfast

Lows

  • Dinners could be improved - though admittedly supplies are scarce round here
  • Touts hang around trying to sell you trinkets and camel tours (best to prebook one)
  • Don’t imagine you’re in splendid isolation: there’s another hotel right next door, and more nearby
  • Not much to do in the middle of the day except laze by the pool
  • It's remote - 5 hours from Ouarzazate, 7 from Fez, 8 from Marrakech

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

Take an overnight camel trek to their oasis camp - it's back-to-nature stuff, but there's no point coming all this way and not doing it. The foam beds are comfy, and you'll be served a simple but finger-licking dinner of flame-grilled meat and fresh salad, served at a low table under the endless stars, and washed down with mint tea and bottled water. If you want beer or wine, or anything for breakfast besides more mint tea, you'll have to bring it.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Eco
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Desert Hotel
  • 14
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • 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

Leading off the 1st and 2nd floor landings are 12 spacious bedrooms - Traditional Kasbah, Superior Suites, and the Balcony Suites (categorised as Family Suites) - with double or twin beds (some have an additional 1 or 2 single beds for families), and an ensuite bathroom with walled shower cubicle. Up on the roof terrace are the 2 Tower Suites (also categorised as Family Suites), housed in the corner towers. Cane ceilings, woven rugs and rough straw-mud walls give them a simple, rustic feel; 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 for a night or two. Air-con units keep them cool at night, and electricity is reliable (24-hour mains with generator back-up).

If you take an overnight camel trek, you'll sleep at a semi-permanent tented camp which is used only by Kanz Erremal guests. Tucked away in a valley among low tamarisk trees and high sandslopes are three 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 - or the guide can douse you with warm water from a kettle if you're not coy.

Features include:

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

Eating

Fresh supplies are bought from the kefs (markets) of Erfoud, cooked by unseen local women in the kitchen, and served with panache by cheerful young men in full length blue tunics and curly-toed babouches.

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). 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 nor much variety.

Breakfast, on the other hand, 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

  • Venturing into the desert is what it's all about, whether by camel, quad bike, Land Rover or on foot
  • You can opt for a short sunset or sunrise camel ride to the dunes or a ½-day Land Rover trip. But if you really want to get a feel for the Sahara, take an overnight camel trek with guide, porterage (including food and water), and a good night's sleep at a remote tented camp. We loved it - an experience to savour, and well worth the money
  • The adventurous can try their hand at quad-biking (exhilarating, easy and expensive) or try their feet at sand-boarding (hard work but very satisfying when it works). The less adventurous can hike into the dunes - which start right outside the hotel - and once you've got past the inevitable trinket-selling touts you'll find yourself in beautifully contoured valleys of wind-sculpted, golden sand
  • There are also longer desert trips on offer, lasting from 2-15 days, and taking in nomad settlements, river oases, stone and galena quarries, in addition to the great sand dune of Merzouga. For longer and less hilly desert journeys, you can book the hotel's 6-seater Land Rover instead of (or as well as) camels
  • A popular option is the 2-5 night Adventure Package, which combines a camel trek to the great dune (optional sand-boarding) with visits to a palm plantation , and a nearby fossil quarry, as well as including transfers to and from Marrakech or Fez
  • Back in civilisation, you can learn how to cook Berber-style; discover the different desert-people (Berber and Imaluan); take a trip to the hammam (Arab baths) or massage parlour; go bird-watching in the palm groves; or enjoy an afternoon by the swimming pool , or 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

50% discount on children aged 3-12. Children under 3 free (in parent's room); some treks might not be suitable for very young children.

Family friendly accommodation:

The best options are the Family Suites (Balcony and Tower Suites), as these have a double bed and an additional 2 single beds, as well as having space for a baby cot.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

6/
Rooms
7/
Food
4/
Service
6/
Value
6/
Overall

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