Morocco Detox: Living the High Life in the Atlas Mountains

Mountain escape: The retreat is situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountains

By Anna Pasternak

Last updated at 1:19 PM on 20th January 2010 – The Daily Mail

There’s nothing like the lurching panic of opening your suitcase only to discover that it’s not yours. I was more than an hour’s drive from Marrakech up a steep pot-holed track in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.

The stranger’s suitcase and I were staying at the Kasbah Bab Ourika, a new 15-bedroom hotel in the verdant Ourika valley. I had signed up for a week-long in:spa fitness retreat, which required athletic wear.

The name in:spa is misleading. This was not some pampering jolly, but an active holiday without a relaxing glass of Merlot in sight, a detox retreat aimed at stressed-out singles.

In the six years since ex-banker Kathryn Brown founded in:spa to cater for the overworked and overwrought, there have been four in:spa weddings, so it is a potentially fertile meeting ground. But our particular retreat was atypical with one couple, no single men and nine single women.

I had forgotten what fun spending a week with a like-minded group of strangers can be – including a top fashion buyer and a Christie’s art expert, all aged between 35 and 45. Many of the guests were in:spa veterans, having been on other retreats in similarly gorgeous properties in Tuscany and Ibiza. Each boasts a host, nutritionist, chef, yoga teacher and private trainer.

The Kasbah Bab Ourika has 360-degree panoramic views of the snow-covered Atlas peaks. On one side are unusually lush valleys and on the other, a drop to a vast redrocked canyon. There was a beautiful planted garden off a spacious terrace: an oasis of orange blossom and scented geranium.

The rooms were perfectly pared-down in neutral tones. Many had fireplaces, all had comfy day beds, thick oatmeal rugs, clumps of fresh field-flowers in pots and a smattering of Berber antique chairs and chests. In the evening, inner courtyards were candle-lit and there were roaring fires in the – dry – bar. We met there for pre-dinner chat over sugarless mint tea.

The Welsh chef, Michael Arthur, wowed us with food so flavourful and herby that we never felt the lack of sugar or salt. Breakfast was fresh fruit soya smoothies, his special muesli, or frittata. Lunch and dinners included sesame singed tofu and green chicken curry.

Snow-capped: A morning hike through the snowy peaks along with yoga, healthy food and private training sessions were the order of the week

Every day there were yoga classes, circuit training, private training sessions and every other day a morning hike.

Guided by Berbers keen to share local knowledge – did you know that there are four types of wild lavender in the Atlas mountains – the hikes were between two and four hours long.

By the second day, the detox was taking its toll. We crawled back to our rooms from exercise sessions to sleep for hours on end. I have never experienced such tiredness nor enjoyed so much time to myself.

By the end of the week my computer-bound shoulders were freer and more flexible than they had been in years. We didn’t realise how sensitised the detox had made us, along with all that fresh, unfettered mountain air, until some of us ventured into Marrakech.

The cacophony of noise and pollution in the Medina, not to mention wafting food aromas, was an unwelcome sensory assault. I was glad to get back to the stillness of Kasbah Bab Ourika. As well as the physical detox, the mental detox of no television, computer or newspapers had the most profoundly relaxing effect.

Travel Facts

In:spa has week-long retreats in 2010 at destinations including: Marrakech, the Italian Dolomites and the South of France. From £1,895 per person including accommodation, transfers, all meals and drinks, activities and consultations. Excluding flights and based on two sharing (0845 458 0723, Royal Air Maroc flies from London to Marrakech from £111 return (020 7307 5800,

England Rents, Rants & Raves by The Prodigal Tourist

Author and blogger, Denis Lipman
December’s Featured Blog:
England Rents, Rants & Raves
by The Prodigal Tourist

Hello everyone! I hope that you are enjoying this holiday season and if you are as fortunate as I am, you have this whole week off!

Since the launch of my new website I have been thinking of ways to keep my blog fresh and interesting. I’ve decided that each month I am going to attempt to feature a favourite blog that’s written by my online friends.

This month I have selected one of the first blogs I chose to follow when I first started writing my own. It’s by Denis Lipman and is called England Rents, Rants & Raves. Denis refers to himself as The Prodigal Tourist and I am currently reading his wonderful travel memoir, A Yank Back To England: The Prodigal Tourist Returns, which actor Michael York describes as:

“A perceptive, engaging and informative take on contemporary England as seen through the eyes of a fellow expatriate who writes with humor and affection. The cast of characters has an almost Dickensian vivacity.”

Mr. York is absolutely right.

My review of the book will be posted soon.

Denis Lipman is from Dagenham, Essex and he has a very interesting and colourful history that you can read about here. His American wife, Frances Erlebacher, is not only his life partner and the mother of their daughter Kate, but also his business partner as together they run an advertising agency called The Creative Shop in Washington, DC. Denis also writes plays for the Washington Theatre Festival.

Denis explains on his blog,

“Years ago I shed my Cockney accent and left London’s blighted East End for America. Since then, I’ve only returned to see my increasingly cantankerous parents and assorted relatives. Until my American wife comes along. She wants to tour, see the sights. No thank you. It’s not for me. But she insists, and I become a reluctant tourist in my former homeland.”

England Rents, Rants & Raves is a delightful, interesting and colourful blog about Jolly Ol’ England! It features various vignettes from the Lipmans’ travels and Denis’ new book, as well as photos, recipes, and everything related to the Lipmans’ life. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more creative, friendly and fun couple in blog land than Denis and Frances. I highly recommend their blog which is especially enjoyable for armchair tourists like me!

“You did what to Tony?”

Nursery skiing: Learning to ski, Swiss style at the Arosa Ski School by Anna Pasternak

Nursery skiing: Learning to ski, Swiss style at the Arosa Ski School
By Anna Pasternak

Last updated at 9:47 AM on 07th December 2009
Daily Mail

Frankly, skiing leaves me cold. All that huffing and puffing, hauling and falling does nothing for me. Despite efforts to learn, I’ve never managed to progress beyond a shaky blue run.

However, determined not to visit the sins of the mother upon her daughter, I decided to see if, by introducing my five-year-old Daisy to skiing early enough, she would prove not to be a chip off the old block as I am – my mother is also a dreadful skier.

So we three set off to Arosa, Switzerland, where Daisy took daily ski lessons and the closest we came to an injury on the slopes was when my mother slipped rushing to beat the Germans to a lunch table on the sun terrace.

First day at school: Daisy on her way to the Ski School in Arosa

The train journey to Arosa from Zurich via Chur was memorable, not just because the first hour from Zurich to Chur was on a doubledecker train, which thrilled Daisy, or the blindingly accurate precision of the timetable, which excited us. But because Daisy lost her first tooth on an unforgiving ham baguette.

On the second lovely little red train, from Chur (the oldest town in Switzerland) to Arosa, we sat for another hour as we wound our way up the track built in 1912, soaking up the picture-postcard alpine views, debating whether the tooth fairy would leave Swiss francs or pounds.

Arosa, a medium-sized family resort, is unashamedly unstylish. Apparently, the Begum Inaara Aga Khan goes to St Moritz to see and be seen, but for real relaxation she prefers to go makeup-less to Arosa.

There are 60km of slopes and 60km of winter hiking trails, so it’s perfect for families of all ages with non-ski members, as all restaurants on the slopes can be reached by foot and by ski.

There aren’t swish shops, preening celebrities or pulsing nightclubs, but lots of low-key Swiss cosy restaurants such as Chamanna on Arosa Main Street. It’s attractive without being alpine twee.

It was Britain’s own Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who put Arosa on the map in 1894 when he visited the nearby resort of Davos in search of a tuberculosis cure for his ailing wife, Touie.
Guided by two local shopkeepers from Davos, he crossed the 2,440-metre Maienfelder Furka Pass and skied down into Arosa for lunch.

Today, Arosa offers all the winter sports; there is skating on Lake Obersee, around which the village is built, and an extensive toboggan-run network known as Home Pistes.

Riding high: Daisy with her ski guide Tobias

The slopes cater best for beginners to ‘unadventurous intermediates’, as the slopes are mainly wide, safe and varied.

Experienced skiers can hire a guide and go over the mountain into other resorts, including Davos, while for snowboarders there is a good halfpipe; one of those jazzy curved slopes on which to do tricks.

So, what is the best age for a child to learn to ski? Tobias, an archetypal dishy 25-year-old private Swiss ski instructor who tutored Daisy for two hours a day, said that the Swiss start their children skiing aged around two, but we Britons leave it a few years later.

Arosa has a tradition of having private ski instructors – there are 200 in total. With his mind-boggling patience and good humour, Tobias managed in three days to get her up on the magic carpet – the moving carpet in the nursery slopes, doing shaky snow ploughs down – and, most importantly, having fun.

‘If children have fun, they want to come the next day. If they hate it, they won’t want to come again,’ he said.

According to Tobias, Daisy’s main difficulty was not failing strength, but lapses in concentration.

While she also learned to walk uphill in her ski boots, which seemed challenging enough, my mother and I enjoyed a pricey rosti and a plate of vegetables (18.50 Swiss francs) on the sunny terrace of the Hotel Hold, which overlooks the nursery slopes.

At the end of every lesson, Tobias took Daisy on his shoulders for a speedy ski, including jump, while we watched, slack-jawed in awe.
We stayed at the Tschuggen Grand Hotel. A bland Seventies-style block – a former 19th-century sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers – it is deceptive; inside, the decor is funky neo-baroque; all tactile surfaces with velvet chairs and chenille throws.

However, this hotel is punch-the-air-with-happiness child friendly without morphing into a giant shrieking creche.

Hotel managers worldwide should take note. First, the kids’ club has proper user-friendly hours: from 9.30am to 1pm, then from 4.30 till 9.30pm.

Children can join you for dinner (even at the gourmet La Vetta, where they also offer the kids’ menu) or they can eat en masse at 6pm in the Buendnerstube restaurant complete with bowling alley, which afterwards transforms into a typical Swiss fondue and live Tyrolean music joint.

Blissfully, once Daisy had located us at one of the four restaurants in the hotel each evening, she’d then nip off to the kids’ club for fun and craft-based activities.

It worked perfectly, as she’d have hated the amazing dinner that the guest chef, the Michelin-starred Kenichi Arimura, created. He visits regularly from his restaurant Ryokan Hasenberg in Widen, conjuring up melting sushi.

As Switzerland is so stomach-clenchingly expensive, I actually thought that four outstanding sushi courses for 135 Swiss francs a head (approx £90) wasn’t unreasonable.

The Tschuggen hotel has two architectural aces. The spa, designed by Mario Botta, a four-level extravaganza built into the mountainside; all duck-white granite, pale maple and glass.

Then there’s the Tschuggen Express, a 12-leather-seater, futuristic pod-like cable car that takes hotel guests via rollercoaster- style track straight up into the slopes.

Unbelievably cool, this prototype means there is no waiting for buses or hotel shuttles, as skiers and nonskiers can zoom straight up the mountain in style.

We zoomed down the mountain on our last night on sledges from the outstanding little restaurant, Pratschli Stall, a ten-minute drive from the hotel. This Swiss chalet six-table restaurant is a gem, with an equally tiny menu of the frothiest fondue, chewy raclette and endive salad.

Coming down afterwards on a sledge was the highlight for Daisy, while my mother and I we were shrieking, helpless, with terrified laughter.

I could really get into this no-skiing skiing holiday lark.

We took a horse- drawn sleigh ride which appealed to my inner Zhivago. Listening to the tinkle of horse bells, clipclopping along the woodland tracks as we lay under fur throws, was timeless and romantic.

I hope that Daisy becomes a keen skier, so I can accompany her annually to unfashionable Arosa and perfect the art of apres non-ski.

Oh, and the tooth fairy left two Swiss Francs . . .

Travel facts

A deluxe double at Tschuggen Grand Hotel starts at £355 for two on a bed & breakfast basis, including free use of the spa and Tschuggen Express (+41 (0)81 378 99 99,

The ski lessons were with SSSA Swiss Ski and Snowboard School Arosa. Two-hour private lessons can be booked through the concierge, starting at £100.

Airline Swiss flies to Zurich from £140 per person (0845 601 0956, Train from Zurich Airport to Arosa costs from £60 return per person ( For information, contact