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.
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.
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, www.inspa.co.uk). Royal Air Maroc flies from London to Marrakech from £111 return (020 7307 5800, www.royalairmaroc.com).