Morocco’s New Olinto Hotel Brings Quiet Luxury To The High Atlas Mountains

For people who know Marrakech, La Maison Arabe was the standard-bearer for decades—an accommodation that combined the best features of a riad with the conveniences of a hotel, the first five-star property in what was then a very provincial city, and a testament to the understated good taste and thorough attention to detail of its aristocratic owner. So when word got out that it had been sold a few years ago, I was disappointed by the news.

I was equally pleased by the news that Prince Fabrizio Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, had returned to Morocco’s hospitality. His remote-feeling, intimate mountain hotel, called Olinto, opened last month about an hour’s drive from the city.

It occupies a lovely spot at the foot of the high Atlas Mountains, between Richard Branson’s delightfully over-the-top Kasbah Tamadot and the more bohemian Kasbah du Toubkal, just above the Berber village of Imlil. Turns out, it’s spiritually between the two as well, a living embodiment of quiet elegance and Ruspoli himself. “I’ve never been so happy as I am here,” he says.

The name, Olinto, is suggestive of the olive grove around which the hotel is built. Those trees produce the olive oil that is used in the very good onsite restaurant. The grounds are also redolent with roses, oleander and fragrant pines. Nature stretches out around the hotel: On one side of the large property (“a protective buy”) is a private hunting reserve, and on the other is the Toubkal national park.

The nine pavilions are as gorgeous as their surroundings. “I was lucky enough to be born in a family that collected things,” says Ruspoli, “It’s in my blood.” So is his eye for design—a look he calls “suspended in time.” Stepping into the bar, for instance, with its colorful stained-glass windows, plump leather couches and moody Art Deco vibe, you can’t tell if the space has been there for a year, ten years or 50.

The rooms are a tribute to local craftsmanship, with richly colored textiles, carefully inlaid brick ceilings and custom leather headboards. The doors to the closets and washrooms are some of the most intricately, beautifully carved I’ve seen outside of a museum.

This being Morocco, the service is warm and generous. Less common for rural areas, it’s also quite polished, with servers remembering how guests take their coffee. When I arrived, the television in my room was tuned to an animal documentary, a soothing welcome that was a big improvement over the usual resort channel propaganda. And since that arrival was close to dinnertime, I was invited to order my meal before I settled into my room, so that my first course would be ready as soon as I made my way to the dining room.

At the foot of Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in northern Africa, Olinto is a fine base for adventure sports like hiking, mountain biking and climbing the peak, and also for visiting women’s cooperatives and arranging with local tour companies to visit family homes in the surrounding Berber villages and feast on home-cooked tagines.

It’s also a fine base for doing not much of anything. There are shaded courtyards and plant-covered pergolas, and a grand swimming pool that’s fringed with silvery olive branches. A few of the pavilions have their own private pools, with the same stunning views of the Atlas Mountains, and all have furnished rooftops, reached via exterior spiral staircases, for sunbathing.

It is also a place for music. Ruspoli has been a lifelong aficionado of classical music, a passion that runs in his family. In the 17th century, Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli was Handel’s most important Roman patron and a member of the Arcadian Academy, a literary and musical society whose members each assumed a Greek or Latin pastoral name—and the name the elder Ruspoli chose was Olinto.

The recurrence is not a coincidence, and the present-day Ruspoli has built an intimate performance space in his personal home on the property, and three private homes to host artists in residence. Next-generation opera singers, pianists and other instrumentalists have already come in to take advantage of the creative space and give recitals to which all hotel guests are invited. The idea, says Ruspoli, is to make music part of Olinto’s identity.

PS: While Olinto is comfortable and relaxing, getting around Morocco can be challenging. Wix Squared, a longtime tour operator based in Marrakech, is not only up to date on the country’s latest and greatest (it was Alex Wix who told me about Olinto) but able to arrange seamless travel within the country.

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