The road from Merzouga to Ouarzazate passes through Tinghir – an unassuming town, taking its siesta under the winter sun. Hotel Saghro is watching over the oasis in its outdated but still elegant gown.
The city of Tinghir is an oasis that stretches between two of the subranges of the Atlas Mountains – the Little, Anti-Atlas, and the High Atlas. The lush palm tree garden follows Wadi Todgha for almost fifty km, but its waters are not enough to sustain it. A system of irrigation canals and pipes keeps the oasis lush. It is a real-life painting where rugged red and luscious green contrast in an unmistakable Moroccan scene.
The hotel sits high on the hill and gifts its visitors the view of the entire oasis. Fine red sand that seems more like dust covers the land. Palm trees, also covered with sandy dust, and the red cubes of clay houses add dimension to the landscape. Only a sleeping cat occupies the hotel’s empty parking lot. A large lobby with a gigantesque Reception desk stands here to welcome accidental visitors like us.
An eerie Welcome
In the adjacent to the Reception salon, minder sofas and ottomans sit around low circular tables. The room feels melancholic in its beauty and emptiness.
It feels eerie being here. The outdated furnishings and the entirely empty building shockingly contrast with the stunning colours of the Moroccan décor. The effort put in this place is evident. All the same, it is obvious that the hotel’s glorious times have long gone. The only time I had felt like that before was, as a child, watching the story of Sleeping Beauty and her long-forgotten castle, hidden from the world by the overgrown forest.
We step out. The filled azure water pool surprises us.
And just like that, a middle-aged man appears. There is a wide smile on his face and his welcome is so warmhearted that we instantly forget the emptiness of the building. Mohammed (not his real name) invites us to a Moroccan mint tea, served on the terrace. It seems he knows what unexpected guests like us come for.
The valley is beautiful in its red dust and rugged flatness. Beyond, the backbone of the Little Atlas is constraining the panorama in a rustic frame.
The metal garden tables and chairs are painted in bright chartreuse. Large flower pots are hiding in the shade. Sitting here, we overlook palm and orange trees. It is a sunny winter day, the air dancing under the pressure of the midday heat. The tea, as always in Morocco, is the only refreshing thing.
Insight into Local Life
Sitting on the terrace, the vantage point offers us an unexpected insight into the lives of the local people. We see them walking the streets below. On the riverbank, there are a dozen women and children. The mothers take care of the laundry. The children, just like children everywhere in the world, splash the water in their play. Looking a bit longer, I realise that the river is more of a creek.
A noise, strange to my ears, attracts our attention. Far below, in the town’s centre, an angry crowd shouts. People’s number increases as time goes on.
‘What is the din about?’ we ask Mohammed.
He does not seem willing to answer our question. Maybe he does not know, or rather does not want to talk about it with outsiders. Who knows, we might not even be able to understand the local political or cultural peculiarities.
The conversation takes another direction. He loves talking about the hotel. Indeed, its past is more interesting than the present.
In the 50s, full of life and sparkling with luxury, Hotel Saghro flourished welcoming mostly French clientele. The French have left their mark here, just as they did leave a mark on Morroco’s culture and language. Today, the mix between Arabic comfort and French chic is an irresistible combination for all visitors to the country.
Walking between past and present
Mohammed shows us around. Strolling along the corridors, peeking into rooms, and walking around the restaurant, I can see the decaying glamour. It enchants me. Places with history always contain a sense of mystery, embroidered with the personal stories of the people who occupied them.
Today, the staff keeps the hotel very clean and orderly. I could see the effort put in keeping the premises in as good as possible condition.
Mohammed does not tell us much detail about the hotel’s past. Even a little is enough for my flamboyant imagination to start creating the set. In my mind, I can see elegant women holding cigarettes in one hand and a cocktail glass in the other. Dancing and flirting, smiling with joy. Rich in pleasantries and poor in rigour. The men, matching in elegance, seem to enjoy the party as much. Yet, there is a sense of seriousness in their conversations. Their shoulders sit lower as if the weight if the world is a tangible thing and they carry it on them at all times. The voices of Mireille Mathieu, Jacques Brel, Juliette Greco and Charles Aznavour fill the salon and invite the hotel guests closer to each other, swaying together in the rhythm of the Chanson.
If the road brings you to Tinghir, stop for a while and feel the bittersweet thrill of the past greatness and beauty of Hotel Saghro. You can admire the view and sip from your cup of mint and green tea in serenity. If you stay longer, the Melancholy will come and sit with you. And just as with an old friend, she will tell stories that only you can hear.
This post represents my perception (and imagination) of the place. For reviews of people who actually have stayed at the hotel, read and book a room here. For our Privacy Police, click here.