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TREKKING through the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas in 1989, two English brothers fell in love with a crumbling ruin perched delicately on a mountain.

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TREKKING through the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas in 1989, two English brothers fell in love with a crumbling ruin perched delicately on a mountain.

The Kasbah Du Toubkal, with its views across to North Africa's highest peak, had once been the summer palace of a French administrator when Morocco was under colonial rule.

When the French left in 1956, the building fell into ruin. Mike and Chris McHugo brought the Kasbah, restored it and opened it for guests in 1995 with the help of Berber people from the village of Imlil.

The Kasbah is now at the heart of the village, with Berbers managing it and a five per cent levy on guests' bills going into a village fund. So far, the McHugos have helped set up two girls' schools with boarding houses (a third is on the way), and bought an ambulance and bathhouse for the village.

The Kasbah is a homely, friendly place with spectacular views and a rare peacefulness. From our room we had a great view of the sun setting over the peaks and could hear the trickling of water as the snow melted in early April. The only other sounds were the muezzin's call to prayer and the some occasional chickens.

There are various trekking options in the Toubkal National Park from Kasbah, from a few hours orientation to the ascent of Toubkal (4,167 metres), where you can stay overnight in a trekking lodge owned by the Kasbah. Only 90 minutes from Marrakech, the Kasbah is also open for day trekkers to stop by for lunch. For longer treks, Atlas and Safari Tours can create an itinerary to suit anyone from bird watchers to skiers (skiing for the advanced is available until the end of March).

We did the four-hour trek up the Tizi n'Tamatert pass, which goes through the village of Tamatert and has views of two valleys - Imane and Ait Mizane. Most of the 4,000 people in the Imlil valley make a living through farming and along the way we walked past sheep, mules and goats among apple, walnut and cherry trees coming into blossom. Not much has changed here in centuries. Mules carry bags up the hills and electricity only arrived in 1997.

Once back at the Kasbah after a day trek, you can relax with giant chess boards in the garden, the hammam to get clean, a library, log fires and sun terraces to crash out on.

Sustainability is important here and the Kasbah has won awards for ecologically sensitive, responsible travel.

Visitors will notice an absence of Moroccan women at work here. In the guest houses, men do everything from cleaning and housekeeping to cooking.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, 80 per cent of rural women are illiterate.

Divorce laws have improved recently under King Mohamed VI, meaning better rights for women, but women still have trouble accessing money and sometimes education.

On our last night, we stayed at Riad Dar Imlil in the heart of the village. As all the food is fresh from the area, you can enjoy a hearty meal of soup, tagine and fruit after strenuous walking.

A trip to the High Atlas is truly exhilarating and it is easy to see how you could fall in love with the region.

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