BRASH BRITISH BILLIONAIRE (and balloonist extraordinaire) Sir Richard Branson may be a rebel, but he listens to his mother. In 1998, after Eve Branson spotted a stunning 1920s hilltop castle 40 minutes south of Marrakesh, she convinced her son, who already had a portfolio of luxury resorts, to buy the property and convert it into a five-star hotelno easy task in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains of North Africa. It took seven years, but in February the Kasbah Tamadot's first guests walked through its massive timber doors and into the courtyard's heady lavender-and-rose garden.
ROOM & BOARD: Arched passageways and hidden stairs lead past fountains to 18 mountain-view rooms and suites, most of which have palatial four-poster beds, terra-cotta tile floors, colorful Moroccan poufs, and an Internet hookup. Indulge in the spa's traditional Hammam steam bath, then get a full-body scrub with a goat-pelt mitt. Chef Jean Mundell dishes up memorable meals to eat fireside in the ocher-walled dining room or on the terrace. Menu dependables include tagines (slow-cooked meat-fruit-and-vegetable stews in clay braziers) and sweet-almond and pigeon-breast pastries.
OUT THE BACK DOOR: Nearby Oukaimeden, Morocco's best (albeit quirky) ski area, rents vintage equipment, while mule drivers offer rides to off-piste terrain from the base of the hill. Kasbah Tamadot organizes guided trekking and horseback excursions to the Berber village of Imlil, along with outings to Marrakesh and (surprise, surprise) Branson-style hot-air-balloon rides.
DETAILS: Doubles from $378; 800-225-4255, www.sanctuare.com