Morocco tour: our breathtaking itinerary

Versione in italiano

It all started and ended in Marrakech, our port of entry and exit from a country full of amazing places.

By partnering with Elena Hall of Blue Men of Morocco, we explored this land in the best way possible: Elena organised the itinerary, booked the hotels and chose an local driver who guided us to the south.

We took a trip on the road, because the large areas of this country deserve a narrative vision: crossing them by car is like reading the story of geological eras, like seeing in front of you the Pangea evolution along the millennia.

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There are no highways or tools due to witness the wonder of Moroccan nature that downsizes human beings and claims the due supremacy. We’ve spent many hours in the car, often swinging on hairpin curves and snake roads, completely enraptured by the African show. Every day, we arrived at our destination in the late afternoon, with no words to say and eyes wide open with astonishment.
Mohammed Ouardaras come to pick us up in Marrakech at the Riad Le Rihani, where we stayed for our first three days in Morocco. After introduction and handshakes, we start the journey on his 4x4 towards the Sahara. He lives in Marrakech but he is a Berber of Merzouga: he is taking us to his homeland, among his people.
We thought that the approach to the desert would have been a gradual rite, a process of mutual understanding made of hours and days of waiting, meals eaten in small restaurants along the way and a few photographs. Wrong. Every mile among the mountains and the villages meant fascination, astonishment, an infinite number of photographs and unforgettable memories.

CLICK HERE for the video of our road trip.

Itinerario

Day 1 : Marrakech- Ouarzazate (270 km)

60 kms of flat road, and then you start to climb the High Atlas. We asked to see the Berber villages and therefore, at some point, we deviate from the main road that leads to Ouarzazate and enter the heart of Morocco's most important mountain chain, through Telouet (famous for its kasbah) and Ait-Ben-Haddou, a fortified town included in the UNESCO world heritage where famous movies like Lawrence of Arabia, The Gladiator, Jesus of Nazareth, and many others were filmed.
All the way, our mouths are wide open in amazement: the landscape changes every two miles, vegetation and rocks give a new show at every turn.
These mountains are full of fossils and minerals, you should know all the colours of the world to classify the spectacle staged here every day: purple and red sand, blue mosses and yellow shrubs, trees of all shades of green, from pistachio to slate. Perhaps pantone was born here.
The cacti grow alongside palm trees, olive trees and evergreens.

Morocco - Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate

Every village bears the name of its founder. They all have a mosque and a school, and are mainly made of mud and straw. Houses rarely have running water, heating or electricity. Sustenance comes from the land and farming, farmers still plow by hand and shepherd walk tens of miles every day to bring the cattle to graze. Berbers are strong people, used to walk on high mountains and work hard, even in difficult conditions.
Everything is pristine and grows according to natural rhythms. Animals live in the wild, they eat fragrant herbs and grow in an environment free from pollution: for this reason, meat and milk produced here are healthy and delicious.
We arrive in Ouarzazate in the late afternoon. In this city, famous for the Atlas movie studios, which are still active and abundantly used even by Hollywood, the Taourirt kasbah (one of the best preserved in Morocco) is the point of greatest beauty.
We stay and have dinner at Le Petit Riad, passing a pleasant evening.

Morocco on the road

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Day 2 : Ouarzazate - Merzouga (370 Km)

To get to Merzouga, the city on Sahara’s borders, we cross another breathtaking mountain range: the Anti-Atlas, the oldest part of the chain, sister of the Appalachians and a long time ago higher than Himalayas.
The slope we drive on is lunar, volcanic, covered with dark stones and little else.
Even the goats don’t waste time on these ridges populated only by rosemary and thyme.
The Anti-Atlas did not seem to be here to allow life, but to give show of itself. Barren, arid, inhospitable, it shows cracks and canyons, a mountain with two eyes and a heart, stone layers and unexpected geometries: the sleepless art work of rock, water, time and wind.

Morocco Anti-Atlas
Going down to the plains, the land gradually returns clear, it becomes amber and saffron, the vegetation reappears: we are in the Draa Valley, populated by date palms, acacia trees and henna shrubs.
Spaces here are larger, the wind has more room to run and shape the landscape. We meet again shepherds who lead the flock, children who walk miles and miles by themeselves to go to school, men and women patiently waiting at the roadside someone to give them a lift: the distances here acquire a new meaning for us.
We arrive in Merzouga and it rains, as it wasn't since 2006.

We spend a bit of time in the Nomad Depot, an important selling point for the handicraft products of nomadic tribes: Tuareg, Bedouins, Berbers who make doors, clothes, lamps, jewelry, tables, furnishings, carpets, cotton, wool and Moroccan silk (made from agave and not from bugs) by hand.
We stay at the desert hotel of Elena Hall, our tour operator, and spend the night at Haven La Chance looking at the clouds fighting with the moon.
We ask for a burnus and we go to hear the noise of the rain falling on the desert, we watch the excitement of that sand that knows no water. We hide in the dunes, we are enthralled by nature, which is the absolute master of the world, we feel ourselves in the heart of the Earth and we would never get out.
We reshape our concept of infinite and silence, we learn new measures : we are completely alone and overwhelmed.

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DAY 3: Merzouga - Dades (290 Km)

The morning after the sun wins.
After breakfast, we ride on two of the fifteen dromedaries of Ahmed - our desert guide – and we set off for a stroll that puts us in tune with distant paths. An hour on the back of these tall animals and we understand the pace of past routes, the duration of the journey through endless stretches of sand.
"How do you get your bearings? " We ask to Ahmed. He looks at us, smiles and does not answer, because he knows that we cannot understand the biological compass of nomads.
An hour later we are back in the car, heading to the Todra Gorges.

"Atlas Brain" Dades Valley - Morocco

"Atlas Brain" Dades Valley

We make a stop in a company that works and sells many fossils of these mountains, the Macro Fossiles Kasbah. A guide shows us the production processes and a large exhibition of furniture, jewelry , fountains, marbles.
We continue the journey to the Todra river and eventually meet a lush valley full of cultivated plots and date palms, surrounded by mountains without peak and rocks brass, ocher and rust colored. We enter the canyon, and finally understand the feeling of being injected into something.
We have lunch in a restaurant on which the sun probably never shine, and then leave again, this time towards the gorges of Dades: another river, another scene.

High Atlas - Morocco

High Atlas - Morocco

Here, a few miles from the Todra, spaces are wider, stone is purple like it was made of powdered blood: it is red sandstone. No palm trees, but bizarre mountains that seem to come to life: some call them "Atlas brain" and other "Monkeys fingers": to us, their shape seems the footprints of some disappeared giants who wanted to be remembered.
These two clefts so close but so different are dotted with villages full of small hotels, beaten by the wind and kissed by sensational sunsets.
We have dinner and spend the night at the Kasbah de la Vallee, in the heart of the gorge.

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

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DAY 4: Dades - Marrakech (315 km)

Returning to Marrakech, we drive on the road of the 1000 kasbahs, through the Roses Valley, famous for each type of product and distillate that can be obtained from this flower.
Here the hedges of Damascus wild roses are used first of all to defend the wheat plots from the livestock grazing. Then, during the April and May bloom, every day before sunrise, the buds are harvested and brought to the kasbah to be dried and processed.
Near Ouarzazate we see the lake on the eastern side of the city, and we start to climb the High Atlas towards Tizi n' Tichka pass, the highest on this side, at 2260 meters.
It's snowing.
We stop at a women's cooperative that sells products derived from Argan processing, we taste honey and jam, buy soaps and ointments. We have lunch in the near bar and then go down to Marrakech, where we spend our last Moroccan night at the magnificent Palais Sebban.

The Todra Valley - Morocco

The Todra Valley - Morocco

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More than 1200 km in four days were enough for us to see more colors than we had probably seen in our entire life. We saw the mountains on which people tattoo huge words with stones painted white, and a cookery full of simple but captivating flavors.
We ate fresh salads, delicious soups, vegetables, couscous and tajine, tender meat of chicken and beef (mutton and lamb were also available almost everywhere). Unavoidable the mint tea at any time of day, but some suggest the absinthe one during winter, because it helps the body heat.
In Morocco, the cold is so limited (geographically and temporally) that houses and reception facilities are often designed to protect from the scorching heat of long summers and certainly not equipped with a heating system. Moreover, Moroccans love to keep the doors open in public buildings: a good symbol of welcome, but that in January may force you to have lunch wearing the jacket.

The Dades Gorges - Morocco

Dades Gorges

Riads today are often equipped with heaters, air conditioners, fireplaces or portable gas heaters, but this is not always enough to guarantee a comfortable temperature due to poor thermal insulation: warm clothes are a must for those who come here during winter.
October and November seem to be the months when the weather is better for travelers, but there are also festivals that are worth to keep in mind: the Festival of Roses, the one of Dates, that of Nomad Music and so on.
We believe, however, that no traveler, no matter how prepared, could be completely ready for all the beauties of this land: the wonder, somewhere unexpected and unforeseen, will snatch him forever.

To get in contact with our tour operator Blue Men of Morocco, write to: [email protected]
To get in contact with our guide/driver Mr Mohammed Ouardaras, write to: [email protected]

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4 Responses

  1. Bellissime foto, bellissimo tour, molto simile a quello che ho fatto anche io a fine dicembre (che freddo però!). I paesaggi del Marocco sono davvero incredibili. Sono rimasta molto colpita dalla loro bellezza e da quanto cambino molto velocemente..
  2. Thank you for sharing the amazing pictures. There are so many wonderful places to see in South of Morocco. There are also stunning auberges and places to stay. In AitBenHaddou, Kasbah Ellouze which is practically an old auberge that has been rebuilt to offer stunning and unique stay. Auberge Le Festival in Todra Gorge that has rooms as caves. And of course the luxury tents in Erg Chebbi. The area of Merzouga is so popular that there are so many camps sometimes one next to each other that it looses its romance being in the desert. The desert luxury camp is so unique, built on the end side of the sand dunes offering high luxury of comfort in the amazing surrounding of desert. www.desertluxurycamp.com
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  4. […] a wonderful road trip on Morocco's High Atlas, we reached the Sahara desert. We had planned to stay overnight in a Berber tent after […]

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