Where the roads between the Drâa, Dadès and Ziz valleys cross, Ourzazate marks the beginning of the great journey by dazzling the traveller with two magnificent kasbahs.
Taourirt, the former residence of the Glaoui, is frighteningly beautiful. A series of towers rising out of a mass of closely packed houses, thrusting their turrets into the bille of the sky, jostling to be first in line to receive the sun.
Aït Benhaddou is 30 kilometres from the town. Just imagine a fabulous sand castle transported, as if by magic, to stand in the middle of a field of flowering almond trees. So beautiful and playing so artfully with the light that it has oftenbeen used as a setting for films such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Un Thé au Sahara". Indeed, this kasbah is so exceptional that UNESCO bas given it world heritage status.
Choose your hotel
The point of departure for the road to the oases, Ouarzazate is also the destination for a wealth of produce and craftwork. Every Sunday, in the souk, can be found an abundance of henna, roses, cumin and distilled wormwood together with Berber pottery, carved stone abjects, blankets and the bille and golden yellow motifs of the famous Ouzguita carpets.
An ideal place to break your journey, Ouarzazate off ers splendid hotel accommodation in which to relax. Generous, welcoming and amazingly different, it serves as a gent le introduction to the powerful emotions that lie ahead in the desert.
THE VALLEY OF THE DRAA
Born in the High Atlas. the Drâa laboriously winds its way as far as Agdz (pronounced Agadiz )
But once there. what a confrast ! It hrings lire to a spectacular oasis stretching 200 kilomoters along its banks.
Once at M 'hamid, what used to he the longest river in Morocco is finally swallowed up hy the sands,
Make haste to Agdz! The road following Wadi Drâa leads out from this small township dominated by its citadel, its red fort and the strange form of the Djebel Kissane.
At the gares of the desert, nature produces a fIourish of col our. Bunches of yellow dates hanging from the palms, laurel bushes showing off their bright pink fIowers, brown, beige and grey mountains rooted in an ochre earth and, always in the distance, like mirages, innumerable sand-coloured ksour.
Such as Tamenougalt, one of the most typical, former Berber capital, or Igdaoun with its high towers like truncated pyramids, and then there is Tinzouline kasbah...
This is the Zagora oasis.
It was here that the Saadians conquered the Souss and then the whole of Morocco in the XIVth century, before embarking on the great adventure that took them as far
as Tombouctou. This will be the starting point for your most exhilarating excursions. Tamegroute with ifs famous masques with blue porcelain roofs and white
minarets, ifs influential medersa (Koranic school) an ifs library, founded in the XVlIth century, housing some magnificent illuminated Korans.
And now on to the sand and the dunes! This is M'hamid, the gateway to the desert where one
of the most colourful souks in aIl Morocco takes place every Monday. And then there is M'hamid el- Ghouzlane, "the plain of gazelles", after which begins the vast hamada du Orâa desert plateau.
At Merzouga, the road stops. And so must you.
Sand, burning sand, sand as far as you cao see.
Shifting sculpture, changing colours, sand dunes piled up by the wind, as tall as minarets. Fascinating, grandiose and unlimited, this is the endlessly renewed de sert where sand, wind and sun corne together to produce nothing but infinity.
But DOW the night is falling. The ears of a fennec fige out of his burrow, a skink, or sand fish, slithers energetically through the dusk, an eagle owl hoots.
Even the desert is alive. But few men cao claim to know its secrets.
Choose Your ItinerarieAgadir The Kasbah Trial The Imperial Cities The mediterranean Coast Tangier Rabat Casablanca Fes Marrakesh Essaouira Meknes Oujda Saharian Provincies Golf
THE VALLEY OF THE DADES
With ils origins in The High Allas, Wadi Dadès hrings water to a numher of oases, the precious setting for a thousand kasbahs in the vallev. After Boumalne, the arid mountain slopes begin to invade the band of vegetation. But the wadi is determined, it digs in deeper, splitting massive blocks of limestone. And then the valley wall close in to form the hreathtaking gorges of Dadès,
Founded in the XlIth century by Yacoub el Mansour, the luxurious oasis of Skoura offers a magical foretaste of the "valley of a thousand kasbahs"; el Kabbaba, Dar Aïchil, Dar Aït Souss and, the most beautiful. Amerhidil..,
From palm graves to gardens. the road leads on towards the roses, the thousands and thousands of roses that perfume El Kelaa M'Gouna, the most beautiflll rose garden
in the valley.
But thcre are also opportunities for a change of scene. Alzag, where 120 smiths - almost ail the men in the village! - produce the most fincly worked daggers; the former Glaoui kasbah ba lanccd on a rocky outcrop; the splendid Bou Taghrar kasbah.
Open your eyes wide to take in the gorges of Dadès! An cnormous block of limcstone slashed open by a sabre. ln this rough, jagged universe. the kasbahs take on the mauve. red, tawny, pLirple colours of the rocks.
The road becomes a dirt track, crosses the Dadès, winds ils way upwards above an awesome canyon to lead into another, private world: where only the birds and wild sheep live. It is cnoLigh to take your breath away! There arc other gorges that deserve to be visiled. Some lïfty kilometres after Tincghir you co me 10 Todra... and the end of the world. Two sheer cliffs 300 mctres high separated by a narrow corridor only twcnty mclres wide.
An unforgettable sight.
THE VALLEY OF THE DADES
Once it has left the High Atlas, the Ziz cuts its way through impressive clUfs - imagine its might in years gone by! - makes a turn in the region of Rich and heads due South where it waters the immense palm grave at Tafilalet and finally buries itself in the sands of Taouz.
Near Rich stands the Sidi Salim medersa, named after the wise man who had the extraordinary gift of being able to make a return trip to Mecca every Friday! But unless you can travel at the same speed as Sidi Salim it will take you some time to reach Erfoud. Luckily!
ln the Ziz valley, water is the source of beauty, making its mark in numerous places along the road into the desert. First there is the impressive Wadi Ziz, carving impetuously into the lime stone to create a long corridor lined with taU palm trees that cradle the ksour
and the sublime kasbah of Ifri. Then, held back by the Hassan Addakhil dam, it forms a vast emerald-coloured lake. While on its red
ochre shores, under the shade of the apricot trees, women corne clown to do their washing.
A little further, the bille source of the Meski has the reputation of encouraging fertility. Youn"g women wearing tufts of waal, sea shells, ribbons and amulets in their haïr, bathe in the waters of the gratta by candlelight.
At the end of the journey, the monumental Erfoud gate opens o~n one si de onto...
a million palm trees. On the other, onto billions and billions of grains of sand that make up the first rolling dunes of the Sahara. N ow, to reach Merzouga, nothing could be simpler: just cross the desert!
NOT TO BE MISSED
SUNRISE OVER MERZOUGA
To sec Merzouga, no one ever regretted getting up at 3 a.m.. sipping minI tea and watehing the pink dise or the sun appearing over the gigantic dunes at Merzouga: the Deep South holds a wealth of such majcstic mornenls.
MAKE A '"DATE'" WITH ERFOUD'
Almost one million palm trees grow in the Erfoud rcglon atone. So it is not surprising that the date should be its symbol. It is celebrated in October of each year during a traditional and highly colourful festival.
'LA VIE EN ROSE'" AT EL-KELAA M'GOUNA
The rose festival takes place every May in EI-Kelaâ M 'Gouna. Dances and processions follow one another under a continuous shower of petals. Did you know that it takes one ton of petals to obtain one litre of rose extract ?
TIIE TAMEGROUTE KILNS
Amazing: potters baking dishes, jugs and pots in age-old open air kilns... Charaetcristic: the pottery is either green or brown. The green is obtained with manganese and copper and the brown with antimony and copper. Point of interest: priees cannot be beaten.