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Trekking the High Atlas

This spring saw my third trip to Morocco, and this time rather than touring the desert we decided to scale the mighty High Atlas Mountains in our 1968 VW Baja Bug. In preparation we changed the oversized wheels for desert terrain, to smaller rolling diameter ones to lower the gearing and help climb the slopes of the mountain terrain.

Many of my friends kindly contributed kids’ clothes, shoes, books, crayons, pens, pencils and stickers to hand out in the more remote villages – so the poor bug was well stocked (including slabs of beer and a couple of bottles of wine for us).

Avoiding motorways, our first stop was in Meknes, around 300 kilometres from the port of Tangier Med. We like to stop over in this town before heading deeper south, staying in a lovely riad in the old town called Ma Boheme, which is run by David and Amal. It gives you a gentle introduction to Moroccan culture and food without being too ‘in your face’, as in the larger cities of Tangier, Marrakesh and Fez.

Next stop was a real gem – Luna del Fuego in the Ziz river valley closer to the desert. Run by Ismael and his brothers (and named after their favourite Gypsy King song), it offers pretty basic accommodation but is authentic and a great place to meet fellow travellers, most of whom were heading straight down to the desert at Merzouga. After dinner we all sat around a campfire in a Berber tent on the mountainside, passing around a ‘herbal cigarette’ and joining in with the Moroccan music played by local village men, who come up to provide a little (dodgy) entertainment in exchange for left over tagine – yes it does make you feel like you’re a teenager again!

For the next part of the journey we visited the touristy, Ait Benhaddou, staying in the old town in a traditional ‘off-grid’ riad called Kasbah Tebi. It was very romantic staying in the midst of the ksar by candlelight only, and it’s reached by crossing two shallow rivers on sandbag steppingstones. The town has featured in several movies and was partly built by a film crew in the 1970s. We decided to stay in Ait Benhaddou for three days, using it as a base for exploring the surrounding countryside and spent two nights in the relaxing Paradise of Silence, set back from the main town with it’s own swimming pool. Just what you need after a day of off-roading!

Places visited from here include Fint, an oasis traditionally sprawling along a riverbank—where we had a lovely lunch and met a group of accountants on motorbikes from London—the Atlas Studios and Telouet, with an example of an old abandoned Kasbah.

After leaving Ait Benahadou we drove back along the Route of 1,000 Kasbars to the Valley of the Roses. Here we stayed at a fabulous inn that had been set up by a Spanish guy for a Berber family to run – Kasbah Itran. Perched right on the edge of an outcrop overlooking a fertile river plain and abandoned town, we spent an hour on one of the terraces watching the locals managing intricate water channels and crude aqueducts to water their crops. The area was home to numerous storks and with our room being almost level with their cruising altitude, it was fascinating to watch them riding the evening thermals.