From 2 to 4 Days.
High above Morocco, the sun-scorched homeland of the ancient Berbers is where trekkers come to experience weird geology in a warm climate. And if scaling peaks at 4,000 metres is beyond you, take a more leisurely 4WD tour, or head for the sensual, sumptuous delights of Taroudant and simply indulge yourself
Morocco, mainly. The Atlas mountains stretch for 1,200 miles from the Atlantic port of Agadir to the Tunisian capital, Tunis. But Morocco is, arguably, where the Atlas range is at its most interesting. Within Morocco, the Atlas is divided into several parallel ranges - the Anti, Middle and High Atlas. Of these, the High Atlas attracts most visitors, many of whom come to climb Jbel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa at 4,167m.
What can you do there?
All the usual mountain activities are on offer in the Atlas but be prepared for them to be Moroccan-style. Don't expect to find the sort of tourist infrastructure you find in the Alps, or even the Pyrenees.
Trekking is the main draw, with thousands of French, Spanish and British walkers visiting each year. Weird geology, warm weather and a colourful local population make the Atlas one of the world's great trekking environments. Guides and pack mules can be hired cheaply and easily at all major trail- heads. Finding maps and accommodation, however, can be a little more difficult. The four main trekking areas are Toubkal, M'goun, Sirwa and Sahro. Each is very different. Toubkal is the highest and most easily reached from Taroudant. M'goun is lush and densely populated. Sirwa and Sahro are lower, hotter and more isolated.
Not all visitors are trekkers. Many people visit simply to see the mountains or to enjoy the peace. Horse-riding, mountain-biking and climbing are easy to organise and twitchers flock to this important haven for birdlife, too. Look out for the rare Moussier's Redstart, endemic to Morocco and Algeria, the Bearded Vulture, Bonelli's Eagle and the Barbary Falcon.
Where exactly should I go?
The Atlas may be one of the world's most spectacular mountain ranges but specific "attractions" are scarce. Trekkers hoping to scale Jbel Toubkal need to get to Imlil, the start point. Tabant is the trail-head for the M'goun region. The Sirwa area is most easily reached from Taliouine, while Sahro should be tackled from N'Kob.
Of the many beautiful and ancient Berber villages in the Atlas, Megdaz, in the M'goun area, is perhaps the best. Imilchil is well worth visiting for its annual Berber wedding festival (usually held in September). The mosque at Tin Mal and the kasbahs at Telouet and Ait Ben Haddou are other popular highlights, and Ouirgane is the best base from which to explore the Atlas without roughing it. Here you will find La Roseraie, one of the very few top-class hotels in the area.
What about the people?
Berbers are famed for their generous hospitality to strangers. It is quite common to be invited to share tea and bread with a local family, or even to stay overnight. They are also, however, equally well-known for the passion and violence with which they have defended their independence and beliefs. Like many mountain peoples, Berbers are often extremely fit. Trekking guides and mule-drivers cover vast distances quickly without the trekking gear Westerners might would consider essential.
The traditional dress for Berber men, still worn today, is a brown or dark-blue, full-length smock. Women wear colourful, highly-decorated dresses with distinctive headscarves and bright sandals.
Berber women carry out a good deal of hard work in the fields and the home, and the men appear to do rather little. You will see elderly Berber women struggle past groups of chatting men with vast sacks of crops on their backs. The world of business, however, is almost exclusively male. Businessmen and merchants sling a small leather satchel across their chests to signify their position.
What are the Berber villages like?
Sun-scorched terraced villages hug the mountainsides throughout the Atlas. They tend to be small and simple in form, but distinctive in architecture. The dominant types of Berber building are the kasbah, ksar and agadir.
Kasbahs are generally square, fortified structures, made from compacted mud. Some kasbahs are enormous, like the one at Ait Ben Haddou near Ouarzazate, while some are large enough for just a few families. The ksar is a larger structure, a self-contained village surrounded by a high, even wall. One entrance leads to a central alley, from which a labyrinth of houses, mosques and wells stretches to the external walls. Agadirs are large, fortified communal granaries, which would protect stored food from marauders and provide a place of refuge for women and children during times of war. You can see one of the most complete at Tabant in the M'goun area.
Is the food good?
Contrary to what you might expect, yes. Moroccan cuisine reflects the country's history; it's a blend of Berber dishes, Arab spices, Spanish ingredients, desert staples and, more recently, French interference.
The Berber influence is best tasted in couscous and tagines. It's impossible to visit Morocco without getting acquainted with these ubiquitous dishes. Couscous is a classic Moroccan dish. Semolina is steamed in the top part of a two-tier couscoussier while a meat or vegetable stew cooks slowly underneath. After several hours, the two are combined. The word tagine refers to the earthenware pot in which the meal (a delicious meat or vegetable stew with spices) is cooked.
Soups, particularly harira (chickpeas, lamb, tomatoes and spices), are common starters and pastilla (pigeon pie) and brochettes (kebabs) are popular main dishes. Harissa (chilli and garlic sauce) is commonly used to add flavour. One interesting Atlas speciality is a m'choui, a whole lamb roasted slowly in a sealed clay oven. This Berber treat is usually reserved for weddings or feasts so, if you are offered one, consider it a great kindness. Traditionally, the most succulent parts of the lamb will be offered to the guests first; this could mean the eyes or even the testicles. Refusal will offend. More worldly-wise Berbers will have encountered Western reluctance to eat steaming lamb's gonads before but, if not, there's no way out.
Larger trekking groups in the Atlas might consider employing a cook. With just a gas stove and a couple of pans, these highly-skilled mountain people can rustle up tasty, three-course meals.
- 250€ mimimum 4 participants
- Pick up Adress
- Reception of your Hotel
- Departing Times
- From 3 to 6 Days
- - Hotel Pick up and Drop off
- Air-Conditioned Transportation
- Local Guide
- Not Included
- Best season/ period : mid-May to Mid-October