What better way could there be to escape the English winter than to travel south east from Marrakech and to explore some of the less well known areas of Morocco
With Morocco only about three hours flying time away from the UK, plenty of budget airlines flying into Marrakech, and car hire available at the airport from £30.00 per day using the likes of Hertz, Avis and Budget, this is not a trip that will break the bank.
Having winter temperatures ranging from about 20C in Marrakech to 30C in the desert, and daylight hours much longer than in the UK, this is a very welcome break from the English winter.
Don't Pass By
Once out of marginally manic Marrakech on the N9, the road begins to snake upwards towards the second highest mountain pass in Morocco, the Tizi n Ticha at 2260m. It is worth stopping periodically to take in the views over the Atlas Mountains, some still snow capped, but beware of roadside sellers of fossils and quartz, most of which are probably fakes.
A Tribal Home
A badly signed turning to the left just past the top of the pass will take you to Kasbah Telouet, which was once home to the much feared Glaoui tribe. For about DH20 you can be shown round this magnificent building - some parts crumbling, some still in good condition, and a must are the views from the roof, which show its impregnable position.
A Riad With a View
To get to the first night's accommodation continue down the N9 towards Ouarzazate and take a left turn to Ait Benhaddou, where the welcoming Riad Dar Mouna is waiting. This traditional guest house is managed by a friendly Moroccan, who seemed to be fluent in most European languages. For about DH500 a night you will get the experience of staying in a traditional Moroccan house with fires lit in the winter, dinner, breakfast, and a terrace overlooking the river valley to the kasbahs.
The kasbahs are still inhabited by a few families, and a walk through the ruins to the hilltop which they are built round will show why this location has been used for several films, including Lawrence of Arabia.
The next stage of the trip heads up the N10 towards Tinerhir and some different scenery - the Dades and Todra Gorges. The first reached is the Dades, well signposted off to the left. The winding approach road is as pleasing as the gorge itself, with the river winding below soaring peaks. The Todra, just past Tinehir, though having a less scenic approach, is perhaps more impressive because of its narrowness creating a feeling of even greater height.
The Hotel Saghro Tinehir (in Tinehir) though modern and soulless has a wonderful view over the town and its palmeries, and at about DH350 for dinner, bed, and breakfast, it is worth the price just for the views alone.
Further east up the N10 is Er-Rachida, a typical Moroccan frontier town - head north past the vast manmade, but still impressive Barrage Hassan Addakhil to the Ziz (means Gazelle in Berber) Gorges. Though on a slightly lesser scale than Dades and Todra, the landscape is still very impressive.
South from Er-Rachida is the village of Meski and there are two reasons to stop. Firstly the Source Bleau which is a natural springwater pool fed from the mountains which then feeds into the river, and secondly a vast ruined ksar on the other side of the river, which is worth a visit if you can find the felled palm trees that act as a bridge.
Another night in a modern hotel is probably the best option in Er-Rachida, and at about DH400 for dinner, bed and breakfast the Hotel Kenzi Rissani is a good choice.
Palms and Ksour
It's time now to head south down the N13 towards the desert, but the trip should not be rushed. There are succulent palmeries that should be seen, and ksour (ancient walled villages) that are still inhabited that need visiting.
The road through Rissani southwards is not difficult to find, but if in doubt ask a Gendarme, as there are a few locals who will try to make money somehow out of lost tourists.
The Hotel Nasser Palace at Hassi Labiad is right on the edge of the sand dunes, is well signposted, with wonderful views both at sunrise and sunset. It is a recent pise (mud and straw) building in the style of a kasbah, has a pool in the central terrace, and a good restaurant. A day's camel trip into the desert brings home the isolation of the place, with some of the dunes rising to 150m in height. The other trip that can be done from here are the ksour around Rissani. A loop of about 25km will take you through more sun drenched palmeries and walled villages - most of which won't have changed for hundreds of years.
A two day stay including dinner, bed breakfast, and camel trip will cost DH1300.
One more leg of this trip is left - head out of Rissani westwards on the N12 towards Alnif and Tazzerine. The scenery now is more desolate with grey hammada rising to the feet of the mountains. The destination is Nekob, a once prosperous and grand town, but now in decline. A piste (rough track) leads from the old town up to the Tizi n Tazert pass at 2200m. It can be partly driven in a non 4 x 4, but close to a supremely isolated cafe it is best to walk the three hours or so for some of the most amazing views.
Overnight is spent at Kasbah Baha Baha, a building renovated with the help of the local government, and now a traditional Moroccan guest house with wonderful views from the roof terrace. The cost of dinner, B and B is DH350.
With generous helpings both for dinner & breakfast, lunch sometimes is not necessary. However, if you do want to eat it, the best option is to stop at the cafes in towns & villages along the way - the locals are always interested to chat to a foreigner. A tajine or some grilled meat and salad with a mint tea will cost DH40 to DH50 - but beware you might not eat your dinner!
Avis, Hertz or Budget all cover Morocco & pre-booking from the U.K. is advisable.