Exploring the scenic route from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou Ouarzazate

Our journey begins when we say goodbye to our Riad in Marrakech around 8.15am. It takes just over half an hour to get out of the city and we soon find ourselves on a winding road climbing up through the High Atlas Mountains. The landscape is a stunning canvas of red earth adorned with olive trees, rolling hills and picturesque villages that appear deserted, except for the occasional sight of women washing clothes on the riverbanks.

As you rise in altitude, the olive trees gradually give way to what is known as the “king’s forest”, a hunting reserve frequented by the Moroccan monarch for wild boar hunting. In the distance we can glimpse the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas, inviting us to stop for the inevitable photo shoot and to savor the crisp, invigorating mountain air.

Our journey includes a stop at a small laboratory run by local women, dedicated to the production of argan oil. Here we witness the entire process, from the fruit to the seed, to the oil itself. We also learn about the various culinary and cosmetic products made with this precious resource.

Around 11:00 we cross the Tisin Tuska pass, located at an altitude of 2200 meters. The road runs parallel to the dry river bed, where donkeys, sheep and a few horses graze peacefully.

Our next destination is the Telouet Kasbah, a majestic palace that boasts 356 rooms. Originally known as Kasbah Glaoui, named after the family dynasty that once owned it, this architectural gem was built in 1860. Caravans from the Sahara often stopped here, following the “salt road” and passing through seven gates before obtaining their entrance to the Kasbah.

As we explore, we ascend narrow stairs and come to a long corridor that leads to a beautifully carved cedar door, revealing a magnificent hall made up of various rooms. Plaster, zellij tiles and vibrant murals adorn these rooms, while large windows on the exterior walls, adorned with intricate railings, offer breathtaking views.

Our journey continues to Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its appearances in numerous films and TV series. We go up a narrow alley that leads to the top of this fortified city. A Ksar, a tribal dwelling concept, comprises a group of buildings constructed in the 1600s using organic materials, particularly red mud, all enclosed within imposing walls. Ait Ben Haddou is perched on a hill, overlooking the valley, nestled along the banks of the Ounila River, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, 30 kilometers from Ouarzazate. We admire the corner towers, a substantial fortified granary at the top, the mosque and the central square.

After our visit to the walled city, we reach Ouarzazate and arrive at our Riad in time for a refreshing dip in the pool, providing the perfect rejuvenation we need. As evening approaches, we enjoy a delicious dinner and retire early, as the next day promises a long journey as we venture deeper into the desert.

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