The roads that head out towards Asni, Imlil, Ouirgane, Taroudant etc have great views during the winter months of the snowtopped Atlas mountains - much like the views from the roofs around Marrakech looking in that direction, and certain vantage points in the Menara gardens that look in that direction
The road - S501 - over the Tizi-n-Test Pass was built by the French and opened in 1928 and is linking Marrakech with Taroudant (and Agadir) over the Tizi-nTest (almost 2100 m).
Before the road was built, the mountain Berbers could easily close the pass and block the passage to the south. But since the French opened the ‘new’ road the south and the mountains have become much more accessible.
We made this day trip with a car with driver (grand-taxi), because we didn’t know what to expect on the Moroccan roads, having seen the crazy traffic in the medina of Marrakech. But once outside the city there is not much traffic at all and driving wouldn’t have been a problem.
Tahanaout is the first village we passed, situated in the foothills of the High Atlas and already on a height of almost 1000m. After the Moulay Brahim Gorge we reached Asni, a Berber village with a souk on Saturdays (see tip). Asni is a pleasant little town in a fruit growing area with the highest mountain of Morocco (Toubkal – 4167m) in the background.
After Ouirgane, a village with some hotels, the mountains became higher and the landscape got more and more scenic. The road followed for a rather long time a river and we passed some Kasbah’s and Berber villages, which had mostly the same colours as the surrounding rocks.
We visited the Tin Mal Mosque (see tip) and the road started winding along barren slopes, higher and higher into the mountains with really breathtaking views. The peaks of the High Atlas were snow covered and during the last part of the trip we even had some fresh snow on the road. After 135 fantastic kilometres we reached the top of the Tizi-n-Test Pass (2092 m).
On top of the pass are a small and simple gift shop and café/restaurant. Our driver advised us not having a lunch here, because they charged much too much. So we made on our way back a stop in the Berber village of Ijoukak and had a perfect Berber omelette in a very local restaurant.
Our hotel made the reservation for the grand-taxi; we paid 750 Dirhams for the day.
Marrakesh is a fascinating city, but it can be quite an intensive experience. One way to unwind is to take a trip to the nearby Atlas Mountains or their foothills. We opted for a drive in the Ourika Valley by grand taxi – an undemanding way of spending the day under the circumstances. At just 60 km from Marrakesh the valley is a popular day-trip destination for locals as well as tourists, so don’t expect to have it all to yourself, but its greenness, and the views of the Atlas Mountains beyond, make a welcome contrast to the frantic pace of life in the city, and if you can spare the time this is an outing I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
I’ve written a separate page about the various things we did and saw in the Ourika Valley, but the main attractions apart from simply admiring the scenery are: the opportunity to visit a typical Berber home; a women’s co-operative producing the local speciality of argan oil; camel rides; hiking to a series of cascades (you can imagine that we didn’t do that!); craft shops and cafés along the riverbank.
You can get there as we did by taxi with a driver (we paid 700 dirhams for the day, about £56), join an organised tour, hire a car (the roads were pretty good once we were out of the city) or use local buses although I believe the latter involves changing en route and may be too time-consuming if you’re just going for the day.
I always ask for a window seat unless its a night flight as I just love being able to see what I can see from the air - flying over Spain and the Strait of Gibraltar and down the coastline with its white breakers and stretches of sand noticeable before the plane takes the flight path over Morocco countryside can be stunning and then the views over Marrakech....
Looking down over the olive orchards and mudbrick villages, the green meandering stretches of oases in the wide plateaus of dry brown with mudbrick villages are all sights Ive enjoyed looking down on from the air and being able to take photos of as well - also looking down to eagerly see if I can recognise familar....Telouet?, Ouarzazate? though usually not that far west.
Getting closer to Marrakech is the excitement of the sighting of the Atlas mountains sticking up from the vast areas of flatness - especially when they are snow covered! and the olive groves that grow prolifically around the city - and the scent of them often noted inside the plane - to seeing the rise of the mosque minarets and the new housing developments on the outskirts as the plane flies over - and to even the excitement of recognising the beautiful Menara gardens and its pavillion on the lake and the nearby palace.....
The Tizi-n-Tichka Pass road was completed by the French Foreign Legion in 1936. It is the highest pass road over the Atlas Mountains; Tizi-n-Tichka Pass itself is 2260 metres high. The road is an important connection between Marrakech and Ouarzate.
We made this (day) trip with a rental car, starting nearby the bus station of Marrakech eastwards to Fez. After a couple of kilometres we turned right onto road N9, passed some villages and reached the quiet countryside nearby Aït Ourir (with a souk on Monday). We had coffee in a new café/restaurant along the road nearby Taferiate with a nice terrace overlooking a green valley with olive orchards.
The scenery quickly got more rugged with gaunt hillsides, deep ravines and these hidden picturesque Berber villages, always in the same colours as the surrounding mountains. We reached the first pass - Tizi-n-Aït Imger - at an altitude of 1470 m. with great views of the High Atlas with their snow-capped peaks.
During the drive lots of fossil sellers were jumping on the road just in front our car, showing there stones. A couple of them were rather aggressive when we made (photo)stops. Along the road you will find fossil stalls, gift shops and cafés.
After the village of Taddert the road got very impressive with lots of hairpins and was climbing through a barren landscape and rather steep to the pass. Driving this part of the route made us clear why this is called one of the most scenic drives in Morocco with sometimes dramatic landscape. The mountain scenery around the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass is stunning and breathtaking and absolutely worth a visit.
The pass is about 110 km’s from Marrakech and it took us 2 hours to reach the top (with a lot of stops). We continued our way to Telouet (see tip). Try to avoid driving in the twilight, because it can be rather dangerous in the villages without any lights and with donkeys and bikers on the road. Normally the road is in good condition and driving is no problem at all; traffic - some cars, buses and trucks - is rather rare.
Visit the Gardens of Majorelle (Jardin Majorelle) in New Marrakech. Designed by Yves St Laurent, this extensive garden covers many microclimates and is set to bright electric blue architecture.
Get to the gardens BEFORE 9 AM to see it without the throngs of bus tourists.
Really worth a visit.
One day I hired a guide to take me to some Berber villages in the mountains. It was interesting to see how arid one side of a mountain can be, and as you round the bend a lush, green landscape appears.
I was taken to a Berber home where I was served mint tea, with homemade flat bread, honey, and butter. It was awkward because the host did not join the guide and I, but it was still a treat to have some insight into his lifestyle.
That afternoon I rode a camel for the first time...a highlight of my visit!
On a clear winter's day, climbing to a higher floor in any one of the cafes in the Jemaa el Fna square would offer a glimpse of the Atlas mountains looming over the pink city in the distance. And it is quite a sight-- long ranges of snow capped mountains whose fame sometimes precedes itself in part because of the Greek story that comes with it.
Legend has it that Atlas was the last of the Titans that was defeated by the Greek Gods in their fight for the world. As his punishment, Atlas was banished beyond the western frontier of the world, where he was to hold up the sky till the end of time. When Perseus came across Atlas on his way home from slaying Medusa, he asked for shelter and food but was refused. And so Perseus turned Atlas into stone by showing him the freshly servered head of Medusa, thus forming the mountains you see today.
La Palmeraie is a large oasis of palm tree groves just outside Marrakech. The palm trees were planted in the early years after the founding of the city, and an irrigation system was devised to keep water flowing and the palm trees green. Today, la Palmeraie is quite scenic and contains many palaces and hotels as well as golf courses. Many people choose to stay at a hotel in la Palmeraie when visiting Marrakech.
A visit to the Atlas Mountains is a must for the visitors who can afford a few spare days. Otherwise, if you visit the city in the Winter time, take a carriage ride around the city walls. The view of the snow covered mountains from the as background to the red-brick walls and the palm trees is unforgettable and one of the images that best sumps up the essence of Marrakesh.
About 2,5hours north of Marrakesh are the Cascades D’Ouzoud, Morocco’s most impressive waterfalls. The water drops 361 feet. The name of the falls comes from the Arabic word for “olive,” named for the many olive trees in the area.
To get away from the hussle of the Marrakesh for a few days take a trip east through the Atlas and towards the Todra Valley where the Todra Gorge is located. Not quite as impressive to me as the Dades Gorge but MUCH larger. There isn't much to look out other than the rocks themselves. It is still a decent side trip.
In 2000 we spent some relaxed hours in the beautifull scenery of the Ourika Valley.
We had a lunch on the terrace of one of the auberges in the valley, enjoying the nice views.
We walked around a bit and explored the riverbed. When we saw the small amount of water at that moment , we could hardly imagine, that in November 1995 severe floods damaged many houses and resulted in the loss of hundred of lives in this valley.
From Marrakesh it's easy to visit the High Atlas and the Ourika Valley.
The Ourika Valley is at an one-hours drive south of Marrakesh. The Jebel Toubkal ( 4167M) is just west of the Ourika Valley.
From the Ourika Valley you can easily reach Oukaimeden, a ski-resort in winter time.
In 1975 I made a nice donkey ride in the mountains near Oukaimeden. In 2000 we stayed in the valley and visited a local Berber house.
Walking in the Sahara Desert is fun but be sure to have enough water and a guide! Don't travel alone and always wear a hat! The sun is shining very intensive and temperature may increase to 50°C.