|Apparently four families still live here, although
most locals now live in the modern village nearby
Where We Be
|The highlight of our first day was Ait Ben Haddou, a fortress city on a hill, which is so
photogenic it's been used in over 20 movies, including Gladiator and The Mummy
|Tour Day 1. High Atlas & Ait Ben Haddou
Before leaving for Morocco we booked a 4-day
tour of the Moroccan countryside with Sahara
Tours 4x4 based on their excellent reviews on
Trip Advisor. The tour began in Marrakech and
ended in Fez and took in some of the best
mountain and desert scenery in Morocco along
the way. The tour was a good value at 450 euros
per person, including private English-speaking
guide, private 4WD with AC, food and lodging for
three nights (including a night in a Berber tent
in the Sahara), and a camel trek into the dunes.
Our guide, Idir, met us in Marrakech and off we
went, and right from the start we saw things we
wouldn't have seen if we'd stayed put in the
cities. On the outskirts of Marrakech we saw a
woman in full hijab jogging along the sidewalk.
Switchbacking upwards, we saw snow on the
peaks of the High Atlas Mountains near Tizi n
Tichka Pass. We explored the citadel of Ait Ben
Haddou where movies like Gladiator were
filmed. And at sunset we marveled at the
unusual rock formations known as the Monkey's
Feet in the Dades Valley. And this was just Day 1!
|First thing in the morning we left Marrakech behind and headed into the High
Atlas Mountains. It didn't take long before we were seeing snow-covered peaks.
|The road wound its way upwards towards Tizi n Tichka Pass --
the highest major mountain pass of North Africa at 7,415 ft
|From November to March Tizi n Tichka Pass can sometimes be closed
due to heavy snowfall, but that clearly wasn't the case for us in April
|We'd have to say April is the perfect month to travel through Morocco -- cool but sunny,
snow still on the high peaks, no bugs or mosquitoes to speak of, and not too many tourists
|Our guide took us off-road on paths less traveled.
This is definitely the back way to Ait Ben Haddou!
|In the adjacent modern town we stopped for lunch at
a lovely hotel with a pleasant pool and shaded terrace
|Then we walked to Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
situated along a former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech
|It's easy to step back in time here and imagine yourself living
in this fortified city as camel caravans arrived from the desert
|As we climbed into the "ksar" (fortified village), we began to get a sense of
just how well protected this place would have been with its hilltop setting
|Only halfway to the top and
already the views are dramatic
|A fortified granary sits atop the hill
|Both Muslims and Jews lived in Ait Ben Haddou. Our guide told us the Muslim quarters
have largely been renovated but the Jewish quarters remain mostly in ruins.
|Ait Ben Haddou is comprised of six fortresses
(kasbahs) and almost fifty ksours (individual kasbahs)
|What an amazing place! No wonder it was chosen as the
setting for "ancient and glorious" Yunkai in Game of Thrones.
|As we left Ait Ben Haddou behind, we stopped
at a lookout point for a final glorious view
|Ouarzazate is convenient to Ait Ben Haddou and is a noted film making
location. Two movie studios are located here, Cla Studios and Atlas Studios.
|Many films have been shot here, including Lawrence of Arabia, The Living Daylights, The Last Temptation of Christ,
The Mummy, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Kundun, Legionnaire, Hanna, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
|Kasbah Taourirt is also located in Ouarzazate. This part of the
kasbah has been restored with assistance from UNESCO.
|Just to the left is another part of Kasbah Taourirt
that has fallen into ruin but is still quite dramatic
|We continued about an hour east through increasingly
desert-like terrain, punctuated by occasional oases
|Skoura is one of the most notable of these oases, boasting
fertile date palm groves and an iconic kasbah set atop a hill
|Kasbah Amridil is a striking sight. The 17th century
kasbah even appeared on Morocco’s old 50-dirham note.
|Crossing a bridge into Skoura, we came across this local soccer match and
paused to watch for a few minutes, rooting along with others from atop the bridge
|We drove another hour east to the Dades Valley. We think this is one of the
most picturesque parts of Morocco and would love to return for a longer visit.
|At Auberge Panorama we paused for this
gorgeous view over the Dades Valley from the terrace
|By now the sun was setting and the lighting was lovely -- the perfect time
to visit these amazing rock formations known as the Monkey's Feet
|No wonder this route is called the Valley of a Thousand
Kasbahs. Here you can see yet another kasbah in ruins.
|The lighting was so beautiful that Idir took us on a bonus trip
all the way up a twisting road to the Dades Gorge overlook
|At long last we arrived at our hotel, Hotel Babylon Dades, with just a half hour to spare before dinner at 8. What a
full but satisfying day. We even participated in an impromptu drum jam after dinner with fellow guides and guests.