My phone pinged alerting me to an email.
“Dear Gina, I would like to inform you about your meeting point and exact time for your full day trip from Marrakesh to the Atlas Mountains and Ait Ben Haddou, will be at 6.00am in front of the main entrance to your hotel. BE ON TIME” the email read.
And so it was that we found ourselves stood in the cool, eerily quiet, Moroccan air before even the kitchen staff were setting the breakfast tables up. A large black minibus pulled up and a man jumped out.
“Gina? Hello, my name is Abdul from Morocco Inspiring Tours and I am your guide for today’s trip. Does one of you want to jump in the front?”
I didn’t need to be asked twice. The best views are always through the windscreen. We set off to pick up the other four passengers, who were staying in the Medina – two lads who were studying together in Amsterdam and a couple from New Zealand.
That View Though
We headed out of the city. The snaking roads widened, and the small shops and stalls turned into golf courses and open spaces, and later into rural villages and donkeys carrying crops and people. We drove for another hour or so before the road started to climb and we caught our first glimpse of the Atlas Mountains.
Each corner we turned revealed another jaw-dropping view, even better than the last. Every now and then, Abdul would pull over to the side of the road to take photographs and tell us more about the landscape, history and about the people who call this place home.
The green hues faded as the landscape become more rocky and desert like. And still we climbed. higher and higher.
Hidden half way up the hills, camouflaged amongst the rocks, Berber village.
“Look closely,” Abdul instructed, “Can you see the shepherd with his goats? And the children playing in the stream? And look, there’s the colourful clothing hanging out to dry.” This small village was teeming with life.
We drove a bit further till we reached the highest point of the pass at 2260 metres above sea level.
Historically, this route was extremely important, as it was the main trade route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakesh. Abdul explained that this road was still very important and busy today. He told us there has been plans to build a tunnel under the mountains for the traffic, but it would cost too much. The government instead plans to make the road wider for the volume of traffic.
It was also incredibly windy at the top, and a chill came with wind. I would definitely recommend a jumper or fleece up here!
Omelettes and Coffee
A short ride later, we pulled up outside a small restaurant. “Does everyone like omelette?” asked our guide.
A resounding YES, came from the bus.
We took our seats, as bread, mint tea and what looked like Dairylea triangles, were passed around the table.
A short while later our omelettes arrived, followed by coffee.
It might be a strange combination, cream cheese, egg and cappuccino, but boy was it a winning one. I’m not sure if it was the views, the altitude, or the fact we’d already been up for around 5 hours at this point, but it was the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time.
And yes, that it olive oil on my cheese triangle. Abdul insisted this was the way the locals ate it…
Ait Ben Haddou
A collective gasp greeted the first glimpse of Ait Ben Haddou. We pulled into a view point across the valley a jumped out the minibus to get a closer look.
By now the weather was getting hotter, we had left the cool breezes of the mountains far behind.
To say the ancient fortified village looked like something from a film wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, it has bee used as a set for dozens of films and TV shows, including Game of Thrones, Laurence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator. It is often referred to as the Hollywood of Africa.
“Do you remember the song, Rock the Kasbah?” Abdul asked. “Well the is what we are about to do!” he smiled as we all stopped to pose for photographs.
There were quite a few shops that lined the narrow streets, selling everything from antiques, to leather bags and postcards. Abdul led the way through the winding streets up towards a man who was using a magnifying glass and the sun to burn the villages likeness onto paper.
Abdul led the way through the maze of winding streets into a home. Amazingly, around 4 families still live in this UNESCO world heritage site.
We took our shoes off before entering a large room, lined with cushions. It was a lot cooler in here, and we were glad to step out of the midday sun. A great spot to try our second mint tea of the day and enjoy some dates and miniature cookies.
This mint tea was a lot sweeter than the one we had with breakfast. In fact it tasted more like liquid polos or softmints. I think we were glad it was only a small glass as it would have probably got very sickly if there had been more.
After half an hour or so resting our feet and chatting to the rest of the group, it was time to put our shoes back on and sadly leave this beautiful place behind.
We passed by “Khaleesi Gate” so called because it was were some of the scenes were shot for HBO’s Game of Thrones with the ‘Mother of Dragons’. We then crossed the stream back into the modern village.
The lunch wasn’t included in the price of the tour, but the chicken tagine was 50 Moroccan Dirhams, with a vegetarian tagine around the same price. They also served omelettes and beef tagines. For both our mains and a large bottle of water, it came to 120 Moroccan Dirhams.
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a photo of our tagines. The walking had made us rather hungry so they didn’t last long. But they were delicious and the lemon sauce was mopped up nicely by the remaining bread.
Oh, and did I mention the restaurant had stunning views back across to the old village.
“One last surprise”
Jumping back into the minibus, we all presumed it was time to head straight back to our hotels (after maybe a toilet stop). But when we were about the set off, Abdul announced that he had “one last surprise” for us.
We pulled up at a roadside cafe, around an hour or so from Marrakesh and climbed the steps to the roof terrace. I’m not sure if the surprise Abdul was referring to was the breathtaking views from the top, or the lip-smacking fresh orange juice that he was coming back with. Or maybe it was both. Either way, it was the perfect way to end a perfect day exploring Morocco.