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Off to the Desert!

Todra, Dades Gorge and Agdz


View Morocco 2022 & The Draa Valley & Morocco Tour on margofiala's travel map.

We had been advised to take our time getting out to the desert, as this is one of Morocco’s most scenic stretches, following the Draa Valley from the mountains down to the Sahara Desert. From Fez you head up into the Middle Atlas Mountains and then wind down the other (eastern) side through the Draa Valley. So instead of a marathon 13+ hour drive from Fez to the camp in the Sahara, we overnighted at three places on the way. It was well worth it! This is our route:

Our first pit stop was Ifrane (If-ran), a little Switzerland in the mountains of Morocco, just an hour drive from Fez. The French built this area in the 1930s, in an effort to recreate an alpine-style resort, with it’s clean mountain air, and oak and cedar forest. It has become a popular for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, definitely an affluent place.

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The Lion statue was supposedly carved by a German soldier in WWII and commemorates one of the last lions to have lived in the Middle Atlas mountains:

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We saw some Barbary apes on the way, same brand as in Gibraltar. (They migrated across the Strait of Gibraltar many years ago, on ships we assume):

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We stopped for lunch at a truck stop (of sorts), that was jam-packed full and enjoyed chicken & beef kabobs with lamb chops. We could see this was Ali’s favorite and fast becoming ours too! The truck stop was very basic but the food tasted good!

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The things you see on the roads of Morocco! Yes, those are sheep on the top of that van (that’s actually a bus).

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And yes, that is what you think it is. No load is too big here…

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We had driven from the flat plains, through the forest and were now seeing the mountains in the distance:

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There were adobe-style homes that blend into the rocks, and some places where nomads had built homes in the cliffs (a bit hard to see):

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The scenery became more stunning as we drove deeper into the mountains:

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Time to get out of the truck! We walked to a few miles to Todra Gorge along a dry river bed. The cliffs are very dramatic and lots of goats:

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Arriving at the narrowest part of the gorge was surprising:

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There are a lot of rock fossils here, many for sale at tourist stops. Clear evidence that this area used to be underwater, unimaginable now:

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And we saw a rock climber and met Nipper there:

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As we left Todra Gorge, we started to see the beginning of the palmeries, a green belt that goes for over 1100 kms/680 miles along the Draa River valley. The Eddahabi dam was built in 1971 and controls the water coming from the High Atlas mountains down through and the Draa Valley. They typically open the dam three times a year to allow water throughout the area, but this year there was very little rain, so it hadn’t been opened for a long time. It is a very dry area, and gets even drier as we get closer to the desert. There are some wells along the way but the irrigation system is very rudimentary. The bright green of the palmeries contrasts strongly with the red rock.

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Obviously people live in and around the palmeries, so we saw several small towns along the way. The water supports approximately 250,000 people living in 23 villages (I guess that doesn’t count the nomads!):

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Dades Gorge has very unique rock formations called “Monkey fingers”:

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We hiked around the rocks, through a small village and kasbah there, with a guide named Mohammed:

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We met a cute little girl by the kasbah!

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It’s a good thing Ali is a good driver. Check out this crazy road!

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We also stopped to see a young boy and his baby camel, about 6 months old. Ali called them skinny and fat Hassan! Hassan is nomadic with his parents, but obviously very entrepreneurial to be at this view point with his camel:

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He liked his Canadian pins!

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The views on the way to our last stop in Agdz were stunning, very interesting rock formations:

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Ali arranged a guide for us, Alamea, to walk through the palmeries from our hotel to the kasbah in neighboring Tamnougalt (about 5 km). He was very knowledgeable regarding the Draa Valley water system, canals, palmeries and farming in the area. They are very dependent on the water and are using very basic methods:

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Many are converting from diesel to propane pumps for their wells:

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There are lots of donkeys and people working very hard:

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We missed fig season, but there was a few stragglers that Alamea found, they are very yummy:

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We came across ruins of a kasbah in the palmeries:

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The Tamnougalt 16th century ksar (fortified village):

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We toured the Kasbah des Caids that at one time had a large Jewish quarter and many passageways:

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A few pups were checking out the strangers in town:

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Accommodations and Food: not a ton of places to stay along the way, so we were lucky to have smart people advising us! When we arrived at our first overnight stop in Todra, Festival Auberge (the hotel) blended right in to the landscape. It was a surprise when Ali said “we’re here!”:

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The water storage tanks above the hotel:

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We stayed in a cave room, a little iffy for my husband who can be a bit claustrophobic:

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We enjoyed dinner at the hotel, hearty vegetable soup, salad and couscous, Moroccan moussaka and a chocolate ball for dessert:

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They also had entertainment, a band playing Moroccan drums and tambourines plus 2 super cute kids!

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Our second night was in Dades Gorge at Chez Pierre. Here we are, in a very small village close to the Sahara Desert, enjoying a five course dinner prepared by a French chef. It was a little surreal. (spinach & cheese starter, turnip soup, mango & date salad, roasted quail, missed a picture of dessert)

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We didn’t know why we were staying two nights at the last stop in Agdz, but figured it out pretty quickly. Kasbah Azul is a really lovely spot right in the palmeries. Again, not an impressive entrance but very special inside:

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Our room and terrace:

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A very fancy bathroom:

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Some relaxing areas around the hotel:

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This was our “blog office”, the cat was supervising and Mohammed provided refreshments:

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Another oasis:

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It was complete with a resident donkey, goat and cats:

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We ate breakfast and dinner there, great food and service, we felt very spoiled: (beef with prunes & peppers with veggies, tajine chicken with potatoes & veggies, two yummy desserts!)

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Next Stop: The Sahara Desert! Finally! We knew it was the big day when we saw Ali, I didn’t recognize him at first. He is from this part of Morocco and arrived in the local attire:

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Posted by margofiala 09:53 Archived in Morocco

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Comments

And the journey continues! Thank you for all the photos and stories.

by Donna-Lynne

I loved the loaded truck! You wouldn't want to be behind him on the twisty part of the road... Food looks amazing; impressive given the apparent remoteness of the places.

by Johndotbike

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