About Mid Atlas Mountains
The Mid Atlas Mountains, between Fez and Marrakech, offer excellent trekking and a limited ski season (Ifrane) as well as part of a scenic drive between the two cities. These mountains should not be overlooked, particularly if you are choosing a self-drive itinerary for your holiday as the places featured here offer an ideal stop-off between Fez and the desert region (or Fez to Marrakech), a route that can be covered in a day but, if you have the time, we thoroughly recommend breaking your journey to enable you to spend more time in this lesser-visited region of Morocco.
The region is an Arab-Berber melting pot which has influenced its crafts, cuisine and architecture. An enlightening example of this architecture is the circular fortified clay storage area in the village of Sidi Moussa; these ancient grain stores characterize the rural life of the surroundings. The inhabitants, shepherds and farmers, launched themselves into honey, nut oil and cheese production and women's associations and cooperatives, grouping together several villages, are open to the public. Feel free to step into one of the tighermts, the old tribal leaders' castles [although the walls are made from adobe or stone, the internal decoration in wood is often skillfully painted with a variety of patterns] and you will understand why the hospitality of the region's inhabitants is so famous.
Activities in the region
Within the Mid Atlas is the Cedar forest (near Azrou), a great place for a day's hike and where you can see the Barbary apes, who are very friendly, particularly if you have some fruit for them. The Aït Bouguemez valley, also called the Happy Valley, is suited to walking, mule rides and mountain-biking. With its waterfalls and numerous section of white water, the region is ideal for enjoying kayaking, rafting and canyoning. On the beautiful Bin el Ouidane lake, 27km north of Azilal, many water sports such as jet-skiing and windsurfing are practiced. Finally, take advantage of a stop at Beni Mellal to swim in the Aïn Asserdoune springs.
Ifrane is an oasis of coolness and greenery, lakes and fountains – the feeling of being away from it all is complete, surprising and rejuvenating. Wide avenues, parks, European-style villas – here you will discover a little-known side of North Africa, for example, the sloped-roof chalets are astonishingly reminiscent of Switzerland. On the Azrou road to the south-east, a large number of dormant volcanoes make up the countryside around Ito, a rocky landscape which reminds many people at dusk of lunar craters.
Activities available in Ifrane area
Skiing - Ifrane, perched at an altitude of 1650m, provides freshness in summer and snow in winter. The ski resort of Michlifen, 19km south of the town, and the slopes of Mount Hebri have great slopes to hurtle down once the chill sets in. A unique experience and possibilities of cozy accommodation right at the foot of the slopes.
Fishing - one of the treasures of Ifrane is its lakes and rivers. Try pike or trout fishing and even if you don't catch anything you will have relaxed in a beautiful and peaceful setting.
Walking - take advantage of your stay in Ifrane to explore the natural areas and discover the volcanic plateaux, the mountain pastures and the splendid cedar, maple and poplar forests. Among other marvels, the Afennourir Lake spreads over nearly 1000 acres surrounded by cedar forest; it is a favourite destination for many species of rare birds.
Sightseeing - the Vittel spring and its waterfalls are an ideal walking destination. Follow the river for a few hundred metres and come to the forest of maples and poplars through which the spring flows. In the summer, short trips on horseback are offered. The Blue mausoleum is a few kilometres along the Meknès road - this is the mausoleum of a marabout, a religious man from the 16th century, Sidi Abdesslam. Covered in blue zelliges mosaics, the mausoleum is an important place of pilgrimage, tucked away in a valley covered in cypress and olive trees. A little higher up than the village, several dozen ancient troglodytic dwellings are still used as stables or storage areas.
Midelt is mid-way between Fez and the desert and is a popular overnight stay en route. It is also a useful base to explore the lesser-visited areas of the Eastern High Atlas, such as the Cirque du Jaffar.
The area around Azilal and more generally the central Upper Atlas lends itself to ecotourism. A short drive (36km) west of Azilal are the crashing waterfalls of Ouzoud, an exceptional site where water drops a 100m through the middle of a luxuriant chasm. The watercourse flows on for 2km to the deep gorges of El Abid wadi (400m). Other fantastic natural sights include the pretty Arous gorge near Agouti at the entrance to the Aït Bouguemez valley, and the Imi-n-Ifri rock bridge, near Demnate. A gigantic stone arch carved out by the Mahseur wadi from which hundreds of stalactites hang.
Activities available in Ouzoud area
Hiking - Ouzoud is considered to be the ideal village for setting off to visit the treasures of the Upper Atlas, from the magnificent Bin el Ouidane lake to Jbel M’Goun. The Aït Bouguemez Valley, also called the Happy Valley, is suited to walking, mule rides and mountain-biking. There are several circuits and many pass through the village of Aït Imi, famous for its irrigation system and water mills which have been transformed into wheat and corn mills. Mountain hiking is suitable for more experienced people depending on the level of difficulty. Skiing and cross-country skiing is possible is possible between February and April.
Other Activities: The interesting caves at El Ksiba form a multitude of cavities which can be as much as 20m deep. The nearby Aven des Ours (Swallow-hole of the Bear) is a chasm that plunges 117m down amid lush green vegetation. The spot, which is popular with Barbary macaques, is ideal for a lovely walk. With its caves and chasms, the entire region is ideal for potholing and palaeontology. Four sites from the Mesozoic Era prove the presence of dinosaurs in the Aït Bouguemez valley as well as in the Demnate nature reserve where fossilized footprints are visible.
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Hotels to visit
The Riad Cascades D'Ouzoud's rooms are set around an interior courtyard. It is dramatically perched at the top of a waterfall offering views down onto the River Ouzoud surrounded by almond and olive t ...
A charming guest house nestled in the heart of the Middle Atlas, just 15 minutes from the largest cedar forest in Morocco.
On the southern approach to Midelt and surrounded by mountain scenery, the Kasbah Asmaa is an excellent stop over en route from Fez to the south (or vice versa).
C Padgham, UK, November 2016