Leaving for Ait Benhaddou
Our stay in the small Berber village of Anguelz, near Telouet had come to an end far too quickly for our liking, however we knew that we had an exciting drive through the impressive Ounilla Valley ahead of us. We also planned a stop at the ancient ksar (fort) at Ait Benhaddou ahead of us on our way to our next stop, Ouarzazate, where we would celebrate into the New Year that evening.
Saying Goodbye to Tigmi N’Oufella
Waking up to a milky sky, we enjoyed breakfast on the roof terrace, albeit dressed in thick jackets, at our little family run inn, Tigmi N’Oufella. Our friendly host asked for a note in his guestbook and Jerome drew a picture of the oasis instead which made him smile. We can happily recommend his home to anyone travelling through the area for an overnight stay, including families with kids. Ideally try and extend your time there to a few nights to explore this part of the Atlas Mountains to the full extent. As we left Lahoucine told us to keep an eye out for a selection of the abandoned cave houses en route to Ouarzazate through the Ounilla Valley.
Driving Through the Ounilla Valley
The scenic Ounilla Valley, once part of the old Caravan route from the Sahara desert to Marrakesh, used to be only accessible by 4×4 car. Thankfully the roads have been stepwise improved over the last few years and may now be driven even by the smallest rental cars available. As mentioned in my earlier posts, the route through the valley should definitely be added to your itinerary if you are heading south towards the desert – not only for breath taking views of the colourful mountains, stone desert and scenic Berber villages – but it is also a quieter route with less trucks and buses on the road (for now), providing old and younger explorers with a less stressful driving experience. If you choose this course we would highly recommend a stop in Telouet for the glorious Glaoui Kasbah, with lunch afterwards and/or a visit to the forsaken salt mine, breaking the journey, which is important, particularly with children in the car. Better still stay in the areas and explore as we did.
Passing Pretty Berber Villages
Leaving the small village of Anguelz behind, we drove along the road south. The route snaking through the Ounilla Valley, up and down, with constant vistas of the barren rocks following the Oued (stream) Mellah. The narrow stream winds through lush fields of grass, shrubs and now and then some trees and palms. The water sparkled in the winter sun. Jerome kept an eye out of the car’s window, curious to find the abandoned cave houses in the towering hillside that our host had promised. Pretty Berber villages lay dotted along the valley, the turrets of the mosques ever present and every now and then there was the sight of crumbling kasbahs, a reminder of the once prestigious caravan route that gave trading riches to this region. Locals were busy with daily chores outside in the fields and by the river. Some women carried sacks packed with fruit, possibly dates on their backs through the naked winter trees.
The Abandoned Cave Houses
After a few kilometres Jerome had finally discovered some cave houses up on the mountainside. We stopped to get out of our car and wondered how anyone could access the dwellings up the steep, almost vertical cliffs. Further on, we noticed another complex of abandoned cave houses, this time at the centre of a village, just above the stream bed where the river had cut a small gorge. It would have been intriguing to venture into the cave houses but that might prove to be a life threatening experience judging the state of them, even from afar.
Viewpoint over the Oasis and the Ounilla Valley
At some point the road winds high up into the hills above the Ounilla River and the oasis. Just before zigzagging downhill again, we noticed signs for a viewpoint. Well aware that there might be a group of locals trying to sell handicraft for a few dirham, we decided to stop and stretch our legs for a short while. The sweeping views of the oasis, the valley and rocky mountains were astounding, the landscape further downriver reminded us of pictures of the famous canyons in Arizona. The stop was worthwhile and could not be spoiled by the friendly and reserved attempts of some locals to sell us some souvenirs, as anticipated. I actually got tempted into buying a small beautifully decorated stone box for my jewellery. We might have been lured to purchase more if the vendors would have been prepared to barter a fairer price.
Local Women Washing Clothes in the River
The rest of our drive towards Ait Benhaddou and Ouarzazate went by largely uneventful. The road descended and slalomed along the river sides. We stopped once more for a pause and I noticed some women washing their clothes in the river. This was a common sight in a country as poor as Morocco, however the Ounilla river is a salt river and I find it difficult to understand how their clothes survive the frequent washes in the fairly salty water. I would imagine they must be rather stiff and eventually show the salt crystals on the fabrics, noticeable along the edges of the stream bed.
Reaching Ait Benhaddou
Soon we had reached the end of the impressive Ounilla Valley and the outskirt of Ait Benhaddou, the ancient mud brick ksar, a popular detour for tourists thanks to its proximity to Ouarzazate. We would stop and be transported back in time for centuries at this famous fort that starred in many Hollywood movies and is now a UNESCO protected heritage sight. There we wandered through the narrow passages, climbed to the agadir at its top and experienced a late lunch. Discover the ancient mud brick fortress in our next post.
Follow us on Social Media