“There between earth and sky, the rustling of the poplar leaves lulled us to sleep before we had time to feel drowned among the surging stars of a fathomless dark sea.”
You’re on a holiday in Marrakech and you would like to spend a night in the Sahara but you’re too short on time ? After all, the first Sahara dunes are a mere long 9- hour drive away from Marrakech on a 4×4 Morocco tour. Or perhaps, you haven’t recovered yet from your culture shock and you’d like to get away from the hustle and bustle of the medina. Then, why not have a two- day private tour to encompass the essential Morocco: the High Atlas mountains, the Berber culture and lifestyle, scenic walks or treks, secret waterfalls, camel rides, lunch with a Berber family and spending the night in the dreamy Agafay desert ? There are no sand dunes here, but the layer after layer of boulder dunes sloping into the foot hills of the High Atlas bring about a similar feeling of remoteness. Complete idleness. And you won’t have to compromise on the desert sky either – the millions of stars and the Milky Way are right above you.
An English- fluent driver- guide will collect you swiftly from your accommodation in Marrakech early in the morning and, soon after, you take on the Atlas and its Berber villages. Skirting along the Ourika valleys and its lush river sides, you may want to stop and visit a former noble Berber dwelling at Ecomusee Berbere. The offspring of Patrick Manac’h, from Maison de La Photographie in Marrakech, the house assembles everyday life objects and offers a real insight into a Berber typical adobe. It is probably the first Berber museum created in Morocco. The contribution of Daniel Chicault, who discovered and filmed the Seksawa tribes in his twenties, in 1957, is one of the most precious contributions to the foundation of the museum. A mint tea is to be enjoyed on the panoramic terrace overlooking the luxuriant river creek.
Further along, the tour leaves Ourika valley and civilization beyond and crosses patches of vast forest. Stop and contemplate the surrounding peaks for a while and take in the towering silence. Only the local ladies doing their laundry in the upper streams hint at life being lived. On the other side of the canyon, Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot, perched on the steep side of the ravine, with its tempting infinity pool and luxurious brown canvas suite tents, where a hearty lunch can be arranged. Down in Asni, a village set amidst groves of cherry and apple trees, visit the colorful Berber souk.
An hour drive from Asni, lie the ruins of a 12th century old mosque. Standing in the doorway of the mosque, one finds it hard to believe that it is from this humble village that an army rose and marched onto Marrakech to eventually occupy the city and spread an empire from Senegal to modern day Libya, Portugal and Spain. The Almohad dynasty was also responsible for building other notable monuments, among which the Koutubia and the kasbah in Marrakech, the Giralda mosque in Seville or the town of Silves in Portugal. The mosque is an archetype of Almohad architecture and it incorporates innovations that indicate a strong influence from the Middle East and Andalusia. This was a consequence of the union of Nothern Africa and Muslim Spain under the same political authority during the Almoravid and Almohad eras.
If you’re into adventure sports or scenic walks, then Imlil is the place for you. You can delight in a serious trek by foot of mule or a scenic walk around the village, its nut trees dense foliage, the fresh waterfalls and a hearty lunch at the Swiss- chalet meets beldi Douar Samra. The Swiss owner has created her fantasy of a chalet built on a slope, with several terraces, cozy rooms, delightful gardens and even a tree house. The views are worth the visit alone.
The Kik plateau is at its best in February/ March when the alpine flowers are in bloom and all the surrounding hills are covered in bright pink and mauve, with the snowy peaks of the High Atlas in the background. Sleepy hamlets that seem to come straight out of a Spaghetti western, men and animal plowing the dark brown soil make for some bucolic Morocco stills. On the other side of the plateau, the tour teeters on the edge of the plateau, while the vast waters of the dam beneath glint in the sun.
There isn’t really a route crossing Agafay desert but rather a multitude of them. But even a GPS wouldn’t be of much help here as rains erase most of them and the best you can do is rely on your driver’s experience and sense of direction. The tour sometimes follows the dry river bed, a space hardly wide enough for the 4×4 to pass, sometimes rolls over gravel peaks. The sheer immensity and desolation contrasts with the luxuriant green of the forests or the day to day muffled hubbub of a Berber village, all adobe dwellings and standing satellite dishes. But, as always in Morocco, a desert hides a well or water stream, and before you know it, you find yourself under the shade of a palm grove. Such is the case with Frederic, a French man with a passion for the desert who stumbled upon an old ruin years ago, while on a horse ride in the area. What was then a shackle is nowadays a chic eco lodge, whose bungalows are built using pise and tadelakt, offering a pool, horse treks, camel rides, and calligraphy lessons or cross country golf, among others, and runs a 100 % no electricity policy. Bordered by olive trees and lazy hammocks , the filtered pool gives on to an organic garden from where alfalfa, rocket, grapes and olives are being sourced for the lodge’s honest-yet-delicious cuisine. Shall we mention that you can release paper lanterns into the million- star sky or have your own private fantasia show ?…
Equally original, if somewhat more desert camp- like, is the dwelling next door. Well, next valley, anyway. The 12 white canvas tents (double and suites) accommodate comfortable beds, vintage leather suitcases, iron candle- lamps and wood- bucket hot showers. And perhaps the best way to loose yourself in the desert is to go out and tour the area with an English speaking guide and top it off with a lunch in a local family’s home. If you’re not in the mood for that, you can also have your own private yoga session right on top of the highest dune. Eventually though, the thing you’ll remember most from this 2 day tour is the romantic dinner under the starriest sky with nothing but the barrenness, the night and stars as your company.
A two day tour including half board accommodation in a luxury tent or bungalow in Agafay desert, with private use of modern air conditioned 4×4 and English fluent driver- guide, camel ride, trek in the High Atlas, all entrance fees and 24 hour assistance is 295 euros per person based on two persons sharing. Please contact us here to book or customize your own 2 day tour of Morocco.