Many visitors to Marrakech also enjoy excursions into the nearby countryside to experience the life of the surrounding Berber villages and towns and the communities in the Atlas Mountains. After the excitement of the souks in Marrakech and the hub bub of the city the silence and the beauty of the countryside is a pleasant contrast. One popular destination is Amizmiz where the local souk takes place every Tuesday. A Visit to Amizmiz is an opportunity to browse a real Berber market which is usually cheaper than Marrakech. Many artifacts and carpets and kelims are available and if younegotiate well you may geta better price than in Marrakech. It’s a good idea to check out prices in the souk in Marrakech first. Amizmiz is 55 kilometers south of Marrakech at the foot of the High Atlas mountain range. It is a small town of some 11,000 population and the local souk plays an important role in the economic life of the surrounding villages. Berber farmers bring their local produce and animals and buy goods from Marrakech, so its good to see how the countryside interacts with the city. Marrakech still has its vegetable and fruit markets and farmers come from the surrounding area.
The souk is an important social gathering where business is done and friends and family meet. It’s good to be able to examine the wares in a less pressurised environment like Amizmiz, and get to know the locals.
Its also a good place from which to visit other villages and explore the surrounding countryside. There are tour operators in Marrakech who provide transport and guides for the area . If tourists want to travel independently they have to take a grand taxi-an old mercedes from the Bab Er-Rob in Marrakech and negotiate the price. You can either hire the driver for the day or take a taxi back to Marrakech from Amizmiz.
Another well known get away is the Ourika valley 30 kms from Marrakech and the place where Marrakechi’s go to escape the heat of summer in Marrakech. In winter you can see the fabulous snowy mountains. The road to Ourika takes you through the entry to the valley which is one of the loveliest sights in Morocco as your car climbs up along the hill side looking down on orchards and cultivated terraces and the riverbed below.
Ourika itself is a holiday village with craft and pottery shops and sturdy stone houses. It’s great to meet the Berber people and visit a Berber household. The people have a hard life and in winter it can be very cold. Sometimes there are avalanches and flash floods but mercifully not to often. You have the option of carrying on up to Sebti Fetma which is a colourful small village with the tomb of the Saint . There is a waterfall and the opportunity to trek out into the fabulous mountain scenary .
A favourite stop for lunch is the Auberge Ramuntchko (Tel: 0524 484521, mobile: 065965631), just outside Ourika with a wonderful view from the terrace where you can eat. Inside there is also a restaurant with a blazing fire place during winter. Get there before the tourist buses arrive!
You can also take the high road up to the sky resort of Oukaimeden with its stunning views looking out to Marrakech and beyond. No matter how often one visits the Ourika Valley it is always a revelation, always beautiful. The road however has to be constantly maintained and can get crowded on market days.
Another magical valley location is Ouirgane , 60 kms and an hour or so drive from Marrakech close to the Tiz N’Test pass, Mount Toubkal, Toubkal National Park and the Tassa Ouirgane National Park.This is trekking country at its best. Its possible totravel around by 4×4 but if your up to it by foot, donkey or horse is best . The air is clean the mountain scenary and the Takherkhoute forests are stunning, it is the ultimate place to crash out. Trekking out to little berber villages reminds one of Nepal in the early 1970’s when it was unspoilt.
One of the best places to stay in Ouirgane is the idyllic Domaine de la Rosaraie , set in sixty acres of parkland with a large garden filled with roses . The Domaine de La Rosaraie was created nearly forty years ago by Abdelkader Fenjiro. Staying there is not cheap but is a wonderful experience.
New on the scene in Ourigane for the upscale and chic mountain experience is the elegant and Domaine Malika. Domaine Malika is modern and stylish. This luxury boutique hotel run by Paul Goetz and his staff has seven modern rooms and suites tastefully decorated laid out on delightful grounds from which you can view the surrounding Atlas mountains. The restaurant at Domain Malika has an excellent 3 course set menu with vegetables from the garden and fruit from the orchard.
Another highly recommended hotel is Momo’s in Ouirgane. Chez Momo is a charming auberge, Moroccan country style home overlooking the High Atlas. They are also known for the excellent cuisine and elegant dinner setting. If staying in Ourigane dining at Chez Mommo is a must.
A less costly option is Au Sanglier Qui Fume which has been in existence since 1945. It started by catering to Foreign Legion soldiers working on the bridge and acquired its distinctive name because it was used by wild boar hunters. The rooms are simple but adequate and there is a good swimming pool and garden. Its restaurant has great character including the heads of wild boar hanging from the walls. The food is a blend of French and Moroccan cuisine. It remains a traditional French establishment.
One should also mention the village of Imilil 70 kms from Marrakech, descending the road on the mountain pass downwards is an experience in itself, the staring point of the trek to Mount Toubkal . It has a busy mountaineering feel to it which reminds me again of Nepal years ago. Walking up or taking a donkey you pass Kasbah Toubkal.If you have the chance to climb up to its terrace you will find an epic view of surrounding mountains which would satisfy the gods. After that you can carry on up the mountain slopes for a walk. Climbing all the way to Mount Toubkal at 4,167 metres is only for the fittest.