The Ounila valley remains, in my opinion, a hidden treasure of Morocco, an off-trail circuit still little known, because many people prefer to take the national road which connects Marrakech to Ouarzazate more quickly. Too bad for them, and let’s take advantage of this windfall to fully enjoy the jewels of the Ounila Valley.
To take the road is to take the opportunity to discover places that mark life, paths that we take once in a lifetime and that shamelessly reveal to us stories, people, and landscapes unique in the world. Taking the road in Morocco is not just crossing the desert, it is also going through the emotions that a country that could be yours brings.
Ounila Valley, from Marrakech to Ouarzazate.
From Marrakech, you will take the N9 towards Ouarzazate (Ouarzazate road) for about 100 km, everything depends of course on your starting point. At the end of this first part, you will then arrive at the famous Tizi n’Tichka pass, at an altitude of 2,260 metres. The adventure starts here!
The winding road is superb and the landscapes are incredible. If you go in the spring, which I strongly recommend, you will probably have the chance to see the peaks still snow-capped, because yes, it snows in Morocco, and more particularly in the Atlas.
Passed the “ pasture pass ”, it is time for you to start your off-trail journey in Morocco and discover other facets of the country: villages and kasbahs of ocher colours which play hide and seek in a multicoloured landscape, terraced orchards, and incredible troglodyte ksours await you.
In front of you, two possibilities; continue on the N9 or take the Ounila Valley by taking the P1506 on your left, towards Telouet. This is the route to take. It is then that other landscapes unfold before your eyes, desert at first, then colourful and dotted with greenery. You are now only about twenty kilometres from Telouet, your first stop.
Visit of the Kasbah of Telouet
A stop to visit the Kasbah of Telouet is mandatory, this old palace dates from the 17th century, and even though it seems to be falling into ruin, the interior conceals magnificent lounges and ornaments in stucco and marble. This Kasbah is a real gem that testifies to the wealth of the merchants who once crossed this road to get to Ouarzazate.
Around the Telouet Palace, you can still see the remains of a farm, and a superb view of the Atlas that you can admire from the roof terrace.
The Inoula Valley and its other treasures.
From the road, you will see, almost in front of you, Anemiter, a very well-preserved fortified village whose visit is certainly worth it, but due to lack of time, it will be the subject of my next trip to Morocco. Even if you don’t have to find reasons to go back. Anemiter is the second stop after your visit to Telouet, and it is from here that you can see many remarkable villages and mosques that border the Ounila Valley.
TROGLODYTE CAVES OF TAZLEFT
Then take the winding road that crosses the Ounila valley, you will soon dive into the canyon and will undoubtedly come across some peasants on their donkeys or towing a cart. The mountain’s sides remind me of a trip to Argentina with these ocher and green plateaus.
If time permits, you can add to your road trip another visit to the small village of Tazeleft where you can take a short hike through the orchards to reach the troglodyte caves of Tazeleft; it is a series of sixty aligned and superimposed cells carved into the rock by semi-nomads.
KASBAH OF TAMDAGHT
A few kilometres further on are the ruins of the Kasbah of Tamdaght. I could not access it due to a lack of filming in progress. This part of Morocco is regularly used as a setting for many films and series, there are still some vestiges of a glorious past of cinema not far from Ouarzazate, which I will present to you shortly in another article.
Ait Ben Haddou, the flagship stage of the Ounila Valley
After the Kasbah of Telouet, it is undoubtedly the most beautiful site in the Ounila Valley. Clinging to its hill, it overlooks a shallow river and the arid landscapes that surround it. Aït Ben Haddou is no longer a secret to anyone, located just 30 kilometres from Ouarzazate, this ancient city with a biblical look is one of the most tourist attractions in the region.
Its architecture and its history attract the gaze of travellers, but also those of the cinema, there is at least one film or a series that you have seen in your life which was partly shot here. However, Aït Benhaddou has lost none of its interest, with its charming alleys and small houses in ruins or beautifully renovated.
At its highest point, you can admire its red mud ramparts, the small river you probably crossed to get there, and the lunar landscape all around. In some time, the sunset will invite itself. Why not spend the night there before joining Ouarzazate in the early morning?
Ouarzazate: Kasbah and cinema
Ouarzazate isn’t the most beautiful city in Morocco, but that’s probably not why it’s so visited. No, for most of us who choose to walk its dusty alleys, it’s because the city is a strategic stopping point before the gates of the desert and the camel treks in the dunes of the Sahara.
However, this does not mean that Ouarzazate is not worth a look, and it would be wrong to say that the place has no interest. Here, you can visit two emblematic places: the old Hollywood movie sets and the Kasbah Taourirt.
ATLAS STUDIOS, SILENCE, WE’RE SHOOTING!
There are two studios on the outskirts of Ouarzazate, the smaller is CLA Studios in the centre of Ouarzazate, and the larger and better known is Atlas Studios located a few kilometres outside, this is the one- which I visited.
Atlas Studios is the largest movie set in the world, and don’t be fooled by its dilapidated state, it’s still where many American blockbusters are filmed.
If you’re not a movie fan, you can skip this tour, as it would be fair to say there’s nothing exceptional to see. You have to understand that the sets age badly and that up close, you realise that all this is artificial and made of polystyrene. So don’t expect to experience a moment in Games of Thrones as you might imagine. But, that’s also the magic of cinema, isn’t it?
KASBAH OF TAOURIRT
Its location in Ouarzazate was strategic for trade routes until the 1930s when the south was then considered one of the largest Kasbahs in Morocco. I, therefore, invite you to visit every corner of the Kasbah Taourirt to discover its history and the local painters who sell their art inside.
A true citadel, it is one of the most impressive Kasbahs of its kind, which houses nearly 300 rooms, accessed via a veritable labyrinth of passages, steps and doors. Like me, you will sometimes feel lost in this immense structure of another earth. Allow a good two hours to soak up the place.
Beyond the Ounila Valley, the gates of the desert
From Ouarzazate, other adventures await you: Zagora and the gates of the desert, a camel trek to Erg Lihoudi, and surfing in the dunes of Chegaga. It is up to you to choose your next destination.
Morocco should be part of your travel list to do, forget everything you have already seen, an exotic getaway that will offer you as many, if not more, lasting memories as another more distant destination.