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Ait Ben Haddou & Skoura: two Moroccan pearls

Leaving the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, a proper itinerary in Morocco often leads to the myth of the desert. The road from Marrakech is long and therefore it is better to make a few stops. It is not possible to miss pearls such as those I am about to describe to you: Ait Ben Haddou and Skoura.

These two pearls of Morocco can also be visited with the 3 days desert tour from Marrakech to Merzouga. To reach them, you must cross the 2000 meters of Tizi n Tichka and proceed towards Ouarzazate. For Skoura, before Ouarzazate, you have to turn towards the road that leads to Thinghir.

Ait Ben Haddou: What is it? How to get there and visit it?

Beginning by telling you that Ait Ben Haddou is a “UNESCO World Heritage Site”, you can understand that you are in a special place of undoubted interest. It is a fortified city, properly called Ksar, which develops in height on the banks of the river (dry) Oued Gunilla.

The Ksar is the fortified citadel, usually with a square or rectangular base, protected by high walls. It is composed of popular structures and a castle called Kasbah.

In Ait Ben Haddou, the Berber architecture that characterizes the constructions of the Moroccan valleys is evident. The material used to build the houses, the barn, the walls, and the kasbah itself is always a mixture of straw, stones, and mud. The color is the classic earth color, after all, it is earth.

The Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is one of the most photographed areas of Morocco. It has been the scene of several films that, in addition to making it more famous, have helped to restore its splendor. In fact, some parts have been reconstructed for filming.

How to get there?

Coming from Marrakech, if you use your navigator it will most likely tell you to turn off the main road into a small anonymous road full of gravel and ups and downs. In fact, near the turn, there is a boulder with the writing “Ait Ben Haddou” and an arrow indicating the road. In fact, this is NOT the correct road.

You have to continue another 5/6 km on the main road and then turn left at a traffic circle. To reach Ait Ben Haddou you must stay on the asphalted road, there is no need to use alternative roads.

After the turn, in a few minutes, you will reach the place from where you start the short walk to the Ksar. Here you will see numerous buses or minivans from local agencies taking tourists to visit Ait Ben Haddou.

However, it is not clear where you can leave the car and where is the road to visit the Ksar. Well, it’s very simple, just leave your car at the side of the road or stop to get something at a market and ask if you can leave your car in front of the store. They won’t make a fuss.

How to visit it?

To access the fortified town of Ait Ben Haddou, you must move towards the river bed. If you arrive by car, the river will be on your right, beyond the buildings. You will have to park your car and continue on foot. All roads lead to the river bed and to get to the walls you can:

  • Cross the dry river bed on foot
  • Cross the bridge that takes you to one of the main entrances.

On the map, you can see the river in dry. You will arrive from “below”, you can park near “La Maison de Sable” where there is a large parking lot. From there proceed on foot to the bridge that is clearly visible on this map. The Ksar develops on the other side of the bridge.

Once inside the citadel, you will notice that it goes uphill. The alleys are not many and among these alleys, you can find more original and authentic handicraft stores than in other places in Morocco. The visit to the entire city will take you about 30 minutes, a maximum of 1 hour.

In addition to savoring the uniqueness of Ait Ben Haddou, there are two things you must see:

  • The view from the ruins of the granary, which is the highest point from which you have a view of the entire city and a splendid panorama, mist permitting.
  • The visit to the Kasbah cost 10 dirhams.
    I visited Ait Ben Haddou in August. The heat is a component not to be underestimated. There is no shade unless you take refuge in the various stores, there is no vegetation and therefore you can not shelter under any tree. This is something to keep in mind.

Skoura and its Oasis

Continuing towards the Dades valleys (and then towards the Dades and Todra Gorges) you come across this town which in itself has nothing special about it except that part of Skoura is a natural oasis.

I discovered this little piece of Moroccan paradise thanks to Reda, the manager of the hotel where I stayed, the Espace Kasbah Amridil (I absolutely recommend that you sleep there one night). That’s right, right in the Kasbah Amridil, a fantastic place to sleep and wherein the evening you will feel like you are in a film from the thousand and one nights.

The hotel is on the outskirts of what is called the Skoura Oasis.

This area is served by three rivers, once they were full of water and the vegetation was even thicker. Now, however, there is no water at all and the river beds are completely dry, so much so that you can clearly see the off-road vehicle tracks that connect the various parts of the Oasis. Reda took me on a scenic tour and explained a few things such as that all of their livelihood is due to local production. Sometimes products are exchanged, those who have a vegetable product exchange it with an animal one. Life flows slowly and follows the rhythms of nature.

And it follows them so much that, paradoxically, when it is raining heavily, the great rivers that embrace the oasis of Skoura fill up, and crossing them is practically impossible until the river level decreases. The area of Kasbah Amridil, as well as other parts of the oasis, is isolated from the rest of the country for days on end.

In 2017, this situation seems other-worldly, but it is.

 

 

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