Imperial cities, backroads & the Sahara | 11 day - 9 days biking
Arrival, met and transferred to our hotel about 15 minutes outside Marrakech and where the bikes will be waiting for you.
Our hotel is located in olive groves and has a very nice pool area.
Bike handover followed by a transfer to the main square in Marrakech – Jemaa el Fna where all “the action” starts from around 19.30.
We’ll grab our evening meal at one of the café/restaurants around the square.
Transfer will pick us up from the same point and a short 15 minute drive back to our beautiful accommodation in the countryside.
Have a last drink sitting peacefully by the pool and listening to the night sounds and looking at the thousands of stars above us.
Marrakech to Bin El Ouidane. (Approx. 270kms)
Heading southeast we skirt around the “Red City” as Marrakech is called, and spend most of today on quieter country roads.
We will travel into the Middle Atlas mountains.
About 150kms from Marrakech we will turn off for a diversion to go and visit the well known Ouzoud Falls whihc in Amezigh (berbere) means “the act of grinding grain”, and you will see many old mills in the area, some in use and others not. There are several cascades with 200m+ vertical drops, falling into the El Abid River (Slaves’ river) and it’s many gorges.
We’ll have a quick lunch stop. Normally there is a stall making and selling M’semens – Crispy square Moroccan pancakes – into which you can add honey and lemon juice. Full of butter, but very tasty!
Our accommodation tonight is located beside a large manmade lake high in the High Atlas Mountains. Sunset over the water and then a pleasant evening meal followed by a drink in their cosy terrace.
Bin El Ouidane to Azrou (Approx. 295kms)
Leaving the hotel after breakfast the first 15kms we wind our way along the lakeside until we get to the village of Ouaouizerght where we refuel.
Then the rest of today’s roads are very scenic, and wind their way over various small mountain ranges staying north of the High Atlas, traversing through the agricultural Middle Atlas. Lunch stop en route.
About 100kms from our destination we enter the beautiful cedar forests this area is known for.
This is the area with the largest concentration of Atlas Cedar trees in the world. They can grow as high as 35m. Maybe we’ll get to see some barbary macaques apes that are known to live here!
Our 4* hotel, destination for the night, is set in a quiet location on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by cedar forests.
Dinner in the hotel and maybe a game of snooker in their friendly bar area afterwards.
Azrou to Chefchaouen (Approx. 305kms)
Leaving the hotel we will refuel our bikes and then continue our journey on smaller backroads taking us through the National Park of Ifrane and on through the unusual university town of Ifrane.
Ifrane is a real oddity in Morocco as it has been modelled on a Swiss town and looks very out of place in this North African country.
Quick stop for coffee or orange juice.
Well-known for its A-line roofed houses it is a popular place for the wealthier city dwellers to come and get cool in their summers, or in winter spend weekends skiing at the resort – one of just three in Morocco – the other two being at Mischliffen and Oukmaimeden.
Traversing the busy Imperial city of Meknes we will stop to visit the well-preserved area of Roman ruins at Volubilis, the most important archaeological site in Morocco, and protected by UNESCO. Well worth taking a guide to explain the various different areas of this ancient empire, the site was first settled and began to prosper in the 3rd century BC. We will go to a local cafe for a quick lunch.Leaving the ruins, we drive up through the small town of Moulay Idriss perched on a hill, where Islam first started in 789 and where the only circular minaret in Morocco is built.
At this point we will take the faster main road so that we can get to Chefchaouen early afternoon and have the rest of the day and evening to wander this beautiful blue town with its’ narrow streets.
Dinner in our Riad hotel set in the medina. Try the chicken Pastilla.
Make sure to take a moment to climb to their roof terrace to listen to the last call to prayer and enjoy this unique view across the town’s rooftops.
Chefchaouen to Fes (Approx. 200kms)
Today the plan is to get to Fes as early as possible by travelling down the main highway all the way, so that we have maximum time to spend in this ancient medina.
Our hotel is a beautiful old medina house ( “Riad” ) with a large central courtyard and a small pool. On parking up in the carpark we will go to the hotel, change out of our biking gear, freshen up and set off to discover this amazing place.
Fes, which is known as the Mecca of the west, is a UNESCO World heritage site and the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco. Over 4000 families totaling more than a million people live in the medina which is home to the oldest Madrassa (learning centre/university) in the world.
We will arrange a guided tour to take around the medina, visit the tanneries, potteries and other places of interest, and then you can wander the souks and bazaars as well.
The guide will arrange to meet and bring us back if we decide to wander alone, though having an official guide to take us around is very time saving.
Dinner back in the hotel.
Fes to Merzouga (Approx. 476kms)
Our longest day’s drive. We depart from this Imperial City and travel south, destination the Sahara. We spend the morning winding our way through the Middle Atlas Mountains.
Midelt is one of the main towns in this region and is one of the fruit growing areas, mainly apples, in the centre of Morocco.
About 70kms on and we enter the spectacular area of the Gorges de Ziz following the Ziz river as it winds its way through the Eastern foothills of the High Atlas on its way to the desert. At the southern point the large dam Hassan Addakil was built by the previous king to supply the town of ErRachidia with unlimited water.
Unfortunately, as a result, the once fertile land and the people further south have suffered due to water shortages and droughts. Er Rachidia has recently seen a lot of investment and improvements being made to it as it has become the head of the region.
We continue to the desert town of Erfoud where we turn onto the original old road, recently repaved, which leads out to the dune area of Erg Chebbi (at 205mtrs these are the highest dunes in Morocco) in Merzouga.
We have chosen a lovely local auberge for tonight’s accommodation situated right at the base of the high dunes. Relax round the pool, take a walk into the dunes, or maybe a camel ride. Dinner in the colourful dining room and then sit out around the pool having a drink, enjoying the silence and admiring the amazing variety of colours on the dunes as the sun sets, followed by millions of stars.
Merzouga to Dades (Approx. 278kms)
After a pleasant breakfast and maybe a quick dip in the pool, we leave on the southern route passing through the desert town of Rissani.
Cut northwards on a small road through the Jebel Mountain range and on to Tineghir where we take a 14km detour to go and visit Todra Gorge with it’s 400m high cliff walls.
Lunch stop in a small local cafe at the entrance to the gorge.
Once we arrive at Dades town we turn north and start the drive up into the High Atlas and the famous Dades Gorge. A short drive and we reach our night’s accommodation in a small kasbah which is hidden along a track road.
A conversion from an old castle the owner has managed to recreate a beautiful, quiet hotel amongst the trees, with some wonderful, really unique old style decor inside.
There is a lovely pool on the lower terraces. Wander through the building before your evening meal and then relax.
Dades to Ait Ben Haddou (Approx. 170kms)
After breakfast, we set off up the spectacular Dades Gorge to the end of the asphalt at Msemrir.
The road is a bikers dream winding backwards and forwards on itself. At the top there is a great viewpoint for photographs. It could be souk day in Msemrir, and if so this will give you a great insight into how things we would discard in Europe are recycled and made use of in Morocco. We once saw a man with a stall selling old shoe soles with holes in them!
A quick coffee stop and then, winding our way back down again, initially we will follow the “Route of a Thousand Kasbahs” to Ouarzazarte. Many old kasbahs (fortified houses) in different states of repair can be seen on both sides of the route. One in particular well worth visiting and where we will stop for a refreshment, in the small town of Skoura. Totally renovated it is now a hotel but has maintained its old-world character.
On through Ouarzazate and turn north in the direction of Marrakech. About 35kms out of the city of Ouarzazate is the turning to the Ksar (fortified town)of Ait Ben Haddou, a well-known UNESCO World Heritage site and our destination for the night. A former stopping point for the camel trains bringing slaves and spices from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech, it is set on a hill overlooking the Ounila River and is full of kasbahs in various states of disrepair. 8 families still remain living in the town. We will park up the bikes and then walk across the bridge and wander around the old town to the top of the hill where there is a good photo point.
A former stopping point for the camel trains bringing slaves and spices from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech, it is set on a hill overlooking the Ounila River and is full of kasbahs in various states of disrepair. 8 families still remain living in the town. We will park up the bikes and then walk across the bridge and wander around the old town to the top of the hill where there is a good photo point.
Our very attractive hotel, another kasbah but a newbuild but with all the charm, is situated about 3kms beyond Ait Ben Haddou. They have a spa and hammam.
Ait Ben Haddou to Taroudannt (Approx. 285kms)
Leaving our hotel we turn right and continue on the newly paved road through Telouet, stopping to visit the now abandoned, but highly decorated palace of the Pasha of Marrakech. A very pleasant section of winding country road brings us to the main artery road Marrakech to Ouarzazarte, which we join for about 10kms before turning off towards the west.
Backroads winding through the mountains and valleys with wonderful vistas over river gorges.
A real off the beaten route through forgotten villages.
Lunch stop en route.
Taroudannt is an old town being unusual because it is totally surrounded and protected by nearly 6kms of wall. Nicknamed the “Grandmother of Marrakech” because it looks similar to the Red City, but on a smaller scale. It is a thriving market town for the Souss area and is known particularly for it’s jewelry and carpets.
Time to visit the medina. We will be staying in a pretty riad accommodation situated right in the medina. Dinner back at the hotel.
Taroudannt to Marrakech (Approx. 230kms)
A pleasant breakfast in the riad’s little courtyard, and maybe even an early morning walk in the medina and then we are leaving this ancient fortified town and heading in a northerly direction.
Today we will be crossing over the spectacular Tizi n Test pass at 2093m. The road is narrow, winding with sharp bends and many drop-offs into the valleys below.
Frequently the summit is shrouded in mist but if lucky there are magnificent views back towards the south. Lunch at a local café at the top of the pass. Continuing our ride over this mountain pass we descend on the northerly side following along the river gorge eventually arriving back at our peaceful starting point in the olive groves south of Marrakech.
Bikes checked over and handed back. Dinner, and then sit by the pool and time to talk about everything we’ve seen and visited in the past 9 days.
After breakfast by the pool if you are leaving today you will be transferred back to the airport.
Hope to see you with us again on another journey in the future.