When travelling through the Anti-Atlas Mountains, be sure not to miss the hidden gem of the oasis town that is Tafraout. The town itself is pleasant with its wide boulevards, typically Moroccan pink buildings and friendly inhabitants, but the main reason to visit this region is for its dream of a location amongst natural landscapes.
Lying nestled in a valley and surrounded by the high ridges of Jbel el Kest, this secluded treasure offers access to amazing trekking opportunities as well as forays by mountain bike or car into the unusual stunning natural landscape that surrounds. It is a nature lover’s dream. In Tafraout you won’t find large 5-star hotels, mega restaurants, or touts trying to take you to the ‘once a year Berber market’. What you will find are a handful of relatively small comfortable hotels with swimming pools, a few cosy restaurants and very little hassle – if any! Tafraout is off the usual tourist trail; a place to relax, recuperate, do a spot of hiking and exploring or simply lie by the pool and soak up some rays amongst the most amazing scenery and without hordes of tourists.
This region can be reached by car in approximately three hours from Agadir (250 km) or 5½ hours from Marrakech (387 km). If you’re travelling from Marrakech and would like to take a more scenic route through the High Atlas Mountains, head south over the dramatic Tizi n’Test mountain pass (2093 m) and stay overnight in Taroudant before continuing your journey. As you travel towards Tafraout, keep an eye open for goats climbing the prickly Argan trees which grow in abundance in this region. The tasty nuts used to make Argan products is what they are after! In order to get the most out of your visit to the Tafraout region, plan on staying here for at least two nights if possible. Even then, you may wish you had a longer time to explore this beautiful area.
So, what is there to do here?
If trekking is your thing, then you won’t be disappointed. There are walking (and climbing) opportunities here for everyone – and you don’t have to be super fit either! For the more experienced outdoor enthusiasts, you may wish to tackle Jbel el Kest, the highest peak in the region at 2359 m, which affords graded climbing opportunities. It is wise in this instance to use the services of a local registered guide who knows the area well. However, if you prefer a more relaxing wander, you may wish to explore some of the twenty-six villages that form the Ameln (almond) Valley, lying to the north of the town of Tafraout, clinging to the southern slopes of Jbel el Kest.
Village in Ameln Valley
You can walk or cycle between the verdant villages, admiring the beauty of the painted houses and mosques in these Berber settlements. Many of the male inhabitants have now moved to the major cities for work, so the villages are quite sleepy with just the women and children going about their daily lives. Evidence of this employment lies in the amount of stylish new houses that can be increasingly seen in the villages. However, walk into the villages a little further and you will still see old traditional houses made using pisé (rammed earth), many of which are now in ruins. Each village is quite unique and it’s worth taking the time to explore at least a few of them. Perhaps one of the most popular villages to visit is Oumesnat, which houses La Maison Traditionelle, a traditional house still lived in by a friendly family who offer a tour of their preserved home, giving fascinating insights into Berber life and culture.
La Maison Traditionelle Oumesnat, Ameln Valley
The village of Tagdicht, the highest village in this area, offers magnificent mountains views and is best accessed by foot or bicycle due to the rather tight turning space for 4WDs. The higher villages offer the best views of the mountains at sunset when they change colour, the red granite transformed by the light into shades of deep orange and pinks. In the morning, when facing the villages directly with the mountains behind, see if you can spot La Tête de Lion, the Lion’s Head rock formation, that overlooks the Ameln villages - once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Villagers believe it offers them protection.
La Tête de Lion
Who doesn’t like a bit of shopping when on holiday! The Wednesday market in Tafraout offers bargains in a range of Moroccan goods, from the traditional brightly coloured embroidered babouche (slippers) for which this region is renowned to silver jewellery, leather work and handmade wooden items. Local honey and amlou are also on sale. If you haven’t tried amlou, give it a go. It’s an extremely tasty paste made from argan oil, ground almonds and honey – best served with fresh local homemade khobz (traditional round bread). Scrumptious!
Wherever you go in this region, you will be astounded by the beauty of the natural landscape, but in order to see the main local highlights, here’s a suggested route. Don’t forget your camera or camera phone as you’ll need it. This whole region is a landscape photographer’s paradise.
From the town centre of Tafraout, head south-west towards the village of Tazekka where you can admire the fascinating lunar landscape with huge boulders leading up to perched houses and, at the edge of the village, hunt for the simplistic gazelle rock carving - the local guardian will help you to find it – at a cost of course! Continue on to the picturesque village of Adai with its red mosque, then take the piste heading east towards Les Roches Bleues (Blue Rocks). These are a rather surreal formation of rocks which stand out in sharp contrast to the surrounding landscape. The boulders were spray-painted blue (and some pink) in 1984 by a Belgian artist named Jean Verame, and have been ‘topped up’ in colour by locals every few years. Not to everyone’s taste but worth viewing. Drive back into Tafraout along the valley from a south-easterly direction via the village of Aguerd-Oudad. Here you can see le chapeau de Napoléon (Napoleon’s Hat), a striking rock formation best viewed in the morning or late afternoon.
The Blue Rocks, Tafraout
If you have the time, the snaking Aït Mansour gorge lies approximately 30 km to the south east of Tafraout. The road zigzags up to a high plain with fabulous views back towards the Jbel el Kest massif and eventually descends into the gorge. The valley is a sight to behold with its lush vegetation of palmgroves and olive and almond trees growing alongside the river. Look up to see old villages clinging to the cliffs. You can park up and walk along the river, cycle or drive. If you have a 4WD, a circuitous route is possible.
Aït Mansour gorge
Tafraout is not the sort of place you’ll find fine dining, but it does have a handful of cheap and cheerful restaurants should you choose not to eat at your hotel. Please note that most serve traditional Moroccan dishes only and may not have a licence to serve alcohol. They may be happy for you to bring your own though should you wish – just as a matter of courtesy, do ask before opening.
Currently, a big favourite for tourists is Chez Nadia, situated about 10 minutes from the centre of town. Decent size portions of traditional Moroccan food are served at reasonable prices by friendly staff in a pleasant environment. What more can you ask for?! Restaurant La Kasbah also offers tasty Moroccan dishes in a traditional environment and is very popular with tourists. L’Étoile du Sud is a longstanding restaurant (opened 1968!), serving its traditional food in a nomadic style tent. It’s very popular with tour groups at lunchtimes if they are passing through. There are several other small restaurants too, which might take your fancy if you’re the adventurous type.
Tafraout has mild winters, with an average daytime temperature of 10-14 degrees between November and February (although the sun will feel warm on your face) with hot dry summers exceeding 40º Celsius in the daytime from June to August. The ideal time to visit is probably March to May or September to October, when it is milder and therefore allows for more exploration of the natural landscape. If you want to experience some local culture, in mid-February the Almond Blossom Festival takes place with traditional folklore and dancing in the evenings to accompany the sight of blossoming trees at their peak. In August there is a 3-day music festival featuring artists from all around Morocco who gather in this small town for the event. If you happen to be in the region, these events will welcome you in and give you a taste of Moroccan festival life.
Almond blossom, Tafraout