A Marrakech holiday is one full of exotic and rich culture. As you wander the souks and sample the tagine, you will experience a world a million miles away from your own. But outside of the city walls there is an entirely different world awaiting you. Your holiday in Marrakech will take a different turn as you journey the Route of 1000 Kasbahs towards the Atlas Mountains.
Ouarzazate, known to the Moroccans as 'the door of the desert', is the first stop for those wishing to take their Marrakech holidays out of the city. South of the High Atlas Mountains, the Berber province has become known for the fortified city or ksah, Ait Benhaddou. This beautifully structured, mud-brick fortification contains many wonderful examples of Kasbahs and, though most inhabitants have moved on, it still houses twelve families who repair the damage the ksah suffers with each heavy rainfall. As you make your way up through the city you'll pass collections of goods crafted by these dwellers, which you can buy as an entirely unique souvenir of your trip. A particularly impressive example of the Moroccan Kasbahs, Ait Benhaddou has been the setting for many successful movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Alexander and The Mummy.
Travel a little further into the Atlas Mountains themselves, and you will find the Dades Gorge. The marvellous colours of the valley are the first thing to notice, with the green riverbed lined with volcanic red rock. Impressive Kasbahs are dotted over the landscape, blending in with the soil and rocks so that you have to look twice to see them. The winding roads take you through the magnificent scenery and lush palms of the mountains, and past fascinating landscapes, including the bizarre rock formation known as 'the Monkey Fingers' due to its uncanny resemblance. Venturing into the Dades Gorge allows you to see breathtaking backdrops unlike anything you will see in Marrakech. Holidays to Morocco are enormously enriched by the colourful landscapes of the Dades Gorge.
The Skoura Oasis
Found in the middle of the Dades Plain, the Skoura Oasis radiates an air of peace. The immense palm groves make visitors feel as if they have been wrapped up in nature itself. However the main reason to visit the Skoura Oasis, other than the sense of tranquillity, is to view the Amerhidl Kasbah. This 17th Century Kasbah is immortalised on the back of the 50 dirham note, and is one of the more fascinating Kasbahs in Morocco. You can take a tour of the mud-brick building, venturing through prayer rooms and kitchens that have been preserved all these years and be amused when your guide shows you traditional artefacts along the way, such as old-fashioned door locks and hairbrushes, to see if you can work out how they were once used. Resembling an Eastern castle, you can gaze out over the ramparts at the desert views and rows of palm trees, enjoying the peace after what was likely to have been a frantic start to your holiday in Marrakech.
Slightly less secluded but equally magnificent is the Todra Gorge, found on the east side of the mountains. Cool your feet in the stream running through the gorge, and watch as Moroccan families go about their business - swimming, washing fruit, and even doing their laundry. One of the most dramatic sights to be seen in Morocco, standing at the bottom of this cut in the mountain looking up at the dizzying height of the walls above, you will be glad that you ventured out of Marrakech. Holiday makers from all over Morocco travel to the Todra Gorge regularly, in order to enjoy the cool, fresh streams running through the gorge.
Marrakech holidays are undoubtedly full of dramatic and fascinating culture that you are unlikely to have experienced before. But the areas surrounding Marrakech and stretching into the Atlas Mountains have so much to offer. For truly outstanding landscapes, be sure to head out of Marrakech along the Route of 1000 Kasbahs.
By : Nick Wrightman