Stretching northeast from Ouarzazate, the Dadès Valley is at times harsh and desolate, but there is a bleak beauty on the plain between the parallel ranges of the High Atlas and the Jebel Saghro. Along much of its length, the river is barely visible above ground, making the sudden appearance of its vast oases all the more astonishing. Littered with half-hidden mud-brick houses – the Dadès is also known as the Route of a Thousand Kasbahs, for obvious reasons – the palmeries lie along the N10 from Ouarzazate to Erfoud, offering an excellent and easy opportunity for a close look at a working oasis and, in Skoura, a startling range of imposing kasbahs.
Impressive though these are, however, it is the two gorges that cut from the valley into the High Atlas that steal the show: the Dadès Gorge itself, carving up a fertile strip of land behind Boumalne du Dadès, and, to the east, the Todra Gorge, a narrowing cleft in high rock walls north of Tinghir. Beyond both, roads run into the heart of the Atlas, a wonderful (and, from Tinghir, fairly easy) trip that emerges near Beni Mellal in the Middle Atlas.
To the south of the Dadès, the volcanic rock and limestone pinnacles of the Jebel Saghro offers exciting options, either on foot or on its network of rough piste roads in a 4WD.Read More
The Skoura oasis begins quite suddenly, around 30km east of Ouarzazate, along a tributary of the Drâa, the Oued Ameridil. It is an extraordinary sight even from the road, which for the most part follows its southern edge – a very extensive, very dense palmery, with an incredibly confusing network of tracks winding across fords and through palms to scattered groups of ksour and kasbahs.
The grandest and most extravagantly decorated kasbah in the oasis, Kasbah Ameridil may well look familiar: it’s eminently photogenic and features in travel brochures and coffee-table books – and on the front of the current fifty-dirham note.
Ameridil was built in the seventeenth century for the caïd of Skoura, and various implements from the original building line one wall of the courtyard, including some ingenious little locks whose keys doubled as toothbrushes. You can poke around a variety of rooms that once served as kitchens – one still retains the ovens used to cook tafarnoute (bread baked over stones on the ground) and tanourte (bread baked on the the side of the oven) – a Koranic school and a mosque, and bedrooms used by the chief and his four wives.
- El Kelâa M’Gouna and around
The Dadès Gorge, with its high cliffs of limestone and weirdly shaped erosions, begins almost immediately north of Boumalne du Dadès. A mixture of modern houses and older ksour edge the road, with fields fronting gentle slopes at first but giving way to increasingly precipitous drop-offs as the road nears Msemrir. Most travellers get as far as Aït Oufi, 25km or so into the gorge, before turning back. It’s a fine day-trip, but it would be a shame not to explore the area further – pushing on, the gorge closes to its narrowest point just 9km further along, while a couple of days’ walking in and around the gorge from one of its many hotels will reward you with superb scenery, with plenty of kasbahs and pisé architecture to admire.
- The Todra Gorge
- Wildlife-watching near Boumalne
- The battle for Bou Gafer
The long fields of pointed stones that you’ll see thrust into the ground, both here and elsewhere along the oasis routes, are Berber cemeteries. Otherwise unidentified, they are usually walled off from the desert at the edge of the ksour: a wholly practical measure to prevent jackals from unearthing bodies – and in so doing, frustrating the dead’s entry to paradise.