You could spend days, if not weeks, wandering round the 26 villages of the Ameln Valley, north of Tafraoute. Set against the backdrop of the Jebel el Kest’s rock face, they are all beautiful both from afar and close up – with springs, irrigation systems, brightly painted houses and mosques. On no account, either, should you miss out on a walk to see the painted rocks in their, albeit faded, glory.
The Ameln villages are built on the lower slopes of the Jebel el Kest, between the “spring line” and the valley floor, allowing gravity to take the water through the village and on to the arable land below. Many have basic shops where you can buy drinks, if little else. Getting around them, you can use a combination of taxis and walking, or rent bicycles.
Even a casual walker could stroll along the valley from village to village: Oumesnat to Anemeur, for example, is around 12km. More serious walkers might consider making the ascent of the Jebel el Kest (2359m) or, best of all, Adrar Mkorn (2344m), an isolated peak to the southeast with spectacular twin tops (this involves some hard scrambling). A striking feature on it is the Lion’s Face at Asgaour – a rock formation which really does look like the face of a lion in the afternoon light when seen from Tafraoute. The area around it (and many other areas scattered on both the southern and northern slopes of the Jebel el Kest) offers excellent rock climbing on sound quartzite.
OUMESNAT, like most Ameln settlements, emerges out of a startling green and purple rockscape, crouched against the steep rock walls of the valley. From a distance, its houses, perched on the rocks, seem to have a solidity to them – sensible blocks of stone, often three storeys high, with parallel sets of windows. Close up, they reveal themselves as bizarre constructions, often built on top of older houses deserted when they had become too small or decrepit; a few of them, with rooms jutting out over the cliffs, are held up by enormous stilts and have raised doorways entered by short (and retractable) ladders.
La Maison Traditionelle
One of Oumesnat’s houses, known as La Maison Traditionelle, is owned by a blind Berber and his family, who show visitors round. They give an interesting tour, explaining the domestic equipment – grindstones, water-holders, cooking equipment – and the layout of the house with its guest room with separate entrance, animals’ quarters, and summer terrace for sleeping out. To get the most from a visit, you may need to engage an interpreter, such as one of the guides recommended in Tafraoute.
From Oumesnat, you can walk through or above a series of villages to ANAMEUR, where there is a source bleue, or natural springwater pool, a meandering hike of around three hours. Along the way is Tazoulte, one of four local villages with Jewish cemeteries, remnants of a community now completely departed, though Jewish symbols are still inscribed on the region’s silverware, which was traditionally made by Jews.
The Ameln’s highest village, TAGOUDICHE (Tagdichte on the road sign), where the trail up the Jebel el Kest (or Lekst) begins, is accessible by Land Rover along a rough piste. There is a shop and a gîte here. The Jebel el Kest is a rough and rocky scramble – there’s no actual climbing involved – over a mountain of amethyst quartzite. There is a black igneous dyke below the summit pyramid, and the summit, being a pilgrimage site, has shelters on the top, as well as hooped petticoat daffodils blooming in spring. The easiest route is not obvious and a guide is advisable.
A loop back to Tafraoute
Returning to Tafraoute from the Ameln Valley, you can walk over a pass back from the R104 road near Ighalene in around three hours. The path isn’t particularly easy to find but it’s a lovely walk, taking you past flocks of sheep and goats tended by their child-shepherds. The route begins as a piste (east of the one to Tagoudiche), then you follow a dry riverbed off to the right, up a side valley, where the zigzags of an old track can be seen. Cross to go up here – not straight on – and, once over the pass, keep circling left till you can see Tafraoute below.
The road west along the Ameln Valley crosses an almost imperceptible watershed, beyond which, at Aït Omar (see map), a piste heads north to TIRNMATMAT, a partly abandoned village. Around 200m further, on the north bank of the river, are numerous carvings in the rocks, depicting hunters and animals (some of these may be prehistoric), along with more modern graffiti (including a VW Beetle).
The ridge walk to the south of this village is taken by some trekking parties and is really special, with Bonelli’s eagles circling below, goats climbing the argan trees, and wild boar snuffling round the bushes.