Morocco // Fez, Meknes and the Middle Atlas //

The Middle Atlas

Covered in forests of oak, cork and giant cedar, the Middle Atlas is a beautiful and relatively little-visited region. The dark brown tents of nomadic Berber encampments immediately establish a cultural shift away from the European north; the plateaux are pockmarked by dark volcanic lakes; and the towns initially feel different, too, their flat, gabled houses lending an Alpine-resort feel, particularly at the “hill station” resort of Ifrane, where the king has a summer palace. If you just want a day-trip from Fez, the Middle Atlas is most easily accessible at Sefrou, a relaxed market town 28km southeast of the city, though Azrou should be on most itineraries as well, an interesting Berber settlement with an excellent and authentic souk, and ideally located for forays into the surrounding cedar forests.

At Azrou, the road forks and you can take one of two routes. The N13 heads southeast to the former mining town of Midelt and on to Er Rachidia, a journey that traces the old Trek es Sultan, or Royal Road, an ancient trading route that once carried salt, slaves and other commodities with caravans of camels across the desert from West Africa. Heading southwest, the N8, the main route to Marrakesh, skirts well clear of the Atlas ranges, and is lined with dusty, functional market centres, though Beni Mellal is something of a transport hub along the way. From here you can cut south to Azilal, jumping-off point for the magnificent Cascades d’Ozoud and the stunning High Atlas valley of Aït Bouguemez, or strike out for Imilchil and the epic mountain roads that lie beyond.

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