Sighting the snowy Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, amidst the bare and sunny hillsides is a bit of a mind bender. Each corner you turn, you’ll be hit by a new season and landscape. Wintery winds and Christmas wannabe firs, soon morph into barren, dry valleys dotted with the odd resilient tree. Welcome to the High Atlas in Morocco, a mere 40 miles from Marrakech.
Four days in Marrakech may seem a poor fraction of time in such a wondrously diverse city, but you can actually experience a mega collection of sights and experiences. I chose to spend one day trekking in a national park through Discover Ltd. You know me; I can’t visit a new city without trying to sample a bit of everything.
A swish car picked me up from my riad at 9am on the dot. Dressed in a suit jacket and shoes (a rare sight compared to the rest of my Moroccan adventure), I’m not sure if my driver was a little timid due to his limited English or simply a bit of a snooty McSnootison. Either way, like me, I’m sure you’ll be glad of the peace and quiet so you can soak up the views from the comfort of the back seat. After a short thirty minute drive from the crazy souqs the scenery soon becomes a rich blanket of browns and dusty greens.
Berbers are a race of mountain people and you can opt to stop off at village market. I’d seen the Berber market area in the souqs so I thought it would be similar. Wrong. It was muddy, the thick Glasto style mud that forms on your soles like a new shoe. Berbers haggle with one another, jostling, shoving and shaking hands. The sheep and goats stand bewildered and scared, probably uninterested in the fact that they are being sold for near on £200. They’re probably more concerned that they’ll soon end up in a famous Moroccan tagine in the nearby kitchen (look for the tent).
Slices of meat – actually, scrap that. Half slabs of cow and trotters swing from market stalls like dream-catchers in the wind. Potatoes the size of your head and courgettes as long as your arms lie on the ground sheets. This is a working Berber market with zero interest in tourists. Despite being the only two white people in the area I don’t think they as near as blinked in my direction.
Tackling hair pin bends, the car climbs up to reach the villages of Imlil Valley. I was so glad to have a safe vehicle and driver – a novelty compared to the taxi drivers I’d experienced in Marrakech.
It means you’re able to relax and really enjoy the views; camels decorate the never-ending blue skies, periodically substituted for a well-looked after donkey.
Stepping out in Imlil, you’ll be greeted with a smile and feel thoroughly spoilt. Rashid, my guide, explained more often than not tours take place in very small numbers. It felt like a tailored trek; I got to choose which route to take (I opted for waterfalls over cliff views), when to stop (frequently for photos for you guys of course), and obviously it allowed me the chance to interrogate Rashid. Ahem, I mean to interview Rashid and let him share his knowledge.
He spoke of his family and how that he was the breadwinner since his father had died two years ago. He told me of the floods that had washed a nearby valley and left only a few trees. I loved being able to pipe up and ask him whatever I wanted. He was so easy going, though I think he found it quite funny when I wanted to know how much a donkey cost. Don’t pretend it’s never crossed your mind. It’s an impressive £2,000.
The trek itself isn’t too strenuous and follows some formation of a path for most of the journey. Like the landscape, it is ever-changing; muddy to pavement, stepping-stones to grass, and wobbly bridges to freshwater streams. Look out for the super cool walnut trees, a personal favourite of mine.
I loved walking past the tiny school. The backpacks were bigger than the children themselves, and they giggled and shrieked at Jay’s lip piercings. They were so, so cute. Too cute for photos.
I bet the thing you’ll notice the most though is the clean, crisp fresh air. In the city of Marrakech it is thick with pollution. Up here, I found myself trying to take as many deep breaths as possible. The ridiculously clear water flowing from the mountainsides was so cold and pure that I found myself splashing my face just for the sake of it. And, hanging out in the abandoned hut pretending to be a local.
After an hour or two of trekking you’ll reach your goal – the mighty Kasbah Du Toubkal. A mountain retreat that has been smothered in awards, not only for the amazing experience it provides guests, but also for the green and sustainable work it enables. It is staffed by local people meaning the hospitality you receive is second to none, and it also means the Kasbah helps the community. It has been built with the environment in mind; low in energy consumption and water from a local spring (that has beat EU drinking water quality standards), to name but a few initiatives.
Don’t start thinking this place is all new age hippy and minimal (though personally, I quite like that vibe). It’s a stylish retreat. Beautiful ceiling beams and gorgeous furniture compliment the attractive building. This place is so classy that even the cats have little sleeping mats in the garden.
The roof terrace is the pièce de résistance though. The views are incredible and are brought to life when the call to prayer rings round the mountains.
There’s only one word to describe what you’ll receive up here and that’s a feast. Literally, I don’t think I’ve ever been so stuffed.
Breads, Moroccan salads, fresh cous cous, vegetarian or lamb and date tagines, fruit and mint tea. It was delicious, but I was really glad for the walk back down to burn some of the food off!
I can’t recommend this excursion enough. I visited in December when it was still warm enough for just a t-shirt and trousers, but I’ve already added an early summertime visit to my list. Although it will be busier, Rashid said that the blossom on the trees is beautiful.You can also stay overnight at Kasbah Du Toubkal and I’d bet money that the sunrise is amazing.
If you thinking of trekking in Toubkal National Park or have done in the past, I’d love to hear all about your plans/experiences. If you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer, so feel free to drop me a comment. X
I was a guest of Discover Ltd.