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Les Terrasses de l’Atlas is a product of the brand name Hors Circuit.

The origins of Hors Circuit

At the age of 20, Luc decided to abandon his university course (he would finish his studies later) to avoid becoming trapped in a professional career straightaway and to take the opportunity to do a long solo cycling trip. During a tour of South America, or more specifically Brazil, he drafted a small magazine to narrate his adventures, aimed at around a hundred like-minded people. He called this magazine “Hors Circuit Magazine”. In his own words, the term “Hors Circuit” (meaning off the beaten track) reflected his escape from a conventional career path. At the time, the magazine took the form of a few hand-written pages in black and white.

At 30, he went off again with his then wife, but this time as a couple and backpacking round Asia for a year’s grand tour. He again sent his small magazine Hors Circuit to a list of subscribers, but this time it was typed.

When he was 40, he set off for a year and a half with his wife and child in tow, having acquired a Defender 130 landrover camper, heading for different areas of the globe, but in particular a long tour of Western Africa. His Hors Circuit magazine had now evolved into a Word document with colour photos. On leaving the austerity of Mauretania and its desert, he stopped at the first European-owned lodgings in the extreme south of Morocco to recharge his batteries. He slept in a caidal tent at the campsite of Le Roi Bédouin, which was run by two Belgians, Martine and another Luc. He was fascinated by the immense view of the salt lake from the unexpected window of the tent and dreamed of being able to return one day for longer, to read or write a book …

This trip was the beginning of an absolute desire to change jobs and try to pursue the life of his dreams, like travelling. But what could he do? This was the period of the internet bubble and people began to envy those who managed to amass a fortune with a simple computer.

In his desperate search for something new to do, he was encouraged one day to organise adventure weekends in the wild for groups of around ten people. This was to be a complete success and he did this three times. However, from doing this to making a living, there was still some way to go …!!!

Hors Circuit 4 by 4 tours in Southern Morocco

With his original idea still in mind, Luc tried organising a longer adventure abroad. He didn’t have many names in his address book, but he managed to organise a 12-day journey in Southern Morocco for four people, under the name of “a challenge”. This adventure would be memorable for each participant!

When he decided in 2005 to organise 4 by 4 circuits in Southern Morocco, with Taroudant as a base, the business didn’t look very promising. With the old landrover he had used to travel round Western Africa a few years earlier, he organised a few basic circuits, developed an internet website and bought another second-hand landrover. He then set himself a deadline of three years to change his life radically and completely. At the same time, he chanced upon the village of Afensou during a walk to the north of Taroudant …

The guesthouse, Les Terrasses de l’Atlas, north of Taroudant in the High Atlas

His visit to the owners of this Berber house overlooking the perennial spring of Afensou and the gardens of the mountain oasis was to be decisive. He was immediately entranced enough to want to turn it into a kind of country residence. This man who had always dreamed of living in a chalet in the Swiss canton of Valais, with views of mountain peaks over 3500m would gradually end up living in the High Atlas, at the foot of peaks over 3500m in the Berber country. As he also dreamed of having palms and banana trees in his garden, something of a challenge in Switzerland, he would quickly come around to the idea of moving to Morocco!

A man called Abdullah was rapidly to become the person Luc could rely on in the village and he took on the role of overseer and mason. He is a family man with six children, one of whom is called Hafida …

As friends and family members came to visit, they were all enchanted by this idyllic location and the simple charms of the house. The house would gradually be transformed out of necessity into a Berber guesthouse forming an integral part of Luc’s circuit package. The accommodation there was much in keeping with the off-the-beaten-track positioning of the company.

Whilst the source of friends and family members wanting to do a circuit of Morocco and encourage Luc in his endeavours was running dry, the improved accessibility and optimisation of the Hors Circuit website enabled him to make an easy transition to attracting others. The modest turnover would grow rapidly, despite a variety of economic and climatic problems.

After she had saved his life twice in one day, Luc married Hafida, who was only 20 at the time. There soon followed the birth of their Belgian-Berber baby, a delightful little boy, Haicham!

Luc has now converted to Islam as a legal requirement and made his permanent home in the High Atlas, where he has somehow run his business, built up his team, bought new 4 by 4s, continued to develop his guesthouse and started to welcome tourists on day trips from Agadir and Taroudant, despite a number of administrative and personnel-related setbacks.

The Bedouin Camp in the Western Sahara

Luc now began to dream of the idea of wild camping in the desert. An oasis at the foot of the M’Douar mountains on the edge of the Erg Chegaga dunes gave him the idea, although he realised that on an administrative scale, this was an almost unheard-of project for a European and could use up his last reserves of energy!

By pure coincidence, rumour had it that the owners of Le Roi Bédouin campsite, Luc and Martine, desperately wanted to sell, retiring after ten years of providing their services. They just needed someone as mad as they were to throw themselves into this type of business in a place so far away from anywhere. It didn’t take long for our Hors Circuit man to work this one out: he saw it as a call of destiny and an extra business opportunity that would add to his current activities, being equally “hors circuit” or off-the-beaten track.

Despite a rather discouraging commercial situation due to the fall in tourist numbers in Mauritania (the Le Roi Bédouin campsite being popular with backpackers heading to Western Africa) and an again less than impeccable administrative record, Luc stuck to his guns and went to Laâyoune to start the takeover process. This was the same week as violent rioting shook the town of Laâyoune for the first time in its history! Luc had to flee the town centre as hostilities broke out and he was called in the next day for four hours’ questioning by National Security, as he was suspected of espionage by the local authorities, who were at the end of their tether. Just imagine, the next day he signed an agreement to buy the campsite, which would then be renamed “Camp Bédouin”. In the meantime, reasonable calm had returned to Laâyoune, hopefully for the long term.

Hors Circuit now has accommodation of character in the High Atlas Mountains, a campsite which is just as original in the Western Sahara and 4 by 4s for enabling people to get away from the beaten track from both sites. Mad or not, it was now all coming together.

As for Hors Circuit magazine, it has continued in the form of an online publication, including a number of photos, integrated into the website and emailed via an internet agency to nearly 500 subscribers, friends, and old and future clients.