The Western High Atlas

Not long ago, I went on an adventure circuit combining a 4 by 4, quad-bike and mountain-bike on little known and sparsely used tracks in the western High Atlas. As we passed through timeless Berber villages, we were told that we were only the second group of Europeans to go there (the first probably being Jacques Gandini, who publishes specialised guides to Moroccan trails!) Instead of pestering us, the children fled at our approach and rather than hiding away, women came up to us out of curiosity and amazement. Morocco turned on its head? No, the real Morocco!

In a high mountain village where I took some clients on a gentle hike, the local primary school teacher, who had been parachuted in from Casablanca and had been desperate for a transfer for 7 years, didn’t want us to go after offering us an impromptu cup of tea. He could speak several languages and would have liked to talk to us for days. We could have stayed at the school, no problem there! We were his first foreign visitors during his time there!

And that is exactly what the western High Atlas has to offer: its authenticity. No agency or travel guide mentions, describes or markets this region. Trekkers all go to Toubkal, on what is like a walkers’ highway! Even the Riads of Taroudant are unaware of the possibilities on offer in our mountains. Local mountains guides either don’t exist or are better avoided.

Even though tarmac and concrete have made their inroads, the donkey remains the number one means of transport. Berber families mostly still live as they did a hundred years ago and tractors find it difficult to make their way through these narrow, hanging strips of land.

With several summits above 3500 metres, the western High Atlas can easily compete with the Toubkal area or the Mgoun. The countryside is spectacular and each valley is curiously different from the others, just as the mountain slopes make it an excellent place for those who love walking …

Given its relative isolation and the absence of publicity apart from ours (!), the only people you would expect to meet are local Berbers!

The additional point of interest of the southern side of the High Atlas Mountains is the omnipresence of water. There is an abundance of culture, a diversity of orchards (almond, argan, olives, walnuts, carob, holm oak trees …) but also a number of places to swim in delightful settings (waterfalls, springs, water basins, millstreams, irrigation channels…).

An hour and a half after getting off the plane in Agadir, you will be climbing up through our lush green valley and discovering breath-taking landscapes, as rural as you could wish for, and mostly very impressive, dotted along with Berber villages still built of earth and stone in the traditional architectural style.

I arrived there by chance in 2005 and saw the beauty, simplicity and authenticity of the place. I was conquered and convinced to the point of changing my life, marrying a Berber girl and having the courage to open our guesthouse, which is full of character, at the very least, as you will see.

A constant comment from our clients is: “We should have arranged to stay longer. We’ll be back.” A very good reason why I chose to live here … There must have been a good reason, don’t you think? QED!