The Kasbah Trial
In the Deep South, where the sand is all invading, these are the oases of life. Orchards, fields, palm groves and rose gardens, stretching out along a strip of fertile land where men work miracles. These are the Wadis of Drâa, Dadès and Ziz. Where the landscape is a succession of vivid contrasts -burning sand and snow-covered mountain tops, breathtaking canyons opening onto lush green countryside. And, wherever you go, emerging from the midst of a palm grove, perched on a rocky outcrop or by the side of an emerald green lake rise the ornate kasbahs, the fairytale citadels of earth or the unique beauty of the ksour, fortified villages the colour of the sand. These are the Drâa, Dadès and Ziz valleys. And as you follow the course of the wadis, take a journey back into time: along the kasbah trail in a natural setting that literally stuns the senses.
THE VALLEY OF THE DRAA
Born in the High Atlas, the Drâa laboriously winds its way as far as Agdz (pronounced Agadiz). But once there, what a contrast! It brings life to a spectacular oasis stretching 200 kilometres along its banks. Once at M’hamid, what used to be the longest river in Morocco is finally swallowed up by the sands. Make haste to Agdz! The road following Oued (river) Drâa leads out from this small township dominated by its citadel, its red fort and the strange form of the Djebel Kissane.
At the gates of the desert, nature produces a flourish of colour. Bunches of yellow dates hanging from the palms, laurel bushes showing off their bright pink flowers, brown, beige and grey mountains rooted in an ochre earth and, always in the distance, like mirages, innumerable sand-coloured ksour. Such as Tamenougalt, one of the most typical, former Berber capital, or Igdaoun with its high towers like truncated pyramids, and then there is Tinzouline kasbah..
THE VALLEY OF THE DADES
With its origins in the High Atlas, Oued (river) Dadès brings water to a number of oases, the precious setting for a thousand kasbahs in the valley. After Boumalne, the arid mountain slopes begin to invade the band of vegetation. But the wadi is determined, it digs in deeper, splitting massive blocks of limestone. And then the valley walls close in to form the breathtaking gorges of Dadès. Founded in the XIIth century by Yacoub el Mansour, the luxurious oasis of Skoura offers a magical foretaste of the “valley of a thousand kasbahs”; el Kabbaba, Dar Aïchil, Dar Aït Souss and, the most beautiful, Amerhidil… From palm groves to gardens, the road leads on towards the roses, the thousands and thousands of roses that perfume El Kelaa M’Gouna, the most beautiful rose garden in the valley.
But there are also opportunities for a change of scene. Alzag, where 120 smiths - almost all the men in the village! - produce the most finely worked daggers ; the former Glaoui kasbah balanced on a rocky outcrop ; the splendid Bou Taghrar kasbah. Open your eyes wide to take in the gorges of Dadès! An enormous block of limestone slashed open by a sabre. In this rough, jagged universe, the kasbahs take on the mauve, red, tawny, purple colours of the rocks. The road becomes a dirt track, crosses the Dadès, winds its way upwards above an awesome canyon to lead into another, private world ; where only the birds and wild sheep live. It is enough to take your breath away! There are other gorges that deserve to be visited. Some fifty kilometres after Tineghir you come to Todra… and the end of the world. Two sheer cliffs 300 metres high separated by a narrow corridor only twenty metres wide. An unforgettable sight.
THE VALLEY OF THE ZIZ
Once it has left the High Atlas, the Ziz cuts its way through impressive cliffs makes a turn in the region of Rich and heads South where it waters the immense palm grove at Tafilalet, before it buries itself in the sands of Taouz. Near Rich stands the Sidi Salim medersa, named after the wise man who had the extraordinary gift of being able to make a return trip to Mecca every Friday! But unless you can travel at the same speed as Sidi Salim it will take you some lime to reach Erfoud. Luckily! In the Ziz valley, water is the source of beauty, making its mark in numerous places along the road into the desert. First there is the impressive Oued (river) Ziz, carving impetuously into the limestone to create a long corridor lined with tall palm trees that cradle the ksour and the sublime kasbah of Ifri. Then, held back by the Hassan Addakhil dam, it forms a vast emerald-coloured lake. While on its red ochre shores, under the shade of the apricot trees, women come down to do their washing.
A little further, the blue source of the Meski has the reputation of encouraging fertility. Young women wearing tufts of wool, sea shells, ribbons and amulets in their hair, bathe in the waters of the grotto by candlelight. At the end of the journey, the monumental Erfoud gate opens on one side onto… a million palm trees. On the other, onto billions and billions of grains of sand that make up the first rolling dunes of the Sahara. Now, to reach Merzouga, nothing could be simpler: just cross the desert!