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Moulay - Idriss

About Morocco
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Berber Wedding
Blue Men of Morocco
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Blue Men of Morocco
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ATA Flashback


Morocco: Night in the Berber Gites
by Karen Hoffman
Originally appeared in Travel Africa


Our one-day adventure began in Marrakech; an enchanting walled city at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. We drove about 48 km into the mountain foothills to Imlil, a charming hamlet which was the starting point of our trek. We were welcomed by the villagers with mint tea and a delicious array of Moroccan pastries. The mountain guides gave a briefing on the area, and on the culture and tradition of its inhabitants, the Berbers ("Chleuhs"). Morocco is a land of mountains which cover an area of 100,000 square kilometres. The High Atlas alone cover more than 700 square kilometres, with a dozen summits exceeding 4000m and more than 400 reaching 3000m.

Trekking on foot and on skis are popular mountain sports in Morocco. The summits are easily accessible, with a good network of mule tracks. The peaks are permanently snow-capped, but there is a mild climate with sunshine most of the year. But it is the opportunity to explore less frequented areas and interact with an extremely hospitable local population that make the Atlas particularly attractive to hikers.

Our trek was an easy 60-90 minute hike up a winding path which we shared with cargo-bearing mules. Each turn revealed a breathtaking vista. One could only envy the views enjoyed by these villagers from the terraces of their flat-roofed homes. Built into the mountain slopes, these house fit into each other. Although the summit of this mountain was Toubkal, at 4167m, our destination was the tiny village of Aremd. As the group arrived, we were greeted with a loud fanfare of Berber horns.

On the terrace, we were able to relax and appreciate the dramatic mountain panorama before us. Rested, we were invited to feast on a seemingly endless array of traditional dishes made of couscous, lamb and chicken. Our "digestive"was the return trek to Imlil, once again taking in the peaceful scenery and fresh mountain air.

For those unable to make the trek on foot, Aremd is also accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles. And for visitors who prefer a more challenging mountain experience, you can arrange overnight treks, staying in one of three types of accommodation: mountain inns, mountain refuges (cabins built by the French) and Gites, overnight stays in the homes of local people. Many GITES are classified according to the amenities and facilities available (toilets, running water, shower, bedrooms, kitchen terrace) Another option is to spend a night under the stars in one of the many mountain sheepfolds (AZIB), but in winter it is advisable to pitch a tent.

"The Great Trek Through the Moroccan Atlas", a brochure distributed by the Moroccan National Tourist Office, is a detailed guide full of practical information, including local customs and the environment. This is an excellent example of how government tourist boards can encourage responsible tourism by reminding visitors to respect the environment and ancestral traditions of the local population.

Luxurious antidote to adventure: A secretive hideaway

In Palmeraie, a lovely suburb of Marrakech, hidden in a park full of bougainvillea, rose bushes and jasmine, is an exquisite, new 'Palais". Completed a few years ago as a private residence, the owners recently decided to open it to guests as an exclusive villa and "hideaway"

The architecture, a magnificent blend of Greco-Roman and oriental styles, maximizes the use of natural light. A double row of majestic columns, together with the five guest rooms and two suites, gracefully form a semi-circle around the Hollywood-style swimming pool.

Already discovered by jet-setters, and the site of several fashion shoots, it is still a well kept secret. But not for long.It was already become a favourite getaway for an Oscar-winning female star. And the name of this 'Palais' ? Well, then it wouldn't be a "well kept secret", would it?

A Palais fit for a King. Marrakesh's newest hideaway for the stars

Photo Credits: Karen Hoffman, ATA New York