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Moulay - Idriss

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ATA Flashback


Story and photos by Habeeb Salloum


Thanks to the Africa Travel Association's 6th Cultural and Ecotourism Symposium in Fez, Morocco during the International Year of Ecotourism, our ATA web site is receiving a flood of e-mail requests for information on the historic host city. The following article by Habeeb Salloum captures the magic of Fez and its surrounding area thanks to the writer's professional style. The index in the left hand column will lead you to more stories by Mr. Salloum and other writers on Africa Travel Magazine's team, plus information about ATA membership and events.

For two days we had explored Fez, Morocco's historic city, glorifying in its ancient section which remains enclosed within its ancient ramparts. Inside no auto is allowed. Only donkeys contest with humans the few feet wide medieval streets. Seemingly, we had traveled back a thousand years in time. It was a fabulous beginning for the trip we intended to take across the Atlas Mountains to the land of kasbahs (mud castles) and deserts.

Fez, with its air of the Arabian Nights, was still on my mind as our tour group of five, along with Abdelatif, our guide, traveled through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains towards the desert frontier town of Erfoud, some 480 km ( 298 mi) away. I was still dreaming of the city's enchanting medieval palaces and skilled craftsmen when suddenly, the voice of Abdelatif, magnified by our small auto bus's microphone, boomed, "During this journey, we will see some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. It will be a journey of make-believe".

A lady next to me snickered, "He's like all the other guides, always exaggerating." "We will see!", I thought to myself as we drove through a green fertile valley, covered with olive trees, many newly planted, set in the midst of sprouting wheat fields.

After about a 40 km (24 mi) drive, we turned and began to travel upward on a road edged by stately maple trees, into the Middle Atlas Mountains. Further away, small apple orchards and patches of pine trees, increasing as we moved along, dotted the slope of the hills. Past the 1,220 m (4,000 ft) high red-roofed resort town of Imeuzzer der Kandar, we passed through an oak forest, then barren land until we entered the attractive 1,650 m (5,412 ft) high skiing town of Ifrane with its red-sloped roofs.

A modern and prosperous resort town, it is labeled by travelers as the 'Switzerland of Morocco'. Located 60 km (37 mi) from Fez, this European-looking town is snow-bound in winter and ideal for skiing. It is the playground of the rich - the place where affluent Moroccans build their second home. Ifrane is also noted for the privately built Al-Akhawayn University , specializing in foreign language training.

Downward, we drove through oak forests until, on the outskirts of Azrou, we turned upward. A short drive and the oak forests were soon inter-mixed with the majestic cedar. However, this all-encompassing greenery was followed by a barren countryside - the home of shepherds and their flocks. We drove through this arid Middle Atlas landscape, in the shadows of the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas Mountains, until we stopped at Midelt - a town of 70,000, located at the entrance to the Berber region in Morocco - 200 km (124 mi) southeast of Fez.

Situated between the Middle and High Atlas Mountains, 1,525 m (5,000 ft) above sea level, this windswept town, an important center for local carpets, defuses a calm and friendly atmosphere. Besides being a rest stopover, travelers come to this town to visit the nearby convent of Kasbah Myriem - a nunnery staffed by a handful of European nuns who make their living selling carpets.

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