Our five-day diary of our self-drive trip around Southern Morocco
With stunning scenery and dramatic, ever-changing landscapes, wonderfully warm and generous people, empty roads and plenty of adventures, driving around Southern Morocco is an experience of a lifetime, and one you will always remember with a smile.
Day Two – Ouarzazate to M’hamid
A good breakfast on the terrace by the pool, some nice strong Moroccan coffee, and we were ready for the next leg of our journey. A quick stop at the supermarket in Ouarzazate for bread, cheese, water, crisps and tinned sardines for our planned picnic along the way, and then we headed south out of the town on the P31 for Zagora and a beautiful drive along the Valley du Draa.
The Draa Valley, known as the Country of the Figs, is much dryer than the Dades Valley which runs to the East towards Erfoud. Coming from the High Atlas Mountains, the river Draa cuts a deep channel between the Anti Atlas and the Jebel Sarhro Mountains ranges. The steep canyons have cliff faces of green rock from the copper-rich Anti Atlas, and black volcanic rock from the Jebel Sarhro – a stark contrast to the red of the iron-filled High Atlas Mountains we had driven through the previous day.
Emerging from the mountains near Agdz, having driven over the lush pass at Tizi-n-Tinififft, the landscape of the beautiful Draa Valley opened out before us. The first of the Oases came into view, a thick streak of palm trees as far as we could see through the hazy morning sun. The first signs of the Draa Kasbahs can also be seen here, rising up out of the brown earth against the green backdrop of the oasis.
Following the Draa river all the way we passed through Oasis after Oasis, scattered with Kasbahs and fortified villages or ‘Ksars’ – each of which is surrounded by their own fields and palm groves, supporting their still thriving communities. The drive from Ouarzazate to Zagora took us around 3.5 hours, even with photo stops along the way. We decided to stretch our legs in Zagora and parked the car for a wander through the hot, dusty streets. We found a cafe with a few tables outside, ordered coffee and sat for a while, watching life in Zagora go slowly by.
Forty minutes and many hustlers later; most wanting to guide us into the desert with camels, or take us to their cousins carpet or jewellery shops, we decided to continue on our way and have our picnic lunch on the road just the other side of Zagora. This we did, and found a nice sand dune about 10 minutes out of Zagora, covered with palm trees and looking out over fields of Henna. By this time it was around 2pm and the temperatures were soaring, so we did not spend too long over lunch.
Another 10 minutes down the road we came to Tamegroute, a village famous for its green pottery which is well known throughout Morocco. It is also known for being the centre of learning and religion because of its famous Sufi School, the historical centre of one of the most influential Sufi orders in the Islamic world. The 17th Century Library of Tamegroute houses 1000’s of manuscripts, some dating back to the 14th Century. The elaborate calligraphy is on display today, including the 14th Century Qu’ran, penned in beautiful Kufic script.
We visited the library whilst there before moving on to the pottery. Great pits were dug out of the ground and filled with water until the clay could easily be removed. When at the right consistency the clay is pulled out of the pits and spread over the ground ready to be put on the potters wheels. The potters were sat in holes in the ground, peddling their hidden treadles to make their pottery wheels turn. There was a separate section with numerous kilns ready to fire the pottery with its famous green glaze.
Unlike its neighbouring town of Zagora, we were left pretty much to ourselves in Tamegroute, a much more relaxed experience! Walking through some of the streets of Tamegroute is almost like being underground, as many of the streets are covered by buildings, turning them into a rabbit warren of tunnels. We even had to use the lights of our mobile phones to shine the way in a couple of places!
After spending an hour or so in Tamegroute we got back on the road south to M’hamid. The landscape changed again, with enormous expanses of barren, rolling plains, hemmed in by huge cliffs of rock on the horizon – it felt like we had suddenly been transported into a cowboy western and were driving towards the Grand Canyon! The road then cut through one of the far rock faces and we started an upward journey out of the canyon, anticipating an amazing view at the top. We were not disappointed! Dipping back down the other side, we were now properly in a desert landscape and getting much closer to our overnight destination of M’hamid.
It took us a little over an hour to get to M’hamid from Tamegroute, so it’s about 1.5 hrs from Zagora, and well worth the extra drive! We missed the entrance for Dar Azawad and ended up in M’hamid itself – a very dusty little Moroccan town at the very end of the tarmac road before the desert truly begins. We stopped and admired the view before heading back to find the hotel. It is only about 2 or 3 km from the town centre, on the left coming from M’hamid, and a little way past the hotel Chez la Pacha which you will pass on the right. You need to look out for Dar Azawad on the right when coming from Zagora if you do not want to miss it like us. It is hidden in the palm groves behind high mud walls, so when you see the first signs of life slow down and take a closer look. It does have a name plaque by its gates.
Walking through Dar Azawad’s gardens to find the reception was quite breathtaking. The gardens are an amazing sight, lush and green and quite unexpected in the middle of the desert. We were given a welcome drink in the shade of a pergola by the pool and then shown to our comfortable suite - we had chosen to stay in the hotel rather than one of the desert camps for this visit. The time was about 4.30pm, and we decided to take a swim in the deliciously refreshing pool before our mini camel trek was due to depart at 6pm – incredibly welcoming after a long hot drive through the desert!
Our camel trek was about an hour and a half, and took us through both the Reve Sahara and Homme Bleus camps. Both looked wonderful, but we had a camel trek and deep desert camp booked at our next stop in Merzouga the following night. We got back to the hotel as the sun was setting, and chilled on our private terrace, watching it sink behind the palm trees.
Dinner was wonderful – Moroccan cuisine with tasty modern twists – absolutely delicious! We managed to stay up a bit later that evening, with more guests around to chat to, excellent Moroccan wine and a fantastic ambience. Sitting under the awesome star-filled desert sky it was midnight before we knew it!