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July 5, 2017 / oneworld82

From Merzouga to Marrakech through Tafilalt Oasis, Rissani, Dades Gorges, Ouarzazate, and splendid Ait Benhaddou

The night spent in desert was fun – albeit somewhat tiring. I have to say though that Thuy was five months pregnant at the time, and she coped well with it. The second day of this three day road trip saw us driving through the lush Tafilalt oasis – a huge palmeraie in the middle of the desert! The size of these series of oasis is astounding, palm trees and fields everywhere next to a barren desert. It’s no wonder that this place made its fortune as trading jumping point between Morocco and Mali.

Our first stop was Rissani, and old town where we visited the mosque-mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, one of the saints of Moroccan Islam. The edifice was the usual, fabulous mixture of zillaj and carvings.

We visited the old kasbah of the city – apparently a few Jewish families used to live here – but the city itself was a shadow of its former self.

In Rissani we visited a shop run by a local Touareg cooperative selling local handicrafts, including beautiful carpets. Thuy and I fell in love with a beautiful rug that was a mixture of waving and embroidery; after much bargaining, we decided to take it home where it now gloriously sits under a wonderful mango table in our living room. We probably ended up paying twice the going rate for it, but that was still a fraction for what we’d paid back home, and overall we left very happy with our purchase. One funny anecdote: the sellers were amused by my Ritz-Carlton VISA card; made in aluminum, it’s extremely heavy – something apparently they had never seen and that impressed them very much.

We then kept driving through what was a mostly barren and flat landscape. The drive wasn’t very interesting in the morning, but that was bound to change after lunch, as in the afternoon we would visit two famous gorges.

The first ones we visited were the Todra Gorges. To be honest with you, the gorge itself – while fantastic for rock-climbers – were not that spectacular. What was great though was the panorama of the town of Tinghir leading up to it, as old houses were perched along the rocky sides of the canyon.

The night was spent at the feet of the Dades Gorge in a small, unimpressive hotel frequented by many tour groups. After and not particularly good dinner and a not particularly memorable night’s sleep, we climbed to the top of the Dades gorge where a spectacular view awaited us: the serpentine road leading up to the summit of the canyon is really as astonishing as it looks in pictures!

Unfortunately, a monster concrete hotel skeleton lies on top of the gorge. As it often happens in developing countries, this is a clear example of mismanagement and corruption, where permits are probably given to political associates in exchange of bribes. The result is a sore-eye construction on top of this beautiful natural sight – a pity indeed.

Our drive continued then through arid landscape towards Ouarzazate, an overgrown own on the edge of the Sahara mostly famous because of the movie industry. In fact, together with a well-preserved old town the city is renown for two big movie studios.

Entrance to the Atlas movie studios

The kasbah of Ouarzazate is called Taourirt, and it’s simply stunning. It’s very well preserved, from the inner courtyard to the lodging areas, and it’s no surprise that movies like Gladiator and Prince of Persia had this complex as background.

The kasbah has a nice inner courtyard with an old cannon.

The best part of the kasbah was the interior – the living quarters that housed some important extended family. While outside it was hot, the clay and bricks construction was remarkably cool inside.


The Atlas Studios were equally as impressive – don’t miss them if you are around. These studios are a favorite of European film producers for desert sets – movies like Asterix & Obelix and parts of Game of Thrones were shot here. Our guide was very informative, and he explained us which sets housed which movies and how everything is hand produced by Moroccan artists – an impressive Egyptian hall set would take around three months to be built.

The set of Asterix & Obelix

Game of Thrones set



From Ouarzazate it is not a long drive to Ait Benhaddou.

This UNESCO-protected, fairy tale-like ksar (fortification) is made of mud bricks, and needs to be constantly repaired. This means that buildings can change shape throughout the years, in ever-evolving forms.



The town is very scenically located atop of a hill overlooking the oaud (torrent), and its streets are filled with locas working to restoure the buildings and artists selling nice paintings made with natural colors from the desert.

As one can imagine, a lot of movies have been shot here through the years.

The view from the of the city is glorious.

Ait Benhaddou was surely one of the highlights of our trip to Morocco – a town I wouldn’t miss for any reason if in the area.

From there it  was a further three-to-four hours ride to Marrakech – we definitely had left the best for last!



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