Middle Atlas

Picture of leaving_fes This page is a slight departure from our normal format. This covers our driving trip from Fes to Marrakesh through the Middle Atlas region of Morocco. This is the road going south out of Fes. The northern extensions of the Middle Atlas are not far from Fes and within half an hour we were headed up the hill into the shady pleasant town of Imouzzer.
Picture of ifrane They call Ifrane the "Switzerland of Morocco" which is a ridiculous moniker. Does this look like Switzerland to anyone? Anyone? No. There is a minimal ski resort in the area and some A-frame architecture which is apparently all it takes to get a silly nickname. Also nearby is a royal residence surrounded by guards. Ifrane has a serious lack of traffic signs and we saw most of the surrounding area before figuring out which road was the one we wanted.
Picture of above_azrou Somewhere past Ifrane, the plateau ends and there are spectacular views out into the central valleys of Morocco. The road winds down a hill into the city of Azrou where we once again took the scenic route. The issue here is the "giant rock outcropping" above the town. Both maps we had used it as a landmark. There is a rock in the middle of town , it's moderately large and has a strange shrine on it, but somehow we expected something more notable. Azrou is a relatively large town that doesn't explicitly cater to tourists (this is a good thing in Morocco).
Picture of mrirt_mountains South of Azrou, the road drops into a valley and winds back and forth between assorted weird mountains like this one. Someone somewhere told us there wasn't really anywhere to get gas between Azrou and Beni Mellal. This is completely false. It's pretty easy to get food, gas or drinks anywhere along this route. Personally, we had quite a wide range of snacks in the car because we'd been a bit too liberal buying dates and olives back in Fes.
Picture of livestock_market This berber livestock market was a serendipitous find on the outskirts of M'rirt. The landscape is bizarre leading up to M'rirt with strange bits of broken plains. The road designers seem to prefer the crevices over what appears to be obvious long flat sections.
Picture of mrirt Maybe it was just market day but M'rirt was the liveliest city we visited. There isn't a whole lot to it as it is all centered on the main road. Walk one block to either side and you're staring off into the mountains.
Picture of borj Believe it or not, this picture was taken almost precisely 19 km south of Khenifra. The little kilometer markers like this one are actually quite useful. From the south there is an impressive view of the sprawling town of Khenifra before you descend into it (or as you climb out of it). The entire thing is one vast collection of ochre-colored buildings. Khenifra seems to have an endless supply of schools, and like all schools in Morocco, the kids are always just getting out.
Picture of near_khenifra South of Khenifra the foliage starts to get a bit more tropical and everything becomes a little bit redder. One section of the road between Khenifra and Beni Mellal has great views of one of the several resevoirs located in this part of Morocco. It's also around this point that the Middle Atlas mountains start to veer off to the north and the road crosses the valley towards the High Atlas mountains in the south.
Picture of near_beni_mellal This gas station outside Beni Mellal was the first place we had a clear enough view of the High Atlas to see the snow covered peaks. Beni Mellal seems to mostly be a series of rotaries if you are bypassing the city on the way to Marrakesh. This is the last of our pictures because the next stretch is a vast red plain of rocky desert. The High Atlas mountains slowly get closer to the road. Near Tamlelt we started to see groups of camels in the desert although this soon ends and is replaced with the Palm groves of Marrakesh. The palm groves then give way to golf courses and high end subdivisions which cater to Europeans. This is obvious because the billboards which advertise them feature definitively non-Muslim women in skimpy outfits lying around pools drinking definitively non-Muslim fruity alcoholic drinks. We returned the car to the airport in Marrakesh, getting a flat tire at a relatively convenient time (right as we turned into the airport). From there we took a taxi back into the medina to our Riad.

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