The Great Oasis Valleys: Places to Explore

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Aït Ben Haddou

The ksar (fortified village) at Aït Ben Haddou is something of a celebrity itself. This group of earth-built kasbahs and homes hidden behind defensive high walls has come to fame (and fortune) as a backdrop for many films, including David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, Ridley Scott's Gladiator, and Oliver Stone's Alexander. Of course, it hasn't always been a film set. It got going in the 11th century as a stop-off on the old caravan routes, with salt heading one way and ivory and gold heading back the other. Strewn across the hillside and surrounded by flowering almond trees in early spring, the red-pisé towers of the village fortress resemble a sprawling, dark-red sand castle. Crenellated and topped with an ancient granary store, it's one of the most sumptuous sights in the Atlas. The ksar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When it's not seething with camera crews, it can get inundated with visitors desperate to capture the postcard-perfect snap. You can usually manage a moment or two alone with the ksar to take in its beauty, no matter how many people are there. You can get here in a standard car from Ouarzazate, or take a superb four-wheel-drive outing from Telouet to Ouarzazate, detouring to the village and ksar.

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