The Great Oasis Valleys: Places to Explore

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The Dadès Gorge

The town of Boumalne du Dadès marks the southern entrance to the Dadès Gorge, which is even more beautiful—longer, wider, and more varied—than its sister, the Todra Gorge. The 63 km (38 mi) of the Dadès Gorge, from Boumalne through Aït Ali and on to Msemrir, are paved and approachable in any kind of vehicle. Beyond that are some great rocky mountain roads for four-wheel-drive vehicles with good clearance. Boumalne itself is only of moderate interest, though the central market square is a good vantage point for a perusal of local life. The shops Artisanale de Boumalne and Maison Aït Atta merit a browse for their local products at local prices, particularly rosewood carvings and rosewater.

The lower Dadès Gorge and the Dadès River, which flows through it, are lined with thick vegetation. While the Todra has its lush date palmery, the Dadès has figs, almonds, Atlas pistachio, and carob trees. A series of kasbahs and ksour (plural of ksar, a fortified house) give way to Berber villages such as Aït Youl, Aït Arbi, Aït Ali, Aït Oudinar, and Aït Toukhsine—Aït meaning "of the family" in the Tamazight Berber language.

Two kilometers (1 mi) up the road from Boumalne is the Glaoui Kasbah, once part of the empire of the infamous pasha of Marrakesh, T'hami el-Glaoui. The ksour at Aït Arbi are tucked neatly into the surrounding volcanic rock 3 km (2 mi) farther on from Glaoui Kasbah.

Ten kilometers (6 mi) from Aït Arbi is the village of Aït Sidi Boubker in the Tamlalt Valley, mostly known for the bizarre red rock formations called "Les Doigts de Singes" (or "Monkey's Fingers") after their curiously organic shapes carved by water and wind. A little further beyond "Monkey Fingers" are more sculpted rocks known as the "Valley of Human Bodies," where local legend says that lost travelers died of hunger and were transformed into rocks. A few minutes' north is the Auberge Gorges du Dadès, another option for a temporary halt, an exploration of the river, or an overnight stay.

After Aït Oudinar, where most of the lodging options are clustered, the road crosses a bridge and gets substantially more exciting and empty, and the valley narrows dramatically, opening up around the corner into some of the most dramatic views in the Dadès. Six kilometers (4 mi) north of the bridge are three little inns, the best of which is the Kasbah de la Vallée, offering different levels of comfort ranging from tent to terrace to rooms with bath.

Aït Hammou is the next village, 5 km (3 mi) past the Kasbah de la Vallée. It makes a good base camp for walking and climbing north to vantage points over the Dadès River or, to the east, to a well-known cave with stalactites (ask the Hotel la Kasbah de la Vallée for directions). At the top of the gorges is Msemrir, a village of red-clay pisé ksour that has a café with guest rooms. To go farther from Msemrir, you'll need four-wheel drive to follow the road (R704) that leads north over the High Atlas through Tilmi, the Tizi-n-Ouano Pass, and Agoudal to Imilchil and eventually up to Route P24 (N8), the Marrakesh–Fez road. The road east climbs the difficult Route 3444, always bearing right, to another gorge-top town, Tamtattouchte. It makes for a great off-road drive.

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