Any expedition to Erg Chebbi will entail passing through—or possibly spending a night in—Erfoud. Formerly a French administrative outpost and Foreign Legion stronghold, this frontier town on the Algerian border has a definite Wild West (in this case, Wild South) feel to it. Erfoud’s finest architectural feature is the main gate into the medina, designed in the typical Almohad style with flanking crenellated bastions and an intricately carved stucco portal. Practical-minded travelers will also be interested in the grid of low, dusty red buildings that house banks, shops, and such. Hotels here tend to be large and impersonal, but film buffs will appreciate the fact that they’ve catered to the cast and crew of blockbusters such as The Mummy and Prince of Persia, which were shot in the surrounding desert.

The military fortress at Borj-Est, just across the Ziz to the east, provides the best possible view over the date palmery, the desert, and Erfoud from its altitude of 3,067 feet above sea level. Near the Borj-Est are quarries famous for their black marble, one of Erfoud's principal products; this luxurious solid is surprisingly rich in petrified marine fossils.

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