About Ouarzazate & Region
Ouarzazate is the first town most people see after crossing the High Atlas and it is the unofficial capital of the south of Morocco. Formerly a Foreign Legion outpost in the southern Kasbah region, it has been notably used as a location backdrop by many epic films such as Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth. An incredible day out from Marrakech or useful as a staging post for adventures further south to the Sahara, in the Todra and Dades Gorges and around the many oases of the South. Ouarzazate is also home to the Atlas Film Studios which offers a tour when large-scale filming is not taking place. As with many other towns in Morocco, Ouarzazate has an old town with its maze of narrow streets and a new town where most of the more modern hotels are located. The Kasbah Taourirt is within walking distance of most of the hotels and is well worth a visit. The recently restored Taourirt kasbah with its ochre adobe buildings has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This ancient residence of Pacha Glaoui has been perfectly restored using traditional techniques; the village, with its several hundred inhabitants, is a living treasure. It is one of the places where you can admire the wealth of the local craftwork which includes carpets, furniture, reed baskets, pottery, jewellery and Berber daggers. In addition, the Ahwach Festival is held annually in the kasbah in September helping to develop the popular heritage of the region.
Morocco's Film Industry
Ouarzazate has been unfailingly linked with cinema since 1984. Its climate, geographical situation and economic conditions have encouraged film studios to locate there. The sets of films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra or the Sheltering Sky and Gladiator can be visited at the Atlas Film Studios.
You can't leave Ouarzazate without visiting the kasbahs at Tiffoultoute and Ait Benhaddou; these remarkable examples of traditional architecture give a foretaste of the famous Route of the 1000 Kasbahs. The view from the impressive Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou, which has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is a magnificent panorama of the palm grove, the reg (stony desert) and the Atlas mountains.
Tisselday is a lovely little hamlet about 1 hour north of Ouarzazate which is a very useful stop en route to/from Marrakech. There is a wonderful kasbah-style guest house perched above the valley and overlooking the road from on high, the Guest House I Roccha.
Known locally for its rose petals (which inadvertantly decorate the roadside) and outstanding pise (mud-brick) buildings we would recommend a stop here on any route around the south. The Skoura palm grove, where many other fruit trees grow: pomegranate, almond, apricot, date, fig and olive, is situated 42 kilometres east of Ouarzazate. It also houses several kasbahs, more and more impressive as you penetrate deeper and deeper into the palmeraie. Not far away, near Toundout, there are must-see salt mines: you will see three colours of salt, red for drying meat, black for feeding livestock and white for cooking.
The Dadès Valley runs from Ouarzazate to Boumalne. It is dry and lined with kasbahs and unique fortified villages. From time to time, you should leave the road and discover traditional Berber adobe houses. In May, the rose has the place of honour in a three-day festival held throughout the area - you can see rose water being made and buy associated products or just enormous bunches of roses to dry.
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Hotels to visit
An alternative base to Ouarzazate for exploring the region. The Kasbah Ben Moro is a 17th century conversion with plenty of style and superb views of the High Atlas and over to the remains of the Amerhidil ...
Set amongst the palm groves near the village of Skoura with the Atlas Mountains in the background. An intimate property and ideal for a night or two on a touring holiday of Morocco's southern region.
Traditional and secluded - highly recommended for self drive holidays. Situated high above the road with panoramic views along the whole valley.
The Dar Daif is a kasbah-style property across the river from the centre of town; ideal for those travelling along the Draa Valley.
The Tourmalines is one our favourite hotels in the area; quite simply a stunning location with views over the huge lake of Ouarzazate.
The Ksar Ighnda offers excellent accommodation, fine dining and a mini spa, close to Ait Ben Haddou.
C Rossi, August 2017