If you’re leaving Merzouga and heading north to Fes (like we did!), then you’ve got a long drive ahead of you. Fortunately, there are plenty of beautiful and delicious places to stop along the way. Some of these are of the “pull over and snap a few photos” variety, while others are worth a longer exploration.
After two incredible days in the Sahara – inventing political parties during drum circles, experiencing traditional Gnawa music, eating Moroccan pizza & shredding the dunes of the Erg Chebbi – it was time to saddle up yet again and make the 290 mile (467 km) drive to Fes.
travelhelix says: not bad, Google Maps! Took us 9 hours, including lunch and many photo-stops.
Top pick: The City of Barbecue (stop #7) where we enjoyed some incredible…wait for it…barbecue!
travelhelix tip: If you’re driving from Fes to Merzouga (instead of Merzouga to Fes), just turn this guide upside down, and then it will be useful 🙂
1. Home of the Medfouna
On your way back from Erg Chebbi, Rissani is the first major city you’ll pass through – maybe 40 minutes from Merzouga. The city shares the same red clay look as it’s desert neighbors, with the beautiful added contrast of rich green date palms.
The local delicacy is Medfouna – essentially a Moroccan stuffed pizza. If you’re hungry, Rissani is a place to stop. And don’t worry about leftovers: Medfouna wrapped in tin foil travels quite well and is still delicious, several hours later. Take our…um…word for it.
2. The Gate of the Sahara
Not to be confused with “The Door of the Desert” (Ouarzazate), Erfoud is another oasis town on the desert’s edge, thus nicknamed “The Gate of the Sahara.”
Erfoud is similar in size to Rissani and only 30 minutes away, but offers many more options for accommodation: you’ll find at least 28 options in Erfoud for hotels and B&B’s in Erfoud, as opposed to only 7 options in Rissani.
3. Stop Somewhere in the Ziz Valley
Whether you choose to stop in a town or simply pull over to the side of the road (3 times, like we did!), the Ziz Valley deserves to be appreciated – outside of your vehicle. Densely-packed groves of date palms and the meandering Ziz River offer endless visual pleasure.
If you’re looking to truly get lost, the tiny village of Aoufous is said to be a great representation of the beauty hidden within the Ziz Valley.
Just over an hour north of Erfoud and nestled along the banks of the Ziz River, lies Errachidia. Our impression of this city was that it was clean, modern and featured some flawless architecture.
5. Find This Dam on the Ziz River
This dam on the Ziz River generates at least two things that we’re aware of: 1) hydroelectricity and 2) some great photo opportunities!
6, The City of Apples
Two hours north of Errachidia, the city of Midelt rests on the high plains at an elevation of just under 1 mile high (think Denver, Colorado!). The area’s temperate climate plus nearby Moulouya River create an ideal environment for agriculture. Local harvests include walnuts, apricots, plums, pomegranates and most notably: apples!
travelhelix tip: come in October for the annual Apple Festival of Midelt! This festival is about more than just eating apples; it features workshops and conferences aimed at improving apple-harvesting technology and encouraging scientific research in the apple industry of Midelt.
Although…we’re quite sure the Apple Festival of Midelt is also about eating apples.
With a statue like THIS, Midelt has earned the nickname “The City of Apples.”
7. The City of Barbecue
It’s only fitting for The City of Apples to be followed by The City of…Barbecue?! Yes! Welcome to Zaida, where the meat hangs from hooks and the smoke billows from curbside grills in front of open-air restaurants. If you’re in the mood for meat, this is your place. Park your car, and choose a restaurant at random, based on which one smells the best!
travelhelix tip: when you’re done eating, wrap the lamb bones in a napkin and take them with you. As you continue driving away from the city, you’ll see dogs – LOTS OF DOGS – waiting patiently on the side of the highway. They belong to no one, but are cared for by everyone. At one point, we saw bread fly out the passenger-side window of the car in front of us! Feeding these dogs with the leftovers of Zaida is, apparently, a well-known secret around these parts.
8. The City of Wool
Further north, the landscape changes dramatically. We begin to see conifers again, as we did shortly after leaving Marrakech on Saturday. Rolling green hills surrounding wide fields, FULL of sheep. It rained yesterday, so the ground is moist and the grass is a rich, verdant green, scattered with bright yellow dandelions, red poppies and fringed lavender.
We are now in the heart of the Middle Atlas Mountains. The climate is harsh. This… is sheep country.
Rocky hills are scattered amongst the green, and cows and horses provide a bit of diversity in what is predominantly a sheep metropolis. Every kilometer that goes by, we see a new flock, consisting of 200-300 sheep, a couple of sheepdogs and a shepherd. Always somewhere close by, there are one or two Berber tents; modest and practical dwellings that house the shepherd and his family.
Finally – an hour north of Zaida – we reach Timahdite – “The City of Wool” – which even has its own breed of sheep named after it!
9. The Switzerland of Morocco
The terrain becomes even more mountainous as you approach Ifrane. At one point during the drive, our surroundings were reminiscent of Lake Tahoe. Ifrane itself is city of pristine, natural beauty: babbling brooks wind their way through gorgeous forests. Cherry orchards and apple orchards line the side of the road. The city’s nickname – “The Switzerland of Morocco” – is quite fitting.
travelhelix tip: For those of you that enjoy hiking: this area was the best we saw in all of Morocco!
travelhelix tip: For those of you that enjoy hiking – AND are wondering where to get your next graduate or post-graduate degree: Ifrane is home to a public, international university: Al Akhawayn University. Not a bad setting!
Only one more hour…….and you’ve arrived – WE’VE ALL ARRIVED! – in Fes. Are you ready to relax within the madness? We certainly were…