Touring Morocco by Bike (13): Ouarzazate – Telouet
Ouarzazate – Ait Ben Haddou – Telouet (81km)
The prettier the village or the nicer the environment, the sadder I felt. Locals seems to have ‘original sin’ from their ancestor, they are being forgotten and feeling hopeless. I am not sure if it was only my imagination, but I really felt complicated when I was cycling in this area.
There are several national roads that cross through North to South in Morocco, but I guest 90% drivers choose this route to Marrakesh, this road is extremely busy, and the road is not that wide, It’s quite difficult because I was used to the emptiness of Morocco traffic. It was not very scenic, or just because my mood was down.
The road is less than 3% steepness, with some ceramics shops on the road. There is a 200m climb at about 25km before you reach a small village, and then a small road leads to Ait Ben Haddou. I was completely relief because there were only campers and small tourist vans on this road.
The road is relatively flat and the view become more wide open. Reddish landscape and blue Sky made the snow-cap mountains appeared so much striking. “That notch of the mountain is where the pass located?” I was wondering. I arrived the gorgeous UNESCO historic site – Ait Ben Haddou happily. Dozen of mudbrick houses were built at the hillside of a small mountain next to the river – Oued Ounilla, with the snow peaks as backdrop.
All residents have moved to the new town already, and there are only few cafes and souvenir shops in these kasbahs, so it become like a ghost city at night, but it is still a popular destination for tourists and I can imagine most of them are satisfied to visit this place.
After I read about the history of this region, I had a deep feeling when I cycled along the river to Telouet.
This Ounilla Valley, where Ait Ben Haddou is located, was a important caravan route between Marrakech to the South for hundreds of years, this explain why the buildings of Ait Ben Haddou are so impressive. If you go towards the upper river, you will encounter villages with a scale like Ait Ben Haddou in every few km. They are either built on the edge of the mountain, or at the river turn, or a basin of a valley. They are all still alive, thus more worth to visit than Ait Ben Haddou.
So why the national road was built in another valley? This once important trade route is being forgotten after the change. One of the reason is that, The leader of this region – Glaoui stood for the French side before the independent of Morocco, so he is a betrayer for Moroccan. At that time, Glaoui was a powerful warload who controlled Marrakesh and most of the land of modern day Southern Morocco, and Telouet in this Ounilla Valley was his main base.
After Independence, this prosperous and fertile valley is being neglected by government policy somewhat intentionally. If Ait Ben Haddou are not listed as the UNESCO heritage, most likely it would not be carefully restored as a tourist attraction. In fact they are so many impressive Glaoui Kasbahs are abandoned, like the one at Telouet.
The artworks in Telouet Kasbah, although not everything is well-preserved, is the richest and finest among different kasbahs, palaces or madrassas that I have been visited in Morocco. (Maybe this is already a offense to the King…) It’s pity that the government do nothing to preserved this national treasure, walls are flaking and the falling buildings become a garbage ground. It seems to remind locals that the aftermath of being a betrayer is by generations.
The infrastructure development in Telouet is also surprisingly slow and there is no mobile signal here. (It’s rare that there is no even calling signal anywhere in Morocco, and there is signal just few km away from the town, maybe I am too much believe in conspiracy theory?)
Also, this is the only time I met unfriendly and suspicious police – A straw shows which way the wind blows. I have asked locals for related questions, they all seems despaired and don’t want to talk on this issue. This region is amazing for both the villages and landscape, but I felt quite sorrow when I passed by.
Anyway, let’s go back to the cycling information.
It is about 50km, 1000m climb from Ait Ben Haddou to Telouet.
There are pretty villages in every few km in the valley, I didn’t expected to see so many big villages in such a remote area. River was broad and plants were growing well, those houses were still neat, I imagined the life here is quite sufficient.
There are at least one auberge/mansion in each village, but all seemed vacant. Locals were super friendly although I didn’t meet many, kids were shy and lovely. Each village has their own characteristic and worth a stop, they are all lively and I was surprised that tourists only visit Ait Ben Haddou, which is less interesting.
Road condition is good, the first 20km brings you to several villages, the steepness is about 2-3%, and then after a 3km, 5% climb, you are at the top of the edge, where you can overlook villages from the top, another 10km relatively flat road until Anmiter, the only place has campground and restaurant. Many women were cleaning clothes on the river, appeared as the most active village.
The last 10km is dirt road, and there was some constructing project. The mountains here are in deep red and sometimes have layers of different colors with strange twisting. This area is famous for prized pink salt which once accepted as currency and salt mines are still active.
It is gently uphill road to the 1900m pass, the narrow valley is end and the landscape become endless fields and grassland, with some villages around, and there is even a forest of pine trees! what a nice basin in this hidden valley~ Glaoui did choose a great place.
I stayed in Telouet for two days and visited the amazing Telouet Kasbah twice. That was so broken that I got the feeling this Kasbah would be disappeared soon. The surrounded villages are pretty nice too, but the more fertile the area, the sadder I felt.
Information / Accommodation:
- Ouarzazate – Ait Ben Haddou: At about 25km from Ouarzazate, there is camping Tissa (GPS: 30.974736, -7.0977) and restaurant at the junction of the road leads to Ait Ben Haddou, another 5km after the junction is Camping Altas View (GPS: 31.015625, -7.105235) which has very nice view.
- Ait Ben Haddou: This is a popular tourist destination, there are many choices on the main road of the town, several of them do mention ‘camping’ on their board, I stayed at Kasbah du Jardin (25MAD, WI-FI, Hot Shower, GPS: 31.047455, -7.135619) , their room cost 250MAD a day.
- Ait Ben Haddou – Telouet: There are auberge/mansion in each village, I guess you can camp if you ask, but there is no restaurant. There is a campsite at Anmiter.
- Telouet: There is no campsite, and it is freezing cold at night during winter time, so I was please to stay in a room.
- Dar Aissa Guesthouse (170MAD half board, hot shower)
- Tel: 0670222247
- Basic room but very clean, dinner is very delicious.
- The staff at Le Lion d’Or Atlas (Tel: 0524888507) said I can camp for free if I have dinner at the restaurant.
- Dar Aissa Guesthouse (170MAD half board, hot shower)
- Telouet – Marrakesh: about 12km from Telouet, Agdal Mansion Camping (GPS: 31.258483, -7.328282) is the last accommodation before Tizi n’Tichka.