Touring Morocco by Bike (15.1) : Marrakesh – Taroudant (Day 1,2)
Marrakesh – Taroudant, via Tizi n’Test (225km)
This is the last time I cross the Atlas mountains.
This route I took via Taroudant is a mountain road and much longer, for some people it doesn’t make sense because there is a direct national road connecting Marrakesh to Agadir. Well~ Traveling by bicycle also doesn’t make sense in some way~ I have crossed quite many mountain passes in Morocco, Tizi n’Test is the most impressive among them, and the climbing experience is the most dramatic. I stayed in the Hotel at the pass at the New Year’s Eve. Stars were showing up after Dusk, the dim lights of village merged with the stars, I couldn’t even recognize where was sky, where was land and celebrated the 2017 new year in a completely silence night.
It is possible to gaze the Atlas’s snow peaks throughout the year from Marrakesh downtown, but there are still dozens of kilometers to the foot of the mountain. It was a very boring 35km ride on a straight road to Tahannaout, where you can find restaurant and a good place to take a rest. then I entered a valley and there were some Argan Oil shops on the roadside.
The road became steeper and about 3% uphill, and surrounding landscape was getting better. After a small climb was a wider valley, there was a restaurant next to a sparkling river and locals with horses and camels were waiting for tourists. Another 10km flat road I arrived Asni, the busiest town on the road, Asni is at 1200m high and this was the highest point for that day.
I climbed up and down in the valley to Ouirgane, the view was wide open and there was a flat area with some trees, which is good for wild camping, in fact it is also a popular picnic area for locals. It was very quite, maybe because of the winter time. The road goes along the reservoir at Ouirgane, and there is a wide river turn at the end of the reservoir.
The water flow was low, so a wide riverbeds on both sides were exposed, which was quite a good place to setup the tent (if there is no flash floods…). I checked on the map and probably it was difficult to find the place for camping because the valley will be more narrow further), so I decided to stopped quite early here.
I met several locals and their eyes and attitude seemed to say “Hey! Someone is setting the tent here again!”
The first day I cycled for 73km and climbed 900m. It’s not a hard ride, let’s see what will happen for the other day~ (The other day I realized that it was a good decision, the river turn is about 5km before Imidal)
It is about 65km, total climbing for 1500m to Tizi n’Test. I started before sunrise, but I was still on the road at sunset…
I did expect it was a tough ride, so I started at Dawn. I followed the curling and narrow road along a river in the valley, which always leads to snow mountains. There were some small villages, fields , yellow and green grove on the opposite side of the river, scenery was quite similar for the first 25km.
This narrow valley ends at Ijoukak, the landscape become more impressive there. There are hotels, campsites and restaurants, together with beautiful surroundings, it is a good place to stop before the pass. Not far from Ijoukak (around 5km), you can gaze the huge Tinmal Mosque from far, this Almohad-era Mosque was built almost 1000 years ago, big enough to accommodate 3000 worshippers, this is the only two Mosques that are possible to visit as a non-muslim. (The another one is Hassan II Mosque at Casablanca)
The mosque is renovated and no longer used for prayers, so it’s completely empty inside. The building has no roof, the thick walls and repeated archs of minimalist style form dramatic changing light and shadow, it’s absolutely beauty. This giant mosque is located at this village that only has dozens of families, it really makes you want to know how was this valley at 1000 years ago?
Tinmal is the starting point for the real climb, it is about 15km, 5% tortuous road in a narrow valley. I was little bit confused when I saw some buildings at the top vaguely, It was so far and just directly vertical to my position, I wondered: “how is it possible to reach there?” I kept climbing from the afternoon until the sun was behind the mountain, when the buildings got closer, I knew I was heading to that place, but I was always amused when I looked back to the benting road and those lego-like muddy houses. This road was built by the French in the late 1920s and this was the first modern route linking Marrakesh with the Souss plain.
I was almost exhausted when I reach the top, looked forward to see the last sunset of 2016! (I was heading to South West) but I was rejoiced too soon… “where is the hotel at the pass?” I continued and the road was very bad and covered with some snow, up and down, it was frustrating and the road seemed endless long. The sun was going down and became freezing cold, my hands and feet were numb, It was truly both mental and physical torture. (I have checked the record and find that the road should be relatively flat… probably I was too tired so I felt the road was quite hilly)
After 10km, I finally reached the Tizi n’Test and saw the panoramic of the Souss plain and endless hills. The Sun was down but the sky was still burning red, It was a exhilarating and unforgettable moment. After dinner, I was looking and taking photos for stars at the hotel roof, I made wishes upon the shooting stars. Last year I was completely hangover with new friends at Krakow, this year I am alone at this starry night at a mountain pass in Morocco, how about next year?
Information / Accommodation:
- Marrakesh – Tizi n’Test
- This 140km route is quite popular for self-drive tourists, there is not campground but quite many hotels and guesthouses, especially near Ouirgane. From Asni, there is a small road to Imlil, the village at foothill of the highest peak in Northern Africa – Toubkal, where you can find cheaper accommodation, the area is also very scenic, make it as a nice detour from this route.
- These are some cheaper guesthouses that I have check the price, about 200-300MAD/night
- gite lc lac (GPS: 31.17391, -8.080156, Ouirgane)
- Auberge Tigmmi N’Tamazirte (GPS: 30.985652, -8.149904, Ijoukak)
- Dar Elmouahidi (5km west of Tinmel, the last guesthouse before the pass)
- Restaurant: Tahannaout (km35), Moulay Brahim (km40), Asni (km50), Ouirgane (km65), Ijoukak (km100) and Tinmel (km105) have restaurants and kiosks. Asni is the busiest place on the road, where you can find a small market.
- Tizi n’Test
- La Haut Auberge
- located exactly at the pass, I guess it should be cheaper than Hotel Gite Bellevue. They do mention camping but it must be damn cold even during summer.
- Hotel Gite Bellevue (250MAD half board, hot shower in basket)
- GPS: 30.860694, -8.376929
- The relatively well-facilitated guesthouse at Tizi n’Test, the panoramic view is stunning and best position for both sunrise and sunset.
- Gite Sunset (50MAD/night)
- GPS: 30.854913, -8.378788
- 5km after Tizi n’Test, a very basic guesthouse with restaurant, the view is similar to Hotel Gite Bellevue
- La Haut Auberge