Ifrane is a small city of less than 10,000 people (50,000 in summer) located in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, just 58 kilometers south of Fez. The town was set up by the French during their colonization period as a quasi-ski resort, and they actually took the name from nearby Sidi AbddalSalam Zawiya, a small Berber village 15 kilometers away. Not many tourists spend a whole lot of time in Ifrane, but giving it a day or two is worthwhile once one discovers the outlying natural gems that surround the region.
Because of its Alpine feel, tiled chalets, and snowbound winters, the town has inherited the name “Morocco’s Switzerland.” From Ifrane several places in the region can be seen.
In the summer, Ifrane is a sharp contrast to the drier areas of Fez, Meknes, and even Azrou that surround it. The lush greenery, cedar forests, and pastureland come to life due to the abundant rain and snowfall in the winter and spring months.
In winter, Ifrane is also an allure (especially for Moroccan tourists) who want to not only experience one of Morocco’s most accessible snowy areas, but who want to give skiing a try at the Michlifen hill that is home to a working (most of the time) ski lift. Local Berbers from surrounding villages will often rent out skis and sleds to passersby to earn their daily wages. Mount Hebri is a secondary mountain; its ski lift has not worked in decades, but the sledding potential draws crowds nonetheless.
Ifrane, home to Al Akhawayn University (a prestigious English-speaking university and campus) is home to Morocco’s elite who do not venture abroad for their entire educations. Additionally, the king’s palace overlooks the entire town, a castle that somehow fits in nicely with the surrounding rocky terrain.
Because Ifrane was laid out by the French, it has a very colonial (even European) feel. No longer are French expats flaunting about, but Arab city dwellers come who have their second (or third, etc) home here that serve as vacation residences throughout the seasons. A majority of Ifrani Berbers of the region are the working class individuals who take care of the university and palace grounds.
Surrounding Ifrane are cliffs of limestone that encompass the various areas worth walking to while on a day trip. Walking or trekking in Ifrane is quite different than trekking in the High Atlas of Marrakesh. Walking in Ifrane is a pleasant activity, either from village to village, inside the cedar forests, or to places such as the Valley of the Rocks. A drive (or hike) outside of town will take you to the Cedre Gouraud Forest, filled with cedar and oak. This area of Morocco is also a sort of breadbasket with its lush valleys, which receive more rainfall than any other place in the country (and nearly North Africa).
At Cedre Gouraud and in the far-reaching areas outside of town, the possibility of seeing endangered Macaque (Barbary apes) is easily done for those who are willing to explore. These apes are also found in Gibraltar and are thought to have been brought over by sailors.
Plentiful in the area are flocks of sheep, waterfalls, hidden caves, and rolling hills. So, while planning your Morocco itinerary, be sure to spend a day exploring this majestic, yet little-known area of the Middle Atlas. Feel free to contact us at Journey Beyond Travel to make this little stopover a part of your diversely planned route.
by Sam Mitchell