Morocco is home to numerous stunning palm groves and your journey from the imperial cities of Fez or Marrakesh toward the vast Sahara will take you past an oasis valley before reaching the dunes themselves. As you pass through different towns and terrains, the landscape begins to notably change into a rocky scrubland, geographically indicating the beginning of the ‘desert.’ While many people rush through the area between Marrakesh and the Sahara, those seeking a glimpse into rural Moroccan life slow down to appreciate the area known as the Ziz Valley.
It might seem like most of the terrain is a wasteland but this isn’t the case. Rivers which flow through these dry expanses bring with them flourishing belts of green palmeries, that stretch into the distance for as far as the eye can see. They are not to be missed. On the way to the Sahara you will encounter the and the Ouled (river) Ziz and the Ziz valley that punctuate the landscape with their brilliant green palms. With the golden prehistoric valley walls towering above you, and the dusty ancient kashbah’s & ksar dotting the palm groves, the Ziz lends a feel of what it might be like to mix the worlds of Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, making it the perfect place to put on your explorers’ hat and go on an adventure.
The source of the Oued Ziz is located near Rich, in the Middle Atlas region. The river continues its journey all the way to the Sahara Desert and reaches into Algeria. As it meanders from the green mountains of the Middle Atlas toward the Sahara, it is surrounded by a stunning 125km belt of green palmeries, that run alongside the river. There are numerous places to stop off on the roadside and grab a snapshot of the emerald green river flowing through the landscape, but the best way to get a real glimpse into life inside the palmeries is to turn off the main road and explore an oasis village.
The mix of ancient traditions is not only seen in the ancient kasbah’s & ksars lining the fringes of the palmeries, but also in the traditional methods of farming and cooking still used by locals today. Time slows down inside the groves and everything seems more laid back than in Morocco’s main cities. You’re more likely to be stopped by a farmer trying to offer you some fresh dates than by a tourist tout or a shop owner. Food is fresh and plentiful, with dates, pomegranates, figs, alfalfa, and quince all farmed inside the groves using ancient water irrigation and farming techniques that have been passed down by generations past.
Getting a birds-eye-view over the palm groves from the top of the towering valley walls is first on to the do list and truly introduces the spectacle of this region. It’s worth heading up to a viewpoint (there are numerous parking spots along the stretch of the N13 road adjacent to Aoufous village) for sunset or sunrise in order to see the light change inside the valley. In the short period when the sun finally sets behind the landscape, large shadows sweep over the valley and across the palmeries, bringing with them a serene silence as the day turns to night.
The village of Aoufous is located in the heart of the Ziz palm groves and is one of the best places to tour in Morocco to catch a glimpse of life inside the palmeries. The village itself is calm and sleepy. Locals are friendly and life here presents a very different side of Morocco to the bustling imperial cities. Renting a bicycle or allowing some time to explore the village on foot is a must, and you’ll quickly find interesting people to meet and things to discover. Expect to be invited in for tea or food and relax in the comfort of knowing that this is an area renown for its truly genuine Moroccan hospitality.
One of the best things to do is simply wander the palmeries surrounding Aoufous and discover all the produce that is grown in the region, some of which may take you by surprise. Depending on the season, you can expect fresh quince, pomegranates & grapes on the menu as well as interesting herbs like lemon verbena, and of course some of Morocco’s best dates are always readily offered as a snack. This intense cultivation of produce relies on complicated irrigation techniques using water sources that spread out across the region. Tata, one of our local guides, knows farming in the Ziz better than anybody. With a degree in animal husbandry, a date farmer, and president of the local tourism association, Tata is a wealth of information on the region. He is seen above overlooking his home village of Aoufous from a viewpoint, wearing the traditional Ziz Valley dress.
Morocco is a country that is full of ancient buildings with historical and cultural importance just waiting to be explored. Sadly, due to the sheer number of buildings and the traditional pisé technqiues that were used to build them, many are slowly dilapidating and eroding into the dusty ground. The Ziz valley is home to hundreds of kasbah’s and ksar which make for an interesting afternoon or two of exploring! A ksar is a group of kasbahs, often fortified and protected by walls. Moroccan families would often co-inhabit these buildings, although due to buildings often being in states of disrepair, this tradition is slowly dying out. Here, Tata is seen showing some of our clients around the ksar he was born in, located in the heart of the Aoufous palmeries.
If your Moroccan journey has you headed towards the Sahara, taking a day or two to explore some of these smaller villages, oasis, and valleys will certainly be a time to remember. Working with our local guides and insider knowledge we can help you fashion a custom trip that truly lets you experience hidden Morocco! Contact us today to get started.
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