Azrou MoroccoTucked into the hills of the Middle Atlas Mountains, Azrou is a welcome break from the crowds and noise of the imperial cities, and, at nearly 3,940 feet (1,200 meters) in elevation, it’s also a great place to escape the heat.

Azrou, which translates literally to ‘rock’ in the local Amazigh language, is named for the large, black volcanic outcrop in the center of town. The name is fitting in more ways than one. The verdant Middle Atlas rise above Azrou, with hardscrabble cliff faces serving as the only break in the landscape. The city also serves as the foundation of regional trade and social life. Locals in mountain villages nearby make use of the bustling market as their weekly source of food, supplies and gossip.

All of this makes Azrou a wonderful place for visitors to observe a traditional souk and daily mountain Berber life, without venturing too far from the main imperial trails. The weekly souk draws thousands of people, and there is a wide variety of produce available year round. Cherries, grown primarily in nearby village of Ain Leuh, are a particular favorite. The small medina is also worth a stop for people watching or to haggle for a rug or homemade wool hat.

Those who have spent some time in Morocco will notice the unique architecture of Azrou immediately. Like nearby Ifrane, it is one of the few places you will find slanted roofs, a necessity thanks to heavy winter snowfalls. The distinctive green glazed tiles used to finish these structures add a beautiful contrast to the otherwise white and cream color scheme.

In addition to its thriving market and mellow atmosphere, Azrou is an ideal base from which to explore the nearby Atlas Cedar Forest, home to the endangered Barbary macaque. Though their population numbers may be low, you’ll easily spot a few apes along the side of the road outside campsites, where they eagerly wait for tourists to feed them table scraps (a practice that is not recommended). About six miles outside of Azrou, you can also visit the Cedar Gourand, a nearly 800-year-old cedar.

Azrou is remarkably close to Fez (see our Fez Morocco travel guide)and Meknes, and buses regularly run south toward Beni Mellal and Marrakech, making it an ideal place to take a breath between stops in larger cities.

Written by Margaret Jackson.

Photo by -AX-.