A photo of a woman in Azrou MoroccoWith a population around 50,000 people, Azrou, Morocco, in which “Azru” in the Berber dialect means “stone” or “rock,” is one of the more-populated towns in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Dwarfing nearby Ifrane in number, Azrou is an important Berber town and functions as a junction to the market centers of Fez, Meknes, Midelt, and Kenifra.

With surrounding pine and cedar forests, high meadows, and blooming wild flowers (in the spring!) Azrou feels nothing like its population suggests and is truly a place to get off the beaten path, relax, and unwind. Moreover, Azrou is has a massive weekly souk (or souq, currently every Tuesday from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m.) where animals, produce, and even Berber carpets are brought in for locals and tourists alike to test their bargaining skills.

Azrou’s medina, or city center, has just undergone a serious facelift allowing more room for cars to park and people to walk about. The medina has its own array of shops and is a good place to grab lunch before heading to the outskirts that offer a plethora of outdoor activities.

A photo of a Barbary Macaque in Azrou Morocco The surrounding vistas of Azrou are akin to the terrain found on the Great Rock of Gibraltar, which ironically also, like Azrou, is home to the world’s only population of Barbary Macaques, or a type of primate monkey with a short stub for a tail. Living in a matriarchal society, the fathers help rear the young; troops divide their time between various areas of the oak and cedar forests and are mostly herbivores.

Rock climbing in Azrou MoroccoThe outskirts of Azrou proffer other outdoor pursuits, including rambling about the rocky hillsides or rock climbing on a cliff overlooking the town. Not as glorious as climbing in the Todra Gorge, climbing is also viable near the once worthy (yet small) Jbel Hebri ski mountain. For small groups with their own equipment, bolted routes can also be found near the very small Sidi Zaouia Abdelsalam, just on the outskirts of Ifrane.

Walks in the area are also very worthwhile. Some of the hotels in Azrou, namely the Azrou Hotel called the Auberge Du Dernier Lion de L’Atlas has some GPS coordinates for walks (and possible drives) that it gives to its clientele, such as the Spanish, who enjoy self-guided adventure excursions in the territory. Before taking off on a walk around the hillsides, let your hotel know where you plan on going. While getting lost is not that much of a worry, inclement weather can move in quickly blocking your view. Take your day pack, first-aid kit, and plenty of water and snacks. For serious walkers wanting long-day or multi-day excursions, contact the Morocco trekking team at Journey Beyond Travel LLC.

African dog in MoroccoOther nearby areas, such as Ain Leuh and Ifrane are only a short drive away; Ifrane has some nice walks in the forest behind the road to Ras Lma (just 2 km up from the Shell Station). The only worry on such a walk are dogs. Regular shepherd dogs are not that dangerous if their master is nearby, but the wild African dogs (like those just behind the Ras Lma summer camp area) should be avoided. If a dog approaches, stand your ground and reach down to grab a rock. This usually thwarts shepherd dogs to take off. If a dog becomes more aggressive: Avoid eye contact, do not run, try to back away slowly, and if near any trees, climb up. In the worse case and if an attack is inevitable, place an object between you and it (even a hiking pole). (Read more about avoiding dog attacks.)

South of Ain Leuh is the Sources de l’Oum-er-Rbia.  It is 20 miles to the south, but reveals a beautiful landscape of more waterfalls and allows you to get to the Lac Ouiouane by going through a small valley to a bridge that crosses the Rbia River. From here, it is another fifteen minutes to a gorge where springs have broken out from the rocks to create a number of waterfalls.

By Sam Mitchell