The Ounila Valley links the Tizi n Tichka pass to Ait Ben Haddou and was originally the main thoroughfare for the trans-saharan trade route between Marrakesh and sub-saharan Africa. Today, evidence of this once highly important role is reflected in the numerous crumbling kasbah’s and ksar which are dotted all throughout the valley.
The famous ksar of Ait ben Haddou stands at one entrance to the valley (Ouarzazate direction) while the Telouet Kasbah of Thami El Glaoui – once Pasha of Marrakesh and the southern regions – stands at the other (just before the road links back up to the N9 highway). All the kasbah’s and ksar inside the valley were built by families of high status and would have had the privilege of receiving gifts from across the world as a sort of tax for using the road.
Shortly after Ait ben Haddou lies Kasbah Tamdaght. Also owned by the Glaoui family, the kasbah has not had much renovation over the years and is very near a state of complete ruin. Some rooms – even sections of the kasbah are inaccessible, but the main essence of the building is still alive. Many find Tamdaght to be a far more authentic experience of a southern Moroccan kasbah than it’s famous neighbour and Ridley Scott fell so in love with it’s rustic setting that he decided to a large scene of Gladiator (2000) here.
Like the Ziz river and the Ziz Valley, the Ounila river brings life to the otherwise arid and dry land, forming a green, meandering river of lush plantations wherever the water flows. As you drive the road, scaling up and down in altitude, each turn will provide another stunning view over the green oasis which runs through the centre of the valley walls.
The valley is best visited in the spring when the cherry trees are in bloom and everything is nourished from the rains in earlier months, the Ounila is a remarkable display of southern Moroccan architecture, with tiny pisé villages and mosques stacked up into the valley walls while kasbah’s and ksar slowly erode back into the red tinted earth alongside them.
Ait ben Haddou certainly isn’t a “hidden gem” in Morocco. It’s been used as a backdrop in blockbuster cinema and is one of the most visited tourist attractions the country has to offer. Many visitors find themselves unable to head on into the Ounila Valley towards Telouet. This is partly due to the road being in bad condition and also due to it requiring a fair bit of extra time.While it’s certainly not as “off-road” as some in Morocco it does sometimes require a 4×4, especially after heavy rains. Even though, some may visit both the Telouet Kasbah and Ait ben Haddou, this can be done by accessing each kasbah off the main road and few people actually journey through the heart of the valley.
If you don’t have time or a 4×4 to go all the way to Telouet, driving as far as Anemiter – one of the best preserved fortified villages in Morocco – is well worth it. Anemiter is the last stop before Telouet. The stretch between Ait ben Haddou and Anemiter is where all the remarkable villages and mosques which make up the spectacle of the Ounila Valley are located.
After Anemiter, there are less villages and crumbling kasbah’s, which are replaced by an equally amazing abundance of stunning, unspoiled views of the surrounding mountains and countryside. Now in a higher altitude towards the High Atlas and the Tizi n Tichka, the earth in Telouet is a little more fertile and the land has more growth, providing a total contrast to the other end of the valley where Ait ben Haddou lies.
It’s worth researching whether or not you would like to dedicate the time it takes to drive the winding, mountainous road and combine a visit to the Telouet Kasbah with Ait Benhaddou via the Ounila Valley before arriving, rather than trying to do it spontaneously.
An inside glimpse of the kasbah’s in the Ounila Valley
If you would love to see more from the Telouet Kasbah check out this video with Sofia, an Amazigh singer performing in the kasbah. Read our post on the Telouet Kasbah to get the background information on this performance.