ifrane moroccoLocated in northern Morocco in the Middle Atlas Mountains, west of Ifrane National Park, is the city of Ifrane, an oasis with verdant forests. Lakes, fountains and greenery in the city offer a breath of fresh air from some of the other busier, dustier cities in Morocco.

Built by the French in the 1930s, Ifrane became a retreat of sorts. With wide avenues for driving, European-style villas and natural green spaces within easy access, you might feel like you’ve stepped into a summer resort in Switzerland with the sloped roof chalets and natural springs. During the winter months, Ifrane becomes a destination for skiers, and there are several resorts set among the hills. In the summer, these same hills are lush and green and become a hot spot for hiking, walking, mountaineering and rock climbing.

An observation deck has been carved into the mountains, which offers great views of the ravines and valleys. Vittel Springs, a set of spectacular cascades, is particularly picturesque. Outside of town is Dayet Aoua, a lake ideal for picture taking. To enjoy the lake to its fullest extent, take the lake circuit around the lake. Rich in bird life and woodlands, Dayet Aoua is a popular destination for birdwatchers who hope to catch a glimpse of the booted eagles, black and red kites, and crested coot. Woodpeckers, tree creepers and nuthatches move among the trees around the lake. During the winter months, the lake is snowbound and often unreachable. Other treks that are popular in the area are not possible during the heavy snow either.

Though Ifrane is very much known for its natural beauty, there is more to it than waterfalls and forests. There is a mausoleum in the city that dates back to the 16th century. The entire structure is blue with mosaics, and many people refer to it as the Blue Mausoleum. For centuries it has been a place for pilgrimage, hiding in the valley with cypress and olive trees surrounding it.  There are also ancient troglodytic dwellings in the town, which are now used for stables and storage.

Posted by JoAnna Haugen, managing editor at Journey Beyond Travel and author of Kaleidoscopic Wandering.

Photo by mhobi.