morocco olive treeMount Zalagh looms high over Fez, looking down on the crowded city and its narrow, winding alleys. A world away from the hustle and bustle of one of the most densely populated areas in Morocco, Mount Zalagh, covered with olive groves and scented by wild lavender, offers a view of the entire city and the surrounding landscapes—the Sebou Valley, Rif Mountains and Sais Plain. In the winter, expect snow, but in the summer, the elevation provides the ideal temperature for an escape from the heat and the perfect spot for a picnic. Despite its proximity to the city, it is never crowded, much to the delight of mountain bikers and hikers alike.

Reaching Zalagh’s summit is easy enough for even inexperienced hikers and takes no more than an hour or two, even at a leisurely pace. To reach the mountain, take a grand taxi (taxi kabir in Arabic) from the Bab Guissa, a 12th-century city gate located in the north of the medina. You can usually count on finding a taxi queue in front of the Sofitel Palais Jamaï nearby. Ask the driver to take you to the base of the Mount Zalagh or, in Arabic, Jbel Zalagh (JE-bal ZA-lagh), along Ouezzane Road, which is to the left after leaving the Palais Jamaï and leads to the southern base of the mountain. You reach a small pine forest, from which you can find the trailhead. As always when taking a grand taxi, agree on a price beforehand. The trip should normally cost no more than 7 or 8 Dh, so make sure to bargain.

The mountain’s climate and elevation coupled with rocky soil is best suited to traditional crops like almonds, figs and olives and for pasturing goats and sheep. The area around Mount Zalagh boasts many large modern farms together with smaller family farms that produce some of the world’s best olive oil.

Once you’ve reached the top, if you’re ready for more hiking, you can follow a trail for about an hour that eventually leads to a plateau high above the Sais Plain. The plain surrounds Fez and is one of the most fertile areas in Morocco. Here, French colonialists invested a great deal of money and equipment to properly irrigate the plain and make it suitable for the cultivation of grapes. Although viticulture is not exactly huge business in Muslim Morocco, the area still boasts Morocco’s best wines, and also supplies the country with grains and fruits. From this vantage point, you can look out over the entire plain, the city of Fez and the Atlas Mountain chain, whose peaks are often covered in snow.

Recently, there have been rumors of new development on Mount Zalagh swirling around Fez. This brings mixed reactions, since easier access to the mountain means more day-trippers. Either way, it’s sure to remain a respite from the city’s busy rhythm.

Written by Silvia McCallister-Castillo.

Photo by blueSkySunHigh.