If anywhere in Morocco is going to be dubbed 'off the beaten track', it has to be the oasis of Figuig. In eastern Morocco, seven hours by bus on the road to precisely nowhere, this isn't a town you end up in by accident. And, to be honest, it's the sort of town that would be easy to groan about as a guidebook writer: a two-day round-trip for just one hotel review? Ugh.
All of this makes the revelation that waits for you when you descend from the bus even more special. Figuig, so far from the madding crowd, is an absolute Moroccan gem.
Marooned next to an Algerian border post that's been closed for 16 years, Figuig is a community entirely in balance with its surroundings. Red ochre cliffs pen in the old mudbrick town and, at first glance, you'd be forgiven for missing the buildings, because Figuig is really about one thing: the date palm.
View over the palms of Figuig. Image by Ina Boatright
With over 200,000 palms, Figuig's dates outnumber its human inhabitants by thirty to one. Every family has their own trees, underplanted with pomegranate trees and vegetable patches. Old Figuig is a collection of ksour (fortified mudbrick buildings), each divided by a complicated braiding of centuries-old irrigation channels.
We borrowed a couple of bicycles to go exploring from Youness, a local we met over coffee. The oldest of the ksour is Zenaga, home to a mosque with an 800-year-old rough-stone minaret. Utterly unlike anything you'd see anywhere else in Morocco, it spoke more to the vernacular of Saharan oases far to the south in Mauritania. Nearby, a couple of boys held sway in a covered water cistern nearly as old, leaping through the shadows into the cool water.
Zenaga minaret. Image by Ina Boatright
As far away from the currents of modern Morocco as it is, the locals boast about their special town. While the cities attract young Moroccans from across the country, Figuigis seem to be happy swimming against the stream of urbanisation. My friend Youness had lived in Casablanca, but why would he want the dirt and hustle of the big city, he said, 'when I can have this?' – his hand sweeping over the view of the palms from the lookout at Azrou above the town. There's even a phrase in Moroccan Arabic, 'Fog Figuig', which means 'the best of the best'.
A long way from anywhere, Figuig is unlikely ever to be overrun by tourists, but those who make it are going to treasure the experience. Oh, and to the joy of guidebook writers everywhere, there's even a lovely new guesthouse to join the solitary hotel, and another on the way. Go now.
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