Southern Morocco & Western Sahara
The Souss Valley, where goats climb argan trees beneath the sun-baked Anti Atlas, draws a line across Morocco. South of this fertile valley, the pace of life in mountain villages and Saharan gateways is seductively slow.
A sense of somewhere really fresh gusts through the region like the spring winds – and you’ll want to savor it. On the seafronts, sip a mint tea and gaze at the wild Atlantic Coast. When trekking, mountain biking or driving through wrinkled Anti Atlas foothills, stop before the next oasis village and appreciate the silence.
Continue even further south to Dakhla for some of the world's best kitesurfing, and an emerging scene for outdoor activities and desert exploration.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southern Morocco & Western Sahara.
The 3-storey granite, palm and argan house, some 400 years old, was inhabited by 20 family members – three generations – until 1982. The owner, Mohammed, is friendly, knowledgeable and multilingual, and obviously takes great pleasure in sharing tales of traditional life. On the tour you'll wind your way through the central kitchen, storehouse, bedrooms and, finally, the salon reserved for formal guests (you!). Highly recommended.
The minaret of the Grande Mosquée (closed to non-Muslims) is studded with jutting wooden sticks, in the style of Sahel mosques including the famous Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali. Local legend suggests this is where the souls of the dead congregate. More likely, these were left in place by the masons who built the minaret to help them climb up and replaster. There's a very atmospheric single palm standing in the small square at the mosque's entrance.
The 7.5km of ramparts surrounding Taroudant are among the best-preserved rammed-earth walls in Morocco. Their colour changes from golden brown to deepest red depending on the time of day. They can easily be explored on foot (two hours), preferably in the late afternoon; or take a bike or calèche (horse-drawn carriage) and see the walls by moonlight.
Four kilometres south of Mirleft is this truly wild beach, accessible down a set of steps, featuring caves, cliffs and crashing waves great for surfing. There's an outpost of Spot-M here for board and wetsuit rental, and Biscou Surf School also brings students here. But the beach is gorgeous and ocean relatively mild, whether or not you're riding a board.
Poet and calligrapher Moulid Nidouissadan paints Amazigh (Berber) proverbs and colourful compositions from natural inks. Free to every visitor is a rendition of their name in Tamazight – crafted via a dramatic combination of saffron ink and a blowtorch. Other interesting and well-priced souvenirs include T-shirts and tote bags. Moulid speaks French and a smidgen of English.
Offering superb views, the hilltop kasbah 7km northwest of the centre is a rare survivor of the 1960 earthquake. Built in 1541 and restored in the 1740s, the area once housed 300 people. All that remains is the outer wall, though traces of the dwellings can still be made out. The inscription over the entry arch in Dutch and Arabic (‘Believe in God and respect the King’) is a reminder of the beginning of trade with the Low Countries.
If anyone in your party is partial to a reptile, it's almost worth making a special trip to Agadir to visit this park, absolutely teeming with Nile crocs swimming and sunning around a pond (although the green dye in the water is a little too obvious). There are also iguanas, massive snakes and tiny monkeys which would make a tasty elevenses for the park's other residents. For the flora fans, gardens feature rare trees, cacti, flowers and several lily ponds.
Maison Traditionnelle stands in the largely uninhabited old hilltop village of Tazekka, where bulbous boulders have been incorporated into the pisé (rammed earth) walls of the centuries-old houses. You can visit the Carved Gazelle as part of a tour of the four-floor dwelling, where the knowledgeable proprietor Mahfoud’s family once lived. It’s possible to stay the night here (Dh150/230 per person including breakfast/half-board).
This particular palais defies categorisation: it's a hotel, a museum and the former residence of deceased Chilean painter Claudio Bravo, who selected the countryside outside Taroudant as the ideal base for his dream home. The architecture of his house is noteworthy, as are its amazing contents, including paintings by Bravo and Francis Bacon, as well as dinosaur fossils, priceless antiques from Mali, India, Japan and Morocco as well as wonderful gardens. His devoted staff keep up the place and run tours.