Gautier Battistella - 2011-12-08
December has arrived and the gloomy winter sky hangs low and oppressive. If you yearn for verdant terraces and crystal waters, look no further. Welcome to Ait Bougmez, the Happy Valley: a Moroccan miracle.
The story begins like an exotic novel, somewhere between mountains and desert. Monique from France meets Abdelkader, the Moroccan mountain guide, and it’s love at first sight. They find they share the same dream: to lead others to rediscover and cherish this Moroccan land that many (wrongly) think they already know. Chapter two: they create Terres et Voyages, a travel agency that offers tailor-made tours with guides, cooks and muleteers, now present in most of Morocco. Chapter three: we take a test run with their agency in Happy Valley - under the winter sun.
Day one: departure from Marrakech
At dawn, Jamal, our guide, picks us up at Hotel La Renaissance where Marrakech’s highest terrace offers an unbeatable view of the Guéliz quarter – the perfect place to have an evening drink. Our Jeep wiggles out of the traffic and heads for Happy Valley, a four-hour drive with lunch en route. Jamal stops to buy several kilos of bread in Azilal. Finally, at the threshold of Ait Bougmez we meet Mohammed the muleteer (a talented singer) and Lahssen the cook. Our tour begins amongst ochre villages and cultivated terraces; storks fly by and children laugh as we ramble through. After an hour an a half we reach our bivouac.
Day two: climbing to Tizi n’Ait Imi.
This is the ‘challenging’ part of the journey. We ascend a narrow mule path lined by a few dejected olive trees which provide a wee bit of shade and coolness for local goatherds. It’s hard going, as the sun is already intense at ten in the morning. After three hours of climbing, we reach the Tizi n’Ait Imi pass. At 2,900 metres (9,500 ft) our efforts are rewarded with a sublime view of the M’Goun range and Happy Valley. But we can’t rest yet; we need to walk back down to Tighremt n’Ait Ahmed. Three more hours of effort with a prize at the end: a sublime night sleeping out under the stars.
Day three: the Garden of Eden.
The Valley of Ouzirimte is a lush oasis surrounded by rocks. After crossing several Berber villages, the sight of these verdant terraces planted with potatoes (blossoming with pretty white flowers), wheat and trees laden with fruit is reminiscent of the abundance of that very first garden. How is it possible that orchards and crops thrive in this sunburnt soil, accessible only by foot or atop a mule? It must be the happy coincidence of human labour and the benevolence of the gods - isn’t that why it’s called the Happy Valley?
Day four: splash!
For children, this is often the best part of the journey. They can splash about and wade in the water with their shoes on. It is also the most spectacular part of the M’Goun range. At the heart of this great canyon (1,500 metres/5,000 feet deep) the walls move closer and closer until only a few metres separate them. Woe to they who are trapped when the waters rise! When the sky becomes visible once again, we arrive at Ifasfas. Our bivouac is next to the wadi, home to unusually avid mosquitoes. For dinner this evening: chicken tajine brought in from a village. Scrumptious.
Day five: oleander and tamarisk
Here the valley is in full bloom: roses, oleander and tamarisk complement our final day of hiking: a lovely ending to this enchanted parenthesis in our lives. By evening we arrive at the Dar Sabra hotel in Marrakech, where people and art dwell in perfect harmony. Conclusion: five splendid days and one desire - to return as soon as possible.
Morocco National Tourist Office
205 Regent Street
Terres et Voyages
Immeuble D1. Bureau N° 8
Avenue du 11 Janvier
Tel: +212 24 43 71 53 – Fax: +212 24 43 71 92
Terres et Voyages (Lands and Journeys) provide igloo tents and foam matresses. You’ll want to bring a warm sleeping bag and a pair of old trainers for crossing fords.
Where to stay
Dar Sabra (palm grove)
Hôtel Dar Sabra
Circuit de la Palmeraie
Tel: +212-524-329-172 / +212-661-133-684
François Chapoutot is as unconventional as he is creative. Living in a palm grove in a stunning house bursting with works of art wasn’t enough - he had to offer his cherished pieces a five-star hotel! The result is truly mind-boggling. Inspired by Portuguese azulejos, the ceramic frescoes by ERRO evoke Roy Lichtenstein. Elsewhere, a massive gorilla stands guard, its fists planted in the grass. And while Mauro Staccioli’s Arc spans the swimming pool, Seen’s graffiti-covered wall adds a final, explosive exclamation point to the decor. Luxury? Four pools, two restaurants, a spa, tennis court and gym; exquisitely decorated suites adorned with Ethiopian shields made of rhino skin. Dar Sabra: the art of living.
Dar Crystal (medina)
Hay Essalam Derb Al Fath
Tel: +212 (0) 669 58 90 55
This delightful little 8-bedroom riad is only 3 minutes from Place Jemaa-el-Fna and its bazaars. A far cry from Dar Sabra... or maybe not so far. Dar Crystal is run by Dar Sabra’s young director Mathilde Rossi and her husband, both former bankers who have (happily) exchanged finance for serenity. Prettily decorated rooms, shaded terraces and garden beds of blossoming roses combine to create a comfortable and enticing elegance.