Tamatert - The High Atlas Mountains

Stephen Bellingham on 21 December 2013
Our trip up to the High Atlas Mountains was fantastic. The scenery is stunning with Toubkai the highest peak in North Africa looming above us, and being surrounded by the numerous local villages unchanged no doubt for hundreds of years.

We were delighted with our choice of Douar Samra in an unspoilt Berber Village with serene views over the Imlil valley. Jule, the mule arrived with his brand spanking new seat to carry our luggage down the track to our home, a re-built Berber house, for the next few days.

We paid extra for rooms with electricity, which we were pleased about as the days were warm and the evenings as we had expected, very cold. How great it was to have our own log fire lit for us, and hot water bottles in our beds! Our tasty evening meals cooked by Rashida in the main house were taken with other guests by candle-light – an unforgettable experience, exchanging tales and finding out the ‘must dos’.

We enjoyed the terraces, watching daily life in the village, with children playing and the goats passing by, as it has always been. The night sky was amazing, clear skies with so many stars. I think the only thing that has changed is the fact that everyone has a mobile. Incidentally, whilst I wouldn't rely on Wi-Fi here which is actually a real bonus; the mobile phone connection is far superior due to their technology!

A local taxi took us exploring for a couple of days, which included a planned tour of Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s 5 star oasis in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. With its 27 bedrooms and suites including nine luxury Berber Tents, some with plunge pools ... it is pure luxury. We loved the unique rooms often with private terrace and different areas to escape to around the Kasbah. The rooftop terrace and ‘special’ dining room is available for marriage proposal dinners. What better place, and it’s never been ‘no’ yet!

We went on to explore and have lunch at the nearby village of Aremd (1900 metres) with its invigorating mountain air, reached by an unmade single road, or trekking with a local guide. The views were stunning. It’s all about rooftops in Morocco with amazing views from our lunch stop, looking down over the 1200 strong village in its remote location. A local guide took us back down the winding, undulating paths and rock carved steps to the dried up river-bed and awaiting taxi. Locals can do this in the dark, as they have done since they learned to walk. Our travels took us to the Ourika Valley, a popular stop for tours from Marrakech for lunch and walk to the nearby Setti Fatma Water Falls. Too touristy for us! We preferred the weekly Monday Berber Market in Tnine. Being the only westerners, we experienced the authentic way of Berber life. We still felt the need for a stop at a brilliant local pottery shop though for a few purchases. We continue to enjoy our new tagine – the vegetables are delicious!

Many at Samra go there for the trekking and hiking; we were no exception. Several local licensed guides are available. We were assigned Hassan. His reputation preceded him (from our dinner companions). We embarked on a 6-hour walk through traditional Berber villages with stunning views, waterfalls, across rope bridges and beyond. We even reached the ice underfoot. We were fortunate to be taken for mint tea within a local house …it was very humbling and not at all touristy, so a wonderful part of our day. Hassan is an extremely experienced guide with good English. He is a mine of information and skilfully paces the walk according to the proficiency of the group. We were probably known as the slow English, in comparison to the fast Belgians who preceded us a few days before! His portfolio includes high and central Atlas treks of 21 days to maybe a less strenuous 4-day Berber village hike amidst the cool vegetation of juniper and pine trees, across deep gorges, gushing river streams and groves of cherry and walnut trees.

To sum up our stay here, Jacqueline the owner has created a sustainable living of benefit to the local community, without exploiting or interrupting their traditional way of life. It is the perfect place to unwind, get back to nature and meet some very interesting people. Would we return, of course!