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Das Dadestal in Marokko, Bild: KajzrPhotography / shutterstock

Let’s go to the Dadestal Valley! For a fairytale time in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

Steep cliffs and deep gorges, serpentine roads, green oases and ancient fortresses, behind which the snow-capped mountains of the Atlas Mountains rise majestically into the sky in the distance: The Dades Valley in the Moroccan province of Tinghir is one of the most impressive areas in North Africa with its breathtaking landscape and picturesque architecture.

From Marrakech to the Dades Valley

Marrakech, Image: Matej Kastelic / shutterstock

A good starting point to drive to the Dades Valley is Marrakech, the former capital of the Moroccan Empire, which can boast numerous mosques, palaces and markets (souks). After visiting this lively city, where you can stroll through labyrinthine alleys and be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle and the scent of exotic spices, the drive through the wide landscape to the Dades Valley, about 330 km away, forms a contrast. So you first drive over one of the two large passes over the main ridge of the High Atlas. With peaks of over 4000 m altitude, this is the highest mountain range in North Africa. The Tizi-n Tichka Pass, which you cross on the way from Marrakech to the Dades Valley, is located at an altitude of 2260 m.

The Road of 1000 Castles

On the other side of the High Atlas Mountains, a barren, drier “lunar landscape” awaits you, offering impressive views. You should make a stop in particular in Aït Ben Haddou, which is one of the most beautiful kasbahs in the country. Kasbahs are the name given to the fortresses built of rammed earth and mud bricks, which once served as defence and are evidence of traditional Berber architecture. The mud buildings of the fortified village (Ksar) of Aït Ben Haddou, some of which are still inhabited by families, have not only had UNESCO World Heritage status since 1987, but have also been used as backdrops in numerous films. For example, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, “James Bond 007 – The Touch of Death” and “Gladiator” were filmed here in parts. The film works support the preservation and renovation of the clay architecture. After visiting Aït Ben Haddou, many other castles await you on the route, which is why the route to the Dades Valley is also called the “Road of 1000 Kasbahs”.

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Kasbahs, roses and palm groves

South of Aït Ben Haddou, you can visit the town of Quarzazate, with its Kasbah-style architecture, and from there you can reach the nearby Fint oasis, with its gardens and palm groves. Another palm oasis with lush vegetation on the way to the Dades Valley is Skoura, which can be combined with a visit to the 17th-century Kasbah of Amerhidil. The clay architecture in Amerhidil is particularly graceful with its geometric ornaments and decorations on the facades. In addition, the play of colour contrasts is enchanting. Here, the higher floors of the buildings stand out in red and ochre against the surrounding splendour of the green palm trees. Part of the complex is still inhabited by a family, the other has been transformed into a museum that provides information about the traditional construction methods of the Berbers and historical artifacts.

No less picturesque is the Valley of Roses, which is also on the route to the Dades Valley and bears its name because of the numerous rose bushes that were planted here to protect the other plants from goats. The valley is worth a visit all year round, but especially in May when the roses are harvested. On the occasion of the harvest, a festival lasting several days is celebrated every year. Let yourself be seduced by the scent of roses, but also by the rose essences and perfumes traditionally produced here, which you can buy here before continuing to the Dades Valley.

Gorges, deserts and oases

Dades Valley
Image: Edda Dupree / shutterstock

The name Dades Valley or Dades Gorge refers to the area between the village of M’semrir and the oasis town of Boumalne Dadès, 40 km to the south. Here, over time, the Dades River has created an impressive gorge with breathtaking rock formations (Gorges du Dadès). Let yourself be enchanted by the bizarre rocks, which shine in different shades of red and always open up new perspectives. From here you can also drive to the village of Tinerhir and on to Todra Gorge , where you can marvel at a 300 m high rock face. The Todra Gorge is well suited for mountaineering. You can also continue from here via Tinjedad and Touroug and visit Jorf with its ancient underground irrigation system. But you can also take the path into the desert, watch the sun rise over the towering dunes of the Erg Chebbi Desert near Merzouga early in the morning, and visit the desert city of Erfoud.

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Don’t miss out on getting to know the fairytale landscape from the back of a camel. Camel rides of one or more hours will give you numerous photo opportunities. You can also spend a night under the stars in a desert camp and enjoy Moroccan cuisine at a fire camp.