Four to five hours south-east of Marrakech by road, the town of Ouarzazate is known as the gateway to the south of the country. The scenery around Ouarzazate and the Great Moroccan South is filled with valleys and gorges, with the Draa Valley extending southwards and providing plenty of greenery. Think date palm oases that line the road to Zagora and beyond, where the Sahara begins, and the roads and towns run out. Red brick ksars are draped in sunlight, surrounded by arid mountains and rolling dunes, ready for you to head out to explore on foot or by 4x4. Film buffs can indulge in a few
guilty pleasures between the camel treks and Bedouin cultural experiences as Ouarzazate is also home to the Atlas Film Studios, where a host of A-list movies have been made, from Lawrence of Arabia to Gladiator. The region's dramatic scenery and traditional Kasbah buildings do indeed lend themselves wonderfully well to film sets, as anyone who plans an Ouarzazate and the Southern Desert holiday will appreciate.
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What to expect on an Ouarzazate and the Southern Desert holiday:
Ouarzazate is known as the ‘gateway to the Sahara Desert’ and for good reason. A mosaic of pastel-hued houses swathes the hillsides of this ancient city, as you would expect with many desert cities. However, the city is also home to the world-famous Atlas Film Studios who famously shot Lawrence of Arabia in the ravishing desert vistas that surround the city. If you’re more of a history buff than a film fanatic, Ait-Ben-Haddou is the place to explore. The UNESCO World Heritage site is a stunning mud brick city that was built around 1,000 years ago and provides a unique backdrop for any desert adventure. It is especially magic at dusk, so pack your sundowners and head out with a guide for a sunset like no other.
Ouarzazate and the Southern Desert holidays are also perfect for experiencing Moroccan culture and landscape. Once you have explored the culture and history that this sandstone area has to offer, head for the hills with a private guide to explore gulches of geological marvels and colossal dunes of polychromatic sand. Settle down for the night in a tented camp surrounded by the calm and stillness of the desert at night before reclining on floor cushions around a fire as a smattering of silver starry specs and shooting orbs fill the deep night sky. Once rested, head into the dunes for a thrilling ride in a 4x4, bumping and bashing over the amber-coloured sand before heading back to Ouarzazate for another traditional Moroccan mean under the desert sky.
Live like a local in the Jbel Saghro
Picture the scene. Evening is drawing near. In the distance, you can make out the nomads' tents, protected by low stone walls. The herds are slowly returning, guided by an elderly woman who emits high-pitched cries to call her animals. Once the men have returned from the markets, take a seat alongside them, sheltered by the protective walls and share a cup of tea. The billowing flames of the fire warm your toes as the night draws in, while a tantalising aroma of freshly cooked food floats by on the breeze. Darkness descends and the embers crackle, illuminating the faces of the locals hunched over dishes of tasty meats and home-grown vegetables. Watch as they knead pieces of mutton, blending them with semolina, sour milk and vegetables before they get put on the fire and the sweet smell of dinner begins to waft in the air.
Who are Ouarzazate and the Southern Desert holidays best for?
Morocco beckons travellers who thrive on adventure and love immersing themselves in other cultures. It calls out to those who want to uncover the nomadic spirit and heed the desert's alluring summons. It is a destination that entices explorers looking to explore the charm of Taroudant, thought of as the most delightful city in Morocco. It invites those who wish to meander through authentic souqs. And ultimately it welcomes all who wish to experience genuine and unpretentious local life.