See a separate posting for photos.
Our time in the desert made us realize how much our expectations had been coloured by Hollywood. On our drive from Casablanca to Ait Ben Haddou (on the road to Marrakesh) we passed a town which is described as the Hollywood of Morocco. All sorts of epic movies like Moses, Gladiator, Cleopatra were shot there and it’s still a thriving industry. As we drove along the valley of a Thousand Kasbahs, castellated forts, not the dens of iniquity from early movies, it was easy to see how their impact on the skyline would lend themselves to the big screen.
We had a walk along Todra Gorge, which nowadays has a river running through it fed by several springs. Although the scenery was quite dramatic, a mini Grand Canyon, what I found interesting was that it was obviously a popular destination for family picnics and outings of local football teams, who were playing music and singing together, all Moslems so not a beer in sight! We had a walk through an oasis, growing date palms, fruit trees, fava beans and grains. Next to it was an ancient kasbah, built around a well, enabling a whole household, their horses and livestock, to withstand a siege. There was a marvellous view from the roof. Again it was a very LONG day and we felt quite cheated as we had no time to enjoy the amenities- our own private courtyard, a beautiful swimming pool, a bar on the terrace – of the Hotel Riad Ksar Ighnda, the most luxurious so far.
Next morning we were up early to climb to the top of the ksar, or deserted fortified village almost adjacent to our hotel. At the top it was easy to see how strategic its location had been as we could see for miles. On our drive to Marrakesh through the High Atlas Mountains the road was narrow, twisting and subject to washouts and rock slides. In winter the road can be closed by snow for hours or even days. We arrived unscathed and our boutique hotel was again situated deep in the medina, with streets too narrow for vehicular access. We had two full days to explore but even at that, there was much we hadn’t time to see. We visited the Koutoubia Mosque, which dominates the skyline being the highest building, and the beautifully restored Bahia Palace, former home of the Grand Vizier, his wives and harem. There is also a historic Jewish area, although there are now very few Jews in Morocco.