Departure by car from Marrakech around 0800h (08:00 am) in the morning for an exhilarating 2hour drive south up over gorges and high passes of the Upper Valleys – so hold on to your hats - to the Berber town of Imlil (1740m), known as Morocco’s ‘Little Chamonix’, set in the upper level foothills of the Western High Atlas mountains, a main trailhead with mule paths branching out in all directions. Here we shall leave our vehicle to take a welcome glass of mint tea in our gîte d’étape prior to setting out for the start of today’s 6 hour hike from Imlil north along the Mizane valley to Aguerssiouâl.
From here we strike out towards the west alongside the Jbel Tasghimout (2664m) to the Berber hamlet of Mattat, where we stop for our field picnic near a spring. We then continue on through the Tizi n’Oudid (2005m) towards the village of Id Aïssa (1700m) in the n’Aït Ouissa’dane Valley and on to our dinner and accommodation in a Gîte d’étape in the red-clay village of Tizziane (1730m)
After breakfast we now set off ever westwards on another of our 6 hours’ hike up along the Assif n’Ouissa’dane Valley, passing through almond groves and several Berber villages, up to the Tizi n’Takhrhkhourte (1995m) and through to a rare almost flat stretch to arrive at the Assaka Spring, where we’ll stop for our field picnic amidst an awesome silence after some 2½ hours’ relatively easy walking. Our afternoon’s hike takes us down along the edges of the forest, passing by the hamlet of Tizgui until we reach the Berber village of D’Knt (1870m) where we’ll have our dinner and spend the night in a Berber family’s home in the hamlet of Am’sslane (1924m).
Breakfast tucked away, we strike out further south-west for some 4 hours through the Jbel Tafengha (2163m) via the Tizi Am’sslane (2095m) and down between the Jbels Talfanahrt (2235m) and Amsghouni (2202m) along a track through irrigated fields worn by the mountain farmers to reach the Tizi n’Iguidi (2640m). Once through the col, we descend for half an hour to some irrigation channels near the quaint village of Ala n’Oumzomi where we’ll stop for our field picnic. Once refreshed, we continue westwards for another 2½ hours, passing by several Berber hamlets, whose packed clay (pisé) homes are of varying colours, depending on which earth they have clawed from the mountain slopes, on to the Oued n’Fis, here to turn towards the south along the river via the little village of Outakhi and the larger village of Ijoukak, a trailhead at the crossroads of the Agoundis and N’Fis Valleys for treks to the Toubkal Massif from the western approach, where we stop for the night for our dinner and accommodation in a Berber Auberge.
After breakfast has been tucked away we set out down what can best be compared to a country lane, passing the Berber villages of Souq Ijoukak, Tagountafte and Ikhfe N’Boul until we arrive at the tribal kasbah of the Sultan Caïd Goundafi. The inner part of the palace-fortress still retains traces of its original Hispano-Arabesque decoration and seems to have been built either in the late 17th century or late in the 19th century, depending on who is telling the tale, and this feudal warrior of the old tradition constantly waged war with the neighbouring Glaoui clan.
We shall have our field picnic alongside the walls of a 12th century prison before setting out on an easy walk down the contours of the high valley of the Assif n’Fis amidst stands of olive, walnut and almond trees until we come across a hauntingly beautiful hidden valley with its stream of clear, cool slow-moving water seasonally full of trout, lined with hillside hamlets, orchards and ancient terraced irrigated fields. We arrive finally at the small, remote stronghold settlement of Tin-Mal high up on the opposite bank of the river, giving all the appearance of a Lhasa-in-Muslim miniature, set amidst brown slopes, green shrubbery and snow-capped mountains. We are here to visit the fortress of high walls and strong towers, the sole survivor of the once holy 12th century city built by the founder of the Almohad dynasty, Mehdi Ibn Toumarte, and the only mosque in Morocco - other than the new mosque of Hassan II in Casablanca (into which a non-Muslim may enter- except on Fridays).
We take this rare opportunity to visit the interior of a mosque, and an ancient one at that, the prototype of which was the Grand Mosque at Taza (near Fes), by entering through a small, sturdy door in the corner of the main tower. Now roofless, deep shadows thrown by the surviving bas relief pisé columns and carefully restored arcades and horseshoe arches contrast with the large sunbaked wall. Intact amongst the ruins we witness the fine examples of ancient Almohad decor. But was there ever a minaret? There are three towers, which are unusual in that they are built above the actual prayer hall, yet minarets are always free-standing. Is the final restored work going to respect the original aura of austere puritanism of that once theocratic Almohad Islam. Cedar from Azrou is now used for the ceilings; a special lime has been imported from Spain; no cement or concrete is being used and the several cupolas have been restored in some areas with richly decorated stalactite plaster work. In the actual village there is a ruined kasbah, a Medersa and an old water tank which produces a regular supply of the French gastronomic delight - edible frogs. And you might buy a litre of Tin-Mal olive oil from the olive press and mill down towards the river. From here we continue on to village of Imi n’Oussif n’Ougdemte for our dinner and overnight accommodation in a Berber family’s home
After breakfast, we set off down the river banks of the Oued n’Fis with Berber hamlets whose terraced, irrigated vegetable plots and stands of fruit trees dot both sides until we reach the foothills of the Tizi n’Test, where you stop for our meal around noon, to continue on down via stands of olive trees to the village of Mouldighte, where our transport is awaiting us to take us back to our hotel in Marrakech.