Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

A Unesco Heritage Kasbah and a popular film setting

This once important city on the caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakesh is now a popular tourist destination. Ait-Ben-Haddou is a village which is constructed from clay bricks and has thick defensive walls protecting the interior. Approaching this sandy coloured village you feel like stepping straight into a film such as “Lawrence of Arabia” filmed here in 1962, the scenery and the atmosphere are unforgettable.

It is believed that the town of Ait-Ben-Haddou was established in 757 and its founder, Ben-Haddou, still lies buried in his tomb behind this spectacular city. Most of the original inhabitants of the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou have moved across the river to more modern homes. The river can be crossed by jumping the stepping stones, and some residents of the new village have small stores within the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, selling artefacts, paintings and other souvenirs to tourists.

The word ‘Ksar’ refers to a large group of kasbas (=homes) which are built close together and which are located behind the fortified walls of a city. Ait-Ben-Haddou was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Morocco in 1987.

Many famous movies have been filmed here including ‘The Jewel of the Nile’ in 1985, ‘The Mummy’ in 1999 and more recently the ‘Gladiator’ was filmed here in 2000 and ‘Alexander’ in 2004. Visitors are not only attracted by the natural beauty and historical highlights of this mystical location, but also from the fact that many awarded films have been shot here.

Ouarzazate Atlas filming studios

The Moroccan Hollywood

Situated just outside Ouarzazate, the door to Sahara desert, this filming studio is one of the biggest in the world and it has nothing to envy to Hollywood. Walking from set to set we recognised the scenery of the famous film “Asterix and Obelix- Mission Cleopatra” shot in 2002 and we had the impression to travel through time from one film to another.

Ouarzazate was first used as a movie location when Lawrence of Arabia was shot in 1962. But it wasn’t before 1983 that Atlas Film Studios was built, when Morrocan entrepreneur Mohamed Belghmi recognised the need for a movie studio in the region.

Since then, the place has been used as a shooting location for famous movies like Gladiator, The Mummy, Game of Thrones, The Passion of the Christ, Prince of Persia, Babel, Asteric & Obelix and many more. Enormous sets have been built by Hollywood productions to represent places like Jerusalem, Tibet or ancient Egypt and they are not demolished once used, so that they can be reused.

Dades Valley and Todra Gorge

The Dades Valley, also known as the “Road of a thousand Kasbahs“, stretches 160 km from Ouarzazate to the east of Tinghir.

The gorge carved by the Dades River separates Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains. Recently the gorge and neighbouring Berberian kasbahs became a popular tourist attraction: the shades of red of the canyons create a deep contrast with the green of the fertile valley floor, surrounded by mud-brick walls and fortresses.

A stop along the Todra Gorge road is worthwhile to take a closer look at some of the ancient Kasbahs and to enjoy a walk in the shade of the palm trees beside the river. The steep canyon walls, with as little as 10m between them in places, tower above a gently running stream. Scarfs sellers are placed along the road since this is a popular stop for tourists heading towards the desert. The regions is also renowned for rose cultivation. Daded Gorge is close to the Todra one and equally impressive.

Erg Chebbi desert campsite

Once in a lifetime experience where silence reigns

Spending the night amongst the Erg Chebbi sand dunes at a Saharan desert camp has always been in my bucket list and for a good reason! I will always remember the sunset in the Sahara desert as one of the most memorable of my life. Once arrived at the border of the desert, the guide introduced us to our camels to get used to each other before get on the saddle and start our incredible 1 hour trekking to get to the campsite.

The hike was a bit bumpy but very relaxing and the scenery was breath taking. The guides showed us how to arrange the scarf around our heads and mouth to get protected by sun and wind. The campsite started appearing at the background, our shadows all in line on the sand reminded me of the story tale “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves”.

Once settled in our tents we all went at the top of the dunes to take incredible pictures of the sunset and we could spot oasis and group of camels at distance. The silence is unreal, we could only hear the wind playing with the sand, but the best part was gazing at the sky without any kind of light pollution and admire the milky way is all its splendour. We could spot for the first time constellations and bright stars that with the help of the moon were lightening sweetly our camp. The night was concluded with a traditional Gnaoua live music show.

In the morning we got up at 5 to enjoy sunrise this time; even if tiredness was there it was the perfect occasion to take great pictures and enjoy the wonderful landscape all around us. This tour finished with the return to the van by camels but our memories will certainly last forever.