Northern Morocco and Gouffre du Friouato

Nor001We arrived to our hotel, located just inside the medina, in Fez as the sun was setting. The Medina is the largest and oldest in the world, the hotel staff quickly informed us, along with the areas nearby that were safe to visit at night (which was very small). We are told that the Medina is an immense sprawl that is mostly safe by day but not so much at night. There are pickpockets and various other disreputable individuals prepared to take advantage of tourists. Fez is the first place we have been in Morocco where we didn’t feel completely safe.

We took a tour of Fez, from ancient ramparts overlooking the city and into the medina itself. Fez was a larger more labyrinthine variation of Marrakech and it seemed that Fez was all about scale: The medina was bigger, the streets narrower, the interior decorations grander; the city which was once three towns, now one, consumed every centimetre of available land. One thing that stood out to me more than any of the other medinas was the amount of stores selling the same items. It’s a common thing you find in any market but the sheer volume made me wonder how any of them earn enough to stay open.

Nor002In Fez we were taken to a couple of buildings that stood out as impressive, but our local guide did not take us to the famous Bou Inania Medersa and museum, telling us it was currently closed to the public. He did however take us to a different restored madrasa, another restored building that sold carpets and supported a local Women’s Association, and the tannery which did not smell as bad as I thought it would. We watched a while as skins were worked, soaked and tanned, a small bushel of mint at hand in case the smell began to over power.

From my dealings with the local guide in Fez, and the style of city tour he provided, I realised that like any large city Fez as less about satisfaction than profit.


The next day however was the highpoint of Northern Morocco for us, Tazekka National Park and the Gouffre du Friouato. The park is located east of Fez, and there several routes available including a relatively new toll road, but for the outbound journey we opted for the scenic route. Through the country side past fertile fields we drove heading back into the Middle Atlas. The road weaved along a beautiful valley then up along the mountains themselves. There were a few small villages along the way but the road was essentially deserted. The views were spectacular as we drove this lonesome narrow road, each crest more beautiful, each turn bringing a panorama grander with the Rif mountains visible to the north. Dotted periodically were national park and hiking signs, promising a difficult hike through pristine country (a promise I will take up when I return here sometime in the future).The drive was one of the best and most beautiful we had in Morocco.


Eventually we descended from the mountains to again drive the valley floor which gradually opened to a plain dotted with houses. When we arrived at Gouffre du Friouato (Abyss of Friouato) we almost missed it. We drove up the road where there was a small office and café, and stopped for green tea with absinthe.

Nor008-CThe Gouffre office has a small selection of overalls and equipment to choose from, and an experienced guide to take you through. The cave is roughly 3 kilometres in length with broad paths and hollows. The initial descent to the grotto involves going down a steep metal staircase then a slightly less steep stone one. The grotto is broad with an incredible amount of light due to the large hole in the cave’s roof. Wherever the light reaches are mosses and lichens. Anyone can go into the grotto without equipment, which is impressive, but we wanted to venture inside.

In the extra kilometre we explored, there were only a few sections that were small or difficult to traverse. The biggest trouble people may have is that this is a wet cave, almost every surface is moist and slippery. It is a young cave filled with some beautiful large stalagmites and stalactites, but their number is smaller than in other cave systems such as those at Naracoorte in South Australia. The cave also has numerous pools being fed by the perpetual dripping of water from the roof above.


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The Gouffre is a beautiful cave, and well worth the 400MAD (for 4 people) price of entry, and for us it was truly a highlight of northern Morocco. It was also great to see the enjoyment on Barhou’s and our friend Said’s face after the experience, as they didn’t know that there were adventures like this. The Gouffre du Friouato is not well advertised, but is easy enough to find and offers a unique Moroccan experience.

Nor024We headed north to Chefchouen, our last stop on our Moroccan Odyssey. Chefchaouen is also known as the blue city, due to the number of blue buildings in the old city you can see from a distance. We wandered around Chefchouen for the afternoon and relaxed with food. It is a beautiful town but sadly after three weeks of moving place to place, experience to experience, we did not give it enough energy to make it possible to report on.

The following day we departed Chefchouen for Tangier Med to catch a ferry to Spain and the next stage of our year long journey across the globe.


Nor025Other Experiences in Morocco:


Marrakech to Imil
The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs
A Walk in the Dades Gorge
A Night at Erg Chebbi, the Sahara
The Middle Atlas



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