The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs

TH 01There is a section in Morocco that stretches from the mountains to the desert, following the course of the rivers through oasis after oasis that is both incredibly beautiful and depressing, this is famed trade route: The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs.

The Mountain roads that lead there weave around mountain tops and through valleys, some fertile and populated and others desolate and barren. Descending from the snow-capped mountains of the high atlas your eyes widen at the vast plain stretching to the horizon. Quickly you encounter a small village and have the first Kasbah pointed out to you - a crumbling wall and a partially collapsed tower.

A Kasbah is a fortified house and were important waypoints between the desert and Marrakech, owned by wealthy land owning families that offered protection to passing caravans. In the 21st century, a great many of the Kasbahs have been left to ruin with the families either moving on or building modern houses nearby. This is what make the route so depressing to view, once grand structures crumble neglected by the present one after the other.

What makes the route so incredibly beautiful are the rare Kasbahs that have been maintained, the stark simplicity of their design casting a foreboding shadow over any who approach. It is easy to imagine in centuries past a trader having some trepidation at approaching a Kasbah looking for protection or trade on the long journey, even more so to a bandit looking for a prize to steal.

TH 02One of the most famous of these Kasbahs that almost every tourist is taken to is Ait Benhadou located around 25 kilometres from Moroccco’s Hollywood, Ouzerzate. It is an intimidating fortified town built next to a river and onto a hill. It has an impressive field of view that would have been easily defended. It has also been used in several films including as a backdrop for Gladiator and Prince of Persia. The interior of Ait Benhadou is a series of alleys between buildings that have been co-opted as souvenir shops.

Ourzezate is the middle of the Route and is actually several towns that have been joined together to become a desert metropolis. It has numerous old sections linked by an array of new buildings designed to look old and new roads lined with stylistic artistic light poles. Ourzezate is a prized city for the current king, and has been the recipient of a massive amount of investment. The first decade of the 21st century saw numerous films made here, and in the last few years has become the site of a 500MW solar power plant.

40 Kilometres from Ourzezate in Skoura is a Kasbah truly worth visiting. Kasbah Amradil is well maintained and while not an operating Kasbah does operate as a museum offering informative tours, and a new hotel next to it. Our guide was enthusiastic taking us through the many rooms informing us of their design and historical functions. A part that I very much enjoyed was when we were guided to a tower and shown how to defend a Kasbah. The towers jut one metre out from the walls with a series of windows overlooking the wall and surrounding areas, maybe 10cms wide by 20cms high, while the interior of the window is much larger. It allows for a person in the tower to have an incredible field of view while placing themselves in very little danger of being seen. The windows are placed at distance to allow a person to move quickly between them, unseen from the outside. It is an elegant and efficient design. I heartily recommend that when you come to Moroccco, you take the time visit Kasbah Amradil and gain an appreciation for why the Kasbah was such an important part of Morocco’s history.

TH 03TH 04

From Ourzezate, we continue our way toward the desert passing through the Dades and Todra Gorges, incredibly beautiful valleys that were very important to the caravan trade.

The Route continues several hundred kilometres further to Rissani, the gateway to the desert, past more Kasbahs and towns. Along the highway mounds of dirt begin to appear, a few metres high and ten metres between, and then you notice that there are several rows of these mounds on each side of the highway. Ibrahim pulls over to a hut on the side of the road and we are introduced to the purpose of the mounds. Centuries ago, the locals dug an underground river stretching from the mountains to the oasis to ensure fresh water throughout the year and the mounds are the surface access points used in the creation. Each tunnel was dug by hand, and stretch for at around 20 kilometres. At first there was only one tunnel but then each family dug their own. The tunnels are now dry and make for an interesting historical footnote.

TH 05TH 06

A little later, Ibrahim stopped off at a Ksar to show us one of the great beauties and tragedies of modern Moroccan life. A Ksar is a fortified town that is still home for many families. Ksars are majestic structures, centuries old, traditionally built of quality mud and palm thatch, they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer, with many covered streets to protect from the elements, and slowly falling to ruin. As it is, parts of the city are in a state of collapse and when a section of the town collapses, the families in the affected area move from the Ksar to a nearby modern town. Each time a family moves, a part of this history is lost and within a generation or two they will be forgotten. Tourists do not visit these places which is a great shame as this is how many people still live, and if they were visited they could possibly earn enough money to repair and maintain the town.

Rissani is an old town, older than Fes, in centuries past caravans would converge from the desert and trade before taking the Route to Marrakech. When we visit, the markets are open. These markets operate three days a week and are still hugely popular for the remaining nomads as well as the surrounding villages. Much like those at Ida Ougourd you can get everything here, the biggest difference though is the size. Rissanni’s markets cover whole blocks and was once the largest market in North Africa. The blocks are divided by product: fresh vegetables, livestock (sheep and donkeys), textiles and homewares, there is even a block solely dedicated to dates. As with all good markets, there are small tents that offer lunch. We stopped at one and had Duez, a stew of vegetables and meat, which aside from being incredibly tasty, fed the three of us for 40MAD.

TH 07TH 08

From Rissani, we head out to Erg Chebbi, to experience the edge of the Sahara.

Other Experiences in Morocco:
Marrakech to Imil
A Walk in the Dades Gorge
A Night at Erg Chebbi, the Sahara 
The Middle Atlas
Northern Morocco and Gouffre du Friouato


Marrakech to Imlil, Morocco

Im 01 PartyWe arrived back in Marrakech at midday on Sunday. I was beginning to feel unwell, having developed a head cold. I relaxed through the afternoon while Rina went to the nearby Henna Café to get a small pattern on her wrist for her birthday.

In the evening, Ibrahim (our guide) and the staff of the Riad threw Rina a party, including traditional Berber clothes. We were treated to a wonderful filling meal of tagine Kefta and salad, some dancing and a Chocolate Mousse Cake.  A family that was staying in the hotel came and joined the party and made for a great evening. We then went out on the town for a quick beer at a rooftop bar Red Hotel and some Shisha.

The follow morning, I was feeling worse than ever, but not wanting to miss a thing, I rugged myself up and went out for a walking tour of Marrakech. Our guide Sharriff was excellent, taking the time to answer our question regarding living in the Medina, but also regarding Islam and many other aspects of Moroccan society. For three hours we made our way through the area visiting the Saadian Tombs (10 MAD entry fee) (Meticulous and elaborately decorated tombs with some exquisite Moroccan stucco), the Bahia Palace (10 MAD entry fee) (The former residence of the Grand Vizier), the Kasbah, and the Jewish quarter. It was a great experience to walk the streets and be shown the various monuments of the city.

Im 02Im 03Im 04

We stopped by a herbalist in the Kasbah and picked up some Sanouj (the Arabic name for Nigella Sativa seeds), which are commonly used as a remedy for pretty much everything in the Arab world. For me, I intended to sniff the vapour of the seed oil to clear my sinuses. Amazingly, sniffing the oil acts like a desiccate, drying my sinuses almost immediately and providing relief.

In the afternoon we visited the Majorelle Garden (50 MAD entry fee), established by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the early 20th century and opened to the public in 1947. It is very well constructed garden containing a range of plants not familiar to the area, the layout is highly structured and reflects more a work of art than a slice of nature.

That night I went to sleep very early in an attempt to conquer the cold that was overtaking my senses. The night was filled with fever dreams and when I woke in the morning, I was feeling better. I wanted very much to be better as today we were travelling to Imlil in Toubkal National Park to go hiking, and as hiking is one of major reasons I travel anywhere, I really wanted to be able to enjoy it.

We arrived in Imlil around 10:30am and picked up our guide, Mohammed, then stopped off at our Riad for a quick mint tea. We had booked for a hike with an overnight at a Gite but as I am still a little under the weather staying at a Riad works best.

Im 05Im 06Im 07

The walk took us up through the valley to the Tizi Tamatrte pass (2300m) on a path that winds through a village then through a pine forest and above the snow line. The weather was cool but the sun was shining as we ascended. There is a small store at the pass where you can stop for a bite and get some tea. We met a couple of guys at the top who had mountain biked and chatted a while.

Im 08Im 09Im 10

While we waited the weather began to change, the clouds were being drawn down into the valley, the thermals twirling and curling the vapour like a ballet. With the weather changing and my health, we opted to walk the road along the valleys edge rather than descend to the nearby village (which is what we would have done if we were staying at a Gite). We walked a few kilometres then returned to the store and ate a lunch of tuna, cheese and bread. This time we met Australian and Canadian doctors who were walking to the Gite down below. For the walk back to our Riad we opted to take the return road rather than the trail to see Imlil from a different perspective. On the way down, it began to snow and we enjoyed the very novel experience.

Im 11Im 12Im 13

Imlil, Morocco

Other Experiences in Morocco:
The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs
A Walk in the Dades Gorge
A Night at Erg Chebbi, the Sahara
The Middle Atlas



Essaouira is 170 kilometres west of Marrakech, and takes around 3 hours to reach by bus. The area has been occupied for thousands of years with evidence of prehistoric settlement, a Phoenician and  Carthaginian trading post, Roman & Berber settlements, it is the site of the burial of Muslim Saint Sidi Mogdoul (after whom the area was named Mogador), and was a Portuguese outpost in the 16th century which fell to the local resistance in 1510. It wasn’t until the 18th century however that the city I am visiting today began to take shape under the rule of Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah.

The city was designed by a French engineer, Theodore Cornut, with the aim of establishing a coastal trading centre close to Marrakech and remained the principal port until the 19th century. The name of the city means “Beautifully Designed”.

The city has earned many myths regarding 20th century icons staying here. Orson Welles directed the 1952 film version of Othello here. Jimi Hendrix was here in 1967. There are stories of Frank Zappa, Cat Stevens and Bob Marley, and these resonate through the city with Reggae, Jazz and Rock being played in the Souks.


The medina is surrounded by mediaeval ramparts. The wind is ever present here, and when the wind and tide are high together, the ocean swells dramatically generating impressive waves that crash into the surrounding rocks.


We have come to Essaouira to relax and get a feel for Morocco before we head out through the High Atlas then north with our guide. One thing that Essaouira taught us immediately on arriving was that you everything is closer than it appears on a map. We got off the Supratours bus and within minutes were in the Medina and then at our Riad. The Map of the Medina makes it seem expansive and labyrinthine like our first experience in Marrakech, but the reality is smaller and quite easy to navigate.

The Medina starts to come alive between 9 & 10am, with the Souks opening, then after 7pm the medina changes – Most restaurants open, the main stalls begin to close and new vendors take over offering goods for the teeming locals, quiet streets become football fields for children, small groups of people stroll, and occasionally you stumble across a food cart. As we are here in the low season, there are not many venues offering live music but there are a few offerings including some Gnaoua (an African Blues).

Essaouira also has many barbers in the Medina who give an excellent shave. When it comes to shopping, Essaouira has a great deal to offer.

There are artist cooperatives throughout the medina who offer hand crafted pieces at set prices. Shopping with collectives avoids bartering but also ensures that the money goes to the artist rather than through middlemen. Sometimes the prices are better than what you get in the souks and sometimes not. We bought some Thuya from La Coopérative artisinale de thuya.

Essaouira has a small museum in the medina, 10 MAD entry, that offers some interesting history of the area as well as special exhibitions, and even though it is all in French, there is a lot that can be learned.

There are many restaurants in the Medina, most offering very similar tourist fare, but we did find a few standouts.

Ess-RoyalCousCousLa Découverte was excellent. The menu is Moroccan influenced and based on locally sourced ingredients. They also have daily specials providing some beautiful alternatives. Every Monday they offer Royal couscous with camel meat which tastes brilliant. It is delicate dish of caramelised onion, olives and camel meat over Couscous. We also tried the Pigeon Pastilla which was delicate and sweet. Rarely have I left a restaurant completely satisfied, but Frederique & Edouard provide an excellent experience. Not only is the food good, but they are wonderful hosts with a great sense of humour.

Triskala offers a limited vegetarian menu that changes daily with stylish music oriented decor where you eat in nooks of various sizes. What sets Triskala apart is their ethos. Most entrees are 25 MAD, mains 50 MAD, and deserts 25 MAD. The portions are large and very tasty, while not standard Moroccan fare it is worth the visit for taste, ambience and wonderful hospitality.

As Essaouira is a fishing town, you can’t go past the fish markets for a lunch. They offer set prices and you get to select the particular fish you want to eat. It is grilled without seasoning so you get to enjoy the taste of the day’s catch. When you enter the markets, hawkers will do everything they can to get you to choose their tent over the others, but don’t worry, everything here is good and the price the same.

Ess-ChwarmaStreet vendors offer Chwarma, Crepes, cream cakes and pastries, boiled Mussels and more. What we tried was excellent quality and quite cheap. There is a good variety of fresh fruit available at great prices- 1kg of strawberries for 20MAD, Bananas 4 MAD, Mandarines 1.5 MAD.

Essaouira is a wonderful place to relax and explore. 5 days here is plenty of time to explore and relax, and by the end you will be very satisfied with the experience.

See Also:

Essouira - Guided Walks

Essouira - Cooking Class

Other 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


Joomla! Debug Console


Profile Information

Memory Usage

Database Queries