Exploring Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains - February Half Term 2019. Part 2: Atlas Mountains
After 3 days in Marrakech we'd planned to make full use of our hire car and ventured off into Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Our final destination was the Kasbah de Toubkal, one of National Geographics unique lodges of the world. Before heading to the snowy peaks however, we stopped en route at an activity centre complete with traditional Berber style tents and lodges. Terres D'amanar is one of a number of emerging accommodation options in Morocco, taking advantage of their stunning natural surroundings to offer a range of adrenaline inducing activities. From tree-top rope courses and giant zip-lines to horseback trekking and quad biking, there's something for everyone on offer.
Unfortunately, the ominous black rainclouds that seemed a distant nightmare from our warm and sunny Marrakech days were now directly overhead. We arrived, made a quick decision to upgrade from the intriguing but very simple Berber tents to a lodge, and set off for a wet weather drive to explore the local area. Although we weren't up in the mountains yet, the roads wound around bends and tight corners with the snow-capped mountains an ever present backdrop. After a late lunch/early dinner stop, sandwiched between a roaring open fire and an ancient electric heater, we headed back to our accommodation. The incessant rain had now become a snowstorm and, despite snow being common in the mountains, this was clearly unusual as locals pulled over to take snowy selfies with their cars. It wasn't quite what we'd had in mind, but the snow resting on the pine covered hillsides leading up to the mountains behind was a magical scene and the kids were absolutely loving it!
Thankfully we awoke to bright sunshine the following morning and tested out the activity centre. All ages are catered for and, after a little gentle persuasion, we had two volunteers ready to test the under 6's ropes course. The kids were well harnessed up and parents, on this course anyway, do the guiding following a short but well explained tutorial on a practice rope. The course varied from about 5 feet off the ground to around 8 feet at its peak, all very manageable for little ones and adult supervisors, with just the right level of excitement. The course was really well designed with inventive and creative ways of moving from tree to tree. A couple of ziplines combine with wobbly rope steps, net tunnels, a zip-car, and zip-bike amongst others, to guide adventurers from start to finish (the course took around 45 minutes to complete). There are a further three courses all of which ramp up in height and difficulty, and adventurous teens and parents can also try out the giant zipline and rope ladder bridge that traverses from peak to peak.
One mini meltdown later (our youngest was convinced he was capable of tackling the 6 plus 'blue' course) and we were back in our car, weaving our way up ever narrowing roads in the direction of mighty Mount Toubkal. At over 13,600 feet, it's North Africa’s highest mountain and attracts intrepid trekkers from all over the world. We had a few short walks and stunning scenery in mind, as opposed to anything grander, and that's exactly what we got! The village of Imlil acts as gateway to the mountains and, as well as a great spot to park and leave your car, it’s also very picturesque, particularity when covered in snow, with shops and restaurants plentiful. The Kasbah de Toubkal is perched on a hill top above Imlil and access is via a zig-zagging hillside pathway. We were greeted at the Kasbahs office in Imlil and our bags and children, much to their delight, were loaded onto a mule and transported up while we walked beside. It was a fabulous introduction to mountain and Berber life in the Atlas Mountains and was a real highlight the children, as they were bumped and rocked up the snowy path surrounded on all sides by soaring peaks.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the Kasbah enjoying lunch on the sunny, rooftop terrace and playing games in the living room of our suite around a wood burning stove. It was a fantastic day and a real hit with the kids.
The following morning we'd planned to take advantage of the complimentary guided walk offered by the Kasbah to explore our surroundings. However, a trouser burning incident and general lack of pre-planning for snow, left us a little ill-prepared. Instead we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and spent the morning relaxing at the Kasbah before heading back to warmer climes.
Our penultimate day and final night were spent at a small, French-inspired hotel comprising of around ten separate single room villas. Set amongst olive groves, in the lush green foothills of the Atlas Mountains, it was the perfect follow-up to the cold but strikingly beautiful Atlas Mountains. The snow-capped peaks remained in the background, but this was all about relaxing strolls and lounging by the pool. It was a great spot for the children as they enjoyed running around the winding pathways that connected the villas and swimming pool, while the on-site mini golf and boules (or petank) kept any hint of boredom at bay. After a final post breakfast morning stroll through a local village, we headed back to Marrakech and eventually home. From sunshine to snowstorms and crowded souks to soaring peaks, it was a fabulous week away, thoroughly enjoyed by parents and kids alike!