Day 1 - Ait Baha
Out of La Grenadine and into Morocco. The first part through Ville Ouled Teima was quite busy, lorries and cars. Lakssiba provided our first tea stop. 50 pence for a glass of tea and a photo of lunch in tagines, something we would become very familiar with. 27km and the road went quieter, past the enormous tower of a concrete factory for lunch at Imi Mquorn, having been blown here by a grand tail wind. Rachid was providing lunches and I’d expected a soggy sandwich, however our guide had chopped beetroot, tomatoes, added nuts and with a metal fork (supplied) we munched away with a fresh coffee from Barista machines that would prove to be plentiful. The Anti-Atlas mountains started after lunch and we ground up in the heat to descend to Ait Baha where a hotel with a central atrium awaited. More coffee at the terrace bar, painted lifts and the first tagine served on the fourth floor.
Day 2 - Tizourgane Kasbah
Nothing like a climb to start with and it would remain this way for most of the day. A reservoir on the right provided pretty views and bird life, before we headed up on good roads and a good gradient admiring the tangerine shaded houses clinging to the hillsides. Argan trees littered the hillsides with the Atlas Mountains rising up all around us. Café stops were few so we picnicked on a little summit munching another of Rachids lovely salad boxes washed down with small oranges that were plentiful. A café finally arrived at 34km where we drank tea in the shade and geared up for the final 4km of climb. Descent at last and the Kasbah came into view. Perched on a hillside it looked like a medieval fort perched on a hill. Ascending to its walls, the luggage was winched in and we made ourselves comfortable in small dark rooms, pretty typical of what we would expect. An elaborate tea ceremony on the terrace followed by tagine (what else) led to a cold night if you didn’t salt away enough blankets.
Day 3 - Amelne Valley
After a night in Colditz with Cushions we emerged to breakfast on the terrace starring oranges, bread, olive oil and jam with an egg thrown in. Down the steps with luggage winched down and we were away to finish the descent.
The final climb of the day took us over the Tarakatine Pass, at 1666metres the 16km of downhill afterwards was most welcome though broken by a thoroughly welcome coffee stop where a cat was fed milk but we stopped short of offering our sardines for lunch. Chez Amaliya would be our home for three nights. With a central pool and rooms dotted about it was a great location, Lisbeth the Dutch owner was entertaining. Moving to Morocco at the age of 45, she had built the place, married a Moroccan and intended to stay forever.
Day 4 - Traditional House
Armed with rucksacks instead of panniers we headed east through the fields towards the traditional house. To our left the orange mountains glowed in the morning sun as we picked our way through paths cut through the burnt out terraced areas. It should be green bemoaned Rachid, full of green but the drought of five years standing was taking its toll. An abandoned village came into view. Consisting of houses built of stone and wood they had fallen into disrepair either due to time or because of the flash rain that dominated this area, washing them away to be replaced by concrete structured further down the hillside.
The traditional house was an absolute treat. Our guide was the son of the owner and had been built from Argan and palm trees over 400 years ago. Consisting of 3 floors, the animals lived all year round on the ground, the family in the middle and guests with a separate entrance on top. We were led gradually upwards with anecdotes of family life throughout. The kitchen was the most impressive, sited dead centre with a raised floor to stop toddlers cutting, scalding or boiling themselves it had everything to hand, from a chute to the basement for vegetable peelings to a fine selection of tagines. We finished with tea on the top with just a little/rock of sugar, a song and Carole dressed in traditional clothes, though a touch tricky to cycle in as she wryly pointed out. It was indeed one of the best visits I have ever had.
Back at the guest house, Sarah and I headed south to Tafraoute to search out coffee and cake and after a few false starts found a hotel serving coffee with a lovely bakery next door, so we supped caffeine whilst reaching over to the bakery. Back at the guesthouse, it was wedding noodles for dinner consisting of sweetened noodles, cinnamon and chicken pieces.
Day 5- Painted Rocks
Into Tafroute along an avenue of solar paneled street lights to head right and through the town. A 4000 year old antelope carving provided entertainment before a lovely single track road with a mountain ridge to the right. Heading left we started to climb along a loose surface to reach a plateau with expansive views surrounded by huge orange boulders like huge pebbles in the dirt. The painted rocks were the result of an art project in 1984 when a Belgium Jean Veran spayed 18 tonnes of mostly blue paint over many of the boulders over quite an area. Striking but when does art meet ecoterrorism? A small café where 3 chairs and 10 glasses for 17 provided tea and we were back to the main road for a fantastic descent back to Tafroute. We stopped at the Espace Hotel for coffee and cake whilst various people sought out Argan products in the local shops. Our last night at Ameline fed us with soup, kebabs and pancakes for dessert.
Day 6 - Col de Kerdous
13km, practically all downhill, with the ridge on the right and dry fields to the left. The tarmac was fresh as was the road so avoiding all the sand and bumps of past years. Tahala marked the start of the uphill as we swung right through the dry mountain scenery for a series of well graded climbs towards Jamaa Idaoussemlal. We’d planned to stop either here or at 1300 for lunch, so with 6km to go, we lunched by a dry river bed on a picnic hand crafted by Rachid. Jamaa Idaoussemlal was an oasis of small shops, old taxi’s and men staring from tiny cafes, so we settled into a Westernised one on the south of town. The last 7km saw a change in landscape as we gradually climbed to Col de Kerdous. Gone were the mountains to be replaced by the odd small wood and signs of cultivation. The hotel beckoned, a terrace had a terrific view of roads to be cycled, but the empty swimming pool in the middle of the terrace was a health hazard to be noted!!
Day 7 – Tiznit
The view from the hotel showed the way down, down and down as we all dressed up for quite some hairpin descent to the valley below where the frogs sang in the streambed on the left. A coffee stop allowed us to admire the local shop with all its stock beautifully lined up in neat rows. I bought a tub of almond butter, akin to peanut butter at £10, so it’s bound to be delicious. We arrived at Tiznet in good time for lunch where a row of westernised cafes on the left served up pizza and chips and no-one complained, well almost no-one as the owner of the photocopy shop took a dislike to our bikes on his forecourt and ordered us to move them. Rachid shook his head, all very un-Moroccan. Along the edge of Tiznet's city wall, to enter the inner town and head for Riad Janoub, a little oasis of calm behind a high wall. Lovingly restored by Aby, a Belgium married to an English lady, speaking 9 languages and originally from the area, he was a truly genial host. Most of us explored Tiznit in the afternoon, a dip in the pool and a wonderful dinner
Day 8 - Sidi Ifni
It was tough to leave this place especially after a breakfast of egg with a twist (I have never had tomato piece with a stalk made of capers) Our host was genuinely enjoying himself as he introduced another dish. His final words of call anytime if there is an issue because his family came from these parts was both genuine and well meant.
The van for the bikes was an hour late, and the taxi driver twitchy, but the bikes fitted nicely and the 2 hour transfer went well. A road not to cycle as this was the road to the Sahara, so multiple lorries on route. In Guelmin we guided everyone in with garmins and re-assembled the bikes (put the pedals back) and headed for the coast. The road was new, smooth tarmac made it easy going and after a picnic box at Imi N'Fast, we headed through a gap in the mountains, with a steepish climb and a gradual descent. In Mesti, we had intended to find a café but the bridge was out and a very shouty Moroccan on a bicycle (trying to help??) meant that we left quicker than we would have done. The road builders had done a good job and with two final cheeky climbs we reach the coast at Sidi Ifni. Our hotels were by the coast with surfers in the pounding sea and a line of campervans along the promenade. We suppered at Nomad which was a nice change as for a set price of 150 dirhams we could choose from fish, langoustines and yes Rachid our guide being from these parts had…….. a tagine.
Day 9 - Mirleft
The murals of Sidi Ifni were striking. Situated by the Hotel de Ville, they depicted camels, buildings and various abstract concepts. We swooped to sea level to climb with a reward of a road that ran high above the roaring surf to our left and low red hills to the right. The only thing to spoil the morning was a dog that gave chase and the only way to stop it was to ride on the other side of the road in front of a car and that seemed to make it think to slink back home. The beach at Legzira provided and early stop. Descending we admired the surf and drank coffee from mugs and drank tea as Neil swam and the ladies yoga'd in the shallows.
The views continued, far and expansive, a very special road this one and after a pizza stop at a beachside café we briefly diverted through Mirleft but were a little disappointed with its arched shops and general tourist fare. The last few kilometres led to Au Bout de Monde. Here the blue and white buildings looked out over the coast and to the distant roar of surf we rested by the small infinity pool.
Day 10 - Sidi R’bat
Clouds were an unusual sight as we headed for another 23km along the coast road, fast with great views we reached Anfoud in no time at all and settled for morning coffee. Carole and Jen set of ahead fancying a bit of USA time as we headed north again along a narrower road through the barley fields. Left at Oulad Noumer and further narrow roads before dropping to a river valley and a lusher feeling to the views as we passed fields divided into smaller banked pieces of alfalfa. The first stop was supposed to be La Palmeraie de Massa but it looked shut, so we pushed on literally to Massa as in the past 3 years a road with occasional sand had progressed to a 600 metre long sandpit. A stop in Massa fuelled us on for the final climb into Sidi R’bat
Day 11 – Sidi R’Bat
A late breakfast followed by a 10km walk around the Parc National de Sous Massa. Home to the northern bald ibis and part of 33,800 hectares created in 1991 it was a hot day out as the white dog from La Dune trotted alongside us as we spied Little Owls, cormorants and yes, a flock of Ibis on the beach. The surf was churning and I entertained myself by picking up a bag of bottle tops, met 2 Moroccans who also cleared the beach and was thanked. The evening brought another tagine but the promised Berber band left it far too late for all our bedtimes so was cancelled at 2230 when they still hadn’t arrived.
Day 12 – Issen
111km, not 113km, that loss of 2 makes all the difference. Over the hill to Massa in deep coastal fog and through central west Morocco. It was funny to see the past 50km again for we were used to Morocco now, so the mosques, square buildings and donkeys weren’t quite as eye popping. A coffee stop at Ait Milk (what a name) was enlivened by Phil the pied piper McCabe picturing loads of school children and the patisseries at 15pence next door were delicious. Lunch at Imi Mquorn where we had stopped on the way out, meant that the last 44km retraced our steps. A final celebratory tea stop at Laksibba preluded a busy and bumpy section as we passed through the busy town of Oulad Teima before arriving at the wonderful quiet of La Grenadine where we had a huge plate of cous cous.
Our final day was a day trip to Taroudant. It’s yellow city walls contained souks and coffee shops where souveneirs were bought.
Morocco, a wonderful place, so close to the UK, yet so different, people are very friendly, smiles all the ways, food was great and it was clean, maybe Fes next?