Getting There

Meknes lies on the plains between the Rif and Atlas Mountains. Fifty kilometres to its south, the Middle Atlas foothills commence and a little further on lies the town of Azrou, the starting point for our walk in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

The minibus trip to Azrou went quickly, starting out in a strange summer fog as we left Meknes to cross the fertile plains, with their industrial-scale vineyards and orchards. Leaving the plains and entering the sunshine, we climbed gradually up through open pastures as we entered the more mountainous area, before dropping down to the valley of Azrou and our hotel.

The stork's nest Hilton in Azrou

Hike beneath the Cedars (12 km - 220m ascent - 270m descent)

After dropping our bags at the hotel, we piled back into the mini-bus, picked up our lunch and local guide in the town and headed out of Azrou up into the forested heights beyond. Our hike started at the entrance to a small nature reserve, protecting part of the cedar forest, and we were greeted by a troop of Barbary macaques on arrival.

600-year old cedar


A family of barbary macaques

After a bit of monkey business, we headed off with our guide for a very pleasant wander through the cedar forest, at times on gravel road or track, at times treading softly across the carpet of cedar needles beneath the sweetly resinous scented bluish canopies of these majestic trees. The two trees of reknown, over 1000 years old, were now both dead, but we did pass one superb living specimen that was 700-800 years old.

An 800-year old giant

Big cedars of the Middle Atlas

Our guide stopped frequently to talk about the different plants encountered, as we slowly meandered along the slopes, crossing rocky basalt ridges, where oaks briefly dominated.

Softly crunching across a floor of cedar needles



In the dappled shade of the big trees

Reaching the cliffs at edge of the high plateau, we were greeted with a superb view over Azrou town and the sun-bleached landscape surrounding it.

Vew over the Azrou Valley

Out of the forest and on to the rocky tops

Cedar hanging on precariously to a cliff edge

From the lookout, it was back into the forest to find an open spot for lunch, before our slow wander through the cedars continued. Eventually, we left the basalt country to cross a small open grassy section and reach the top of a rocky limestone ravine overlooking the dry plains below. It was our exit route and we picked our way carefully down the steep rock jumble to reach a set of spring-fed sheep troughs. As we arrived, so did a flock of thirsty sheep, racing down a track on the opposite side of the ravine to have a drink, shepherds fore and aft.

First the bipeds descended the gully ....

.... closely followed by a flock of woolly quadripeds

Continuing down a sealed asphalt road, we met up with Ibrahim, our driver, and the minibus, coming up from below. It was the end of the walk, so we all piled in for the trip back to the hotel. Thus ended our exploration of the Middle Atlas cedar forests and, while I enjoyed the time in the forest, like our first walk in the Fardes Gorge, this one differed from the itinerary description - no walk up through the almonds and fruit trees to the cedars, no walk down through the streets of the town and quite a bit shorter than the indicated 15km. While the landscapes have been as interesting and spectacular as expected, I hope these changes (i.e. reductions) in the walks aren't going to be a general trend.