Monday, February 29, 2016

Morocco: Fez to Erfoud

Greetings from the Sahara! I'm writing from my fabulously kitschy hotel room in Erfoud, where Arabian Nights meets the Flintstones in the best possible way. We left Fez on Monday morning and passed through a large cedar montane forest, boasting both Atlas and Lebanese cedars. We did not, sadly, encounter any Barbary Apes (macaques) among the trees, but it was a gorgeous drive nonetheless. Next we stopped briefly in Ifrane, Morocco's answer to Switzerland, a lovely college/ski town complete with chalets with sloped roofs and all the trappings of winter in the mountains. I was glad to see the campus of Al Akhawayn University since my college had an exchange program there, and I remember learning about the school (a collaboration between Morocco's late King Hassan II and Saudi Arabia's former King Fahd), an American-style, English-language university in the Arab world. (As I'm writing this I'm remembering that Ifrane was first, then the cedar forest. Amazing how even a day later I've forgotten!)

Next it was a long slog south through the Middle Atlas Mountains towards Erfoud, complete with a surprisingly tasty lunch at a nondescript and empty tourist hotel near Midelt. The afternoon saw a complete change of scenery as we entered the Ziz valley and saw some amazing riverine landscapes among the mountains as well as gorges and the largest date palm oasis in Morocco. Stretching more than 50 km, this lovely oasis runs along the Ziz River and boasts dozens of varieties of date palms, with alfalfa fields in between and farming communities lining both sides of the oasis. 

We passed through the military town of Errachadia before the final push to Erfoud. One of my tour mates, a travel journalist, had done this tour before and had hinted about the hotel's charms. She did not exaggerate one bit. Sited a few miles before Erfoud, it's built like a desert Kasbah and is decked to the nines with Moroccan chic decor, with lots of fossils thrown in to celebrate the region's extraordinarily rich fossil deposits. The rooms are lovely and extremely comfortable, and we were all very happy to be here for two nights. The hammam and spa booked up quickly, but I didn't have my heart set on a massage so was fine when there wasn't a spot. 

The desert weather is very cool at night, which makes swimming in the lovely pool out of the question, but the fireplace in the dining room for a sumptuous dinner buffet made all the difference. I went back to my room and had the best night's sleep yet on this trip. Desert adventures tomorrow!

The lovely streets of Ifrane

It wasn't snowing, but it probably wasn't warm enough for the fountain either

Gorgeous scenery on the drive

Entering the land of palm oases and desert construction

Ziz Valley oasis

Smoke as they burn any trees with diseases

Our trusty transport

Flat terraces and rooftops for drying dates

Flintstones meets Arabian Nights!

Fossils on the sink - more on this in the next post!