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25 years later: a mountain bike journey in Morocco

Ashley Toft, KE’s CEO travelled to Morocco to join our Ride the Kasbah trip, a one-week journey through the desert world of the ... Read more
25 years later: a mountain bike journey in Morocco
Ashley Toft, KE’s CEO travelled to Morocco to join our Ride the Kasbah trip, a one-week journey through the desert world of the Jebel Sahro. His first journey to Morocco in 25 years, it was an unforgettable experience. See below to find out more about his adventure, and whether this fascinating country could live up to his expectations...


My first visit to Morocco was when I first became a trainee tour leader and I completed a training trip in the Anti Atlas Mountains in 1988. Travelling with an experienced leader at the time and a group of trekkers, I was enchanted by how different the country was, and how beautiful the mountains and the rural Berber villages were, especially for a country only 3-4 hours flight away from the UK. I went on to lead trips there in both the Anti Atlas and High Atlas Mountains for a few years and it’s fair to say that I absolutely loved it.

So it was with some trepidation that I returned to Morocco for the first time in 25 years in March this year to join my very first KE Adventure, Ride the Kasbah. It’s a one-week mountain bike trip on the south side of the High Atlas which would take us through the Jebel Sahro mountain range and south to the Draa Valley, within striking distance of the Sahara desert and the Algerian border. This was an area that I hadn’t been to before, which made it all the more exciting. But I couldn’t help feel a little nervous. Modernisation is a constant factor, changing the face of travel worldwide, and so the key question was: would Morocco still hold the same charm? Would I feel the same thrill of being in so different a culture that I remembered from 25 years ago?



I extended my trip by a day to explore Marrakech before setting off. Low-cost airlines make it incredibly cheap and easy to fly there from the UK now, and it is true that the city has become more touristy over the years. The main Djemma El Fna Square is still as vibrant, bustling and loud as ever, and the extensive main souk behind it is still a treasure trove of exotic spices, herbs, carpets, ceramics, leather and metal work. Walking beyond the main souk into the more remote areas of the medina is definitely worth doing, as you do get a feel for everyday life in old Marrakech. Taxi rides are now mostly in Peugeots or Hyundais rather than old beaten up Mercedes, the roads are better and safer since the introduction of traffic lights, and of course, everyone has a mobile phone; so some really positive progress, without losing that unique atmosphere that Marrakech is so well known for. The city is to be crowned the African City of Culture in 2020 and as well as the old mosques and ancient medina there are a host of really good museums and historic sites such as the Saadian Tombs to visit. It’s well worth considering extending your visit if your KE trip has limited time in Marrakech.



We were a small international group of six; 2 Brits, 2 New Yorkers, a German from the Black Forest and an Austrian living in the Alps, travelling with our Berber leader Lahcen and 2 drivers Robi and Abbas. All were regular cyclists, some mountain bikers and others not. As with all groups, some were fitter and quicker than others – but this didn’t really matter – everyone needed to rest (and take in the views) at the top of the passes anyway. All but one of the group hired mountain bikes in Marrakech (the other brought his own); really good new Canondales with 29 inch wheels and full suspension.

Our first days’ drive south from Marrakech was spectacular, taking us over the Tizi n’ Tichka Pass (2,260m) to the Vallee du Dades and our night’s stop at the mouth of the Todra Gorge. Starting our 5 day ride the following morning we pedalled north on tarmac initially, climbing steadily through the gorge, with the sheer rock walls towering above us, in places up to 400m. As we turned off on to dirt tracks a further ascent took us to a plateau with amazing views of the high snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas beyond.

We rode in to find lunch was set up in an incredibly beautiful and remote spot by our jeep drivers, who were never far away. A good rest and a feast of pasta, mixed salad, sardines, fruit and mint tea were the perfect fuel for our continued ascent up to the highest pass on the trip (the Tizi n’ Tara) at 2615m. The views were simply stunning, as was the very exciting 10km descent, much of which was over dry riverbed.

After a good nights’ sleep, our second day took us down the Dades gorge with its many fortified Kasbahs and unusual rock formations, then into an area of varied landscapes, some of which reminded us of Moab and the Arches National Park in the US with its red dirt and rocky outcrops. A welcome stop was taken with a Berber family who invited us into their cave dwelling for mint tea and a chat. Again the day finished with an exhilarating off-road descent down into the main valley separating the Atlas and Jebel Sahro ranges.




Here, the scenery was much greener and the rock formations quite different as we headed south into the Jebel Sahro, pedalling on trails through small villages, Berber settlements and past a silver mine before ascending to the Tizi n Tazazart pass at 2270m. From here the views and the trails of descent that awaited us were some of the most spectacular that I have experienced. We rode with an incredible backdrop of flat-topped mesas, deep gorges and twisted rock pinnacles spreading onto the distance.

After a night in our beautiful Kasbah hotel in the traditional and little visited town of N’Kob, we headed further south to the Draa Valley, which has 120kms of date palm groves following Morocco’s longest river down from the High Atlas, past small villages and ancient Kasbahs towards the Sahara. The hotel in Zagora at our southernmost point on the trip was a welcome sight with its swimming pool and outdoor bar – the perfect place to relax and reflect on everything we’d seen and done over the last few days.



With all meals included and drinking water provided, this trip felt like incredible value at just over £100 per day (excluding flights). The food was plentiful and tasty, with lots of variations on the local specialities of tagine and couscous; it was always made from locally grown vegetables, with chicken, lamb or goat for those that want it. There was little to spend money on except for a few souvenirs, soft drinks and the occasional beer or glass of wine along the way. Alcohol is not sold at all the hotels on this trip, but the wines produced in the cooler areas of Morocco further north and near the Atlantic coast are excellent and available along the way, together with Casablanca beer. Hotels were all clean and comfortable and seemed to get better as the trip went on. All had wi-fi and charging points, and most had swimming pools, although it was quite chilly in the evenings by the time we arrived at our accommodation.

All in all, this was a magical trip which fitted so much into just one week away; fantastic cycling (285kms over 5 days with about 3400m of ascent and 4800m of descent), stunning and varied scenery and a beautiful immersion into a fascinating and traditional way of life – and thankfully, just as charming and intriguing as I remember.

Take a look at KE’s Ride the Kasbah - Morocco or give us a call to plan your next holiday on +44 (0) 17687 73966 or USA/Canada toll-free 1888 630 4415.
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