Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane is relatively isolated from the mainstream flows of Morocco’s social, political, cultural and economic life. Yet, as far from the country’s “core” as it may be, Ifrane is centrally located and provides many opportunities for recreation. The town is surrounded by pristine forests of cedar, scrub oak and juniper which makes it an ideal base for nature walks, hikes, picnics, fishing and camping–skiing is not really possible as winters are now too mild and snow-cover is often too thin and erratic. While some university professors (and many students) complain about the the town’s isolation, others take full advantage of its assets.
It is with these people in mind that my colleague Michael Peyron prepared a guide to walking and hiking in the Middle Atlas. Michael Peyron is a fellow geographer, a veteran mountaineer, and a renowned compiler and translator of Berber orature (local history and poetry transmitted orally).
I was delighted when Michael asked me to contribute to this project. In particular, I drafted the maps of the various hikes described in his text, and I wrote sections presenting the geology of the Middle Atlas Mountains and the town of Ifrane. Hiking and Walking Guide to Ifrane and the Middle Atlas has just been published by Al Akhawayn University Press.
The Middle Atlas Mountains, one of Morocco’s least trodden tourist zones, contains a wealth of stunningly beautiful landscapes, rugged and bucolic in equal measure, numerous heritage sites steeped in mystery, and many challenging hikes. The itineraries described in the backpack-friendly guide-book range from half-day excursions appropriate for family picnics to veritable multi-day treks across peak and valley. As the current local development strategies of the Province of Ifrane aim to boost environmentally sound tourism, the publication of this handy guide is timely.
I am not much of a nature hiker myself (though I will happily indulge in urban hiking for days on end) and have not actually taken any of the trails I mapped here (with the notable exception of Zawiyat Ifrane and the Tisgelt Plateau). If readers of this blog would like more information about hiking in the Middle Atlas I advise them to contact Michael Peyron or Frédéric Brayard (who wrote the book’s preface) directly.
I have, however, taken advantage of this publication to post a new Ifrane page on this blog. The aim is to present this strange garden-city-hill-station-cum-college-town to prospective visitors and AUI’s newly hired faculty. I cover this material each semester in my Freshman-level Introduction to Geography class, just prior to our half-day walking tour of Ifrane. Every place has a story–often more than one–I tell them, and Ifrane’s is as compelling a story as any. Whether you are thinking of settling in Ifrane or are just passing through, I invite you to take a look.
The guide book’s handy size means that the maps of the trails are printed in a very small format. I invite hikers to download the high-definition jpg versions posted below. Michael Peyron’s hikes are plotted on scans of official topographical maps of varying scales. Finally, this downloadable Google Earth (kmz) file locates all the Vehicle Drop-Off Points (VDOP) as well as a few other physical features and relevant points of interest.
a. Amane n-Dalline loop
b. Dayet Aoua to Ifrane
c. Michlifene craters circuit
d. Aguelmam Afennourir
f. Zawyat Ifrane, Tisgdelt Plateau
g. Iguer Awragh circuit
h. El Gara
i & j. Jbel Hayane & Jbel Koubbat traverse
k. Tichchoukt SW
l. Tichchoukt NW balcony
m. Tizi n-Tigoulmamine from Skoura
Sorry, no map of this hike. It proved impossibly huge and unwieldy to assemble the four scanned topographical maps into a decent base map.