We left Fez and made our way south. We visited Bhalil, a village off the beaten path known for its cave homes. We stopped for lunch at the Swiss-like town of Ifrane and ended the day in Azrou, a good base to visit the cedar forest that is home to Barbary apes.
This is the gate to Bhalil, a village of troglodytes homes (cave dwelling) built into a picturesque mountainside located about 40 km/22 mi soutth of Fez. When you arrive expect Mohammed, the self-appointed “official” village guide, awating for you at the gate. He was there when we got there!
Mohammed led us up to the higher part of the village. Bhalil is a sleepy town. It has no hotel and no restaurant. Keith and I were the only visitors that time along with a mother and daughter from England who stayed in a neighboring riad in Fez and who shared our car.
The laundry line along the narrow street.
Children of Bhalil
The colorful facade of one of the cave homes.
A stairs that led to the rooftop of one of the cave homes.
Mohammed ushering us to the steps that led to his own cave home.
This is the cave dwelling of Mohammed. It didn’t look like a cave from the outside. Its entrance and facade looked like a regular “above ground” house but once inside we saw that it was actually carved from a rocks. This rock material is conditioned to provide cooling in the summer and keep the cool air away during winter months.
Mohammed, the town guide, was a funny man. He claimed that he was the only intelligent man in this village of 1,000 people. By the way, he’ll expect a tip from you at the end of the tour.
We had a pleasant time in Bhalil. It’s out of the way from the usual travel route and will be hard to find if you’re not familiar. But if you have a rented car with a driver definitely ask him to take you there.
We stopped for lunch in the town of Ifrane on the foot of the Middle Atlas Mountain. We were a bit disoriented when we arrived as we felt we were in a town in the Swiss Alps and not anywhere in Morocco. The architecture and atmosphere is unlike any Moroccan town we had seen and the temparature was cooler than the towns we left behind.
The French built this town in the early 1930’s to replicate the atmosphere of an alpine village. Today, it is a popular winter getaway for the Morocco’s affluent class. It is also a home to an elite university where it is said that only the “rich and beautiful” need apply. Drive around the university and see all the fancy cars in the parking lots.
Azrou is a small Berber town in the hills of the Middle Atlas Mountains 89 km/48mi south of Fez. It is a good place to get away from the madness of the big cities and at an elevation of 1,200 meters/3,940 feet, it is a good place to escape the heat. Azrou boasts of lively weekly souk and quality Berber carpets. It is also a good base to explore the Atlas Cedar Forest, home to Barbary Apes.
The lovely drive in the Middle Atlas.
We didn’t have to hike far to see the the Barbary apes. They seemed to anticipate our arrival and some were waiting not too far from where we parked. Barbary Apes live in troops so if you spot one or two expect to see dozens in near distance.
“I have a baby on my back, please give me some more quick!”
Dead cedar trees.
Ladies walking in the inner street of Azrou.
Just few minutes before this photo was taken, this cafe was filled with locals who kept us company and who were just sitting around waiting for sundown. We felt abandoned after everyone left and ran to their homes when sunset came to break their Ramadan fasting for the day.
The next day, we had a long travel ahead of us as we head to the town of Hassi Labied in the oasis of Sahara Desert. See Morocco: Camel Trekking in the Sahara Desert.
Getting there: We asked the manager at our riad in Fez to arrange a car for us with a driver. It cost 800 dinar (about US$100) for a whole day of travel and we split the cost with the mother and daughter from England who shared it with us. We stayed in Azrou as we planned to continue our travel southward from there while our fellow travelers went back with the car to Fez. Yes, this itinerary also makes a good day trip from Fez.
Travel Guides: Lonely Planet Morocco