Ouarzazate: Door to the desert

I once flew over the Sahara on route to the Gambia a couple of years back and was astounding by its incredible vastness. Hour after hour I stared out of the window mesmerised by its golden dunes and lack of any sign at all of life. It really is difficult to truly comprehend the size of this desert. So when I saw that I had the opportunity to quite literally visit the entrance to this extraordinary place on earth I was enthralled.

Ouarzazate is a city approximately a 4 hour drive from Marrakech. We decided to do a day trip here to escape the city and see some of the more rural Morocco. Some of the people on our trip were under the impression that they were actually visiting the thick of the desert, however that is just too far for a day trip. So instead we got to travel across the country to this extraordinary city, taking in all of the beauty that Morocco has to offer on route.

Within a few minutes of leaving Marrakech you are greeted with distant views of the snow topped Atlas Mountains. The untouched mountain scenery is stunning and a wonderful drive. We stopped to experience the breathtaking views and fresh mountain air, and of course to take some photo’s too, before continuing on our way.

Atlas Mountains

Prior to reaching Ouarzazate we stopped at a nearby Kasbah town. A Kasbah is like a kind of royal residence, and there seem to be quite a few in Morocco. We wondered around the town to see what it had to offer.

Kasbah town

This was no ordinary town. It is situated on a steep hill, with a kind of temple on the top (can’t elaborate on that as unfortunately I didn’t have time to make it to the top), and boasts traditional streets, shops and homes of the Moroccan residents. The cobbled streets and traditional buildings were enchanting.

While wondering around the town I was lucky enough to be invited into a Moroccan house. I always love things like this- away from the tourist trail, authentic Moroccan life-fantastic! Although the owner did ask for as donation for letting us into the house, I was more than happy to donate what equated to around 70 Pence. The house was fantastic!

There were many small rooms, all made of out of stone and it felt as if it had literally been carved into the rock it was on (perhaps this was the case??). The rooms were cosy and homely. They were decorated with rugs; which acted as sofas, beds and decoration- multi-purpose! There was a kind of terrace, where they had more rugs hanging out to dry. The view from here was incredible. Being about half way up the hill, it overlooked the edge of the desert and you could spot the odd palm tree or rustic looking building in the distance. The terrace overlooked the arena where they filmed the fighting scenes from the Gladiator, amongst several other films. It was amazing to picture many famous actors situated right below where I was standing, out in the arid desert land so far away from everything.

Lounge

Rugged roof terrace

Sheep room?!

As I was walking through the house I was shocked to see a roofless room housing many sheep! It was situated in the centre of their house and had small windows where you could look in. Very random, but I loved the character this brought to the house!

The house also had a room that the owner had dedicated to the films that had been shot nearby. He claimed he was a ‘movie star’ and that he had met many of the characters and been involved in the filming. He had artefacts that he said had come from the movies and we got to have a look. I am not sure whether they were true artefacts that had been used, but hey- it’s nice to think that I held the same sword as Russel Crowe! Ha ha

Ouarzazte movie artefact room

Ouarzazate based films

The rest of the town was lovely and it was really nice to see rural Moroccan life.

From here we drove through a really arid, dry hill area that I was informed was the setting for the Hills have Eyes movie! And I thought that was in America??! Cleary not! It did have that eerie feel about it though that is portrayed in the film- I wouldn’t want to wonder around there alone!

In Ouarzazate we had some lovely Moroccan chicken skewers before having a look around the film set. The film set has been used for many films, many of which I have never heard of, but then again I am not a film expert by any means. It was a proper stone building, with dungeons, thrones and secret passageways! It was nice to see the place where so many films had been filmed and imagine such famous actors standing in the same spot as me.

Ouarzazate film set

Ouarzazate film set throne

They also had a room showing all of the photography/filming equipment used there throughout history, which was also very interesting.

Ouarzazate filming equipment

From here we went to see what all of this ‘Kasbah fuss’ was about. We had heard this word mentioned so many times since entering the country we felt is necessary to have a look. We were told it meant castle, however we later found out it was more like a royal residence. The Kasbah we visited was an enormous building housing pretty much nothing! It was empty room after empty room, in fact it was a maze of empty rooms that we couldn’t find our way out of! The stone building was nice to see and did have some nice architecture, but for me, nothing ground breakingly memorable.

Ouarzazate kasbah

From here we made our way back towards Marrakech. It was a lovely day, enabling us to see a bit more of the country and to see some of the mountainous and desertified areas. It was quite spectacular to be able to say that I travelled to the edge of the desert, perhaps next time I will actually use this door and venture inside!

The journey home was peaceful and relaxing, I took in the wonderful sights of the mountains and gently observed the Bedwin people as we passed their villages. Morocco has a somewhat mystical feel about it, the ambience is so tranquil and unique, but there is something I can’t quite put my finger on. The exact reason why this place is simply amazing I am not sure, but I can certainly say that this is the case, is certainly is amazing.