The Ouirgane Valley shelters in the foothills of Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. It’s stunning scenery and untouched Berber villages are a joy to visit.
The dedicated multi-day trekkers head up Jebel Toubkal, Morocco’s highest mountain. The Marrakech day trippers descend in droves on the Ourika Valley. Somewhere in the middle, those looking to get off the beaten track and explore a more remote part of Morocco without a strenuous mountain ascent, head to the Ouirgane Valley.
This rusty red valley sits in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains. It’s soft rock, shaped over millennia by wind and rain, provide a beautiful setting to the Berber villages that line the rivers and perch on the hills. Within the villages you have the privilege of witnessing a very traditional way of life. Small crops are tended by farm animals and woman work long days to provide basic supplies for their families’ survival.
Yet in spite of this hard way of life, Berber’s are some of the friendliest and most generous people we have ever met. Even in Ramadan, when devout locals were fasting throughout the day, lunch would be prepared for us in their homes with the produce obtained from their small plot of land. We would have paid a lot for the experience alone, but the Berbers would accept no payment.
While the Ouirgane valley itself is reason enough, magnificent High Atlas scenery is only a short hike or drive away. Here, snow-capped mountains rise over deep cut canyons and a patchwork of green fields hug valley floors and terraced slopes.
Like many other places in the High Atlas this valley is slowly modernising and opening its doors to tourism. So come before it’s too late.
HIKE THROUGH 5 BERBER VILLAGES AND SHARE LUNCH WITH LOCALS
The Berber villages that line the Ouirgane valley are still relatively untouched by tourism. This 4-hour hike allows you to visit 5 of them. The valley is rich in foods that have become staples for its inhabitants and it’s a pleasure to explore such an organic way of life. Plum, blackberry, olive, figs, carob and almond trees line the riverbanks. Onions, potato, alfalfa, wheat and barley cover the valley floor in brilliant green. The sweet smell of mint, thyme and rosemary rise from the paths.
The 5 villages are all a little different but the highlight is Tikhfist. Perched on the hill with views over the valley our guide took us into a Berber house where we met 105-year-old Mohammed. His French was almost as limited as mine so after a fitful conversation, we named capital cities of Europe.
For lunch, Mohammed’s daughter served us a Berber tagine with walnuts – one of the must-try foods in Morocco. Unable to partake themselves due to Ramadan, we ate while Mohammed reeled off more capital cities. The friendly hospitality was a highlight of our trip to Morocco.
The hike finished by descending through Agouni, where our guide showed us his own home and crops, before returning to Ouirgane. It took a total of 4 hours at a slow pace, including time for lunch and plenty of photos.
Our original intention was to explain how you could do the hike yourself but to be honest, it’s much better doing this one with a local guide. Not only are the paths in and out of the villages difficult to find, but the real highlight is eating lunch in a Berber house, which would be difficult to achieve on your own. In particular, Ouirgane would be the perfect destination for a culinary tour of Morocco.