Far from the frenzy of Marrakech and the hustle and bustle of Casablanca, the “gateway to the desert” will appeal to travelers in search of authenticity in Morocco.
You like the sun of Morocco. The flavors of his cuisine. The talent of its craftsmen. The beauty of its landscapes. But are you also looking for serenity and tranquility? So go for Ouarzazate! The “door to the desert” will seduce the traveler in search of authenticity. Far from the tourist frenzy of Marrakech or the bustle of Casablanca, the pearl of the great south invites you to take your time. Moreover, in Berber, Ouarzazate means “the city without noise”. You will understand, here, little traffic. Life flows slowly, under a scorching sun in summer and welcome in winter – the best season to explore this region full of beautiful adobe kasbahs, backed by oases.
An authentic city which is also a high place of cinema with its studios in which Hollywood blockbusters and French comedies are filmed. It is easy to come across actors and directors in this beautiful city that they nickname … “Ouarzawood”! So what are you waiting for to join them?
The Kasbah of Taourirt, the pearl of Ouarzazate
The Taourirt Kasbah and its old medina are located in the city center of Ouarzazate. A kasbah is the equivalent of our medieval castles, a fortified house in which the local lord (the pasha) and his family lived. Built in the 17th century in adobe (a mixture of earth and straw dried in the sun), this beautiful restored residence gives an idea of the opulence of the lord of the time, a high dignitary of Moroccan royalty.
Admire its decorated stucco walls or even this ingenious ventilation system to “air-condition” the home: simple openings in the ground that allow fresh air to enter and expel hot air … Efficient and ecological before time! This kasbah, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is surrounded by the alleys of a formerly fortified village (a ksar) in which it is pleasant to stroll before going shopping in the souks, just opposite.
” Read also – Dakhla, the little Essaouira at the gates of the desert
Pottery and rose water: serene shopping in the souks
Forget the endless mazes of the souks of Marrakech. Everything here is well organized, clean and focused on one block. The traders are lined up in pretty shops and you will not be hassled to enter. Ouarzazate is a provincial town and we like to take the time to chat with visitors before selling them some souvenirs.
If you are a fan of artisanal pottery, know that there are, among other things, the terracotta from the village of Tamegroute, unique in Morocco. This village is located a few hours drive from Ouarzazate and perpetuates an ancient art. Tamegroute pottery, rustic, is unique in particular thanks to the alloy of manganese, copper oxide and barley flour that craftsmen apply to the terracotta, giving it these beautiful green colors. Plates, cups, candlesticks that can be found in decoration shops around the world but that you will find here at a good price! Another specialty of the region to buy in the souks: the rose water that the women of the villages around Ouarzazate distill from the rose of Damascus. A water famous all over the world …
Backstage cinema in “Ouarzawood”
The film studios were developed in Ouarzazate in the 1960s. The first Hollywood directors came to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, the sun that allows you to work all year round, and the talent of Moroccan artisans, who work wonders to build sets in no time. Lawrence of Arabia, largely shot in the region, was the trigger for a movement that continues to attract directors and film stars to the three studios today active. They are all located on the outskirts of the city center. And some can be visited. This is the case with Atlas studios. Created in 1983, they have many box office successes to their credit, such as The Mummy, Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Gladiator but also series like Prison Break or Game of Thrones. The guided tours take you to the film sets and you will inevitably come across extras and actors in costume coming out of a take. One can even visit a Tibetan temple built for the Kundun by Martin Scorsese! You will also have access to the stables where dromedaries and horses, full-fledged actors wait patiently.
To complete the visit of the studios, you have to go to the Cinema Museum, in front of the Kasbah of Taourirt. Before becoming a place of memory of the history of the 7th art in Morocco, these places housed an Italian studio where many films on the history of the Bible were shot in the years 1950-60. We stroll through decorations kept intact: the cloister of a church, a Roman temple larger than life or Egyptian bas-reliefs.
Getaway in the fortified villages around Ouarzazate
All around Ouarzazate, you can visit many kasbahs and fortified villages, each more cinégénique than the next (and which often serve as a backdrop for films). This is the case of the Ksar of Aït-Benhaddou, also classified by Unesco. This fortified village built on a rocky outcrop is magical at the end of the afternoon when the setting sun comes to illuminate it like a thousand movie spots. It has been a crossroads of commerce since Antiquity and its houses and fortifications reflected in the river below appear like a mirage in the middle of the desert.
Another site to visit, the Kasbah of Amridil, on the right bank of the wadi El Hajaj. Nestled in a natural palm grove classified by Unesco, it is a marvel of Berber architecture. Square in plan organized around a central patio on four levels, it is surrounded by high walls surmounted by four corner towers. Inhabited until 1962, this large house allows you to understand the life of Berber families in this desert region. Cattle and vegetable garden rubbed shoulders there, protected by the fortifications. It is one of the best preserved in Morocco and has long featured on 50 dirham banknotes. Other kasbahs, in less good condition, still deserve a stop, like that of Talmasla, known as the storks because these birds are now the only inhabitants of the abandoned towers …
The Dades gorges are perfect for those who love hiking. Fint Oasis will delight those who want to take the perfect sunset selfie. Finally, it is possible to explore, by quad or camel back, the arid surroundings of Ouarzazate. And take yourself for a certain Lawrence of Arabia whose legend on the big screen was born here …
Go to Ouarzazate
To offer you the magic of Ouarzazate and its sun always present in winter, know that Transavia, the low-cost company of Air France, now serves the city directly from Paris-Orly at the rate of two flights per week (Thursday and Sunday ). The line is active this winter until March 26, 2020 and will be suspended during the summer (it’s too hot to enjoy the region at this time anyway). It should be active again from autumn 2020. From 80 euros round trip.
When to go
The weather is that of a city at the gates of the desert. The best time to explore Ouarzazate and its surroundings is fall and winter. The sun shines generously during the day but the nights are cool. Avoid summer, a time when temperatures often soar to over 40 degrees. The heat is then quite difficult to bear.
To prepare your stay: www.visitmorocco.com/fr
● Actors and actresses, directors and technical teams from major film studios often drop their bags at the Berbère Palace. This immense hotel resembling a giant kasbah, surrounded by high walls dominated by crenellated towers, is the luxury hotel in Ouarzazate. While strolling in its corridors, one comes across Egyptian statues and other decorations recovered from the sets of films shot in the region. To get an idea of the celebrities who slept in the beautiful rooms and bathed in the huge palm-fringed pool, take a look at the wall displaying the portraits of the stars of the big screen. From Brad Pitt to Leonardo DiCaprio, they’ve all stayed in the same rooms as you!
Double room from 206 €.
● Are you a cinema fan and your budget does not allow you to sleep at the Berbère Palace? Don’t panic, the Oscar Hotel is for you! This boutique hotel is close to the Atlas Studios. A small charming establishment with a central swimming pool around which are articulated rooms decorated according to the names of the actresses and actors who have filmed in Ouarzazate. Fans of Games of Thrones will be delighted to learn that they can sleep in the bedroom of the Khaleesi whose portrait, with her dragons, adorns the headboard! No jealousy, if you rather fantasize about Russel Crowe, a Gladiator suite awaits you.
Double room from € 75.
● The Jardin des Arômes is one of the best restaurants in Ouarzazate. You can taste the great Moroccan specialties there such as pigeon pastilla or lamb barbecue, cooked with a touch of modernity. The setting is charming, especially when dining on the beautiful green terrace. The service is attentive. And the elegant clientele. In short, the restaurant for a romantic dinner or with gourmet friends.
● Chez Dimitri is a small popular institution in Ouarzazate. Open, excuse the little, since 1928, it has served generous Moroccan cuisine but also French dishes such as salad Niçoise or duck confit and parsley potatoes. Without forgetting, of course, the homemade moussaka, a tribute to the Greek ancestor who founded this family house with a good reputation.