We again woke to a fantastically prepared breakfast before exploring the rooftop terrace overlooking the vast city. We packed up our room and returned to the car for 10am, and left the madness of Marrakech behind to head over the Atlas Mountains to the film studio town of Ouarzazate.
Our first stop along the route was at the base of the Atlas Mountains, in the small Restaurant Ard Salam. An hour outside Marrakech, we were treated to nice, cheap coffee, stunning views of greenery, and traditional Moroccan architecture. In the small shop we stocked up on the necessities for the drive ahead, and set off for the climb up the mountain.
The next part of the drive was simply incredible. Climbing higher and higher up the famous Atlas Mountains, we made our way through tiny, impossible communities, welcoming villages, Moroccan pottery shops, and the most picturesque of landscapes. The road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate takes you over one of the most famous Atlas Mountain passes; the Tizi N’ Tichka. At the summit there is a small collection of shops and landscapes worth braving the astonishing drop in temperature and icy wind, however we found the shop owners far too pushy and ended up getting back into the car before looking at any of their wares.
As we began the descent, we stopped at another sweet little restaurant called Agul Mous where the temperature was more bearable and had another of our favourite mint teas, and it seemed a popular little place for those travelling across the mountains to stop. The journey down the mountain was equally as interesting as the ascent, and the mountain seems to act as a natural break from a lusher greener North to a sandier, clay South.
A slight detour off our route took us to the famous Kasbah Aït Benhaddou. With constructions dating back to the 17th Century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most well-known and typical examples of early Moroccan architecture. The ksar has been used as a backdrop for a number of films including Gladiator and The Mummy, as well as more recently in the Game of Thrones series. For the cost of 5 MAD (around 40p) you can park in a close car park in the village, and head past a few small shops to view the famous dwellings from a fantastic vantage point across the river. In one of these small shops we were taught from a fantastic shopkeeper the traditional way of tying a headscarf, which we purchased to take on our journey to the Sahara.
The final 30 minutes of our journey took us to Hotel Oscar by Atlas Studios, a famous film studios on the outskirts of Ouarzazate. By far our cheapest stay of the week, we were fairly worried about the quality of the hotel, but everything was absolutely perfect. Fantastically clean with three perfectly comfy single beds, the room was everything you could ask for and more. The rest of the hotel again exceeded all expectations, and we were actually sad that we were only spending one night in the end. After taking our cases to the room from the car, we managed to sit in the sun by the pool with a few beers and dry ourselves and our clothes that were soaked in Marrakech the night before. Of all of the extraordinary moments we experienced on the trip, making our way to this hotel and sitting in the sun with a beer (which is hard to find in Morocco) was up there as one of the best.
Hotel Oscar by Atlas Studios
Bd. Mohamed V Tamassinte Près du Studio ATLAS, Ouarzazate 45000
Our rating: ★★★★☆
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We took a taxi that night into the centre of Ouarzazate to Restaurant Phoenix, a seemingly well reviewed and popular restaurant. Perhaps we turned up slightly early, but the restaurant was empty when we arrived. However the guys who worked there were very polite and eager, and other guests did turn up after a while. Again we were happy to find that they served alcohol and ordered a bottle of red wine and a round of beers to share. For food I ordered the beef fillet and it was fantastic, and the whole meal and drinks cost us just 520 MAD including tip (around £43). By around 10pm we made it back to our hotel, shared another couple of glasses of wine over a game of cards, and headed to bed for the night.
Ouarzazate 45000, Morocco