On our third day in Morocco, we decided to explore a little further than Marrakech, to some of the highest peaks in Northern Africa - the Atlas Mountains. The day trip began with our guide, Hassan, picking us up in a spacious 4x4 with our mountain bikes securely strapped onto the roof at around 8:00am right outside our riad, and then one more pick up at a nearby hotel. It was a good hour and a half drive to our destination, yet didn't feel it at all due to the amazing views and spectacular landscape transformation from flat city to epic snow-capped mountains. Hassan was very knowledgable, explained to us how the day would go, and told us wonderful stories about Berbers - the indigenous people of North Africa who reside in rural areas, far-off corners of the country, like the Atlas Mountains. Berbers refer to themselves as 'Amazigh', which means 'free men'. Upon nearing the village where we would begin our cycle, the roads twisted and turned with numerous stomach-churning hairpin bends until reaching the high pasture of Tizi n'Tichka pass. We stopped in a tiny little Berber village 1300m above sea level, whereby Hassan lowered the dual-suspension bikes from the roof and gave them one last check before handing them over to us. Our previous cycling experience was in Ubud, Bali and involved a lot of downhill cruising - we were NOT prepared for what was about to happen. Nevertheless (with no knowledge of how difficult it was going to be or how unfit we were), we embarked on the 30km cycle with the vigour of enthusiastic children.
The ride took us through isolated Berber villages, via dirt paths, past extensive pastures where local farmers cultivate their land and shepherds watch their herds. There was also the occasional passerby riding casually astride a donkey, women washing clothes in bubbling streams and children playing amongst themselves. The Atlas Mountains and their inhabitants have a somewhat timeless feel to them - it was nice to step back from everything and take it all in. The journey also had us pedalling through canyons, whizzing through river crossings and charging down steep slopes. It is not for the faint-hearted, and we'd recommend being at least semi-fit (unlike us) before attempting this particular trip. However, if you're not a very strong cyclist, fall tired or do hurt yourself in this remote area of Morocco, it's not a problem as the Maroc Nature 4x4 follows closely behind just incase anything happens.
About a third of the way into the cycle (roughly 10kms), we stopped in a remote Berber village for some lunch in a traditional family home. The whole family were extremely welcoming and invited us into their home with Moroccan mint tea and almond shortbread. The sun had been warming our backs whilst cycling so we decided to sit out up on the rooftop where we could admire the fantastic panoramic view of the Atlas Mountains in all its glory. It was breathtaking being able to see Marrakech's beautiful backdrop so close up. Shortly after a photo session, the mother of the house brought out a huge home-cooked chicken tagine along with traditional Moroccan flatbread. Considering we had gained a sizeable appetite from our efforts, leaving us feeling like our stomachs were eating themselves, the wafting aromas of the citrusy, lemony chicken drenched in a fragrant, spice-rich sauce speared with cloves and dried fruits were irresistible. It didn't take us long to devour the lot, and soon we were just mopping up the remnants with the flatbread. After a delicious lunch and an unlimited supply of mint tea, we hopped back on our bikes for the remaining 20 kilometres. Hassan didn't mind us stopping and taking photos at every opportunity possible, giving us water along the way. The last leg of the trip had us cycling through the town of Amizmiz until we finally made it to the Anougal Valley where the 4x4 was waiting for us.
Our bike trip with Maroc Nature was awesome and for only 80 Euros we'd definitely recommend this trip to anyone - great company, extremely accommodating, and they are more than happy to create a completely new route that suits your needs or wishes. For more information, check them out here.