Stretching over a vast area in North Africa, the Atlas Mountains form a natural barrier between the coast to the west and the Sahara desert to the south and east. They cross several borders, so there are many different peoples who maintain local cultures and traditions. The Moroccan side is home to stunning landscapes that have attracted film-makers for decades and travellers for even longer. Here’s why you should visit – and where to stay.
Given the size of the mountains, many people refer to specific subranges when exploring the Atlas region: Anti-Atlas, High Atlas and Middle Atlas all fall within Morocco, with others covering Tunisia and Algeria. Morocco is by far the most popular tourist destination of these, but even so, the Atlas Mountains are relatively under-represented in travel guides and press coverage.
With the inevitable desire to visit more remote destinations after a year of self-isolation and localised containment, it’s fair to assume people will be looking to visit wide-open spaces in 2021. The luxury and intensity of Marrakech might have been the go-to option for European travellers in previous years, but with the added requirement of social distancing, we think a few days in this mountain retreat in Morocco will fit the bill perfectly.
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If you want to get a sense of what the Atlas regions look like, head a little south of Marrakech to an area just outside the High Atlas border. It’s here, in the deserts outside Ouarzazate, that Atlas Studios, the world’s largest film studio, can be found. You will have almost certainly seen some of the films made here: from Gladiator (2000) to Disney blockbuster Aladdin (2019), it’s the default location for film or TV productions that require a desert landscape. What’s great for film fans and curious travellers is that a lot of the studio space is open to the public, and film sets are often left standing after they’ve been used.
A visit to the glamorous world of Hollywood productions is a nice detour on any visit to this part of Morocco, but let’s go back into the foothills of the mountains themselves. There are dozens of experiences that offer you the chance to spend time with the local Berber people. The original inhabitants of the Maghreb still make up a sizeable part of Moroccan society, and offer an insight into the traditional ways of life here. As ever with these interactions, you must do research to pick experiences that directly benefit the people involved; tourism has both positively and negatively impacted the Berber (also known as the Amazigh).
We think the perfect way to discover the magic of Morocco is to book an extended trip that combines bustling Marrakech with a few days heading into the unknown.
Many people are already thinking of an early 2021 getaway to Marrakech. The fourth-largest city in Morocco is close to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, and with these smart options, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Sir Richard Branson’s stunning retreat in the Atlas Mountains offers views of Morocco’s tallest peak. Aside from the impressive landscape, this hotel also has log fires and a heated pool to keep you warm during those cold Saharan nights. There are just a few rooms available, making this the ideal desert hideaway for those in the know.
Living by core concepts of simplicity and rejuvenation, Touda Ecolodge is one of our top recommendations for an authentic Moroccan experience. After a chance meeting, two local men decided to build their own property to show guests what a Berber welcome really looks like – the result is this fantastic, budget-friendly retreat. There’s something special about a stay in a place the local community is so proud of.
Only 35 minutes from the madness of Marrakech (we love you really), the Capaldi boutique hotel will instantly transport you to a very different side of Morocco. The location means you can spend a morning traipsing and haggling around the souks of, while taking the afternoon off to hike up the surrounding mountains. If that sounds too taxing, relax in the outdoor pool and watch a movie in the in-house cinema.
We’re sure wellness retreats will be a big trend in 2021, so we’ve found a hotel that offers the whole wellness shebang. You can spend time in the aromatic garden, take advantage of the hammam and spa treatments or even learn the beauty secrets of the local Berbers. Like all the hotels we’ve picked, there is a real connection between the outdoors and your bedroom, so why not make this your first holiday of the new year?
The Culture Trip list features places with a feel-good factor that we can’t wait to visit in 2021 and beyond (once we can travel again). It celebrates travel that’s good and makes you feel good. The destinations are dedicated to sustainability; they offer something new and exciting, or an unforgettable moment that will make us fall in love all over again with the world we’ve missed in 2020.
Culture Trip compiled the list based on insights and recommendations from its global community of travel experts and local insiders, combined with search data from millions of users from around the world to understand interest in those destinations.