Traveling the Draa Valley to Zagora, with a detour to N’Kob – Morocco

17 Mar

Traveling the Draa Valley to N’Kob town

Short description. In Ouarzazate, I went to the kasbah in the town center and then to the old film studios. After that, I drove along the Draa Valley and stopped at the kasbahs of the Caid family in Agdz and Tamnougalt. I made a detour to N’Kob where I stayed overnight in a camping ground.

Long Description

The city of Ouarzazate was the main commercial center in the region. The artisans’ souq stood just opposite the Kasbah Taourirt. In front of the kasbah, a new pack of insistent guides assailed me and I had a hard time getting rid of them. The enormous kasbah had most of the rooms without any furnishings, but with richly colored decorations. (ceramic tiles, laborious stuccoes on the walls, as well as painstakingly painted wooden ceilings). I almost got lost amidst dozens of courtyards, terraces, and intricate floors.

Ouarzazate: the Old Cinema Museum with strange animals

Ouarzazate: the Old Cinema Museum with strange animals

In the Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate, countless movies had been cast in the kasbahs of the area. A few former rectangular mud-brick studios hosted the Cinema Museum and had dusty cardboard decors with mottled colors. Most of the rooms displayed various film scripts, with music and historical characters, medieval costumes, sphinxes, lions, and winged horses.

From Ouarzazate, the road along the endless Draa Valley went to the Sahara Desert. The desert scenery scarcely dotted with isolated palm trees undulated along the ridges of gentle hills, among which the road meandered infinitely. Lush green oases burst along the valley in places where water sprang after coming as far as from the High Atlas Mountains. Defensive kasbahs had been built in the proximity of the oases. – as outposts on the caravan routes: to protect the oases (valuable places with water sources) and to stop the French colonization.

The road from Ouarzazate to Agdz

The road from Ouarzazate to Agdz

A large number of mud-brick kasbahs were perfectly preserved in the palmeraie of Agdz. At Kasbah Caid, Rachid (a member of the Caid clan) guided me through the rooms of his family’s kasbah. A noble family, the Ait-el-Caid clan counted 250 members. They all met at weddings and parties that took place in the vast courtyard of the kasbah. The family owned four kasbahs in the region, all inhabited at that moment. The kasbah in Agdz had 40 rooms but only 14 persons lived there at that moment. Rachid’s grandfather had been a wealthy man and had afforded 10 wives. Each wife took care of all the children of the family (and of all of the other wives’ children). Rachid boasted he and his cousin Talal had had a small role in the movie Babel with Brad Pitt.

Agdz: Ait El Caid family kasbah. Rachid was my guide and he told me he played in The Babylon the scene serving tea to Brad Pitt

Agdz: Ait El Caid family kasbah. Rachid was my guide and he told me he played in The Babylon the scene serving tea to Brad Pitt

Rachid also sent me to Tamnougalt, a fortified village from the XVI-th century, where his cousin showed me another kasbah of the Caid family. Talal dusted himself off when he stood up from the ground. Then he guided me through the corners of his kasbah. He explained to me the differences between the Arab, Andalusian, and Berber architecture, all three being visible in the three inner courtyards of the kasbah. The kasbah in Tamnougalt was the first one built in this area, during the XVI-th century, but only 24 members of the family lived there at that moment. They slept on mattresses directly on the ground and baked bread in earth ovens. Talal also showed me the surrounding ksar, then another neighboring kasbah refurbished as a guest house. Eventually, he gifted me a pendant with a colorful embroidered small Arabic slipper.

Tamnougalt: Arab, Andalucian, Berber and Jewish motifs

Tamnougalt: Arab, Andalucian, Berber and Jewish motifs

From Tamnougalt I made a small detour through a desert area, where wild camels randomly walked on the side of the road. I reached the town of N’Kob, called the ‘Town of the Oases and the 45 Kasbahs’. A Moroccan dressed in a white djellaba accompanied me, like a wandering ghost, through the rooms of Kasbah Baha Baha. The kasbah had a huge courtyard, with a swimming pool, Berber tents, and a small ethnographic museum. The main building featured many fancy guest rooms, carefully designed with Berber decors.

In the evening, I went to Camping Ouadjou on the outskirts of the town, where I was their only guest. A cat stuck to me for all the evening and the staff spoiled me with two kinds of tajine in the pavilion near the beautifully illuminated pool.

Traveling along the Draa Valley to Zagora

Short description. I explored the kasbahs scattered among oases in N’Kob. Then I returned to the Draa Valley and I stopped at the kasbah-museums in Oulad Othmane and Ksar Tissergat.

Long Description

I felt sick after eating the kefta tajine (a mixture of minced meat and vegetables) the previous evening. Nevertheless, I wandered among some of the 45 kasbahs scattered throughout the palm oases in N’Kob. On the main street, I noticed different meats exposed in the sun and thus understood the reason for my food-poisoning. On secondary streets, with sand and a lot of dust and debris, an enclosure of a fortified fortress surrounded by palm trees appeared all of a sudden. Imposing, luxurious kasbahs rose next to dilapidated houses and defied any expectation.

N'Kob: Berber oasis with 45 mudbrick kasbah

N’Kob: Berber oasis with 45 mudbrick kasbah

From N’Kob, I returned on the same route to the Draa Valley and continued farther south along the valley rich in vegetation, ksars, and kasbahs (more than 360 throughout the valley). The Draa Valley was the second-largest palm grove in Africa. It had been the main route for the trading caravans traveling between Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa (Timbuktu in Mali, Niger, and Senegal) toward North Africa and Europe. The inhabitants lived of agriculture (dates, henna) and sheep and camel herding.

It was very hot and I had to turn on the air conditioning inside the car. Locals themselves didn’t do any great work and most of the time, I saw them lying in shade. Children always asked me to give them something to guard my car or show me the direction to wherever I wanted to goOulad Othmane featured a kasbah where dirt, poverty, as well as heat and dust seemed present everywhere.

Draa Valley: Kasbah Oulad Othmane

Draa Valley: Kasbah Oulad Othmane

The houses of the ksar seemed pretty dilapidated while only the mosque was carefully taken care of. A lad convinced me to be my guide through the XVIIIth-century kasbah of the Aziz Chafik family. The members of the family still lived there although the place seemed deplorable (they slept directly on the ground). Nevertheless, the inner courtyards and the rooftop terraces surprised with their remarkable architectural decorations. Many areas fell apart but from the rooftop terrace, there was a great panorama of the entire ksar and palmeraie.

The chain of oases continued toward Zagora. I made the last stop in Ksar Tissergat at the Museum of Arts and Traditions of the Draa Valley, refurbished in Kasbah Ziwana. One should enter a covered, dark street in the ksar, where I had to wake up the guard to open the museum. The museum displayed traditional objects. Wicker baskets, saddles for camels and donkeys, comb locks for doors. False-work for cob buildings made of mud and straw bricks (the techniques leuh or tabout). Medicinal plants, natural cosmetics, musical instruments. And, of course, countless ways to carry and store water in the desert.

Draa Valley: Kasbah Ziwana in Tissergat - Museum des Arts et Tradition de la Valle du Draa

Draa Valley: Kasbah Ziwana in Tissergat – Museum des Arts et Tradition de la Valle du Draa

In Zagora, the Royal Gendarmerie stopped me on the right side of the road. I explained to them I didn’t speak French too well. They checked my documents and let me go. Zagora (a town close to the border with Algeria) had been an important outpost on the desert route. A dusty sign contorted by winds pointed the direction toward Timbuktu, Mali – only 52 days by camel. At the traffic lights, a Moroccan driving a dirty jeep insistently honked me and then followed my car to sell me various desert trips. I completely ignored him.

Draa Valley: Zagora - Camping Oasis Palmier

Draa Valley: Zagora – Camping Oasis Palmier

I went straight to Camping Oasis Palmier, located at the exit from Zagora. There I camped under a palm tree and spent the whole evening swinging in a hammock. I felt a little fearful but anxiously waited for my desert expedition starting the following day. I had planned a 4-day traverse of a desert area by camels – a dream of mine with camels, dunes, Berber tents, oases.

If you want to read more about my trip through Morocco, here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x 21).

Have you been to Morocco or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked about Morocco or what you’re interested to see there.

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11 Responses to “Traveling the Draa Valley to Zagora, with a detour to N’Kob – Morocco”

  1. Elizabeth July 4, 2019 at 2:24 am #

    The Atlas Film Studios sound like a fun place to visit. Very cool that your guide was in a movie scene alongside Brad Pitt. Have you watched the movie to see if you can spot him?

    • Iuliana July 4, 2019 at 10:09 am #

      I tried to find the movie on internet but wasn’t successful until now. I must try to find it again! 🙂

  2. Eric Gamble July 4, 2019 at 2:37 am #

    So jealous! Darcee & I spent over a month in Morocco and absolutely LOVED IT there…we got engaged in Casablanca. But sadly we missed out on Ouarzazate and Zagora. We just kind of ran out of time. We did some desert camping but from what I hear the camping spots around Zagor or in the Draa Valley look so amazing. Darcee would have loved exploring all the movie stuff in Ouarzazate but the camping was what I would have enjoyed the most. Definitely Jealous! Guess we need to go back! I heard that closer to the coast they also have some amazing surfing and kiteboarding sites too. So we just need to go back into the south for a month!

    • Iuliana July 4, 2019 at 10:08 am #

      In the southern part of Morocco I regularly camped in official campsites, among palm trees – a true paradise. I am not into water sports but I guess that the Atlantic is a great challenge. I think you had a great engagement party in Casablanca. Congrats!

  3. Sara July 4, 2019 at 3:55 am #

    This is a very informative post. I haven’t been to Morocco yet, but I hope to get there one day. I’m interested in seeing the culture firsthand, visiting the beautiful dessert and trying out the local foods. It also looks like a photographers’ paradise!

    • Iuliana July 4, 2019 at 10:04 am #

      The light is so great for shooting photos in Morocco. And you will find tajine – their national dish in all sorts of combinations, so you won’t miss it. Lamb tajine with olives is my favorite.

  4. Daniel July 4, 2019 at 9:20 am #

    I’m so glad I came across this post! I’m planning to visit Morocco in September and even though I (almost) already planned my trip, I’m looking for a few more suggestions of places to visit and things to do. I haven’t heard about Draa Valley or Zagora but after reading this, I might just add them to my itinerary. Thank you for sharing

    • Iuliana July 4, 2019 at 10:03 am #

      The Draa Valley it worth a visit especially for the mud brick villages you find along the way. They are the real, authentic image of southern Morocco.

  5. Vanessa Ball July 5, 2019 at 6:59 am #

    What a wonderful adventure, the Draa Valley looks gorgeous. Kasbah Caid sounds like an interesting visit. I love the architecture of the fortified village of Tamnougalt, great to discover some of the history. This is a great guide to the route you took, it’s bookmarked.

    • Iuliana July 5, 2019 at 7:09 pm #

      I always like to explore and discover off the beat places. The Draa Valley has so many of them.

  6. Jennifer Prince July 5, 2019 at 11:43 pm #

    The museum with cinema artifacts looks so interesting. Even the outside is intriguing! I’ve never been to Morocco and have only done a safari in Africa. I’d love to explore more!

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