Who doesn’t love a palm tree-lined valley!! Here in the Anti Atlas mountains, already well away from major cities and resorts, a winding road brings one up and over into the canyon of Ait Mansour. Even without the promise of the oasis, the drive itself is breathtaking – especially if you love that, almost lunar, rocky landscape.

Glimpse of water and the first of the palms…

Beautiful as the drive is, you can understand why walking or cycling the 10km+ route is suggested….

A string of Berber villages perch above the lush vegetation…

Lunch – Berber Omelet, Khobz (Moroccan bread) and Mint tea….

But there is much to ponder……..

While this paradise is experiencing reduced rainfall and rising temperatures, difficulties here are largely attributed to socio-economic driving forces rather than climate change. Things really kicked off with Independence, when settlers relocated back to France, encouraging their workers to follow them. Emigration increased in the 60’s and 70’s with (mostly) men heading to France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Many opted to stay in Morocco but left the mountains for the opportunities offered in the big cities – Casablanca, Marrakesh, etc. Since the 80’s, further job opportunities in the tourism industry along the coast have drawn even more young people away from the mountain villages.

The reduction in local workforce has had a massive impact on cultivation. In particular, there was no one left to maintain the terraces with their drystone walls. Nowadays, only some 25% of the terraces are used for subsistence farming (some grain and cereal straw for domestic animals). The rest of the terraces, some centuries old, are gradually deteriorating, resulting in decaying irrigation systems and eventual erosion.

It’s not just the land that is experiencing change – in some spots along the road, it appears that whole crumbling adobe villages have been abandoned altogether or replaced with concrete. The traditional pisé (mud brick) houses – which need regular maintenance – are being abandoned in favour of reinforced concrete homes which offer more comfort and are easier to maintain.

While the road is wide enough for most of it, I’m glad we’re not driving a motorhome!!!

We’d planned a looped route from our base in Tafraoute but it didn’t quite work out……Not sure if the road surface vanished completely or if the road works sign a few kms back was actually of significance(!)

Having juddered along for a another kilometre, we conceded defeat (fearing the wrath of the car rental agency!!) and turned back… Now we were really glad we didn’t have a motorhome!!!


    1. We loved it – we were unsure about the actual drive but ended up seeing most of the valley which was great. I love those arid landscapes so enjoyed the whole experience.

  1. I admire you for driving in these places even if it doesn’t always work out as planned. It’s such a shame the rural areas are being depopulated but you hear the same story in so many places. Interestingly in Oman we learned that although the government had encouraged the Berber people to move to the towns and provided them with free or cheap housing, they were now moving back to the desert areas because they felt more at home there and also tourism was offering them employment opportunities that didn’t exist a few decades ago.

    1. You’re right – it’s a universal problem – sure we see it here in the west of Ireland and the midlands. Interesting what you say about Oman – I was in Donegal the other day which has suffered hugely from emigration – tourism is picking up there now and there are small associated businesses – coffee trucks, boat trips, etc springing up – Hopefully the tourist trade will keep some of this generation at home…

  2. What a grand experience that was and your images are so good, arid landscapes to oases. I can feel the silence just looking at those village scenes, no people, not even a stray cat or dog. How did you find them? As Sarah says above, the deserted villages share the same story with most countries in the med, especially the islands, Sicily, Cyprus and Sardinia. It is a shame, but life evolves and economic emigration has always been a fact of life and it continues. I’m not sure if tourism is the answer either, although it is helping. Maybe with people wanting a different lifestyle post-Covid, we may see a return to an older way of life but one with less back-breaking hardship involved in scraping a living from a reluctant earth.

    1. There will always be a few, for whatever reason, who are eventually drawn back to their homeplace. There is still plenty of life in the valley. It was very quiet Mari but it was during Ramadan so there were very few out and about during the day – the animals must have been taking it easy also!!!

    1. We’ve never had a 4X4 there so haven’t ventured far off the track but have still managed to see a lot of the country. It certainly offers plenty of variety.

    1. I think they’re finding that the adobe was better suited to the climate than the concrete – cooler in summer etc… but the houses must have been so difficult to maintain…

    1. They look great but with the young people leaving, they are bound to disintegrate – Who’d blame the remaining residents for opting for a more convenient alternative.

    1. Thank you – glad you enjoyed.. I too love those arid scenes – I always put it down to the fact that there’s so much green around me at home (And I live in an urban area – not the countryside)

  3. Wow this is seriously bringing back memories of our time when Tafraout was our base. We even had a Berber omelette prepared by an old guy in the hills who only used what he grew (and what the chickens hatched) in his oasis. And we also learnt about the depopulation of this area, particularly in Valle des Armandes, but it’s a story we’ve encountered in a lot of places since. One of the effects of the shrinking world we guess – shrinking faster due to the internet.

    1. We spent just 2 nights in Tafraout – it was probably the busiest place – tourist wise – that we came across (although not crowded by any means). There were plenty of campervans in particular – campers seem to stay in the area for months at a time..

  4. Wow, what a fantastic and adventurous experience, Marie 🙂 The scenery of this area is beautiful and dramatic, with an overall tranquil feel. I’d love to sip on the traditional Moroccan Mint tea – the very first time I tried it in Marrakech, the sweet, extra-fragrant tea felt like a hug to the soul. According to a Moroccan saying the first glass of Moroccan mint tea is as soft as life, the second as strong as love, and the last as bitter as death. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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