I have just come back from a five day trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. Enticing as the rose-colored city is, the desert and the Atlas Mountains had an even stronger pull on my spirit of adventure. On the second day, I set off on a day trip to Ouarzazate, about 150 miles east of Marrakesh.

Ouarzazate is a Berber name and means ‘without noise,’ a definition which refers to the town’s other name, “Gateway to the desert.” There are organized tours which visitors can take, but I preferred to hire a car and driver because I wanted to stop wherever I wanted.

Kasbah-de-Taourirt-800-IPQIf you suffer from car sickness or have a fear of heights — be forewarned. While the road starts innocently enough and heads straight through the outskirts of Marrakesh, soon the foothills of the Atlas mountains appear on the horizon and the road climbs and climbs through the deep valley and sheer cliff drops of the Draa Valley and the Tichka Gorge until the Tichka Pass, the highest point, is reached and then begins an equally steep descent into the desert. The word “hairpin turns” could have been invented here and the drops on either side of the road are not for the faint of heart.

Glued to the mountains are fortified Berber villages and along the road side, stalls offer crystals and multicolored chunks of minerals which are found in the rocks. Depending on the driver’s fearlessness the trip lasts between 4 and 5 hours.

berbere-palace-800-IPQOuarzazate is famous for its red Kasbah de Taourirt but also as a center of film making. Such classics as Lawrence of Arabia, StarWars, Gladiator and Cleopatra have all been shot in part in or around Ouarzazate and I headed for the Berbere Palace Hotel, which features original props from these movies in its gardens and lobby. It’s fascinating to stand in front of what you have seen in a movie and imagine the actors who have been playing out their parts around them.

In addition the Berbere Palace offers the use of its splendid pool plus a meal of pizza or pasta and a soft drink for approximately $25US per person.

After a refreshing swim and a walk through the monumental kashba, I was ready to start on the return trip and to face the roller coaster ride back to Marrakesh. A truly unforgettable day trip.

inka125Inka is German and used to be an international attorney with offices in London and Spain. Retired two years ago because I wanted to be a traveler and writer and now live between Didim, Turkey, and Miami with plenty of travel in between. Next destinations: Istanbul, New York and Petra, Jordan.