arrfoud

Erfoud & Merzouga

Before the development of the town began around 1930, the French had set up a military post here to watch over the Tafilalt Valley. The Berber tribes put up a long-drawn-out resistance to the establishment of French rule, and the valley was one of the last parts of southern Morocco to surrender. Erfoud’s checkerboard layout is a remainder of this military past. This peaceful town with its extensive palm grove is the base for tours of the Erg Chebbi Dunes. From the top of the eastern borj, a small bastion 3km (2miles) southeast of Erfoud, the view shows a vast plain of desert and palm groves.

Tafilalt Palm Grove
Stretching out along the bends of Wadi Rheris and Wadi Ziz, which run from Erfoud – the Tafilalt oasis nestles in a stretch of greenery – extending beyond Rissani. The oasis was once a welcome stopping place for caravans, as they arrived exhausted after weeks in the deserts. Today, the inhabitants rely on it for their livelihood: the 800.000 date palms that grow here are renowned for their fruit. In October, the souk at Erfoud overflows with dates of every variety. At the end of the date harvest a three day Date Festival takes place.

Rissani
This small town on the edge of the Sahara marks the end of the metalled road and the start of tracks into the desert. Rissani, built on the ruins of Sijilmassa, was once the capital of Tafilalt. The origins of Sijilmassa are as mysterious as the reasons for its decline. The former city contained hundreds of kasbahs and palaces; on the road to Erfoud, a few vestiges of these including the scant remains of walls, emerge from the sand.
The Rissani Souk is one of the most famous in the area. Donkeys, mules, sheep and goats are enclosed in corrals. Stalls are piled with shining pyramids of dates, as well as with vegetables and spices. Beneath roofs made of palm matting and narrow clay alleyways, jewellery, daggers, carpets, woven palm fibre baskets and pottery are laid out for sale. 

Mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif
South to Rissani stands the Mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, where the father of Moulay Er Rachid, founder of the Alaouite dynasty, is laid to rest. The mausoleum was rebuilt in 1955, after it was damaged by a serious flooding of Wadi Ziz. A courtyard leads to the burial chamber, to which non-Muslims are not admitted. Behind the mausoleum are the ruins of the 19th century Abbar Ksar. This former residence once housed exiled Alaouite princesses, the widows of sultans and, protected by a double earth wall, part of the royal treasury. About 2km (1mile) from the mausoleum stands the Oulad Abdelhalim Ksar. It was built in 1900 for the elder brother of Sultan Moulay Hassan, who was made governor of the Tafilalt.

Er-Rachidia
Here the palm groves of the Ziz and Tafilalt begin, and the town also stands as the start of the road to the South. Er-Rachidia, also an administrative and military centre, was built by the French in the early 20th century, when it was known as Ksar Es Souk. Its present name was given in 1979 in memory of Moulay Rachid, the first of the Alaouites to overthrow Saadian rule in 1666. Many ksour (fortified villages) here were abandoned after 1960, when the Ziz broke its banks, causing serious floods and washing land away.

Blue Source of Meski
About 25km (14miles) south of Er-Rachidia we find the spring ‘La Source Bleue de Meski’, which runs underground for part of its course. The blue spring waters flow from a cave at the foot of a cliff into a pool built by the Foreign Legion. The water provides a natural swimming pool for the campsite in the palm grove. The cliff top offers a view of the oasis and the ruined ksar of Meski. The road to Erfoud also offers great views of the Ziz Valley and the oases of oulad Chaker and Aourfous.

MERZOUGA

The small Saharan oasis of Merzouga is famous for its location at the foot of the Erg Chebbi Dunes. These amazing dunes, which rise up out of the stony, sandy desert, extend for 30km (19miles), and reach a maximum height of 250m (820 ft). At sunrise or dusk, the half light gives the sand a fascinating range of subtle colours. Although they are nearer to Rissani, Merzouga and the Erg Chebbi dunes are easier to reach from Erfoud. Merzouga can be accessed only per 4WD and once on the spot a camel ride is the most enjoyable and authentic way to reach the top of the dunes.

Environs of Erfoud

  • Tinghir  – 145km (90 miles) halfway between Erfoud and Ouarzazate
  • Tinjedad  – 55km (34miles) between Erfoud and Tinghir
  • Todra Canyons  – 15km (9miles) from Tinghir

Weather

Winter temperature = 3 – 13 °C. Summer temperature = 25 - 40 °C.

Hot desert climate with very few rain throughout the year

Festivals:

ERFOUD

  • Dates Festival  October

IMILCHIL  (high Atlas mountains)

  • Moussem of the Engagements  September