Morocco is known for the beauty of its mountains and valleys, like that of Draa. Tourists usually crisscross them in 4x4s. In recent months, “Terres d’aventure” started offering another way to discover them, closer to nature and the local population: with the handlebars of power-assisted mountain bikes. So, we decided to do a test.
On a beautiful paved road, Mohamed praises the slowness. This 70-year-old Moroccan travels on a mule, indifferent to the cars that graze and smoke around him. As we ride our mountain e-bikes, it does not really take long to catch up. We put our e-bikes aside and the discussion begins. “Once a week, I go to the village of Telouet to fill up with spices, tea, vegetables,” he says in Arabic, translated by our guide. A simple, quick and authentic exchange.
We will do many meetings like this one during our bike tour. This is exactly the point for this mode of transportation, which completely changes the way tourists meet locals. Nothing to compare with the sightseeing tours in huge SUVs that do not go off the beaten track.
Since last year, the tour operator “Terres d’aventure” has offered three mountain bike tours, with an optional electric model, to discover Morocco in a whole new way. The small engine that boosts each pedal stroke (with five levels of assistance to choose from) helps to deal with ups and downs of the ride and puts the entire group on an equal footing. A revolution for those who thought that this type of trip was reserved only for the iron men.
In direct contact with nature
Lasting eight days, the “Atlas and Drâa Valley MTB” circle is spread over 220 km south of Marrakech. The route dives into the center of the Atlas Mountains. Thanks to the electric assistance, we climb the rugged tracks without much difficulty.
After a night in a guesthouse at 2,200 m altitude (and waking up with snow around), we go back down to explore the beautiful valleys of southern Morocco. That of Ounila, first, with its beautiful landscapes. Then the Drâa Valley, which follows the valley and its huge palm forest (read below).
On our modern electric machines, we then go back, following the old camel caravan route, via Ouarzazate and the magnificent Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. For centuries, goods have passed through these mountains, linking the Sahara to the ports of northern Morocco.
Winding roads and long tracks crossing lunar landscapes lead us to Zagora, the gateway to the desert. In this “end of the world”, we breathe one last time this wind that has shaped the dunes for millennia. In direct contact with nature, to the end of the pedals …
What we loved! Cycling allowed to get off the beaten path and access villages that are not usually frequented by tourists.
We liked less. Great athletes looking for a trip 100% green and autonomous will regret being accompanied by a logistics vehicle and a 4×4 for occasional transfers.
As far as the eye can see, palm trees that show the character of the entire region.
The bike tour in southern Morocco follows the valley of the wadi Drâa, which gave its name to the valley. It is the biggest river in the country: it stretches for 1 100 km. And it feeds one of the largest palm forests in the world, on an area of 40,000 hectares.
From the city of Agdz, southeast of Ouarzazate, the palms spread out as far as the eye can see, over 200 km long, and 1 to 15 km wide. This gigantic green band contrasts with the ocher color of the mountains, in a lunar-like landscape. Thousands of families live from this palm forest, divided into as many different parcels.
Large water users
“A palm tree can give up to 100 kg of dates a year,” says Mohamed Aif Icho, a guide in Zagora. Its wood is also used in construction. “This production paradoxically requires a lot of water in a semi-desert region: each palm consumes” about 300 liters per day “!
Thanks to its deep roots and thousands of root branches, this tree draws its water reserves from more than 8 meters below to reach the water table, itself fed by Drâa. The dam of Ouarzazate makes several drops of water a year to feed the river.
It takes fifteen years for a palm tree to be productive. It can then live for two centuries, provided it does not become sick with the bayoud. This disease, which comes from mushrooms, has already killed part of the palm tree forest since the late nineteenth century. It affects on average 3% of the Drâa palm trees each year.
How to get there?
Air France offers up to 13 weekly flights to Marrakech, departing from Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle (flight time: 3:20). Flight cost is included in the price of the tour.
The “Atlas and Drâa Valley Mountain Bike Tour”, lasting 8 days, is offered by “Terres d’aventure”. From € 1,280 (optional electric mountain bike: € 90). Accommodation in cottages and hotels.
Level of difficulty: easy to medium. Route length is 220 km in total (30 to 55 km per day, with climbs of 200 to 300 m), excluding transfers by cars. The tour is offered from October to April. For age groups from 12 years.
“Terres d’aventure” offers two other electric mountain bike tours in Morocco:
- “From the Rose Valley to Ait Benhaddou”, 8 days, from € 1,250, offered from October to May.
- “High Atlas and Ourika Valley”, 8 days, from € 1,350, offered from April to October.
Where to ask?
Adventure Lands Agency, 147, Boulevard de la Liberté in Lille. Website: www.terdav.com/ps-maroc
This post was translated from French. The original version was published on La Voix du Nord. Photo credit – La Voix du Nord.