Don’t rush from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. Instead spend half a day exploring the stunning Ounila Valley, from intriguing Telouet Kasbah to film famous Aït Ben Haddou.


For centuries, the Ounila Valley was the main passageway between Marrakech and the caravan routes of the Sahara. Tradesmen came to exchange their wares and the powerful watched on to extract their taxes.

The remnants of their power can still be discovered in the magnificent decaying homes of Telouet Kasbah and Tamdaght Kasbah or the fortified towns of Anmiter and Ait Ben Haddou.

But, it’s not just interesting buildings that make the Ounila Valley worth visiting. The scenery is stunning. Carving its way from the high Atlas Mountains to the barren plains just north of the Sahara Desert, the Ounila river has transformed the landscape. A rich variety of green crops line the valley floor, contrasting with the rusty red rock of the canyon-like walls.

It’s a beautiful area, and the best way to see it is on a slow detour off the main road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. With Morocco heavily investing in infrastructure, the old caravan route has been transformed into a smooth paved road which can easily be navigated in a simple 2WD.

So, if you’re planning on collecting some of the great things to do in Ouarzazate, we highly recommend spending half a day going off the beaten track and exploring the Ounila Valley.

Here are all the highlights, directions for driving from Telouet Kasbah to Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou, and our suggestions of where to stay.

OUNILA VALLEY HIGHLIGHTS


TELOUET KASBAH

Intricate carvings in a crumbling fortified home

ANMITER

An untouched fortified village

OUNILA VILLAGES

Local life on the Ounila Valley

TAMDAGHT KASBAH

Glaoui stronghold in a beautiful location

KASBAH AÏT BEN HADDOU

Movie location par excellence

OUNILA VALLEY HIGHLIGHTS


TELOUET KASBAH

Intricate carvings in a crumbling fortified home

ANMITER

An untouched fortified village

OUNILA VILLAGES

Local life on the Ounila Valley

TAMDAGHT KASBAH

Glaoui stronghold in a beautiful location

KASBAH AÏT BEN HADDOU

Movie location par excellence

1 / TELOUET KASBAH

Before the new road between Marrakech and Ouarzazate was built in the 1930s the Ounila valley was the main passageway between the northern cities of Morocco and the caravan routes of the Sahara Desert. The tribal leaders that controlled these routes became fabulously wealthy from the taxes they could impose on passing trade. The last of these tribal leaders was Thami el Glaoui and it is his family that built the magnificent Telouet Kasbah.

From the outside this large kasbah (fortified home) looks like a red ruined hulk with crumbling walls. But head inside, pass through a warren of tightly packed rooms, and you soon get a glimpse of the majestic wealth that must once have been on display here. Glorious painted cedarwood is fitted into the ceilings, intricate plaster carvings adorn the doorways and bright zellij mosaics cover the walls. Even the fine views from the windows are framed by elegant iron grills.

It’s a glorious expression of Glaoui wealth and opulence in the most remote of settings and one of the finest kasbahs in Morocco.

2 / FORTIFIED KSAR OF ANMITER

Just a few miles east of Telouet Kasbah the Ounila river meets the road and the landscape changes. Instead of miles and miles of barren rock, green slithers of vegetation line the valley floor providing food and water for the old fortified village (ksar) of Anmiter. This is one of the best-preserved ksars in Morocco and is what Ait Ben Haddou would have looked like before tourists and movie fame came calling.

If you have the time, Anmiter is worth exploring. Either take the rough road down into the town or leave your car at the top and make your way down on foot. Alternatively, stay the night at Kasbah Tigmi N’Oufella just south of Anmiter and get the helpful host to organise a sunrise or sunset walking tour for you.

3 / OUNILA VILLAGES

From Anmiter, the tarmac road now winds its way south through superb road trip country. Following the path of the river, the road twists and turns – clinging to the canyon edge. It’s a glorious road in fantastic scenery. You could complete the drive in an hour, but it would be madness to do so.

Instead, take your time, stop, get out and appreciate the stunning scenery of rippling red rocks, towering canyon walls and lush green valleys. The beautiful scene is all backed by the Atlas Mountains. Oblivious to the few road trippers who make this journey are women working in the fields, men herding sheep and donkeys being ushered along towards local villages.

If you have time, stop and have a stroll around Tajeguite, Assaka and Taïfaste.

It’s a glorious exhibition of Moroccan scenery and life.

4 / TAMDAGHT KASBAH

While Tamdaght Kasbah may lack the opulence of Telouet Kasbah or the movie star fame of Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou, it has a more genuine Berber feel. Set amidst attractive surrounds, this Glaoui stronghold is an impressive sight standing proud over the Ounila Valley.

There is no formal entrance or opening times, instead, you have to knock on the front door and see if someone will let you in. It can be a bit of a hassle so it might be better to stroll the town and take pictures from the road. In particular, the views from the south across the green valley floor looking up to the kasbah are excellent. You can see why Alexander the Great and other classics were filmed in this attractive setting.

5 / AÏT BEN HADDOU

While many sadly skip the Ounila Valley, almost all make the short journey from Ouarzazate to Aït Ben Haddou. It has become the location of choice for films ranging from Gladiator to Jesus of Nazareth; from Jewel of the Nile to The Man who would be King. And, it’s easy to see why.

Set attractively across a shallow stream, the red mud-brick façade conjures images of biblical towns, long lost villages, and battling Persian and Greek armies. It’s castellated walls rest on the side of a hill from which there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

Inside, tiny alleyways and staircases meander around the red brick buildings which are in various states of decay. Some have been left for ruin while others have been renovated or completely rebuilt by the tourist industry. It’s less about an authentic look at rural Morocco, and more about old film sets, large crowds and local salesmen.

However, head here at sunrise or sunset and the crowds will have disappeared, the stallholders gone and Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou will shimmer in the evening light. Furthermore, head up to the top of one of the easily climbed surrounding hills and you will be rewarded with some beautiful desolate mountain scenery.

GETTING TO THE OUNILA VALLEY

The road that goes through the Ounila Valley is the P1506.

It leaves the N9 just south of the Tizi n’Tichka pass and re-joins it just west of Ouarzazate. The road is paved and easy to drive in any 2WD. It takes 1 hour and 30 minutes to make the journey without a break. However, you will want to give yourself 4 or 5 hours to at least stop at Telouet Kasbah and Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou. Allow a bit more time to check out the other sights and to stop and take photos of this beautiful scenery.

If you are thinking about a road trip in Morocco, your thinking is very sound – it’s a fantastic country to explore on an independent self-drive holiday. Read our driving in Morocco article for some tips on navigating the roads. We also have some money-saving, car hire and insurance advice.

For inspiration about collecting the Ounila Valley on your road trip, read our 10-day Morocco Itinerary.

WHERE TO STAY IN THE OUNILA VALLEY

Like many places off the beaten track in Morocco, the Ounila Valley has some excellent value and atmospheric accommodation. Far from the chain hotels, many of the sleeping options in the area are local independent riads or small charming hotels.

The other benefit of staying in this particular part of Morocco is the chance to indulge in a fortified-ksar-inspired lodging. Many have great views of the surrounding countryside from where they serve delicious homecooked food. All provide the obligatory mint tea on arrival.

Here are some of our favourite places in the area.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK, ANMITER

KASBAH TIGMI N’OUFELLA


All alone on the road just south of Anmiter, the helpful host is happy to organise local tours and chat about local life, politics and culture. Breakfast on the roof terrace and dinner in a traditional room are a must – there is nothing else around.

CHECK PRICES

GREAT VALUE TAMDAKHTE

RIAD TAMDAKHTE


Situated just across the road from Kasbah Tamdaght this excellent value riad has magnificent views. Delicious biscuits and tea on arrival and large, comfortable, rooms beautifully decorated in the local Moroccan style make this our favourite of the area.

CHECK PRICES

CLASSY AIT BEN HADDOU

RIAD CARAVANE


Less Moroccan and more minimalist chic this upmarket riad is only a 10-minute walk from Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou. But you don’t even have to move, the views of the surrounding countryside from the excellent terrace. The pool is a bonus.

CHECK PRICES

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK, ANMITER

KASBAH TIGMI N’OUFELLA


All alone on the road just south of Anmiter, the helpful host is happy to organise local tours and chat about local life, politics and culture. Breakfast on the roof terrace and dinner in a traditional room are a must – there is nothing else around.

CHECK PRICES

GREAT VALUE TAMDAKHTE

RIAD TAMDAKHTE


Situated just across the road from Kasbah Tamdaght this excellent value riad has magnificent views. Delicious biscuits and tea on arrival and large, comfortable, rooms beautifully decorated in the local Moroccan style make this our favourite of the area.

CHECK PRICES

CLASSY AIT BEN HADDOU

RIAD CARAVANE


Less Moroccan and more minimalist chic this upmarket riad is only a 10-minute walk from Kasbah Aït Ben Haddou. But you don’t even have to move, the views of the surrounding countryside from the excellent terrace. The pool is a bonus.

CHECK PRICES

WHEN TO VISIT THE OUNILA VALLEY

The Ounila Valley is at its most beautiful in spring. At this time, the lush green crops on the valley floor contrast beautifully with the red rock. However, in early spring the passes over the mountains can still be covered in snow making them impassable. So we suggest you plan your visit from late-March to early May when the roads should be open and the temperatures not too high.

After the summer temperatures drop, mid-September to mid-October can also be a good time to visit although the green valley floor will not be as vibrant as in spring.

While not essential it is also worth avoiding Ramadan. Morocco is a very religious country with strict adherence to fasting. This means guides are not keen to take long hikes, and local cafes and services are often closed. For 2020 Ramadan will be from 23 April to 23 May and for 2021 it will be from 12 April to 11 May.

WHERE NEXT?

If you found this guide useful, please head over to Instagram and follow us to stay up to date with our adventures.

Mocorro is a great place for a road trip – read our post on driving in Morocco for some tips and our 10-day Morocco itinerary for all the details of how we explored the country.

Here’s some other Morocco writing you might enjoy.

Paul Healy

Paul was born in Australia and moved to London in 2008 where he worked as a change manager specialising in organisational design. Now a full-time travel blogger, Paul writes destination guides and articles for Anywhere We Roam.

All articles
Paul Healy

Paul was born in Australia and moved to London in 2008 where he worked as a change manager specialising in organisational design. Now a full-time travel blogger, Paul writes destination guides and articles for Anywhere We Roam.

All articles

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Don’t rush from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. Instead spend half a day exploring the stunning Ounila Valley, from intriguing Telouet Kasbah to film famous Aït Ben Haddou.
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