Tizi-n-Test Pass - MOROCCO

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The high-altitude tizi-n-test Pass, the westerly of the two great passes over the Atlas Mountains, is cautiously navigated by the R203 highway to Taroudant. Although the distance between the two cities is only 223 km (138 miles), the road’s tortuous hairpins demand such respect from drivers that the journey takes nearly five hours. Not to mention the time needed to stop off at the many sights along the way. If you don’t have your own vehicle or grand taxi, you can make the trip by public transport: buses depart Marrakech early each morning, taking up to eight hours to reach Taroudant.
Map-tizi-n-test
1 Tahanoute
2 Moulay Brahim
3 Asni
4 Jbel Toubkal
5 Ouirgane
6 Kasbah Talaat-n- Yacoub
7 Tin Mal
8 Tizi-n-Test Pass
9 Taroudant
10 Tichka Plateau

Tahanoute

This picturesque village is just a 20-minute drive south of Marrakech and features a cascade of red-clay houses, surrounding a massive rock sheltering the shrine of Sidi Mohammed El Kebir, whose festival is celebrated at Mouloud, the Prophet’s birthday. It was the subject of Winston Churchill’s last painting in 1958. Every Tuesday, a country market is held here. Map C1

Moulay Brahim

South of Tahanoute, the road winds uphill to Moulay Brahim, named after a local saint, with a green-roofed shrine dedicated to him in the middle of the village (entry to non-Muslims is forbidden). The shrine is a popular pilgrimage spot, especially for women with fertility problems. Map C2

Asni

The village of Asni lies at a fork in the road – a left turn leads up to the village of Imlil and the striking kasbahs Tamandot and Toubkal. Jbel Toubkal dominates the view to the west, but there’s little for visitors to explore at Asni itself, apart from shops selling trinkets (things are cheaper in Marrakech). The highlight is the busy country market held on Saturdays – the largest in the Atlas. Map C2

Jbel Toubkal

Take the left fork at Asni to Imlil at the foot of Jbel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. Mountain guides can be hired in Imlil at the bureau des guides in the centre of the village. There are some basic budget hotels here, but the Kasbah du Toubkal just up the hill is a better option (see p93). Map C2 • Bureau des guides: tel/fax 0524 48 56 26

Ouirgane

Ouirgane, 16 km (10 miles) south of Asni, is a pretty little place. The actual village is hidden among the trees along the valley above the Oued Nifis river. There’s an abandoned Jewish hamlet nearby and a working salt factory. Stop by for lunch or, if you plan on lingering in the village, spend the night at one of the two enchanting hotels – La Roseraie and the Au Sanglier Qui Fume – for which the place is best known. Map C2

Kasbah Talaat-n-Yacoub

South of Ouirgane, the road climbs steadily through a rocky, bare landscape. After passing through the small Berber hamlet of Ijoujak, visible off to the right is the commanding hilltop fortress of Kasbah Talaat-n-Yacoub. This was once a stronghold of the Goundafi tribe who controlled access to the Tizi-n- Test until the early 20th century, when they were subdued by the French. Map C2

Tin Mal

The main attraction at Tin Mal is an ancient mosque that dates back to the time of the Almohads (see p32). Way back in the 12th century, this was the heart of a mountain empire that had unified local tribes under a militant version of Islam. It was from here that an army set out in 1144 to lay siege to Marrakech and went on to conquer the rest of Morocco. This mountain mosque provided the basic architectural prototype for the impressive Koutoubia in Marrakech. Though roofless, it continues to be the venue for Friday prayers, the one day when it remains inaccessible to visitors. Map C2

Tizi-n-Test Pass

How much you enjoy the experience of this 2,092-m (6,861-ft) pass depends on whether you are a passenger or in the driver’s seat. As a driver, you have to keep your eyes glued to the road ahead in order to negotiate the endless hairpin bends. The narrow road with no safety barriers ensures that you won’t have much opportunity to enjoy the spectacular views. But for passengers, the view across the plains of the Sous to the south is beautiful. There are various souvenir stalls and a small café located on the pass itself where you can stop and enjoy the panorama. Map B2

Taroudant

Built on the proceeds of gold brought from the Sahara, Taroudant was the capital of the Saadian empire early in the 16th century. Today, enclosed within reddish-yellow walls, it resembles a smaller, sleepier version of Marrakech. It features a grand kasbah that can be reached by passing under the triple-arched Saadian Gates, as well as some foul-smelling tanneries. You will also find two excellent souks here, including the Arab Souk, with its focus on traditional crafts. Map B2

Tichka Plateau

A highland plateau of beautiful meadows, the Tichka Plateau is found to the north of Taroudant. Particularly striking in spring when the wild flowers are in full bloom, it’s a fine place to go trekking but best enjoyed with qualified guides. Go to the bureau des guides in Imlil (see p89) to arrange for one. Map B2

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