A day trip from Fez

Spectacular Middle Atlas scenery

For those with a reasonable amount of time in Fez, day trips are a great way to take a break from the Medina. The usual destinations are Meknes and Volubilis. However today we would like to suggest another town in the Middle Atlas with a country souq. Every week in Morocco there are more than 800 country souqs held. Usually the name of the souq is the name of the day on which it is held. So being Tuesday, we headed to the Tuesday souq at Azrou.

Travelling by grand taxi ( about 500 - 600 dirhams for the day) six of us went via Imouzzer to the resort and university town of Ifrane where we paused for coffee. Most of the tour parties stop at the first hotel (Les Chamoix), but we would suggest going a little further into the town and trying one of the more reasonably priced cafes. Ifrane is a little like a European alpine village and the architecture will remind you of a Switzerland.

Friendly local outside Ifrane (see footnote)

On past Ifrane you travel through cedar and oak forest ( we stopped to take a look at the wild life in the cedar forests)) to Azrou. The name is Berber for "rock" owing to a strange volcanic outcrop just outside the town. At 1250 metres it can be chill so go prepared.

Azrou carpet souq

The Tuesday Souq is hard to miss, as from early morning the people stream into the open area outside the town in their hundreds. Just inside the gates are some of the cheapest carpets ( compared to Fez) although the quality is variable. Bargain hard and you should be able to get something worthwhile. Look out for the red carpets with geometric motifs as these are the speciality of the Beni M'Gid Berbers who gave up the nomadic lifestyle and founded the town.

Azrou Mosque

In the centre of the town is a strip of restaurants serving basic Moroccan dishes, but be prepared to pay tourist prices. A street meal that would usually cost six of us around 100 dirhams cost double that as we were charged for the usually complimentary olives and salad. Still, the chicken was delicious.

Azrou town centre

The Berber village of Ain Leuh, 30 km South of Azrou, is the venue for a Middle Atlas arts festival in July. Country markets are held here on Mondays and Thursdays.

Fine Berber carpet

Pics - Suzanna Clarke

Footnote: No monkey was harmed in creating this post!

In light of the fact that JULIA ROBERTS courted controversy this week when she posed for photographs with chained monkeys in Morocco we would like to say that the monkey in our photograph was an unchained pregnant female beside the road in the Middle Atlas. She agreed to pose after falling in love with our friend Mark's wristwatch.

The problem started for the Oscar winner when she took time out of filming CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR to enjoy the sights of Marrakech. Roberts succumbed to the tourist attraction of cuddling up with performing Barbary monkeys in the city's famed Djemaa El Fna.

Animal rights groups and respected guides such as Lonely Planet encourage tourists to refrain from paying to pose with the macaques, who are kept in chains in the bustling city all day and are removed from their natural habitat in the nearby Atlas Mountains.