Mountain Biking Atlas Mountains
Before I start, Its worth saying that I had never been to Morocco and if I’m honest it never really appealed to me. My opinion was based on people’s tales of package holidays or City breaks that they had been on and thought that’s not for me.
Then a few years ago I saw an article on Mountain Biking Atlas Mountains that got my attention and the place started to intrigue me.
So in January 2020, I got the chance to go there and partake in a bit of Mountain Biking and Hiking. An offer that was to good to turn down. I still wasn’t sure what I was heading off to, but very much approached it with an open mind and a bit excited, as I do like a good Adventure.
Our Party consisted of Jeff one of our guides and Alfie my 16 year old son. And fair play to both, I gave them no details other than these are the dates, they took it in their stride, very trusting of them!!!
Arriving in Morocco
On arrival we had half a day in Marrakech. Once again I had heard a lot of stories about the City and the hassle visitors have had when walking down the street from traders and the like.
This unfortunately is a trait of all Cities/resorts I have been to in “Tourist Areas” However we did not have a single approach and thoroughly enjoyed the tour. One reason I think for our hassle free wander around the City was that our contact in Morocco had arranged for a local guide to accompany us. For a one day visit this is well worth doing. Another thing I was pleasantly surprised with was how clean the city was, and how free it was from corporate brands or any global giants, which is great. But unfortunately something many Cities are void of and in my opinion leads to them losing their identity.
The Real Adventure Starts
Once we jumped in the 4×4 and headed off to cover the 80 miles or so to the Imlil Valley and the High Atlas Mountain, the Adventure really started. The temperature began to drop the ears began to pop as the altitude increased and the roads began narrow and meander around the mountain passes.
The Imlil Valley is in the Heart of the Atlas Mountains and translates into “White Valley” which we were soon to discover why! The people of the Valley and Mountains identify themselves as Berber (not Arabic) which means freeman, I got the impression that they like to live their life detached from the “regime” and government. That they look after their own and deal with problems internally. The example I was given was.
“if we want something built or a road built, we do it ourselves. We don’t wait for the government to approve or fund”. (I could see Jeff’s eyes open with delight)
Valley life is basic, Mules are far more common than vehicles for transport, we saw no card machines or ATM’s and the very small shops had limited stock and would only take small change. The people were very welcoming and friendly and again there was no hint of hard sales or the like.
Mountain Biking Atlas Mountains
The Biking was out of this world, Miles and miles of traffic and people free single track, off road and asphalt (to get to the exciting bits)
We were hosted by a local company, the owner (Lahcen) of which we know and work with. Lahcen and all his guides were born and bred in the Imlil Valley or surrounding Mountain Villages and therefore new everyone. Local guides are now required for all Mountain trips in the Atlas Mountains. This is a good thing. Our biking and hiking guide was Mohamed, 26 years of age and from Imlil. Great skill on the bike and a great temperament with the group (just as important)
The first morning we hiked 3.5 miles up to a mountain pass whilst the mules took the bikes. Once we got to our descent point of 2500m above sea level, It was going to be all plan sailing down hill!! But I have to admit the first 5K scared me!!! wafer thin single tracks on the edge of a Mountain face! Needless to say I took it very easy and used the time to admire the views and make my peace with any higher being listening!! I did actually plan on videoing it but the camera was packed away – 100% concentration. I was so glad I did this, another life long memory made. And all I can say is;
The higher the danger the more alive you feel!
As we came down off the Mountain peaks we came across some ladies collecting sticks/wood and carrying up to 70kg back to the villages for the fires and cooking, a daily chore. Mohamed stopped and spoke to one lady and it turned out she was his grandmothers sister!
As this was going on Alfie took it upon himself to seek out the other ladies on the mountain and offer them all water, fair play to him.
In the meantime Mohamed had agreed for us all to go down into the village and have tea with his great auntie and her family. The house was basic, void of any heating system other than the fire in one room, no glass in the windows but the tea and welcome was warm (their traditional mint tea) I’m not a tea drinker but I had my fair share on this trip.
There was a 10 day old baby in the house and they told us how all babies are born in the village at home, and that there are elder ladies who come and help them be delivered. These elder ladies also see to injuries and illnesses by rubbing oils and herbs in the appropriate places.
The Village really was from a different parallel to us. The population was spread out with about 1000 residents. They had 3 cars in total, all owned by the community and would be used for the weekly trip to the market. A couple of people would go to collect supplies for everyone.
They told me money is not a big issue and does not hold much value in the Mountain villages, they grow and farm what they need and they help each other out. They don’t have many possessions or crave the latest item. On the surface and I believe this was genuine, they all seemed really happy with this and happy with their life. Something to be said about all of that.
After lunch we made our way up a refreshingly wide track along the side of a mountain to a pass. This was a comfortable 5k climb in the quietest of Valleys ever. We did not see another living soul. At the top we stops for a bit of chocolate and then began a 9k descent, At this point the sun was fading and the last 15 minutes were in complete darkness, which brought out the inner sensors and survival skills if you know what I mean (it really wakes you up)
The end of this day I felt absolutely spent in the best possible way, a fully packed adventure like no other. All we wanted to do was get back to the accommodation sit in front of the fire, eat some great food and sleep – The simple things are best.
The next couple of days were just as fantastic. The cycling was awesome, great tracks that offered everything you could want. From Olive farm tracks, Mountain ridges, cross country trails, downhills and urban riding – with a difference.
Then on the last day the Snow came down and we hiked up the Mountains into the white stuff. The amazing thing was that the surrounding valleys were all still snow free, 20 degrees and ideal for biking.
To sum up our trip to the Atlas Mountains. I would say, this is a place I will definitely be going back to (something I rarely do) It was one of the best experiences and trips I have ever been on. Now I’m not saying this would be for everyone.
But if your thing is;
You want to escape from masses of people, go back to basic living, where warmth, food and sleep are king. You want to get your legs and CV system working in an area where the views will overwhelm, whilst experiencing culture that will make you feel privileged and humble and surprised. Then this sort of break can be for you.
We are heading back in November for a long weekend and if you fancy it our want more info please see
We are Also heading out in Jan 2021 on a Hiking Trip if you prefer feet over wheels
Finally – Three Points
- We try to make these breaks as ethical as possible by supporting the local people and their economy. All the people we work with are local independent providers and as a result they take personal pride in the service they give you. Whilst the monies paid goes directly into the local community. We ensure that they are suitably registered, qualified and experienced in what they do.
- A story that will stick with me and Alfie and myself have discussed a few times since. Was the story by one of the guides of how he became victim to human trafficking in Turkey and Russia. This was the only time he had ever left the Mountains and has no desire to leave again. He wasn’t looking for sympathy just a matter of fact account of what happened.
- What made this trip even more special for me was the fact that my 16 year old son came along. He’s at that age when you hardly see them, he’s too busy and I’m too busy and we are like ships that pass. Its also an awkward age for parental relationships. Therefore a massive highlight of this trip and not one to be underestimated was sharing a room with Alf and sharing the experience of the up hills the down hills the culture, the sitting around in the evening eating and talking without any distractions. It would have been so easy to have gone without him but so glad he came, definitely something we’ll have to do again and again