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Ourika Valley

30-70km (19-43 miles) S of Marrakech

The High Atlas mountains hover tantalizingly close to Marrakech, and if you don't have the time to explore them in great detail, some areas are easily accessible for either a day or overnight excursion. During the oppressively hot summer months, a drive up to the Ourika Valley is a pleasant and popular escape for both locals and visitors alike. The main places of interest, for a day's excursion at least, are the winter ski resort of Oukaïmeden (also a great spring/summer hiking spot) and the riverside village of Setti Fatma, site of one of Morocco's biggest moussems, which takes place in mid-August. Both villages are only about 70km (43 miles) south of Marrakech, and most travel agencies in the city offer guided day tours, or you can charter a grand taxi for the day. Adventure travelers should consider setting aside a few days to explore the area further, as there are opportunities for mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, trekking, and, in winter, skiing. Bird-watching around Oukaïmeden can be quite rewarding at the end of spring and during summer and autumn.

Getting There -- Buses and grands taxis for Setti Fatma depart daily from a terminal 3km (1 3/4 miles) outside the Bab er Rob medina gate, best reached by petit taxi. During winter, a separate, direct route to Oukaïmeden operates daily from the same terminal. For the rest of the year, take Setti Fatma transport as far as the turnoff, from where you should be able to catch a stray grand taxi or hitch a ride heading up to the resort. Chartering a grand taxi from Marrakech for the day is a very good option if there are even just two of you, purely for the convenience factor. They can usually be chartered either from the Bab er Rob terminal or directly from your hotel. Rates average around 500dh to 600dh for the day. Note: Remember to pay at the end of the day, not the beginning, and make sure upfront that all costs and itinerary are agreed upon. If you're driving yourself, the road is well signposted heading out of Marrakech. After around 35km (22 miles), the road starts to wind upward and stays very scenic, whether you continue on to Setti Fatma or turn right up to Oukaïmeden.

Barrage Lalla Takerkoust

35km (22 miles) SW of Marrakech

A short drive from Marrakech on the road to Amizmiz is the Barrage Lalla Takerkoust dam. Constructed by the French in the 1930s to irrigate the surrounding Haouz plains and generate additional electricity for Marrakech, the dam's lake is the closest thing to a beach the city has to offer -- and it's not half bad. Along the lake's 7km-long (4 1/3-mile) shoreline are opportunities to jet- and water-ski as well as kayak -- a paddle across to the more secluded, far side of the lake can even involve a bit of turtle spotting. For the more refined, perhaps, you can take things a bit slower in a pedal boat, stroll along the water's edge, or simply find a nice spot for a picnic and enjoy the view over to the peaks of the Western High Atlas. Year-round, the lake is a heavenlike escape from Marrakech's medina, perfect for a day's outing or even longer. Numerous well-established hotels are located around the lake, most of which also accept day visitors for lunch and have their own private beaches offering the aforementioned watersports. The motorized activities usually cost 200dh for 10 to 15 minutes.

The small hotel Le Relais du Lac (tel. 0524/484943; www.relaisdulacmarrakech.com) is renowned for both its service and Moroccan-French cuisine and has a great little bar and swimming pool overlooking the lake. Should you wish to stay the night, they have nine rooms, all en suite and air-conditioned, and also offer a night's sleep in a Bedouin tent overlooking the lake. Rates are 650dh for a double room, 350dh for a double tent; breakfast is included.

Getting There The village of Lalla Takerkoust is located on the road to Amizmiz. Buses and grands taxis for Amizmiz operate daily from a terminal 3km (1 3/4 miles) outside the Bab er Rob medina gate, best reached by petit taxi. Once in Lalla Takerkoust, the best route to the lake (barrage) is a left turnoff on the Amizmiz side of the bridge -- from here it's about 3km (1 3/4 miles) to the lake's shores. Chartering a taxi from Marrakech will cost about 400dh round-trip, and make sure payment is deferred until your driver has transported you back to the city. If you're driving yourself, take the Asni/Taroudannt (not the Ouirka) road southwest for 5km (3 miles) and then stay straight (for Amizmiz), as this road forks left for Asni and Taroudannt. It's a lovely drive through mostly barren plains, and the road around the lake affords lots of sightseeing and picnic spots as well as a few rural villages.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.