advertisement

Roughly halfway along the main highway between Marrakech and Ouarzazate, this pass is a spectacular piece of French engineering built to replace the main caravan route connecting south and north. Along its route is a fascinating contrast of environments ranging from the rich, red-soil farming plains and fertile valleys above Marrakech to barren peaks and oaseslike palmeraies facing the pre-Sahara. Scattered along the route are small villages and welcome roadside cafes. At 2,260m (7,415 ft.), the pass is higher than the Tizi n'Test to its west and affords a similarly exhilarating, if somewhat bleaker, vista from its peak. There are souvenir stalls precariously perched all along the higher reaches of the pass, and look out for salesmen waving brightly colored -- sometimes by artificial means -- fossils and minerals at your vehicle as you round the hairpin bends.

If you have time, I recommend a side visit to Telouet and the Dar Glaoui kasbah that dominates the village. This former "castle of the sand," fast rejoining the very earth from which it was built, was the grandest of a string of kasbahs belonging to the el Glaoui clan, who controlled much of southern Morocco from the late 1800s until Moroccan independence in 1956, as well as the caravan route of which the main highway has now replaced. The kasbah is an absurdly huge, dramatic building, and although the maze of locked rooms and connecting passageways are mostly off-limits -- for safety reasons -- it's still worth a visit if only to marvel at the extravagance of this modern-day dynasty. The turnoff to Telouet is about 6km (3 3/4 miles) south of the pass and 21km (13 miles) along a narrow, scenic, potholed road.

The turnoff to the kasbah is about .5km (1/3 mile) past the village; don't be fooled by faux guides claiming that you have to park in the village and walk. Gardien Abdul Karim is around every day from 8am to 6pm to let visitors into the kasbah -- with a front door key whose size defies description -- and will give you a short tour of those areas safe to visit, including the former reception rooms and main hall. A tip of 10dh is appreciated.

At the turnoff to the kasbah, past Telouet village, is Ahmed Boukhsas's Auberge Telouet (tel. 0662/134455; www.telouet.com), which has comfortable rooms available (150dh-300dh) and both a large indoor restaurant and an outside Berber tent serving Moroccan standards daily from 7am to midnight.

A direct bus to Telouet from Marrakech (4 hr.; 45dh) departs daily at 3pm from Bab Gehmat (the southeastern medina gate), returning for Marrakech at 7am the next day. A bus from Ouarzazate (3 hr.; 35dh) departs daily at noon, returning for Ouarzazate at 7am the next day.