The highly scenic Rif Mountains stretch across northern Morocco, from Tangiers to Oujda on the Algerian border. Entirely separate geologically from the Atlas Mountains, they were originally part of Europe. With the highest of the craggy, limestone peaks rising to some 2,500 m (8,250 ft), this is Morocco’s Wild West – untamed country, full of hidden valleys, gullies and streams. The only large towns lie on the foothills; otherwise the mountain settlements are merely extended villages. This is a lawless area, where much of the forest has been cut and the land put to kif (cannabis) and hashish production.
Driving from the port city of Tangiers, the road climbs to Tetouan, and then on to Chefchaouen, a beautiful town of blue and white houses, nestling on the edge of the wildflower-strewn mountainside. Continuing to Fez, the road twists and turns for 217 km (135 mi), through steep bends and dramatic scenery. Take a small detour to Ouezzane, a town honoured by Muslims and Jew alike, busy with craftsmen and surrounded by olive groves.
Fes is unique: its old town, one of the great medieval cities of the world, contains some of the most spectacular buildings in the country. The narrow, twisting alleys of the souks are extraordinary and thrilling to explore, your senses swamped by sights, sounds and smells that are both alien and bewitching.
Leaving Fes, the road takes a circuit around Jbel Tazekka, a high altitude national park of cork oaks and cedar forests, before reaching Taza. One of Morocco’s oldest towns, Taza lies between the Rif and the Middle Atlas on the edge of a plateau. From here you pass over sparsely populated plains and plateaux, the countryside becoming increasingly green and fertile, until you reach Oujda, the capital of eastern Morocco and the gateway to Algeria.
WHEN TO GO:
March to June and September to November
TIME IT TAKES:
A minimum of two days, but up to a week or more if you want to explore some of the fascinating towns en route.
The Medersa Bou mania, Fes.
The view of Fez from the Merenid Tombs.
The Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts in the Dar Batha Palace, Fes. Frlouato Cave, perhaps the deepest and most Impressive cave in North Africa, 22 km (14 ml) from Taza. Sidi Yahla, a lovely oasis and holy place 6 km (4 mi) from Oujda.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
There are alternative routes across the Rif Mountains: the most straightforward takes you through awe-inspiring mountain scenery, via the pleasant, coastal city of Al Hoceima. Whatever you do, make sure you avoid Ketama, the dangerous town at the heart of the drugs trade.