In Marrakech for business or pleasure with a day to spare? Escape! Located low on the foothills of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, Ourika Valley is a fresh breath of air, literally. About 60 minutes by road south of the city, it features rugged hillsides, descending steeply into the canyon that cradles the fresh clear waters of the Ourika River, greening the banksides as it meanders speedily downstream. The snow-capped mountain peaks contrast starkly against the clear blue skies, peeping seductively through the slopes to create a picture-perfect backdrop for Setti Fatma, the ex-Berber village turned touristy township at the valley’s base.
Easily arranged as a tour or self-organised, it’s a suitable day-out for all ages. On arrival, you can hike to the seven waterfalls for about an hour (or longer to go higher). Or skip the hike and succumb your culinary yearnings to the diverse array of mildly spiced sumptuous meat or veg offerings, expertly prepared in the renowned Moroccan styled tagines. Some of the myriad eateries along the banks have their colorful tables and chairs set right on the pebbled riverbed, in waters streaming 3-6 inches deep, enticing a unique feet-in-cool-running-water eat-out experience. Wind up the day well spent souvenir shopping, people-watching, view-admiring or tea-sipping.
Best time to visit is February to April when skies are clear and day temperatures are mild (55-70oF). If outside Marrakech you can fly into or catch the train there. Budget about $50-80 per person for hired transport, tours and meals for 2-4 people.