Ouarzazate

A curving road through the Ante Atlas leads to Ouarzazate, at the crossroads of the Draa, Dades and Souss Valleys, created by the French as a garrison town in 1928, with the snow-capped High Atlas as a backdrop and the vast Sahara nearby.  The absolute stillness hangs in the air and the silence is almost tangible as the Berbers will tell you Ouarzazate is rightly known as the place where you hear the silence.

Because of the closeness to the desert and the striking surrounds the town and its environment have become the centre of a thriving cinema industry with leading companies making a wide range of films.  Among the best known are David Lean’s epic, “Lawrence of Arabia”,  Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky” based on the novel by Paul Bowles and Kipling’s tale of two Victorian soldiers of fortune, “The Man Who Would be King”, starring Sean Connery and Michael Kane.

Heroic French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of the famed children’s book, “The Little Prince”, pioneered the airmail routes across the Sahara as he also did over the Andes and the jungles of South America.  Flying low over Ouarzazate, heading into the desert on flights that were always life-threatening, the grinning Saint-Exupery would swoop low over the town, waggle his wings, waving to an old friend who ran a restaurant, and drop him a saddle bag filled with the latest newspapers, magazines, books and sweets.  Saint-Exupery vanished in the Second World War while flying his high altitude reconnaissance plane over enemy territory.

The former garrison town is spectacularly sited on an arid plateau with the magnificent Barrage al-Mansour, a man-made lake which shimmers in the khaki landscape, emerald and turquoise, while to the west loom the blue ramparts of the High Atlas.  The town has some excellent hotels and is a good starting point for visiting the local valleys and the large village of Zagora.