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Rocking the casbahs in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco (Photograph by Tracy Ward Photography)

Berber Fervor in the High Atlas

Forty miles south of cosmopolitan Marrakech, Morocco, the tarmac shrinks to a stony footpath at Imlil.

Tucked into the peaks of Toubkal National Park, named for North Africa’s highest summit, a crop of modern guesthouses has transformed this village, once known as a no-frills base camp, into a comfortable retreat for day hikers.

Berber hospitality takes over where the road ends, amid the fragrance of community bread ovens and the sounds of braying pack mules (and their drivers crying “balak–pay attention”–to pedestrians).

From here villagers escort travelers up a short, steep climb through walnut groves to a warmer welcome still–woodstoves and crystalline terrace views, a bowl of milk and dates, service with a djellaba and a smile–at inns such as the Kasbah du Toubkal. When the sun sets, out come the communal platters of couscous and tagines.

As the days lengthen, early spring makes an ideal time for a stroll to the orchards of Targa Imoula, says adventure guide turned casbah owner Mike McHugo. “The mountaintops are still snowcapped, but the valley is in full flower with apple and cherry blossoms, and the rivers run with snowmelt,” he says.

And as cumulus clouds drift through the canyons, two songs harmonize: the rush of reawakened rivers and the muezzin‘s call to prayer.

  • Travel Tip: Charter a taxi or take a local bus from Marrakech for the 90-minute drive to Imlil through High Atlas foothills.

This piece, written by Christine O’Toole, first appeared in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.