Here in the UK, we’ve gone cycling mad. This summer was the best ever for British cycling and it led to more and more of us ditching four wheels in favour of two.
With spiralling fuel prices, an obesity crisis and ever more crowded roads, this can only be a good thing. Forget flower power, this is the pedal power revolution. The times they are a changin’ and we’re on the very front line.
Of course, it’s one thing to cycle the few miles to work in the morning and another to go on a full-scale cycle tour in the rugged Atlas Mountains. Doing the daily commute under your own steam might be invigorating but it’s an entirely different proposition to come off a mountain pass in the High Atlas and straight into an historic Berber village.
There are some pretty spectacular cycling destinations in the world but few can lay claim to being as awe inspiring as the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Inhabited by the ancient Berbers (one of the world’s most mysterious and unique peoples) this is cycling about as remote as it gets. If you’re tired of the beaten track, then this is about as far as you can get away from it.
The Central High Atlas contains valleys and plateaus of astonishing natural beauty. It’s a truly untouched landscape that looks today exactly as it did thousands of years ago when the Berber people chose to make it their home. Lush orchards and green valleys are surrounded by craggy rock faces and snow-capped mountains. Picturesque villages seem to emerge from the rocks themselves, but this ancient way of life also comes in tandem with a sense of hospitality unrivalled anywhere in the world; these are people who truly know how to look after visitors and guests.
This is a place that the modern world might have seemingly forgotten about but it’s certainly one from which we could learn some valuable lessons. The generosity and kindness you’ll discover is truly humbling and there’s a very good reason that the Bougmez Valley is also known as the ‘Happy Valley’. This way of life and landscape might be as different from the rat race as you can imagine but that is definitely a good thing. When it’s just you, your bike and the Atlas Mountains, all of sudden, the trivial things in life don’t seem to be so important or stressful.
That’s not to say that the cycling isn’t a challenge in itself. When you’re climbing up to 2,630 metres in altitude, you’re going to really know about it! But a physical challenge in such a stunning location really is a great experience. It certainly beats getting get cut up by inconsiderate 4x4 drivers on the way to work.
If you’ve caught the cycling bug and really fancy getting out there and experiencing some real off the beaten track touring, then the Atlas Mountains are definitely the place to go.
How to do it: Our short Off Road Atlas Escape includes two nights accommodation in a hotel and two further nights in a local house. You’ll cycle 134 km over three days taking in the Happy Valley, northern slopes of Mount Touksine and ending up at the foot of Cathedrale Mountain. Alternatively, try the slightly longer High Atlas Traverse - 8 days of exhilarating rides across the Middle Atlas. You'll cycle 205 km over six days with 50% of the route being off-road. On both tours 21-gear bikes are provided (and you’ll need every one of them) and the tour is led by expert cycling guides.
A 4WD support vehicle (actually doing what it is built to do) carries luggage and supplies as you ascend into the mountains.