Another example that Morocco is a country of contrasts is Ifrane, also known as Ifran. Located in the Middle Atlas, about 1700 meters high and just 68 km from Fez, really surprising, especially if you come from the desert with its dunes, palms and camels, find this city so different and has nothing to do with the architecture of other Moroccan cities. It is impressive that in just one day, and in the same country, you can see desert, snow and beach.
It was founded at the end of the 1920s, during the time of the French protectorate, as a mountain resort and therefore has a marked European character. It is known as the “little Moroccan Swiss”: houses with sloping roofs, wide avenues and well-tended parks are responsible for the fact that Ifrane can be confused with a city in the Alps. So it has nothing to do with the crowded medinas, narrow streets, donkeys and the characteristic chaos of the country.
It is a town with high purchasing power and one of the preferred destinations for people with more resources during the winter, due in large part to the two ski resorts it has: Mischiffen and Jebel Hebri.
Ifrane is also home to the most important (and expensive) university in the country, Al Akhawayn University, which is private.
It has a Royal Palace of about 3 km perimeter, which as tradition dictates is not possible to visit. Some say it is the favourite of King Mohammed VI, who spends part of his summer holidays there and also goes there in winter to make use of the ski resort.
Bordering the palace is the Jardin de la Prairie, which has a beautiful artificial lake. In the center of the city there is a sculpture carved in stone dedicated to the Lion of the Atlas, one of the felines that inhabited this area and that has become the emblem of the city.
What To See In Ifrane
Although Ifrane is well worth a visit for being a rare Moroccan avis, probably the greatest charm lies in its surroundings; not in vain does the town lie within the Ifrane Nature Park: mountains, forests, springs, lakes, … is undoubtedly the ideal place for lovers of nature and fresh air. And regardless of the season, it is a good starting point for many excursions.
Perhaps it is more beautiful to visit in autumn or spring because of the colours and the good weather. But of course, if you want to enjoy the snow, in winter it is also a recommended place.
The Cedar Forest
The Ifrane National Park is largely covered by impressive cedar forests, with very old specimens, even thousands of years old. Cedrus atlantica is present in the Rif, Middle Atlas and some points of the High Atlas. Other species keep it company in this park, such as holm oaks and walnuts, and when you go into them sometimes it seems that it gets dark due to its luxuriance.
Probably the most remarkable specimen is the Gouraud cedar, considered the largest in the region, with an approximate height of 35 meters and 10 meters in diameter at the base. Although it is currently dry, apparently due to a processionary plague, it is still standing and generates a tourist attraction with numerous souvenir stands in the vicinity.
Another culprit of such tourist interest is the Barbary Macaque (monkey), the same species found in Gibraltar, which has its habitat in these forests. They are very used to people and it is very normal that they interact with you, although if you are not careful they snatch anything within their reach.
In addition, from this forest there are many paths and tracks that can be travelled, either on foot or by bicycle.
Springs and Waterfalls
From Ifrane you can take a walk of about two or three hours to the Vittel Spring, surrounded by a forest of maples and poplars, and the Cascade of the Virgins. It is a signposted pedestrian path, about 3 km long, which runs along the banks of the Tizguit River and can be done on foot or by bicycle. Along the way there are also some caves that were apparently inhabited in the Neolithic period. In the summer months you can go for a ride on horseback through the area.
The Daït Aoua is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Middle Atlas and is located about 15 km from Ifrane. It is surrounded by a meadow and a forest of different species of trees with several wonderful tracks for hikers. It is a great place for bird watching because its fauna is very varied, from wild ducks, eagles, kites, woodpeckers or herons, among others, to Galapagos.
It is usual to rent boats, bicycles, horses and even donkeys, to walk around. There are picnic tables and it is also possible to take a dip.
It is the most important lake in the area, although it is not the only one. There is an established route, called the route of the dayats (or lakes) of about 65 km that begins in the Dayat Aoua and ends about 7 km south of Ifrane.