BOUMALNE DU DADES is a more interesting stop than El Kelâa. It is again well poised for exploration of the Djebel Sarhro and for the bird-rich Vallée des Oiseaux (guides can be arranged for both through the hotels), and is the gateway to the Dadès Gorge. In addition, it has some charm of its own, with the old town on the eastern bank of the Dadès climbing up the slope to the plateau where a military barracks and trio of hotels command the valley and the entry to the gorge.
The Dadès Gorge
The Dadès Gorge, with its high cliffs of limestone and weirdly shaped erosions, begins almost immediately north of Boumalne. you follow the 6901 road, signposted “Mserhir” (Msemrir). Most travellers cover the first 25 Km or so by car or taxi, then turn back, which makes for a fine day’s trip. If you have a 4X4, however, you could loop over to the Todra Gorge or continue up and across the High Atlas to the Beni Mellal – Marrakesh road. Alternatively, a couple of day’s walking along the gorge from Boumalne will reward you with superb scenery, and plenty of Kasbahs and pisé architecture to admire; there are rooms in several of the villages en route to Msemrir.
The gorge is accessible by local transport from Boumalne, with Peugeot taxis, transit vans and Berber pick-ups (camionettes) and lorries (camions) leaving regularly from the market square for Aît Ali (25km) and less often to Msemrir (63Km). Pick-ups run occasionally to Atlas villages beyond but they do so more often on the Todra gorge route, which would make an easier access point if you plan to cross the Atlas on local transport. Returning to Boumalne, a transit/minibus leaves Msemrir daily .
Into the gorge: Boumalne to Msemir
For the first 15-20Km, the Dadés Gorge is pretty wide and the valley carved out of it is green and well populated. There are ksour and Kasbahs clustered all along this stretch, many of them flanked by more modern houses, though even these usually retain some feature of the decorative traditional architecture.
Boumalne to Aît Oudinar
About three kilometres along the road into the gorge from Boumalne, you pass an old Glaoui Kasbah, strategically sited as always to control all passage. Four kilo-metres further in, where the road begins to turn into a hairpin corniche, there is a superb group of ksour at AîT ARBI, built against a fabulous volcanic twist of the colour of the earth and fabulously varied, ranging from bleak lime-white to dark reds and greenish blacks.
Four kilometres on from here is a region known as Tamnalt, which is also known by the locals as the “Hills of Human Bodies” after its strange formations which, in fact, look mostly like feet. Geologically the rock is a weathered conglomerate of pebbles which probably lay where a great river entered a primordial sea.
Hereabouts, you climb over a little pass. The views make this a fine place to stop
to lunch (as tour groups do) and it also has seven basic rooms for rent. Nearby there is a hidden side-valley, entered by a narrow gorge : the owners of the Meguirne take a proprietary interest in this patch of nature and will try to involve you in le camping sauvage. A kilometre north of the Meguirne there are further roms -clean and quite reasonable – at the Hôtel, which again caters for tour groups by day, laying on “Berber Weddings” in its courtyard.
On from here, the valley floor is less fertile and the hills gentler. The road continues through the hamlet of AÏT ALI (25Km from Boumalne) to a spot known as AÏT Oudinar; where a bridge spans the river, and the gorge narrows quite dramatically.There is a little hotel, the Auberge des Gorges du Dadés, by the bridge, an attractive place to stay, offering a choice between cheap, basic rooms or pricier ones with en-suite hot showers; bivouac tents on the terrace, or camping alongside the river where the few poplar trees provide some shade. The auberge serves meals, and arranges mule and 4X4 trips into the gorge and Atlas. It has a tie-up with the Hôtel de Foucauld in Marrakesh.