Meknes – The Less Explored Environs
The surrounding green hills of Meknes in the springtime make it a pleasant place to explore, whether you are driving, taking public transport or even bicycling. The landscape of the area has been cultivated for hundreds of years and remains one of Morocco’s most fertile regions. The French new this when they started their famous wine vineyards. Hundreds, if not thousands, of vineyards remain, now controlled by one of the wealthiest men in Morocco – a humble Berber man who started out as a farmer in the fields.
Outside of Meknes by 25 miles (45 km) is the small town of Khemisset, which was created when the French had their protectorate over Morocco. The French decided they should try to bring the Berber tribes of the region together to promote harmony between them. Since the town’s beginning, the weekly market or souk, which occurs every Tuesday, is famous for its high-quality and well-made Berber carpets made in the surrounding villages. The town, although quite small, has a couple of nice hotels and restaurants that are good for a day’s rest.
Close to Khemisset is Lake Roumi, known as Dayet Er Roumi, only ten miles (15 km) from town. The area is surrounded by birds, shepherds, and in the summer, children swimming. The area also has a campsite that is open from spring through the fall. Additionally, the café is a nice place to hang out with the locals in the summertime. If you are there in the early spring, then you might have the whole place to yourself. For those travelers who like to fish, the lake is stocked with fish for the season, but you’ll need to talk to the water and forest office in Khemisset to obtain a daily permit, which might cost around 100 Moroccan dirhams (or US $12) per person. The campsite is a little tricky to reach because the sign may or may not be posted. A 4×4 is ideal for the road, but a car can also make it.
If you are working your way to Azrou from Meknes, then you’ll notice the change in landscape as you increase in altitude. From the roadside town of El Hajeb, you can choose to take the road directly to Ifrane, or to the right to Azrou. The spectacular scenery on the road to Azrou shouldn’t be missed. The road is famous for the Paysage d’Ito, which is a volcanic region with an amazing view of the entire environs, on a clear day, all the way to Meknes.
Once in Azrou, most budget travelers choose to spend the night rather than pay three or four times as much for a room in nearby Ifrane. However, if you have the time and transportation, you can visit Ifrane’s cedar forests, or stop at the roadside fossil and mineral stands situated on a cliff with a stunning panoramic view over the entire Azrou valley. All in all, even though Meknes offers the cultural and historical sites that make it an Imperial City, it’s easy to see once you are in the surrounding countryside of the area why it was once chosen as Morocco’s capital city. The rich, fertile ground, the lakes, forests, and villages make it a serene escape, especially in the summer when temperatures soar.