Imlil Valley in The Atlas Mountains
I'm always fascinated by hub towns, where travellers and tourists congregate before heading out on their own adventures. There is usually a very distinctive atmosphere, with a polarised transient community split evenly between the newly arrived and those resting up from their exertions. It is the same feel you get in Queenstown, Sapa, Chiang Mai, Chamonix and countless other mountain towns and it was no different in Imlil. The small town of Imlil acts as the hub for anyone attempting anything more than a day's hiking in the Atlas Mountains. It can thank its proximity to Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in Northern Africa for that right, but its setting is spot on too, sat as it is at the confluence of the Tamatert Valley and Imlil Valleys. Whilst the Imlil Valley isn't the most photogenic in the Atlas Mountains (The Azzaden Valley takes that prize in my mind), it is isn't exactly camera shy: Enjoy...
The drive from Marrakech takes you past the buzzing market town of Asni and then past Richard Branson's exclusive tented hotel Kasbah Tamadot.
At the floor of the Imlil Valley, the Asif N'au Mizane carries meltwater down to the Marrakech plains. In spring it is a raging river, in autumn more of a gentle brook with lush green river banks and walnut groves.
A number of the guesthouses and Kasbahs in Imlil take full advantage of the setting. The Kasbah du Toubkal is arguably and justifiably the most famous, with a stunning rooftop terrace and wonderful warm atmosphere, even if you aren't staying, it is worth a visit for tea on the terrace.
The path heading up the valley out of Imlil passes its last house before getting into the mountains proper. Imlil is a relatively prosperous town with electricity and modern construction methods. More traditional Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains consist of mud walled squat red houses built almost atop each other.
There are a number of seasonal stalls along the path between Imlil and the Toubkal Mountain Refuge. This was unfortunately shut for us (I say unfortunately, as I was thirsty)
Mules are a common site on the trails in the Atlas Mountains. They are frequently used to carry heavy loads (up to 100kg per mule) to the mountain refuges and of course to transport trekkers backpacks!
The tiny settlement of Sidi Chamharouch is built around a Muslim shrine (marabout) which is out of bounds to non muslims. So not everyone heading up the path out of Imlil is headed all the way to Toubkal.
There are two mountain refuges below the peak of Toubkal, both of which tend to fill up in the busy summer months with trekkers preparing for the ascent.
Finally at the head of the valley is Toubkal, the second highest mountain in Africa behind Kilimanjaro.