Drive south-east from Agadir, through fields planted with vegetables destined for Tesco stores half a world away, and you will eventually spy a little track on the right. There are no road signs and the only people are shepherds, cloaked in chill shadows between the rocks. Their goats don’t bother scrounging for scrub and grass, they are up in the trees, feasting on argan nuts instead. Cupped in a shallow bowl between rocky outcrops, Tafraoute has something serene about it, a perfect balance uniting nature and man. A cluster of slender minarets and low pink homes, there’s a sense that it has just that moment been conjured by a good Jinni, like something from the pages of One Thousand and One Nights. This is Morocco’s Berber heartland, where proud tribes, traditions and folklore pre-date the Arab conquest by centuries, a realm set quite apart from the hubbub of the kingdom’s big cities and ubiquitous urban sprawl.
I stayed at Hotel Salama on the edge of the main square. Nestled all around are little shops and stalls. At one, I found lumps of rock crystal, and sulphur, dried chameleons, cactus roots and myrrh, for use in spells. Another stall, opposite, was touting a selection of antique angular iron keys, once used in the region’s famous wooden locks.
The area around Tafraoute is nice for walking. The pink granite rock formations are very special. They sometimes look like a series of cascades or geysers solidifying as they fall. One formation looks like a lion and 3km from Tafraoute is the village of Aguerd-Oudad where the formation known as the ‘Hat of Napoleon’ stands silent. This is also the village where the blue Painted Rocks are, perhaps the most famous element of Tafraoute’s granite landscape. They were coloured in 1984 by Belgian artisit Jean Verame with the help of the Tafraoute fire brigade and 18 tonnes of blue, pink, red, and black paint. This peculiar and controversial work of art is still both marvelled at, questioned and deplored today despite significant weathering over time.
Nestled amongst these stunning rock formations, it is no wonder Tafraoute is patronised by the world’s leading rock climbers and other extreme sportists, lured by the sleek, wind-sculpted faces of sheer granite, set against a backdrop of utter tranquillity. The most wonderful thing about Tafraoute is the way people are genuinely pleased to see a visitor and, equally, how they don’t hassle you as they do elsewhere. Having fallen in love with a little Berber chest, I had to beg the shopkeeper to sell it to me. He insisted I could get a better one round the corner for half the price.
The greatest treasure of all lies on a little lane in the backstreets of Tafraoute. It’s called Chez Sabir, and it is the ancestral home of Abdel-Latif Bakrim, a culinary genius and a man so gentle that you wonder how he manages to run a business at all. There are just three tables, laid out in the family’s sitting room, with a small kitchen behind. As anyone who lives in Morocco well knows, the national cuisine is at its best not in a restaurant, but in the home; and Chez Sabir is a home. Comprising of thick harira soup, Moroccan salads, and lamb cooked with prunes, the meal surpassed my wildest expectations. Before leaving, I asked Abdel-Latif for his secret. Smiling very broadly, he narrowed his eyes, and said: “Good food is made all the more delicious by the arrival of a guest.”
Article abridge from The Guardian