Day Trip from Fes to Taza, and Everywhere in Between!
UNEXPECTED FREE DAY IN FES: TAZA DAY TRIP
A few weeks ago, when a morning meeting was unexpectedly canceled, Jamal and I found ourselves with some free time. It was a beautiful day, relatively warm and very sunny which we gladly welcomed after a few days of cold and rainy weather in Fes. What better way to spend the day than to take a road trip to Taza and visit the nearby Friouato Caves!
The city of Taza is located approximately 70 miles east of Fes, and the drive is absolutely beautiful. As we left Fes and circled the southern ramparts, we had an awesome panoramic view of the centuries-old medina. Views of the city quickly gave way to the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains and the valleys in between. It’s still winter here in Morocco, which in many areas translates to the rainy season, and the rain has transformed the area’s rolling hills to various shades of vibrant green.
FROM FES TO TAZA: BEAUTIFUL SCENERY
As we continued on the day’s excursion, we passed by the Barrage Idriss 1er (Idriss I Dam), which forms a lake popular with local fisherman, fed from the Inaouen River. The dam provides irrigation and power to the surrounding area. It also serves up a dreamy watercolor effect on the local landscape.
Soon we reached Taza, one of the oldest cities in Morocco. Founded in the 8th century, it occupies an important position between the Rif and Middle Atlas Mountains. Taza was essentially built in two parts: The medina is located in “High Taza”; the Ville Nouvelle, or “New City” also known as “Low Taza” was built by the French in the early part of the 20th century. Bab er-Rih (or “Gate of the Wind”) in the medina offers an impressive panoramic view of the expanding city and mountainous landscape.
ARRIVAL AT FRIOUATO CAVES
After we explored Taza and had a quick lunch, we made our way to the Friouato Caves, roughly 15 miles south-west of Taza. As we climbed higher into the Middle Atlas Mountains, past the waterfalls and locals selling freshly cut heart of palm, olive and almond groves were replaced with cedar, pine and oak trees. It bears repeating: the views are outstanding! In the higher elevation, the rain we had had in Fes manifested here as a heavy snowfall, and we continued slowly and carefully on the snow-covered roads.
Located within the Tazekka National Park, the Friouato Caves are more commonly known in French as “Gouffre de Friouato” or “Grotte de Friouato.” I had always thought that “Friouato” was a strange choice of name for the underground cave system just outside of Taza. I assumed it was after some Italian spelunker who had discovered them, but I was delighted to learn there were two popular versions, and both of them romantic. The first is a Moroccan twist on Romeo and Juliet: “Fri” (the Moroccan Romeo) was in love with “Wato” (the Moroccan Juliet). They were madly in love with each other, however, the two families were against the union. One day the couple disappeared, only to be found later at the base of the main mouth of the cave, having apparently plunged to their deaths, forever united in love. The second version, with Berber origins, has an unfortunate ending as well. “Ifri” in this case means “cave” in the local Berber Tamazight language, and “Itto” is a popular girl’s name. It was therefore named in memory of this poor love-struck girl, who threw herself in the deep cavern after being forced to live far from her loved-one.
DESCENT INTO THE MOUTH OF FRIOUATO
For today’s excursion to Friouato, we decided to limit our visit to the main cave. With just a few miles of previously explored tunnels but countless more to discover, Friouato is North Africa’s largest underground cave system. If you’re up for a more adventurous visit of Friouato and to see outstanding examples of stalagmites and stalactites, you can hire a guide to venture further within the underground tunnels.
And so we grabbed our flashlights, bought our entrance tickets and started our descent into the main mouth of the cave. It was dark, the only light coming from some dim lights or the main hole of the cave. A steep staircase with most of the handrails intact hugs the walls of the cave. We were fortunate to be the only visitors at that time and had the cave to ourselves, so we went at our own pace and had time to enjoy the natural beauty of Friouato. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to think that the entire setting could have been Middle-Earth, straight from J.R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
When we reached the bottom, we caught a glimpse of the passageway to the next hall. Word of warning: it is NOT for the claustrophobic! We rested a bit and slowly but surely made our way back to the entrance.
Before we headed back to Fes, we decided to stop by Bab Boudir, a campsite and popular starting point for hikes. It was packed with Moroccans, enjoying picnics and sledding on the recent snowfall.
One thing that consistently enchants me about Morocco is the geographical diversity. In roughly a 2-hour drive, we saw such varied landscapes, each as beautiful and stunning as the next.
TIPS FOR AN EXCURSION TO FRIOUATO:
- The caves maintain a constant temperature of 55 degree Fahrenheit, so wear a jacket and perhaps a pair of gloves to keep you comfortable.
- Bring a pocket flashlight, or rent a headlamp at the ticket booth. There are places along the stairway that are dark, and you’ll be thankful for the extra light.
- Wear comfortable and non-slip shoes. The stairs themselves can be damp, even wet, and uneven.
- Be in reasonably good shape. There are more than 500 steep stairs, and at some spots, a tight fit. The way down is a lot easier than the way up!
- Wear comfortable clothes which you won’t mind getting a bit dirty.
- Hire a private driver for an excursion to Taza and nearby Friouato Caves! There’s no better alternative since you will travel based on your schedule, and there is flexibility to stop any time you want for bathroom breaks, photo opportunities, snacks or simply because you see somewhere you want to explore .
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