Around Around | Posted: 23 January 2015
Spend a day with a Berber family
Spend a day with a Berber family
Spend a day with a Berber family

The mules are waiting patiently for us when we reach Imlil, a small town that is almost camouflaged amid the red-orange sandstone of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains...

It is early morning but already the African sun is climbing higher in the deep blue sky as it slowly evaporates any shade we had hoped to find.

Climbing on board our tough little mules, we set off up the stony track that follows the southern flank of the Mizane river before climbing a series of steep zigzags over a high barren ridge. What we cannot help notice is the astonishing and very marked difference in vegetation between the rugged high slopes, where only a few straggling shrubs have managed to gain a tentative foothold, and the lush green valleys that border the rivers.

After about an hour’s ride, we crest the ridge and begin to descend into the village of Around, as authentic a Berber village as one might expect to find anywhere in these mountains. Abdul (our very own professional mountain guide) walks with us and describes what life is like for the people here – Berbers who live a very traditional, and pastoral, life – as we are soon to find out.

Around is the largest village in the Mizane valley, its square fortress-like houses stepped up the steep slopes of a huge moraine spur at 1840m above sea level. This is vernacular architecture at its most basic, the houses built from the mud and rock upon which they stand, merging into the landscape, while the vivid green valley floor below is reserved for the cultivation of crops such as potatoes, onions, barley and many different types of fruit, the fields edged in summer with glorious purple iris.

We dismount and our muleteer leads our ‘transportation’ off for a well-earned refuelling break while Abdul guides us through the narrow streets to meet the family with whom we shall be spending the rest of the day. Welcoming us with big smiles, Mohammed and his mother Aysha invite us inside their simple but neat home and serve us refreshing mint tea, freshly made flat breads with olive oil, and bowls of shiny black olives that were picked that morning.

The Berbers, also called Imazighen or Amazigh (meaning ‘free people’), are the original inhabitants of Morocco and over the centuries they have managed to retain their own language, culture and cuisine, including the tasty dishes we shall be eating today. But first we have to cook them!

Related Holidays & Further Information

Tales from Morocco

Spend a few days exploring the sights of vibrant Marrakesh, before heading to the High Atlas to walk (with your own mule) and spend a day with a Berber family in a traditional mountain village, where you will gain unique insights into Berber culture.

More about our family holiday in Morocco >

If you’d like to know more about this holiday and life in a Berber village, please call Jennifer on 01653 617900 – she’ll be happy to talk with you.

The first job is to take the bread dough down the street to the communal clay oven. This simple structure contains a wood fire on one side and space on the other to lie the bread as it bakes, turning it over with a stick half-way through the process. No digital timers here, just the expert eye of our knowing host, Aysha, as we watch and help with the turning. It doesn’t take long for the bread to bake and as soon as it is ready, it is broken up and handed round for us to try. Straight from the oven – delicious!

Munching our hot bread, we make our way back to the house where we then help in the preparation of that most iconic of Moroccan dishes: the tagine. This is historically a Berber dish named after the earthenware pot in which it is traditionally cooked over a charcoal fire. After adding onions to hot oil, we add pieces of chicken (hope it was one of theirs!) and layers of fresh vegetables (everything is organic here) before adding the lid and placing it on the fire. This is not ‘fast food’, but a tried and tested recipe honed over generations that will now slowly simmer while we head out into the fields to earn our keep.

There is plenty of work to be done and we are soon hard at it, cutting and collecting grass into large sacks which is then carried back to feed the family cow housed in a barn beneath the main house. In the orchard, we collect a basket of crisp, rosy red apples, by which time we are called to return to the house – lunch is ready.

We sit around a simple room carpeted with colourful home-made rugs, watching as the lid is lifted to reveal a steaming dish of spicy chicken tagine, the aromatic vapours from which waft round the room and whet our appetites. After all, we have worked hard for this. Meals here are such convivial, communal affairs – today the neighbours call in to meet us, and stay to eat. We chat about the recipe and about the ingredients, with the ever-smiling Abdul, our able translator, keeping the conversation flowing and giving us insights into this world that is, in many ways, so alien to us, and yet so welcoming and accepting.

This is why we have come to Morocco. Not to sit on a beach, or be persuaded into buying carpets in the chaotic souks of Marrakesh, but to meet real people, living real lives. This trip is all about enjoying life experiences that are rich in meaning and detail and which take us to the very essence of a moment and a place. Unique and unforgettable – magical Morocco.

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