By Bryn Miller
By Bryn Miller
Rabat – Ifrane, a college town in the Middle Atlas range, is the perfect destination for a peaceful weekend away from the hustle of Morocco’s cities. Located just three hours from Rabat and one hour from Meknes, Ifrane’s sloping alpine roofs are nestled into the rolling hills of the countryside.
Ifrane largely relies on the business of the students and faculty of Al-Akhaween University, a prestigious four-year college based on the American liberal arts model. The town is heavily forested, and there are various hiking spots where visitors and locals alike enjoy the natural beauty of the region.
As an American working in Morocco, I often feel stressed or limited by the harassment that I experience here. Although the harassment itself is rarely frightening, it has precluded me from feeling comfortable and fully enjoying my time in many locations in Rabat and Marrakesh. I am a runner, and I experience a lot of harassment on my runs down the coastline in Rabat. Although the path is packed with male runners, few girls come to exercise. I am constantly bombarded with stares and shouts as I run, and I keep my eyes glued to the ground or the horizon at all times.
My first morning in Ifrane, I went on a run by myself. Expecting the usual harassment, I armed myself with a pair of headphones and blasted music. A few minutes into my run, I realized that no one that that I passed had even given me a second glance. I took out my headphones and continued running, enjoying the rustle of the wind in the trees and the birdsong. I ran through the beautiful campus of Al-Akhaween University, under the hanging green foliage of the trees in the park, and up through the sunny central square.
Although I was alone in many of these locations, I felt completely safe. When I ran by groups of boys or taxi drivers sitting on the curb, they did not acknowledge my presence with anything other than a friendly nod. That night, I walked around with my friend who attends al-Akhaween. Unlike in Rabat and Marrakesh, we received no unwanted attention from the other people in the street. It was incredibly liberating and relaxing to be in a town where I felt completely comfortable walking around at night and running alone in the daylight.
In addition to its wonderful atmosphere for women, Ifrane is home to numerous beautiful sites.
The Ain Vittel conservation area stretches for kilometers of lush green forest interspersed with streambeds, walking paths, and waterfalls. Although you may encounter some locals rather aggressively attempting to offer you donkey rides for a steep price, the forest is largely peaceful and relaxing.
The downtown area has numerous clean and well-manicured parks, as well as a picturesque central square with a fountain.
Ifrane’s central market, called the Marche, borders a large park and hosts a variety of dining options. Locals head to the Marche to break the Ramadan fast. In the winter, you can buy delicious bisaara (chickpea soup) that warms you to the core for just 5 dirhams.
Al-Akhaween University’s campus combines elements of Moroccan and Swiss architecture and the American university set-up, creating a modern, beautiful, and well-kept space.
In the winter, provided there is enough snow, the ski mountain is open. Even if there is not enough snow to ski, the town is covered in white in the winter. The snow changes the dynamic of the town and makes it a truly special location to visit in Morocco.
Ifrane’s natural beauty and welcoming climate make it an attractive destination for foreigners and Moroccans alike.