Marrakesh to Merzouga, Morocco
Morocco is a nation socially at odds with itself; western, multicultural, cosmopolitan views combined with a strong, traditional Arab way of life.
Nowhere is this cultural divide more apparent than on this nine-hour thrill ride, as the densely populated urban areas of Marrakesh fade away into the far reaches of the desert on our drive out of the city, through the plush Atlas Mountains, and onto the desolate surroundings of Merzouga.
Rather than a single great road, this ancient trade route takes in three of the world’s most stunning ‘highways’, with stark differences in the challenges and scenery between each stretch of tarmac.
The N9, which spans the 280 miles from Marrakesh to Mhamid, winds precariously through plush mountainsides in an endless succession of dramatic bends, sheer drops and tight hairpins.
Instead of following the N9 to Mhamid though, the R108 is found 100 miles short of its conclusion, just before Tansikhte. This road stretches through wide, flat valley plains before picking up the N12/13, a sweeping byway that goes straight into the heart of the desert.
It’s not one for the faint of heart – driving in Morocco never is. The use of the ‘loud button’ is essential for any sort of manoeuvre and the white lines in the middle of the wider stretches appear to have no purpose. Stuttgart-built sports cars aren’t an uncommon sight in the capital.
In fact, they seem to be a common choice of hire vehicle. But public reaction to any kind of exotica is far more ‘enthusiastic’ the further into the desert you travel.
Suddenly you’re piloting an extreme machine in the Dakar Rally and adults and children from the Berber villages quickly descend and cheer you on.
Just like the reception on this route, the payoff is tremendous. Merzouga is the gateway to the Sahara Desert; just 35-miles from the Algerian border and verging on the dunes of Erg Chebbi, it is one of the natural wonders of the world. Not unlike the 911 itself…