FIRST REACTION

I am looking forward to a large bowl of tajine.

COUNTRY AND REGION

You have been beamed to Ouarzazate in south-west Morocco, an oasis on the south slope of the High Atlas. The town was originally created by the French as a garrison and regional administrative centre, and has become a boom town in recent years, with a population now well over 600,000.

NATURE OF THE TERRAIN

Ouarzazate stands flanked by the Atlas mountains. To your East lies a lake from where the river Draa starts to wind its way back westwards to the North Atlantic.

ALTITUDE

1,000m

LIKELY WEATHER CONDITIONS

Temperatures are averaging around 10C-16C at the moment in this part of the country. If you want to venture further up the Atlas mountains, be sure to take your thermals and Thermos with you. Bitterly cold winds tend to sweep down from the mountains at this time of year, and the passes over the High Atlas can often become temporarily blocked.

USEFUL LANGUAGES

Arabic is the official language, although North African Arabic is notoriously difficult to master. French is the most commonly known European language, so, at the very least, you should learn the French words relevant to filling out visa application forms.

TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER

King Hassan II has been head of state and spiritual leader since 1961.

NEAREST SETTLEMENT

The nearest large city is Marrakech, 80 miles north-west linked by road via the Tizi-n-Tichka pass.

POSSIBLE HAZARDS

As well as the usual hazards of giardia, hepatitis and dysentery - all spread by contaminated food and water - getting caught for smoking cannabis can also prove damaging to your health. Although cheap and plentiful, dope is illegal in Morocco and penalties for smoking or transporting the weed run very high.

Sexual harassment can also be a problem, especially for women travelling alone or in pairs. A wedding ring will increase your respectability in Morocco, as will modest clothing.

REASONS FOR HANGING AROUND

The best thing about Ouarzazate is the trek to Marrakech over the Tizi- n-Tichka pass. There are tremendous views over the High Atlas mountains and down into the valleys

The kasbah of Ait Benhaddouin in Ouarzazate is also worth visiting. In its heyday, the fortress housed many members of the Glaoui dynasty, their servants and workers. Now its desertion and dereliction is the most striking thing about it, with part of its outer wall nearing collapse. The main palace, consisting of courtyards, reception rooms and living quarters, is open from 9am-12am and 3pm-6pm, closed Sundays. The rest of the kasbah can be visited at any time.

GETTING THE HELL OUT OF THERE

From Ouarzazate take an internal flight to Agadir, the nearest international airport. Royal Air Maroc flies there twice a week. If your budget is tighter, then the buses are frequent, CTM being the largest and most popular company. Once in Agadir, the international airlines which fly back to Britain include Aeroflot and British Airways.

Compiled by Kathryn Bevis

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