Ifrane, Morocco

As you pull into Ifrane, heading directly south from the plains around Fez to the hills of the Middle Atlas, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re not in Morocco. With quaint chalets, cedar and pine groves, lakes and snowy peaks it feels more like Switzerland around here.

This comes as no surprise when we learn that Ifrane was built by the French in 1929 as a “self-conscious” Swiss-style alpine resort. The norm was neat red-roofed houses, blooming flowerbeds and beauty spots to re-create a “poche de France” in Morocco. As one Frenchman who lived in Ifrane in the 1930s put it: “The French created this city in the heart of Morocco so they will not feel at any moment out of their country”.

After Moroccan independence, Ifrane was granted extra prestige by the incorporation of government ministries and a Royal Palace with its distinctive green tiles. The town is also the site of another Royal initiative: the Al Akhawayn University, a prestigious university modeled on the American system of higher Education.

Ifrane is light on tourists but comes to life in winter, when the affluent flock to hit the slopes and escape the heat of the plains. Outside the holiday season, Ifrane is perfect for hikes and picnics in the surrounding countryside.