To most of us, Africa is normally believed to be a hot, desert-style land with giraffes, elephants and lions. It would never cross our minds that there is a place on that continent, just near the Sahara Desert, where the snows are deep enough to ski in and the lush waterfalls do find themselves frozen in certain cold times of the year. Which is why the existence of the charming ski town called ‘Ifrane’ in Morocco is so hard to imagine.
Ifrane (pronounced as ‘E-frahn’) is located in the heart of the Middle Atlas mountains, at 1665 metres (5,460 ft) above sea level. Every winter the area gets blanketed in snow with the average temperature of 5°C.
It’s the only place an Africa that has to date found itself in extremely cold -23.9 degrees Celsius weather.
What’s the most remarkable about Ifrane is that because it was developed by the French, who modeled it after the style of a ‘garden city’, it looks more like a Swiss village than a place in North Africa.
The European style of the town with red-roofed houses and the surrounding majestic Alpine landscape complete with the countless fresh springs and lakes, the dense cedar forests and the rocky terrain make visitors feel as if they were in Switzerland. Hence, Ifrane is nicknamed the “little Switzerland of Morocco”.
In Tamazight, the regional Berber language, Ifrane means caves and refers to the first cave dwellings in the region that were hollowed out in the limestone wall.
Ifrane is a popular retreat for affluent Moroccans who drive up from nearby cities of Fes (63 km), Meknès (84 km) or the capital of Rabat (200 km) the cool down.
It is not only a mountain ski resort, it’s also a college town with prestigious Al-Akhawayn University where all classes are taught in English.
With the high quality of air, very little traffic and good waste management, Ifrane is not only considered to be the ecological capital of Morocco, but it was also ranked as the second cleanest city in the world after Calgary in Canada.
Ifrane is the second best ski spot in the country after Oukeimden near Marrakesh. The resort, however, can’t boast the state of the art snowmaking equipment and ski lifts; and the hills here are not steep. Although snow falls every winter, the winter season can be hit or miss if it doesn’t snow frequently. You would be even more surprised to find out that Ifrane is not the only place in Africa where you can experience the joy of skiing. AfriSki in the Maluti mountains of the Kingdom of Lesotho and Tiffindell Ski and Snowboard Resort in South Africa are also great skiing and snowboarding destinations.
The Michlifen Ifrane Suites & Spa is a 5* hotel in Ifrane that offers a truly luxury accommodation.
Summers are heavenly fresh here as it never gets too hot with the temperature ranging between 22-28°C.
Ifrane is a sight to behold and one amazing place to visit in the winter if you are looking to combine adventures on the African continent with some downhill skiing!