With that in mind, we headed out to find best places on Earth for such conditions, which lead us to Morocco. There, we fortunately met Pierre-Alain Renfer from Switzerland, who currently lives in Marrakesh and constantly organises unforgettable bike tours to the Atlas Mountains.
Hello Pierre-Alain! Could you perhaps tell us something about yourself?
As you know, my name is Pierre-Alain Renfer, but in the MTB world my nickname is the “Swiss Fennec” because I come from Switzerland. And you probably know the small fox with long ears that lives in Africa (smile). I’m 53 years old and I’ve been guiding and organising mountain bike trips since 1986. I settled in Morocco in 1992 and since then time’s been flying!
Why is biking in Morocco better than in other countries?
Morocco is a perfect winter destination. It takes only three hours to fly there and see a country with an absolutely different culture and landscapes. The hospitality of Moroccan people is extraordinary, particularly in the mountains with the Berber minority. One good thing is that there are no restrictions on riding in Morocco. The landscape of the Atlas mountain range is perfectly suitable for all kinds of mountain biking. There are hundreds of kilometers of beautiful single tracks. They’re never too steep so they match nearly every rider’s skill level. The scenery is also very unique for photo-shoots or filming. We usually take rocky trails with amazing mountain ridges, covered by snow in the background. In the morning it can be a little colder, but later on in the day it’s time to dress down and ride just in a t-shirt or jersey.
How does an average biking day in the Atlas Mountains look?
A good breakfast makes the day. So every morning we start with different Moroccan crepes and fresh squeezed orange juice. Then we take a ride for about two or three hours before we arrive to a Berber village, where we have a local lunch. It’s a perfect occasion to become familiar with the real culture of this mountain tribe. In the afternoon we ride flowing trails back to the base and have a sweet mint tea or cold beers.
There are tons of great photos of trail biking in Morocco, but what areas are the best? How can I find them?
My favorite location is in the north side of the Atlas Mountains. Riding from the high mountains to hidden valleys is the best. Different altitudes bring also varying types of landscapes with all kinds of terrain in various colors ranging from black to red. Erosion creates unbelievable structures of earth, rocks and slopes. The best time to visit is the early spring when everything is fresh and green. You can find the fire roads on a Michelin map, but for particular single tracks it’s necessary to hire a local guide.
Are there any other reasons for hiring a professional guide?
It’s really difficult to find the trails. You can get lost very easily and there’s not much GSM coverage in the backcountry. A guide can take you to local people in nice villages for lunch and don’t forget help with safety issues. Guides know the terrain and can organize a support car at the right place if it’s necessary. There also can be a problem with drinking water, so if you go with a guide, you’ll always have a car close by to refill your camel bags.
How much does the guide charge for a day trip?
Guides usually gather a couple of people to share the service. It’s good because the costs are more affordable then. Daily rates go for 60 to 100 Euros according to the guide’s experience and the amount of languages they can speak.
What time of year is best for a visit?
In the fall from the middle of September to the middle of November or in the winter it’s also possible, but you have to expect snow above 2000m. I prefer the spring from the middle of February to the middle of May when the weather, temperatures and conditions are best!
Morocco is traditionally a Muslim country. Should I have any concerns visiting in these days?
In the backcountry it’s always important to respect local rules. It’s better to wear baggy shorts rather than lycra. Never take off your T-shirt in a village. In all other aspects Morocco is a very friendly and open country so I believe you’ll like it!