If the name Morocco conjures up images of a place with narrow, maze like streets lined with old earth-colored buildings, you are not alone. Ifrane, however, is unlike any other town in Morocco. Located at an altitude of 5,460 feet above sea level in the Middle Atlas region, this small hill town has a Swiss alpine feel to it. With neat red-roofed houses, blooming flower beds, lake-studded parks and snowbound winters, this remarkable European styled town is often referred to as “Morocco’s Switzerland.” The lush greenery, cedar forests, and pastureland that comes to life in spring and winter is a sharp contrast to the hot and dry climate that surrounds it. Because of its accessibility, Ifrane serves as the winter playground for the wealthy Berbers from drier cites like Fez, Meknes, and Marrakech, who flock here to experience European winter.
Ifrane was built by the French in the 1930s, during the protectorate era for their administration. What attracted the French, and now affluent Moroccans, is the cool climate during summer. As Fes and Meknes swelter in heat, Ifrane is pleasant and refreshing. In winter, temperatures frequently drops below freezing and the surrounding mountainside is blanketed in snow. Indeed, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Africa was in Ifrane at -24 °C.
Set high up in the mountains, Ifrane was to be a “hill station”, a cool place where colonial families could spend the hot summer months. The concept of “hill stations” were first developed by the British in India, the best known example of which is Shimla in the Himalayas which served as their summer capital. As they were intended for expatriate European families, they were often designed in such a way as to remind their foreign inhabitants of their distant homelands. The architectural style and even trees and flowering plants were imported from the European home country.
After independence from France, Moroccans moved into the city. They enlarged the town, built a mosque, a public market and other amenities were soon added. In 1995, an American-curriculum based public university - the prestigious Al Akhawayn University – was opened and Ifrane emerged as the desirable destination for domestic tourism. Consequently, Ifrane continues to develop as both a summer and winter resort. Old chalets in the center of town are being demolished and replaced with condominium complexes, while vacation centers and gated housing estates are springing up on the outskirts. Many major employers maintain apartment complexes here for their vacationing workers, and the affluent population come here on day trips to ski or have fun in the snow.
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