Jewel of the Atlas: mining for pleasure in a Berber retreat

Morocco’s Atlas mountains are a short hop from Marrakech – but a world away from frenetic city life

My daughter spots them first, glinting like diamonds in the midday heat of the Moroccan sun, irresistible for small fingers to pick at. “Treasure!” she exclaims, kneeling down to pick clusters of tiny crystals out of the earth, some of them clear, others in ochres, oranges and yellows. From gold and silver to cobalt, nickel and zinc, the Atlas mountains are a mineral paradise, as well as an ancient and lucrative industry.

Centuries ago, explains our walking guide Abdelkarim, the original silk route would have passed through these mountains en route to Timbuktu, transporting gold and silver from the area. Mining is big business in Morocco, its applications ranging from cobalt for phone batteries to quartz crystals in watches and zinc oxide in agriculture.

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