How many times in your cycling life do you start a ride you know well and then discover a couple of brand new Category 1 climbs that have been carved into the side of a mountain along the route? That happened a couple of days ago riding with my son Jonny from Aourir to Imozzer along Paradise Valley, just north of Agadir, Morocco.
The new road appears to have been built as an alternative route to the famous tourist attraction of Paradise Valley. The lower end of the valley, and only practical route from the coast, winds along a narrow gorge that has always been vulnerable to heavy rain storm damage.
The engineering of this new mountain road is staggering. Quite literally carved out of the mountainside rising from the coastal end at the start of the gorge up a 1000m and then descending over 600m to rejoin the original road above Paradise Valley – a total of 30km of surfaced two lane road with over 50 hairpin bends.
Strava stats suggest the southern climb from the coastal end is 980m over 16.4km and average 6% while the northern climb is 677m over 8.7km and average 8%. We rode the loup from the north on our way back from Imozzer – cheekily we named it Col d’Paradise – North as a Strava segment.
A Special Day
Jonny and I had set off from Aourir Camp to climb Paradise Valley and beyond with the plan of having lunch at the Hotel des Cascades at Imozzer (1300 meters) in the mountains. The original overcast cloud cover was quickly burnt off and we soon arrived at the start of the gorge. In 2018 we had seen some road building on the mountainside and as we got closer this time realised it was a new surfaced road. We asked a local if it went to Imozzer and he said no and suggested the only way was via the gorge.
So we set off through much heavy road building along the gorge and emerged to climb out of the valley and headed up towards Imozzer. Near the top of the first climb we found a new road junction on our left with an amazing set of hairpin bends brutally carved from the mountainside above. We assumed this was the other end of the new road and were excited with the prospect of exploring it on our return. There were no road signs indicating where it went.
We lunched at the Hotel des Cascades on its splendid balcony overlooking the valley below in company with a dozen Russian tourists who had arrived by Landrover.
And so we returned down the mountain to start the climb up the new road. It was fairly steady to start until we hit the set of hairpins that gave some recovery but in parts were over 15%.
We stopped on numerous occasions to take photos – the construction and view as we climbed was just staggering. We rode the whole 8km climb without a single person or vehicle passing us in either direction.
Some of the surface was heavy with gravel due to limited vehicle use. In fact over the full 30km we only saw three French motorbikes and two local vehicles. It was very remote with no dwellings except for a couple of traditional mountain buildings near the top of the climb.
The road levelled out at the top and we rode into a small shallow mountain valley before riding along a mountain top ridge as we started the descent. At one point the road dipped down and rose again in a series of sharp hairpins.
There followed numerous sets of hairpins in the final long run down to the the small village at the start of the Paradise Valley Gorge. The 16km climb back up would have to wait for another day – but felt a bit like unfinished business. It looks a classic and I guess at that length borders on an HC climb?
And so we finished the ride back to the camp and headed out in the Camper van for Jonny to catch his flight home the following day – and the roads at home were blocked by snow over Bodmin Moor – so delay in getting back to Cornwall. What a contrast! Jonny is a longboard surfer and described it like finding a secret surf spot – virtually unknown! If these climbs were in Europe they would be crawling with cyclists!
It was a pretty special day in Morocco! 108km with 2500 m of climbing.
Morocco – Road Biking
Morocco is well known for some brilliant mountain bike locations. Less well known are the road bike opportunities that have increased hugely over recent years. From Southern Desert to the High Atlas and Anti Atlas Mountains we have found newly surfaced roads this year. One drive from Zegora to Tata in the south saw less than 50 vehicles in the 250km drive on perfect roads and mind-blowing desert landscapes.
Mason Bikes took us over the climb in style. I was riding my blue Mason Definition2 and Jonny the Mason Bokeh in splendid orange. In Morocco one is likely to want to ride a variety of road conditions – there are still many kms of piste – and Dom Mason’s bikes are perfect for the job – the fastfar bike company!