While sipping a cup of deliciously refreshing mint tea and observing the men and women passing you by in their hooded jellabas (coats), the intoxicating aromas, sights and sounds will overload your senses.

The High Atlas range stretches all the way from the dramatic and undeveloped Atlantic coast of southern Morocco to the tourist-free towns of northern Algeria, and you can reach this wild  and rugged wall of peaks from Marrakesh in just two hours.  If you’re prepared to make a journey away from the souks and medinas of urban Morocco then you’ll find a deserted mountain trail all to yourself.

Jebel Toubkal, covered in  snow throughout the winter months and often well into spring, is the highest peak in North Africa. There are several hundred mountains in the High Atlas with summits higher than 3000m — but at 4167m and less than 100km away from the repressive heat and bustle of Marrakesh, this jagged peak and the surrounding villages of the Berbers — Morocco’s indigenous ‘free people’ — offer a great introduction to the delights of  the mountain range.

Further west is the spectacular mountain pass with a kids’ cartoon name, Tizi n’Test, which climbs steeply into the sky before dumping you in the Anti Atlas with its unreal moon-rock landscape and nearby kasbahs.

One of the most dramatic of these mountain citadels has to be the 11th-century Aït Benhaddou, a Unesco-protected kasbah that  is both exotic and familiar: exotic because it’s squeezed into a mountain side with a fortified granary towering above its earth buildings, palm trees lining its entrance and the Oued Ounila river flowing nearby; familiar because this is one of the world’s greatest living film sets.

The younger generation  will most likely recognise this stunning fortified city from scenes in Gladiator, while film buffs and those older than they’d like to admit will remember  this dramatic location from the  1977 film Jesus Of Nazareth.

The houses, many of them rebuilt thanks to that Hollywood money, are crammed together within the ksar (Arabic village) and held in place by dramatic corner towers.

Aside from the odd tourist, you are likely to have Aït Benhaddou and its stunning views of the surrounding desert all to yourself.

The only questions that remain are: do you venture further along the former caravan route between Marrakesh and the sands at the edge of the Sahara, which are now tantalisingly within your reach? Do you linger longer in the High Atlas mountain range? Or do  you turn east and make the long bumpy drive to the Atlantic coast and all its delights?