How A Swiss Mountain Town Ended Up In Africa

“No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.” โ€”Zen proverb

In A Nutshell

From finding hills in Kansas to palm trees in British Columbia, many places on Earth look nothing like you think. Well, we’ve found another one for you: Ifrane, Morocco, also known as Africa’s “Little Switzerland.” It was established by French colonialists in the 1930s as a hill station, a mountain retreat reminiscent of the Swiss Alps that served as an escape in the summer months from the uncomfortably hot conditions below. Africa’s lowest recorded temperature, –24 degrees Celsius (–11 °F), happened here. When Morocco gained its independence from France, local Moroccans began to move in, bringing some of their own culture to Ifrane. Nevertheless, the town remains a vacation playground for the wealthy.

The Whole Bushel

From finding hills in Kansas to palm trees in British Columbia, Canada, many places on Earth look nothing like you think. Well, we’ve found another one for you: Ifrane, Morocco, also known as Africa’s “Little Switzerland.” The word yfran actually means “caves” in the Berber language of the region, which comes from the many caves carved out of the limestone plateaus surrounding the modern village. In earlier times, around the 1500s or so, local people lived in these caves. As they moved aboveground, though, the caves were used mostly for storage.

Modern Ifrane was established by French colonialists in the 1930s as a hill station, a mountain retreat reminiscent of the Swiss Alps that served as an escape in the summer months from the uncomfortably hot conditions below. Africa’s lowest recorded temperature, –24 degrees Celsius (–11 °F), happened here, just kilometers from the Sahara desert.

The first hill stations were established in India by the British. Hill stations then spread to many other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Rather than the vacation playgrounds for the rich they’re often known as today, these towns and villages began as medical centers to treat tropical diseases such as cholera and dysentery that were rampant in earlier centuries. In the 1800s, one British doctor determined that a young soldier in peacetime had a fivefold greater chance of dying in India than England. At that time, English expatriates in India usually lived to only about 38 years old for the men and 28 years old for the women.

However, hill stations soon evolved beyond mere medical facilities to summer retreats from the hot weather and noisy cities at lower altitudes. They were designed to remind European expatriates of home, from the architecture to the parks and flowers. Ifrane is a stylish green oasis almost 1,700 meters (5,500 ft) above sea level in the summer that can double as a popular Alpine ski resort in the winter. However, snow doesn’t fall heavily every winter, so visitors can’t count on the ski season. Ifrane is a small village that often serves as a way station for tourists on their way to more bustling cities like Fez and Marrakesh.

When Morocco gained its independence from France, local Moroccans began to move in, bringing some of their own culture to Ifrane. Rich Berbers come for vacations and students for an education at the prestigious Al Akhawayn University, which opened its doors in 1995 as a public university with an American curriculum. The Moroccans made the town bigger by building a mosque, modern condominium complexes, and a public market. There are also gated housing plans and vacation centers popping up on Ifrane’s borders. The town is a popular destination for one-day skiing trips for the locals.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: nssaw tawahd
Travel the Middle East: Ifrane, Morocco: Africaโ€™s Little Switzerland
Smithsonian: Review of ‘The Great Hill Stations of Asia’
Amusing Planet: Ifrane, The Switzerland of Morocco
Morocco.com: Take a Trip to Ifrane in Morocco

  • lonelydisco

    When you go … high … enough, everything is fun!

  • lucy Smith

    a mountain retreat reminiscent of the Swiss Alps that served as an escape in the summer months from the uncomfortably hot conditions below. Casquette Obey

  • Very rare….what if it happen in Saudi Arabia ?