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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Morocco -- Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate is Morocco's Hollywood, and the industry can regularly be found setting up shop in this sprawling desert crossroads with wide, palm-fringed boulevards. Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Samuel L. Jackson, Cate Blanchett, and many more have graced the suites and streets. Despite the Tinseltown vibe and huge, publicly accessible film sets, Ouarzazate remains at its heart a dusty ghost town. Its main recommendation is the dramatic surrounding terrain that makes it a mainstay for filmmakers: the red-glowing kasbah at Aït Ben Haddou; the snow-capped High Atlas and the Sahara, with tremendous canyons, gorges, and lunar-like steppes in between.

Ouarzazate, which means "no noise" in the Berber Tamazigh language, was once a very quiet place. An isolated military outpost during the years of the French protectorate, it now benefits from increased tourism and economic development thanks to the Moroccan film industry. The movie business provides casual work for almost half of the local population and there is now a film school providing training in the cinema arts for Moroccan and international students. But the town retains its laid-back atmosphere, making it a great place to sit at a sidewalk café, sip a café noir, and spot visiting celebrities.

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