Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI) is an English-language, American-style liberal arts university. Established in 1995 by his late majesty King Hassan II (d.1999), the university has grown from its initial class of under 200 to nearly 3,500 in 2023. It is also growing fast, with more than dozen new buildings under construction and plans to expand to 5,000 students by 2025.
We’re really delighted to welcome the AMICAL conference to AUI. The pre-conference will take place at the Al Akhawayn Conference Center (ACC), which is described more fully on the Accommodation page, as it will also house most attendees. The two main conference days will be on campus in the Mohammed VI Library and an adjacent academic building.
AUI is located in the town of Ifrane, situated in the mid-Atlas Mountains. It is a fascinating little town with a curious history as a French colonial ‘garden city’. The architecture of the university – designed by French architect Michel Pinseau (famous for his design of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca) – was inspired by the red roofed houses of the city’s colonial-era downtown and residential areas.
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Practical Information about Ifrane & Morocco
- Languages in Morocco: The official languages of Morocco are Arabic, Tamazight, and Hassaniyya, but French and Spanish are spoken widely in different parts of the country. English is also spoken by many people, especially in cities.
- Languages in Ifrane: Ifrane is a Tamazight-speaking village but virtually everyone also speaks Arabic and some French. English is increasingly understood in town. AUI is an English-speaking university, so you can expect everyone on campus and affiliated centers to speak English.
- Electricity: Electrical outlets in Morocco at 220V (usually type C plugs)
- Local time: Ifrane is GMT+1
- Weather: Weather is really pleasant in Ifrane by late May, although being a mountain town it can be cold at night time in May, so it is best to have a jacket or sweater. For those that get chilled easily, they might want that jacket during the daytime, especially when indoors.
- Religion: Morocco is a majority Muslim country with a small Jewish minority and minority of Christians (mostly from West Africa). This makes for some fantastic religious architecture (see Sightseeing Tours below).
- Alcohol: While tourists and other Moroccan visitors can purchase alcohol at bars and some restaurants, this tends to happen in higher-end restaurants and behind closed doors. Having a drink on a patio in the street is not something you can expect to see. On options for purchasing alcohol on Ifrane, please see below.
- Safety: Ifrane is a remarkably safe place, with very low levels of petty crime and theft. That said, visitors are of course advised to be cautious about walking alone very late at night in the city’s center. The ACC is in a gated complex where visitors can feel comfortable taking walks even late into the evening.
Things to Do
Le Val d’Ifrane Park: Between downtown and the university there is a large nature area that offers some nice paths for walking through the woods. If you walk to the AUI campus from downtown, you will see a small roundabout on the left with small signs in the shape of Africa and a marble monument in the middle. Turn left there and the entrance to the park is on your right. There are two large horse statues flanking the gate that takes you into the park.
Le Marché Central: Ifrane’s central market is where locals do their shopping during the week and where Moroccan tourists stop to have a coffee or lunch. Alongside its many cafes and fast-food restaurants, you’ll find all sorts of random things here, including a pharmacy and para-pharmacy, a small newsstand and office supply store, used clothing stores, hairdressers, and much more. Look for one of the little alleys selling milwi, a delicious pancake-like snack. It’s also a good place to buy packaged snacks, produce, and other food goods.
Barbary Macaques in the Cedar Forest of Azrou: If you find yourself with an afternoon or morning free, you can arrange a taxi to take you to the Cedar Forest of Azrou (about a 25 min taxi ride), where there are large families of barbary macaques that hang around and wait for visitors to feed them peanuts and apples (for sale on site for 5-10 dirhams). There are also pony and horse rides for kids and you can get a cup of tea there, as well. It’s best to arrange with your taxi driver to wait for you, since it is a bit out of the way. If you have even more time to spare, you can have the driver stop at Le Palais des Cerisiers, a hotel on the same road that has a bar and restaurant with beautiful views.
Downtown stroll & the Ifrane Lion: The original colonial-era downtown Ifrane changed dramatically after the university was founded in 1995 but it still preserves some of its original character. The post office, old dance hall, and handful of the shops are still the original structures built of flagstone in the 1920s and 1930s. Walking around downtown you will see Moroccan families who have driven up to Ifrane for a visit, as well as locals taking a break for a tea or coffee. There are several cafes that offer pleasant spots to sit and to people watch. Across from the Parc Ifrane, the entrance to downtown is marked by the Ifrane Lion, a statue whose uncertain origins date to World War II. The lion is the one landmark all Moroccan visitors make sure to take a picture with before leaving.
Places to Eat
Breakfast and dinner will be provided at the Al Akhawayn Conference Center (ACC) for those residing there. Lunch will be provided either at the ACC (on the pre-conference day) or at the campus (on main conference days).
If you’re eating lunch out, restaurants technically open at noon. Practically, however, they do not have their kitchens ready before 13:00. There is no break in service between lunch and dinner, though, so you can eat anytime in the afternoon and into the evening.
Downtown eating options
- L’empreinte: A cafe, restaurant, and bakery serving meals and snacks. It is one of the few places open early in the morning for breakfast.
- La Paix: A cafe, restaurant, and bakery popular with Ifrane residents as well as visitors. They can take a while to prepare the food but they offer a wide variety of choices, including some good salads.
- Le Chamonix: Inside the hotel of the same name, this is one of the few places in town where you can have a bottle of wine with dinner. Only open for dinner starting at 7PM.
- Foodie: Originally set up by AUI students, Foodie serves burgers and wings. There’s a decent veggie burger on the menu & their ingredients are all locally sourced.
- My Lil’ Roma: Fresh pizzas and pastas. A bit of a wait, but worth it.
- Lynn: Lebanese restaurant with some vegetarian options.
- El Pepito: Pizza and pasta. A solid choice, although service can be a bit slow.
- Mitch’s Bowling : This bowling alley serves some light food but the real gem is the bakery just inside the door to the left. If you’re looking for something sweet, try their cupcakes!
- Bonsai: In addition to sushi, Bonsai offers a variety of East Asian dishes.
- For You Restaurant: A popular place with students, For You is just off the main roundabout separating downtown from the central market. It’s good for pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and things like that.
- Le Marché Central: The municipal market sells rotisserie chickens, pizza, and other fast-food. It also has many cafes where you can have a light pastry. If you want fresh produce or packaged food, this is also where to go.
- Michlifen: For spectacular views of the region, take a taxi up to the Michlifen hotel (you can tell the guards you are coming to eat or get a drink). This luxury hotel boasts a pricey but delicious restaurant and a cozy bar where you can get a drink served with a warm bowl of nuts. The atmosphere is worth the taxi ride.
Places that serve alcohol
Most restaurants in Ifrane, including the ACC, do not serve alcohol and alcohol is not allowed either on the AUI Campus or at the ACC. There are a few options for those wanting to have a drink in town:
- Chamonix Hotel & Bar: Connected to the restaurant and hotel of the same name is Ifrane’s equivalent of a townie bar. You can get a drink there starting at 5:00PM and they stay open late into the evening, occasionally offering live music and an eclectic group of patrons. The Chamonix restaurant next door serves wine with dinner.
- Michlifen Hotel: For spectacular views of the region, take a taxi up to the Michlifen hotel (you can tell the guards you are coming to eat or get a drink). This luxury hotel boasts a pricey but delicious restaurant and a cozy bar. The atmosphere is worth the taxi ride.
- Perce Neige Hotel: Simple dinners with wine can be had at the Perce Neige Hotel, which is located around a 15 minute walk from the Ifrane Lion on the road to Azrou. But you might want to call to make sure they are serving dinner to non-guests (and verify they have wine that night, just in case)
We are still working on the details, but there will be an optional a trip to the medieval city of Fes on Saturday 27 May, including a guided tour and stay at a traditional “riad” hotel. This trip is not part of the conference program and the costs of this trip will be up to participants to cover, including ground transport to the airports of Casablanca or Fes afterwards.