It was his obsession with adventure that brought him to the interior of what was then known as Spanish Sahara, an overseas territory of Spain.  In 1930, Michel Vieuchange, a French adventurer, set out on his journey to the largely unexplored region known today as Western Sahara. He removed his gold tooth and disguised himself as a Berber woman to sneak his way into the unknown. His goal was to discover the ruins of Smara, a walled city that was built centuries ago and then abandoned. No European had set foot in it and no one knew the exact location of the forbidden city.

Western Sahara: A Death March

After weeks of severe hardship and danger in the desert, traveling with the independent tribes of the desert, he made it, becoming the first European to discover the ruins of Smara. Two months later, he staggered out of the Sahara into the town of Tiznit, his body wracked by dysentery. A few days later, he was on his death bed in Agadir, where he entrusted his brother Jean Vieuchange with his notebooks and photographs. The journal of his adventure, now published by Jean Vieuchange, is titled, “Smara: The Forbidden City”.

This true story inevitably piques one’s curiosity about the Western Sahara and the perils that are involved in traveling there. Today, Western Sahara is still a disputed territory and although much of it is controlled by Morocco, travel to this region is not advised due to the threat of terrorism.

Trace Michel’s Footsteps in Agadir

If you’re interested in experiencing Michel Vieuchange’s journey, the best place to start is Agadir. As the closest major city to the Western Sahara, Agadir is safe to visit and offers plenty for the curious traveler. Surrounded by the Sahara Desert and the Atlas Mountains, the attractive city has an interesting blend of modern development and Moroccan traditions.

Located along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Agadir is best known for its unspoiled beaches and raving waves. With pleasant all-year temperatures and strong winds, it is home to some of the best surfing spots in the world. The new medina in town, designed by an Italian architect, features a jewelry souk and several Moorish cafes. If you’re looking for your own romantic desert adventure, Agadir is a good place to start.

Photo | Rachael Taft