Ait Ben Haddou, Casablanca, Desert Merzouga, Fez, Marrakech, Meknes,
Ouarzazate, Rabat, Rissani, Skoura, Volubilis
Travel the ancient caravan routes of the Magreb with our expert Moroccan guide. We delve deep into the exotic culture and diverse landscapes from the walled Imperial Cities seemingly suspended in time, through scenic high-Atlas Mountain passes and cliff-clinging Kasbahs, among remarkably well preserved Roman ruins and the shifting dunes of the mighty Sahara. Colorful and vibrant Marrakech and the medieval souks of the Fez medina introduce us to Morocco’s rich history, and our local connections bring us close to small villages, local families and their important historical sites rich in Islamic history. The gregarious hospitality, flavorful cuisine and lavish Moorish-style accommodations are not quickly forgotten. Our in-depth exploration of the Magreb’s history and culture lifts the veil on a society balanced between an enchanting past and a vibrant role in the modern world.
DAY 1 Casablanca Rabat
On arrival in Casablanca, meet your guide and driver and depart Casablanca for Rabat. En route, visit Casablanca’s magnificent Mosque of Hassan II, heralded as the second largest mosque in the world. Morocco’s modern capital of Rabat is the first of our ‘Imperial Cities’, and the official residence of King Mohammed VI. A visit to the Mohammed V Mausoleum and the remains of the Hassan Tower built in 1196 ACE provide an excellent introduction to Moroccan history. Enjoy your first glimpse of Moroccan culture during a short walk through the narrow passageways of the Kasbah of the Oudayas, admiring the decorative doors and immersed the sights and sounds of daily Moroccan life. Overnight Riad Kalaa or similar.
NOTE: Your sightseeing itinerary en route to Rabat today will be tailored to your international flight arrival time in Casablanca.
DAY 2 Meknes Volubilis Fez
Drive East (2hr) to the second ‘Imperial City’, Meknes, with its famous gate of Bab El Mansour. At the impressive Dar Jamai Palace you’ll find the Royal Stables and the tomb of Moulay Ismail, the dreaded sultan of Morocco whose paranoia resulted in some of Morocco’s finest historical fortifications. Next stop is Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Morocco’s largest and best preserved Roman ruins. Walk the cobbled streets of Moulay Idriss a holy city named after fourth generation and sainted descendant of Mohamed, the founder of Islam in Morocco and founder of the city of Fez, your next ‘Imperial City’ and today’s destination (1.5hr). Overnight Dar Anebar or simila
DAY 3 Fez
The mesmerizing call to dawn prayer begins slowly and builds to a crescendo as each of a hundred minarets joins the chorus; a sound integral to Fez; a sound which has echoed each morning through this exquisite walled city for over 1400 years. The former capital of Morocco and considered the first Imperial City, Fez remains Morocco’s leading intellectual and religious center as well as a fascinating cultural hub. Head out on foot with your guide through the bustling medina with visits to a tannery, wool souk (market), spice shops, and stalls loaded with dates and olives experiencing thorough immersion in Moroccan mercantile life. You’ll meet shop keepers and craftsmen whose arts have been passed from generation to generation, and begin to see the fine web of traditions that make Moroccan culture so enduring and rich. Walking through the maze of narrow passage-ways we visit Qaraouine University, the Madrassa (Quranic school), and the Moulay Idriss II memorial.
End the day with a unique experience; the warmth and traditional hospitality of a local plains Arab family, and a home cooked dinner, perhaps a tagine or couscous, or even harira, the traditional soup that ends each day of Ramadan. Overnight Dar Anebar or similar.
Settle into your seats and watch the dramatic changes in landscape as the vehicle follows the ascending road, taking switch-backs to climb through the Atlas Mountains and descend into the mighty Sahara Desert. The terrain on this full-day drive (7hr) is varied and includes forests of giant cedar, high arid mountains with breathtaking views over mountain passes and flattening foothills of scrub as you drop into the vast Saharan desert that stretches seemingly endlessly before you for thousands of miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Following a centuries-old caravan route, pass through the Beni Mguild Berber capital of Midelt, an important center for local carpet making. We begin to see ksars (fortified strongholds) along the way to Errachidia and Rissani. Overnight Kasbah Ennasra or similar
DAY 5 Desert Erg Chebbi
This morning you’ve some options; a refreshing dip in the hotel pool or an excursion to the Holy City of Rissani to visit the Mausoleum of Moulay Ali Sherife, Ksour Abdel Hamid and the Abdel Malik Kasbah. Your guide is on hand to offer advice. In the afternoon depart for the vast Sahara where the paved road ends (1hr), stopping at a quarry to view rock excavations and fossils. As the day cools, desert colors intensify. Mount camels and, accompanied by indigenous Touareg nomads in their famous blue-dyed turbans, ride into the Erg Chebbi, a vast expanse of huge, drifting sand dunes. Touregs are truly masters of their domain. Centuries ago, Touregs turned the deadly Saharan sands into an ocean on which their ‘ships of the desert’ (camels) traded goods as varied as dates and gold bullion from the Atlantic coast right across Africa to Lake Chad. The sunset changes and deepens the hues of this mystical landscape as your surefooted dromedaries transport you to your desert encampment for the night. After a cold drink and a delicious dinner, retire under a vast star-lit desert sky to ponder the imponderable, and to marvel at the comfort of our private tents, mattresses, linens, pillows and Berber rugs. There is a shared bathroom facility. (Those not wishing to camp in the desert may overnight in the Rissani hotel). Overnight Desert Encampment (or Kasbah Ennasra)
DAY 6 Ait Ben Haddou
Awaken before dawn to see the moon reflected off millions of microscopic silicon chips in the sand. In darkness mount your saddled camels for a short ride to watch the sun creep over the desert horizon. The true solitude and beauty of the Sahara shows itself only in such moments*. Back at camp for breakfast re-board your vehicle and drive to Todra Gorge (3hrs) first heading towards the mountains then turning south, hugging the Atlas through a stark landscape dotted with fertile oases and dramatic volcanic and limestone peaks. Turning off the main road to the impressive Todra Gorge, if interest and time permits, we embark on an optional short walk through the gorge, exquisitely river-carved over millennium. Continue (3.5 hrs) through the Dra Valley – the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs, to picturesque Ait Ben Haddou. Overnight Ksar Ighnda.
*NOTE: If you chose not to camp and last night stayed in the Rissani hotel, you have the option of returning to Erg Chebbi for a sunrise camel ride this morning before departure, or departing directly from the Rissani hotel to Ait Ben Haddou.
DAY 7 Ait Ben Haddou – Marrakech
Once a fortified ksar, Ait Benhaddou is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the setting for many desert films, including Lawrence of Arabia in the 1960s and more recently, Gladiator with Russell Crow. After a morning exploring Ait Ben Haddou, pack up and depart the desert landscape of southern Morocco, driving north into the High Atlas Mountains (3hrs) on a sinuous road with spectacular views over Tizi-n-Tickka (7,417 ft) the highest pass in Morocco. As you descend, the landscape turns green with oaks, walnut groves and oleander bushes. Arriving in Marrakech mid afternoon, there is time to explore the narrow streets, shops and markets. As dusk begins to fall, the focus is the Djemaa el-Fna, the huge square in the medina and backdrop for an eclectic array of jugglers, storytellers, snake charmers, musicians and soothsayers. Mouth-watering aromas waft through the medina from the many rows of open-air food stalls. Perhaps you’ll retreat to a neighboring rooftop restaurant for a drink and the view. Overnight Riad Daria or similar.
DAY 8 Marrakech
Prepare for a full day delving into this distinctly Magrebi city’s history. Marrakech has for centuries been Morocco’s southern capital, competing with Fez not just metaphorically but militarily and religiously too. Posterity has lost many architectural masterpieces through such conflicts. Of those that remain, tour the Palais de la Bahaia which housed Bou Ahmed’s four wives, 24 concubines and numerous children, and visit the Saadian Tombs, the royal burial ground of the Saadian dynasty. Based on time and interest, walk among the narrow streets and shops of the old city, view the extensive Berber collection of clothing, jewelry, textiles, doors, baskets and carpets at the Maison Tiskiwin, and/or walk through Jardin Majorelle, the extensive gardens of French painter Jacques Majorelle with a collection of plants from five continents. In Morocco, as in most North African and Middle Eastern cultures bartering is considered an opportunity to converse and interact as much as it is to establish an agreed price. Your guide will give you tips and invite you to enjoy the exchange with shopkeepers! Return to the medina for any last minute shopping before reflecting on our Moroccan adventure at a farewell dinner. Overnight Riad Daria or simila
DAY 9 Casablanca
Departure or Trip Extension Transfer to the airport for your flight to Casablanca to connect with your return flight home or extend your vacation with a few days along the coast.