Morocco 2012 

Morocco is one of the jewels of the Maghreb, those North African states linked by shared culture and history.  Indeed, Morocco’s history is so rich due to the presence of many different civilisations over the millennia, starting in the 6th century BC when the Phoenicians had a presence along the coast.  They were swiftly followed by the Romans, who were then replaced by the Vandals, Visigoths and then the Byzantine Empire.  However, the presence of these invaders was mostly felt in the north of the country and along the coasts, since the rugged mountains of the Rif and Atlas ranges meant that most of Morocco was unsubdued and remained in the hands of its ancient Berber inhabitants.  In the 7th century the Islamic expansion arrived in Morocco and absorbed the Berbers, and a series of dynasties held power until the early 20th century when Morocco was made a protectorate of France, until finally gaining independence in 1956.  This history has left its mark on Morocco, with Roman ruins and some spectacular medinas for us to explore.  In addition to its historic and cultural sites Morocco is scenically beautiful and has wonderful wildlife to discover, from the Barbary macaques living in the cedar forests of the Atlas Mountains, to Ruppell’s fox and the endangered Houbara bustard which make the sand dunes of southern Morocco their home.

Day 01,                      April 16th

We arrive in Casablanca, economic capital of Morocco, and transfer to our hotel.  This evening we meet for our Welcome Dinner.

Day 02,                      April 17th

This morning we take a tour of Casablanca, including the enormous Hassan II Mosque, and the art deco buildings of Mohammed V square (built by the French colonists).  From here we drive to Rabat, political capital of Morocco, and one of the imperial cities (which together with Fes, Meknes and Marrakech have taken it in turns to be the nation’s capital since the start of the Islamic dynasties).  Our tour takes in the Kasbah of Oudaya, Hassan Tower, and the Chellah necropolis, which dates from Roman times.  In addition, we stop at the mausoleum of Mohammed V and pass by the Royal Palace, before continuing on to the beautiful coastal city of Tangier.

Day 03,                      April 18th

Today we explore the city of Tangier and its surroundings, starting with a drive along the mountain road to Cap Spartel, which marks the official convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.  From here we visit Hercules Cave, where legend says that Hercules rested after separating Gibraltar from Africa.  We drive back to Tangier, and this afternoon visit the ancient medina, including the spice and Berber markets, the 17th century Kasbah (formerly the governor’s palace, and now home to the spectacular Museum of Moroccan Arts), as well as the bustling Grand Socco.

Day 04;                      April 19th

After breakfast we continue our journey, stopping in the town of Tetouan, which is a beautiful mix of Arab and Andalucian cultures set at the foot of the Rif Mountains.  This part of Morocco was formerly ruled by Spain, and many inhabitants still speak Spanish.  Here we visit the governor’s palace, Spanish garden, and the walls of the Kasbah, before entering the medina and taking a walking tour of the old city which takes us through the Jewish and Spanish quarters, the Berber and ladies’ market and Guersa el Kbira, the textile souk.

From here we drive through the mountains looking for Barbary macaque and some of the birds which make these mountains their home, before arriving in Chefchaouen.  Chefchaouen is a gorgeous town set in the Rif Mountains, where the houses are all traditionally blue-rinsed, giving a glowing aura to the narrow, winding streets of the medina.  The town was established in 1471 by Moorish exiles from Spain as a fortress against invaders.  After settling in to our hotel we take a tour of the town, visiting Palace el Makhzen, Uta el Hamman square and the medina.

Day 05;                      April 20th

This morning we drive southwards to the imperial city of Meknes.  Meknes was the capital of Morocco under Sultan Moulay Ismail in the late 17th century, and has many spectacular buildings from that time.  We take a tour of the royal stables, granaries and the House of Water, which were all built for the Sultan’s 12,000 horses, as well as Moulay Ismail’s mausoleum.  We also visit the medina, including Bab el Mansour, one of the most beautiful city gates in Morocco.  From Meknes we drive to the Roman city of Volubilis, once capital of north-western Africa, to see the largest and best-preserved Roman ruins in Morocco.  Volubilis is particularly noted for its many superb mosaic floors.  After a full day’s sightseeing we end our journey in the gorgeous city of Fes.

Days 06 & 07;          April 21st & 22nd

We have two full days to explore Fes, Morocco’s oldest imperial city, considered the “Athens of Africa” for its wealth of cultural, religious and educational institutions, many of which date back to the 9th century.  We take walking tours of the fascinating medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visiting the artisan’s quarters, the 14th century Koranic schools, Al Karaouine University (the oldest continuously functioning university in the world).  We also visit the Jewish quarter (mellah), visiting the 17th century synagogue, followed by a tour of the Museum of Fes.  

Day 08;                      April 23rd  

Bidding a sad farewell to Fes, we continue our journey to the sand dunes of the northern Sahara Desert.  An early morning start takes us through Midelt with its dramatic views of the peaks of the High Atlas Mountains, and down to the town of Erfoud.  In Erfoud we transfer to 4WD vehicles for the final part of our drive into the dunes.  We are met by camels which will take us on a short ride to our camp, and to experience the glory of a desert sunset.  Tonight we sleep under the stars in a luxurious Bedouin desert camp, with comfortable tents to sleep in, and a restaurant tent, decorated in desert style, where our cooks prepare a delicious meal for us as we are entertained by local musicians.

Day 09;                      April 24th

After breakfast we transfer back to tarmac roads, and drive along the picturesque Route of 1000 Kasbahs, passing palm grove oases and ancient Kasbah dwellings.  We drive through the village of Tinehir, a mountain oasis rising on a series of riverside terraces lush with palm trees, through the gorgeous Dades Valley, and the towering Gorges of Todra.  Our destination is the town of Ouarzazate, set in an area so scenic that it has been used in dozens of movies, including The Man Who Would Be King and Cleopatra.

Day 10;                      April 25th  

This morning we visit the World Heritage site of Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, a wonderfully preserved fortified village that is often used for film shoots, such as Gladiator.  Walking through the tightly packed buildings is truly like stepping back into the Middle Ages.  Leaving here we drive up into the High Atlas Mountains, and over Tizi N’Tichaka Pass at nearly 7,500 feet, where life is much as it has been for centuries.  Villages comprise stone houses with fortified walls and earthen roofs, and shepherds still take their flocks up to high pastures for summer grazing.  Leaving the mountains we cross the plain and arrive in Marrakech, our home for the next three nights.

Days 11 & 12;          April 26th & 27th  

We have two full days to explore the imperial city of Marrakech, visiting Koutobia Mosque with its vast minaret, the Andalusian-style El Bahia Palace (part of which is still used by the royal family), the Palace of Dar Si Said, a museum housing Moroccan art and artefacts, and the Saadian Tombs, as well as the Majorelle Gardens, designed by Yves St Laurent as a peaceful garden hideaway in the new town.  In addition, we take a walking tour of the medina, ending in Jemaa el Fna square, an ancient meeting place of North African tradesmen, entertainers, musicians, snake charmers, storytellers and water sellers.

Day 13;                      April 28th  

Today we drive towards the coast, stopping at the vineyard of Val d’Argan for lunch.  As well as vines this region is renowned for its argan trees, which produce an oil which is highly prized for eating and also for its cosmetic properties.  One of the highlights is to watch the herds of goats which graze in and around the argan trees, often climbing right to the tops of the trees to find the youngest and most tender leaves.  Goats are adventurous creatures, but they are at their most daring here, negotiating thin branches 25 feet up in the air!  Afternoon brings us to the quaint coastal town of Essaouira.

Day 14;                      April 29th  

This morning we explore Essaouira, the best anchorage in Morocco, and a harbour since the Carthaginians arrived in the 5th century BC.  This famous fishing village has been renowned for centuries for its production of murex, a small shellfish used to make the purple dye used for imperial Roman senatorial togas.  The medina is World Heritage listed, and is now famed for the woodworkers who have congregated here, producing high quality inlaid pieces.   This afternoon we being our journey back to Casablanca, stopping in the scenic fishing village of Safi, which is famed for its pottery.  From there we visit El Jadida, following the road along the Atlantic Ocean, and visit the old Portuguese citadel, before arriving in Casablanca for our last night..

Day 15;                      April 30th  

Transfer to the International Airport for our flights home.

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