Day 1: Trip begins in Casablanca
Arrive in Casablanca on the Atlantic coast, where French colonial buildings blend with traditional Moroccan architecture. Casablanca has a atmosphere of prosperity and is where young Moroccans come to begin their careers.
You will be met on arrival at Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport (CMN), which is around 45 minutes from the hotel depending on traffic. There are no activities planned today, so feel free to arrive in Casablanca at any time. For those booking their own flights, you will just need to let us know your flight details no later than three weeks prior to departure, in order to be met on arrival.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to visit Marche Central to get a feel for local life and to taste fresh seafood at one of the streetfood stalls, or stroll to Place Mohamed V, Casablanca's central plaza.
Day 2: Visit to Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque, take a guided tour of Rabat and continue to the imperial city of Meknes
This morning, visit the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca with a local guide. The largest mosque on the African continent, this spectacular structure can hold up to 105,000 worshippers, and while it is a feat of engineering, it was also a controversial use of public money. The interior is intentionally perched above the water of the Atlantic to honour the Quran, which states 'the throne of Allah was over the water'.
Jump in the car and travel north up the coast towards the country's capital city, Rabat. Your driver will be with you throughout the trip, so you can get comfortable in the vehicle that you'll be travelling in for the next two weeks!
Rabat's history stretches back as far as 8BC, when settlers arrived in what is now the Chellah area, a district that went on to become a prosperous Roman town, before being transformed by the Merinids into a cemetery. On arrival, explore the city's historic heart with a guided walking tour of the area around the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, before wandering through the engaging Kasbah des Oudaias, originally a fortified town that is now infused with a distinctly Andalusian flavour.
After taking in the grandeur of the Royal Palace, continue to Meknes, once the heart of the Moroccan Sultanate, lying amidst the landscapes of the Oued Boufekrane River valley. The Sultan loved Meknes, and he would have liked never to leave it according to the chronicler to the tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail. Ismail (1672- 1727) was a tireless builder, and his greatest efforts were reserved for his capital at Meknes, which at its peak, with over 20 grand gateways and 50 palaces, must have been a sight to inspire any who looked upon it.
Day 3: Sightseeing in Meknes; drive to Fes via the ancient, Roman site of Volubilis
Explore the major highlights of Meknes with a local guide, including the old granaries of the Heri es-Souni and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail himself. In spite of Ismail's seemingly unquenchable blood lust and far from benevolent treatment of his subjects, the sultan still seems to be held in high regard and his tomb is something of a place of reverence even today amongst a people who still see his rule as Morocco's Golden Age. Walk through the city's spectacular centrepiece, the Bab Mansour, en route to the Place el Hedim and the city's Medina.
From here, travel for 45 mins to the nearby ancient site of Volubilis - the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana. A local guide will educate you about the well-preserved mosaics and the layout of provincial settlement.
This afternoon, drive for a further 2 hours, via Nzala des Beni Ammar, to the country's cultural capital, Fes. Probably the oldest of the imperial cities, its fascinating history is rich with wars, murders and political intrigue. It has played an important part in Moroccan trade, culture, religion and politics. Stay overnight in a riad - a traditional Moroccan style of dwelling that means 'paradise' or 'green space', of which many have been converted throughout the country into beautiful hotels and guest houses. You'll often find highly decorative Moorish tiling and traditional Islamic or Moroccan architecture within the riads, making them a wonderful display of the country's cultural heritage.
Day 4: A full day exploring Fes
Today is a full day in Fes, taking in the artisan capital of Morocco with a local guide. Begin sightseeing in Fes el Jadid, known as 'new Fes', despite dating back to the 13th century. The area's main feature is the Royal Palace, and although it's not open to visitors you can see the intricately designed gates from the outside, before driving out to North Borj viewpoint for some great views back across the city.
After lunch, discover Fes el Bali (Old Fes). Within the bustling souks of the Fes el Bali, the craftwork is considered to be the finest in Morocco. Small doorways and narrow pathways in the winding artisan district reveal weavers and brass workshops, coppersmiths and tanners, all producing beautiful pieces as they have for many generations. Also take in the opulent majesty of the 14th century Attarin Medersa, whose Moroccan decoration and elegant design makes it one of the city's most captivating medieval colleges.
Day 5: Drive over the Middle Atlas to Erfoud
Get settled in with your driver today, as you travel south into the dramatic landscapes of the Middle Atlas, heading first towards to Immouzer and Ifrane and passing near the small mountain village of Azrou, which in the Berber tongue translates as 'the rock'. This is the land of the fiercely independent Berbers, the Lords of the Atlas, whose traditions and ways still hold sway up here in their mountain strongholds far away from the cities below. The Berbers present us with a unique view of a way of life lost to the rest of North Africa, where music and dance, even language and religion, are far removed from their Arab neighbours. Continuing into Berber sheep raising country, cross the Tizi Talghemt Camel Pass and continue via the Gorge du Ziz to Er Rachidia. Finally, traverse a broad plateau past Meski Oasis, the so-called 'Blue Spring' bordering the arid desert plains, from where the journey brings us at last on to the desert settlement of Erfoud. The drive today takes around nine hours, with rich scenery to be appreciated through the window.
Day 6: Drive to Merzouga, and take 4WD vehicles into the desert for a night in a traditional Berber Camp
Follow the meandering Ziz River towards Rissani, the last sizeable community and the end of the vegetation belt before the dunes of the Sand Sea begin. The settlement is the homeland of the Alaouite dynasty, which reigned in this region for 300 years, and this morning you'll have an opportunity to visit the founder's Mausoleum and explore something of the local ksour (fortified villages) with a local guide.
Continue to the small settlement of Merzouga on the outskirts of the desert. Here, leave the car and meet 4WD vehicles for an exhilarating journey into the spectacular high dunes of Erg Chebbi. Explore the desert landscape on the way to the Berber camp, home for the night. The crew will prepare a traditional tagine dinner and there will be the opportunity to relax in the peaceful setting around a campfire. This luxury camping experience features tents with proper beds, blankets, pillows and towels provided, as well as private toilet and showers 'en suite', connected to your sleeping tent. Hot water is usual, but it can't always be guaranteed due to the nature of the location. Meals are communal and can be taken in the spacious restaurant tent, or tables may be set up outside under the desert sky.
Day 7: Full day journey to Todra Gorge
This morning, wake before dawn to make your way up to the tip of a sand dune for a chance to watch the sunrise over the Sahara. Returning to camp for a well-deserved breakfast, leave the southern desert by camel; a true Moroccan experience.
The car will be waiting for you in Merzouga ready to head into the mountains once more. Following an ancient route along the southern slopes of the Atlas, reach the town of Tinerhir, your base from which to explore the towering vistas of the Todra Gorge. Arriving in the afternoon there is usually time for an initial exploration of the area and perhaps a walk in the famous lush palmeries that line the banks of the nearby Todra River. Extending some way along the river's course, the gardens are a lush oasis of produce, with date palms and olive groves, fruit orchards and almonds, all littered amongst a fertile landscape of grain and vegetables.
Day 8: Walk in Todra Gorge
The dramatic ochre-coloured cliffs of the Todra Gorge rise vertically to leave just a narrow pass through which a track and the river struggle for right of way. In the morning Berber women drive their goats through the narrow gorge to the better grazing land higher up.
Today there are two walking opportunities with a local guide. The first takes you through the gorge to the Abdelali viewpoint to see the excellent panoramas across to the Jebel Sahro and down into the gorge. Beginning in the middle of the narrow gorge, join a small mule path that ascends gradually along a ravine. The path climbs about 500m to a small pass with views looking down the gorge and the Jebel Sahro range. The descent is 550m and is again on a rocky, narrow path that can be steep in some sections. The total distance is about 6 km and is considered as a moderate trek, but be aware that in high temperatures it can be more demanding (walking boots with ankle support are essential).
Alternatively, it's possible to follow the path of the river on the gorge valley floor and to take in the local scenery from one of the nearby cafés.
Day 9: Drive to Ait Benhaddou via El Kelaa des M’Gouna and the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs
Drive westwards, making a short stop in El Kelaa des M'Gouna positioned at the foot of a rocky outcrop that separates the Dades and Mgoun Valleys. Famed for its roses, the town lies blanketed under a landscape of scented blooms each spring, which are then harvested in May during the famous Festival of the Roses and processed into rosewater to be sold throughout the Islamic world. Driving on through the Dades Valley with its fertile oases, enter the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs, where each of the oasis towns can boast their own distinctive character, the mud and straw structures becoming more plentiful and more ornate as you progress along the valley. Arrive this afternoon into the small, fortified Berber settlement of Ait Benhaddou, which has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is considered by many to be one of Morocco's most picturesque settings. Studded with crenelated towers and richly decorated, the town's Kasbah is quite spectacular and provided an ideal location for filming scenes from Jesus of Nazareth and Lawrence of Arabia. You'll have the opportunity to visit in the afternoon (unguided).
Day 10: Drive through the Tizi n'Tichka mountain pass to Ouirgane
The parched desert sand and stone gives way today, to the hills and deep gorges of the High Atlas Mountains. Wind up and over the Tizi n' Tichka, the highest vehicular pass in Morocco and often snow covered during the winter months. En route to Ouirgane, enjoy a mint tea with a Berber family and experience the everyday life of the people of this region. On Tuesdays, there is a local market at Tahanoute which you may also be able to visit on the way. The journey to Ouirgane takes around five hours of driving time.
Day 11: Travel to the Atlantic Coast town of Essaouira
Travel via Marrakech to the historic port of Essaouira, located on the Atlantic Coast. This charming Moroccan town is located inside 15th century Portuguese fortifications, and arriving in the mid-afternoon you'll have the rest of the day free to enjoy this charming seaside town.
Day 12: A free day to explore Essaouira
Today is free for exploration of this colourful coastal fishing town. An experience not to be missed is a visit to the old walled Medina. After passing through the narrow, highly decorated arched entrance, it may be hard to resist snapping up last minute gifts such as locally made rustic leather belts, gleaming gold and silver jewellery, or wooden boxes exquisitely inlaid with ebony and mother of pearl by local craftsmen. The lively throng of the Medina, with its local women carrying out their daily routines, veiled in their traditional dress, forms a sharp contrast to the open golden sands of the harbour area where hopeful seabirds can be seen circling above the fisherman as they return from the blue waters with their daily catches. We suggest a stroll around the old town, perhaps taking in the Mellah (the old Jewish Quarter) or maybe a wander along the fine sandy beach and through the harbour.
Day 13: Drive to Marrakech; Afternoon guided sightseeing to explore the medina, Koutoubia Mosque and Djemaa El-Fna
Leave the coast and return to Marrakech. It's a few hours' drive and after checking into the hotel, join a local guide for a walking tour of the 'red city'.
Like many North African cities, Marrakech is divided into two distinct parts, the Gueliz (the modern French-built city) and the Medina (the Old City), a place where trade and barter amongst the colourful souks still renders its ancient heart a glittering cacophony of noise and colour. The city's beating heart is the spectacular Djemaa-el-Fna, a site not to be missed and a scene straight out of the pages of the Arabian Nights. Here we will find the streets and alleys alive with storytellers and musicians, jugglers and acrobats, snake charmers and clowns. Marrakech is a city like no other; with a staggering array of spectacular architecture and wonderful facades and not to be missed are the Koutoubia mosque and tower, Saadian tombs, Ben Youssef medersa, the Dar Si Said Palace (now the Museum of Moroccan Art) and the Menara gardens. This evening there is also an opportunity to visit a traditional Hammam.
Day 14: Trip ends in Marrakech
Today the trip ends, and you'll be taken to Marrakech Medara Airport (RAK) for your international flight. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart Marrakech at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at the hotel.
Marrakech is a wonderful city to explore, with vendors in the souks selling everything from colourful fabrics, rugs and lamps to doughnuts. If time allows, you may wish to book an extra one or two nights accommodation here to discover the city at your leisure.
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