From the Sahara to the Sea
Join Kenneth Park as he traverses the Kingdom of Morocco, from the bustling souqs of Marrakesh to the sands of the Sahara in Erfoud, and up across the Atlas Mountains to the Mediterranean port of Tangier.
Timed to begin with the Marrakesh Biennale, follow in the footsteps of Mediæval camel caravans as you make your way to the Grand Market of Marrakesh, where dancing boys, snake charmers, peddlers and magicians vie to entertain the passers-by. Cross the High Atlas Mountains and travel to the desert towns of Ouarzazate and Erfoud, before turning north again to Fez, whose madrasas and ancient university have seen it dubbed ‘the Athens of Africa’. Visit the artisanal workshops of Tétouan and uncover the risqué and unconventional literary heritage of Tangier, the den of Tennessee Williams and William S. Borroughs, before venturing down the Atlantic Coast to the country’s capital, Rabat.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Etihad flights via Abu Dhabi to Casablanca. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements.
Arrive in Casablanca and check in to the hotel. Steeped in romantic mystique and intrigue, Casablanca’s dramatic whitewashed Hispano-Moorish homes lie scattered amid Art Deco jewels. Its ancient Arab quarter and new medina with an undeniable French influence mark the passage from past to present. Of course, for many Casablanca’s international notoriety was achieved as the memorable setting of the 1942 star studded American romantic drama film, which was in reality filmed in Hollywood, USA. Tonight, enjoy a welcome briefing and dinner with Kenneth Park and fellow travellers.
This morning, visit Hassan II Mosque before travelling south into the Moroccan hinterland to the mesmerising city of Marrakesh. Founded in 1062 by the Almoravid Sultan Yusuf ibn Tashfin, Marrakesh was to become one of the Islamic world’s most important artistic and cultural centres.
Following a talk, enjoy a full day exploring Marrakesh, the most famous of Morocco’s historic capital cities, and namesake of the country itself. Begin with a tour of the 16th century Saadian Tombs, the ornately decorated resting places of the Saadian princes. Visit the El Badi Palace and the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a peaceful and meditative theological school established in 1565. After a break for lunch, visit the Menara, a green-roofed pavilion surrounded by magnificent gardens and tranquil waters with rugged mountains in the background, and then continue to the 19th century Bahia Palace.
This evening, dine at a restaurant on the famous Jemma el-Fnaa Square, the heart of Marrakesh, whose market comes to life at dusk with fresh food stalls, musicians, dancers, fortune tellers, magicians and snake charmers.
Begin the day with a visit to enchanting Majorelle Garden, once owned by Yves Saint Laurent. The beautifully landscaped garden is filled with exotic plants set against a backdrop of cobalt blue Moorish architecture. Then, visit the Marrakesh Biennale, an extraordinary amalgam of the lively artistic cultures of North Africa, focussing on contemporary art, film and literature in English, French and Arabic (details to be confirmed). The remainder of the day is free to further explore the Biennale, or alternatively visit the Marrakesh Museum, housed in the beautifully restored 19th century Dar Menebhi Palace, with an extensive collection of traditional and modern Moroccan art, including pottery, coins, embroidery, ornate inlaid daggers and historical books bound – naturally – in Moroccan leather.
Journey across the spectacular Tizi n’Tichka Pass to the magnificent Aït Benhaddou. A striking example of the desert architecture of southern Morocco, this ‘fortified city’, or ksar, lies along the former caravan route between Marrakesh and the Sahara. Apart from a handful of families which still live there, the town is largely deserted, and its emptiness, along with its setting in the whispering tranquillity of the desert, gives it a special ambience.
Continue to Taourirt Kasbah in the centre of Ouarzazate, the erstwhile residence of the el Glaoui family, the Berber tribe who were the titular rulers of Morocco during the French protectorate while the sultan of today’s ruling Alaouite dynasty was in exile.
Tonight, enjoy a talk followed by dinner at the hotel.
Set off early in the direction of the rising sun, as you travel along the Dades Valley, the ‘Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs’. Typical of Saharan Morocco, the Berber kasbahs (fortresses) are a stunning sight to behold in the midst of the stark desert landscape, some beautifully restored, others slowly receding back into the sands from which they were raised.
Continue to Todra Gorge via Kelaat M’Gouna, famous for its harvest of roses and its production of rose water. Enjoy lunch in the gorge in the shade of its towering cliffs soaring to height of up to 300 m, and spend some free time exploring the area before continuing to Erfoud.
Wake early (if you wish) to watch the sun rise over the silent desert, and then travel north from Erfoud to Fez via the agricultural town of Midelt, a market centre for apples, walnuts, plums, apricots and pomegranates. Before arriving in Fez, visit Ifrane, a hill station built during the French protectorate era and dubbed the ‘Geneva of Morocco’, where alpine chalets grace the Middle Atlas Mountains.
In the late afternoon, arrive in Fez, the holiest city in the Islamic world after Mecca and Medina. Founded in the late 8th century by Sultan Idris I (the first ruler of independent Morocco), this ‘Athens of Africa’ has been one of the world’s great centres of government, philosophy, medicine and, most notably, religion ever since.
Following a morning talk, enjoy a full day in Fas el-Bali (Old Fez), centred on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed medina. The old city is an enticing maze of winding alleys filled with mosques, madrasas (schools), restaurants, inns and bustling souqs (markets). Start with a visit to the Madrasa Bou Inania, said to be the finest of the theological colleges of Fez, and built by the Marinid dynasty Sultan Faris ibn Ali abu Inan between 1350 and 1357. Continue to the Dar Batha Museum, housed in a century-old Hispano-Moorish palace and displaying an excellent collection of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts.
After a break for lunch, visit the Jewish Quarter, including the Jewish Cemetery and Habarim Synagogue and then continue to the Royal Palace (outside view only). Finish the day with a walk along the ramparts of the city wall.
Visit the ancient city of Volubilis, one of the Roman Empire’s most remote outposts, renowned for its remarkably preserved mosaics. Continue to Meknes, the 17th century capital of Sultan Ismail ibn Sharif. Enjoy free time for lunch and a chance to explore the medina of Meknes before heading back to Fez via the famous Bab el-Mansour, the great green-tiled gate that was once the main entrance to Sultan Ismail’s imperial city.
Enjoy a day at leisure to further explore the fascinating city of Fez. Perhaps explore the traditional tanneries and leather-dyeing pits in the medina, get a shave with a straight razor and a hot towel from one of the old city’s barbers, bargain for some silver jewellery in the market stalls or sample some delicious Moroccan cuisine fresh from the tagine.
Depart Fez bound for the port city of Tangier. En route, travel to the enchanting town of Chefchaouen, nestled in the Rif Mountains of Northern Morocco. Rising up the hillside, the flat-roofed houses of Chefchaouen, some powder blue, others lime-washed with blue doors, lend the town an air of Jodhpur or Santorini. Enjoy an orientation tour of this calm, spiritual town which is home to more than 20 mosques and sanctuaries.
In the afternoon, continue north to Tangier. Commanding the Straits of Gibraltar, Tangier has been coveted by the great powers of Europe and North Africa for millennia, and its port has been one of the most contested in the Mediterranean. Today, Tangier remains a critical crossing point between the continents of Africa and Europe.
Tangier – With an eclectic mix of Arab, Spanish, French and Portuguese cultures, Tangier has always existed on the threshold of many different worlds. It has long attracted European artists drawn to the exotic world of the Orient, including Eugene Delacroix and Henri Matisse. Between 1924 and 1956 it was a special International Zone under the administration of a host of European powers, with the flourishing of an edgy, risqué literary culture, attracting writers such as Tennessee Williams, William S. Boroughs and Paul Bowles.
Following a morning talk, begin your exploration of Tangier in the footsteps of Matisse, with morning tea at the Grand Hotel Villa de France, one of the artist’s well known haunts in Morocco. Follow with a visit to Cape Spartel, a promontory 300 m above sea level watching over the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. Then immerse yourself in the uniquely international flavour of Tangier with a tour of the fortified kasbah, the Archaeological Museum, the historic walled medina, Mendoubia Gardens and the Berber markets, before continuing to the European-built Ville Nouvelle with its broad boulevards and residential palaces and villas. Lunch and the remainder of the afternoon are at leisure.
Depart Tangier for a full day tour of Tétouan. Settled by 15th century Andalusian refugees expelled during the Spanish Reconquista, the Moorish culture of Tétouan is clearly identifiable in the streets of its medina, a conglomeration of whitewashed and tiled buildings set against the brooding Rif Mountains. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed medina, largely unchanged since the 17th century and one of the best preserved old town centres in all Morocco.
Take a guided tour of Tétouan’s artisanal school, where boys study the intricate art of bronzework and plaster-carving, before returning to Tangier in the evening.
Travel down Morocco’s Atlantic Coast to the capital city of Rabat, once the den of the feared Barbary corsairs and now the proud capital of modern Morocco.
Visit the necropolis of Chellah, Hassan Tower, and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, completed in 1971, a beautiful exemplar of modern Alaouite dynasty architecture.
After lunch, visit the extensive collection of the Rabat Archaeological Museum, the nation’s premier collection of prehistoric, Roman and early Islamic cultural artefacts. Ranging from Palæolithic tomb fragments and rock carvings, to a noteworthy collection of Roman bronzes (including a strikingly realistic barking dog statue from Volubilis) and coins and pottery from the early sultanic period, the museum is a treasure-house of Moroccan history.
This evening, enjoy a special farewell dinner with Kenneth and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
If returning to Australia or New Zealand today, a transfer from hotel to Casablanca Airport is available for those travelling on the suggested return flight on Etihad Airways for Abu Dhabi (due to connection times an overnight stopover in Abu Dhabi is required, not included in tour cost).
Morning departure on Etihad flight to Australia. Arrival in Australia, morning of Tuesday 27 March.
Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
10 January 2018
Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require a visa for Morocco for stays less than 3 months.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally located 4 star and 5 star deluxe hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including wines
- Lectures and talks throughout with Kenneth Park
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Transfers in Casablanca and Rabat if travelling on suggested flights on day of tour arrival and departure.
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport stopover in Abu Dhabi on return (if required)
- Transfers on tour arrival and departure if not travelling on suggested flights
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis, minibar, room service etc.
Casablanca – Hyatt Regency *****
Marrakesh – Sofitel Marrakesh Lounge and Spa *****
Ouarzazate – Berbere Palace *****
Erfoud – Xaluca Maadid ****
Fez – Riad Fez *****
Tangier – Hilton Garden Inn Tangier ****
Rabat – Sofitel Rabat Jardins des Roses *****
NB: Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.