From the Sahara to the Sea
Traverse the Kingdom of Morocco, from the bustling souks of Marrakesh, across the Atlas Mountains to the sands of the Sahara and the Mediterranean port of Tangier.
Follow in the footsteps of Mediaeval camel caravans as you make your way to the Grand Market of Marrakesh, where 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 artisan workshops of Tétouan and uncover the unconventional literary heritage of Tangier, the haunt 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.
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 Alex McKay and fellow travellers.
This morning, visit Hassan II Mosque before a city tour including visits of Mohamed V Square, built in 1916 under the French protectorate, Marché Central and a drive along Casablanca’s Boulevard de la Corniche.
After lunch, travel 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 by Alex, enjoy a full day exploring Marrakesh, the most famous of Morocco’s historic capital cities, and namesake of the country itself. Begin with the Tiskiwin Museum, the former home of Dutch anthropologist Bert Flint. The finely-restored riad houses a collection of Berber art and artefacts from the regions surrounding the Sahara. 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, enjoy a home-cooked dinner in a Moroccan family’s house.
Today, enjoy a full day trip to the coastal city of Essaouira. A safe anchorage shielded by a series of offshore islets known as the Îles Purpuraires, Essaouira has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic Era. Visited by the Carthagians in the 5th century BC, it was the site of a purple dye factory during the Roman Era. It was Morocco’s Sultan Mohammed III who gave the city its modern impetus in the 18th century, establishing it as the primary port for Marrakesh in the hinterland. Employing French and English architects as well as local craftsmen, Mohammed III turned Essaouira into the primary port of his sultanate, and even today the narrow alleyways of its old town represent an evocative meeting place for traders and travellers from Africa, the Arab world and Europe.
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. Follow with a visit to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum dedicated to the life and work of the couturier.
The remainder of the day is free to further explore the city, 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.
Following lunch, 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. Arrive in Erfoud in the late afternoon.
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 souks (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 Jewish Quarter, including the Jewish Cemetery and Habarim Synagogue and then continue to the Royal Palace (outside view only).
After lunch, wander through the souk with your guide.
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.
Depart Fez bound for the port city of Tangier. En route, travel to the enchanting town 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.
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 metres 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.
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 Rabat, once the den of the feared Barbary corsairs and now the proud capital of modern Morocco.
After lunch, visit the necropolis of Chellah, Hassan Tower, and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, completed in 1971, a beautiful exemplar of modern Alaouite Dynasty architecture. Explore the Mohamed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the first large scale museum built in Morocco since independence from France in 1956. It houses works of 200 Moroccan artists, including Hassan Hajjaj and Ahmed Yacoubi.
This evening, enjoy a special farewell dinner with Alex and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude with a transfer to Casablanca airport for suggested mid-afternoon flights to Australia or New Zealand on Emirates via Dubai. For those travelling on other itineraries, taxis can be arranged by the hotel concierge. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements, including additional nights’ accommodation either before or after the tour.
Per person, twin-share
Deposit per person (at time of booking)
Final payment due
09 September 2022
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Please see Terms & 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 90 days.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally-located 4- and 5-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including wines with dinners
- Talks and discussions with your tour leader, Alex McKay
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Airport transfers on arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights
- Gratuities for local guides, drivers and wait staff
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport porterage
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, room service, mini-bar, room service, taxis etc.)
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Casablanca – Barceló Anfa Casablanca*****
Marrakesh – Radisson Blu Marrakesh*****
Ouarzazate – Berbere Palace*****
Erfoud – Kasbah Hotel Xaluca****
Fez – Hotel Sahrai*****
Tangier – Kenzi Solazur****
Rabat – Sofitel Rabat Jardin des Roses*****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.