From the Sahara to the Sea
Join Moroccan native Halim El Mansouri and travel from the bustling souqs of Marrakesh across the Atlas Mountains to the sands of the Sahara, and then back to 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.
Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Qatar Airways flights to Casablanca via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other 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 Halim and fellow travellers.
This morning, visit Hassan II Mosque, Mohammed V Square, Marché Central and drive along the Boulevard de la Corniche 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.
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, and the El Badi Palace. 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.
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 Marrekesh 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 new Yves Saint Laurent Museum dedicated to the life and work of the couturier, and then the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a peaceful and meditative theological school established in 1565.
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.
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.
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 heights of up to 300 metres, and then continue to Erfoud.
In the evening, strike out into the Sahara in 4WD vehicles to experience a spectacular desert sunset.
Wake up 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 evening, 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.
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.
Visit the Jewish Quarter, including the Jewish Cemetery and Habarim Synagogue, and then after lunch enjoy an afternoon wandering through the souq with local guides for some further sightseeing – and of course some shopping!
Visit the ancient city of Volubilis, one of the Roman Empire’s most remote outposts, renowned for its remarkably preserved mosaics. Situated in a fertile agriculture area particularly notable for its production of fine olives, Volubilis had been the capital of the Berber kingdom of Mauretania before being incorporated into the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD. Adorned with a basilica, temple, triumphal arch and several fine villas, the remains of which are still extant, the city eventually fell to the vicissitudes of Roman civil strife and earthquakes in the 4th century. Christian and Muslim communities occupied the area in the following centuries, and it was in Volubilis that the powerful Sultan Idris I established the independent state of Morocco in the 8th century (before his son moved the capital to Fez).
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 returning to Fez in the late afternoon.
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.
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. 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 of 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 via the promontory of Cape Spartel 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 extensive collection of the Rabat Archaeological Museum, the nation’s premier collection of prehistoric, Roman and early Islamic cultural artefacts. Ranging from Palaeolithic 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 Halim and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
For those returning to Australia or New Zealand today on suggested Qatar Airways flights via Doha, there is a group transfer to Casablanca Airport (included in tour price) in time for flights departing from 13:30 onwards.
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 flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
14 August 2019
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 to visit Morocco for stays of 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 soft drinks, juices, tea and coffee
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Airport/hotel transfer in Casablanca on arrival and hotel/airport group transfer in Rabat on departure for suggested flight on Qatar Airways
- 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)
- Hotel/airport transfer on departure if not travelling on group transfer
- 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 Casablanca *****
Marrakesh – Hotel Sofitel Marrakech Palais Imperial *****
Ouarzazate – Le Berbère Palace *****
Erfoud – Kasbah Hotel Xaluca Maadid ****
Fez – Riad Fes Relais & Châteaux *****
Tangier – Hilton Tangier City Centre Hotel *****
Rabat – Sofitel Rabat Jardin des Roses *****
NB: Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.