MOROCCO in STYLE: A GRAND TOUR OF THE SOUTH
3 – 18 November 2017
Tour Leaders: Richard Hunt
PROVISIONAL COST: Including flights to Marrakech, 15 nights accommodation with half board in twin bedded rooms, using good hotels of character; all transport & touring by private coach, entrance fees, £2085
EXTRAS: Insurance, Single room supplement £645[very few available], additional meals, tips.
Morocco is a beautiful country with a fascinating history. Our tour focuses on the south – the region that offers the famous Imperial city of Marrakech and the greatest contrasts in scenery: the magnificent Atlas Mountains, a delightful coastline and the dramatic Sahara. The tour is designed to enjoy its architectural and artistic heritage, its remarkable history, its peoples, religions, crafts and dramatic landscapes. Marrakech is a vibrant city that reveals the story of 1200 years of Islamic civilisation. The palaces, royal tombs, the famous souk, the university and fortifications provide fascinating insights into the medieval and more recent past. At the heart of the city is the Koutoubia mosque with its beautiful medieval minaret. We travel through the Middle & High Atlas to the edges of the Sahara at Zagora. We pass through valleys of kasbahs and visit deep gorges in the mountains. We stay in a delightful small riad (merchant’s mansion) in Marrakech, a kasbah at the oasis of Skoura, a small pasha’s palace hotel set in a garden near the old walled city of Taroudant, and travel along the picturesque coast, staying in a delightful small riad hotel inside the medina of the charming small fishing port of Essouira. Wherever possible, we plan to look at the lives of the people - at work or at home and no doubt bring home examples of the exquisite craftsmanship from this exciting country. Warning: Morocco is a serious shopping risk! Weather should be warm and sunny.
MARRAKECH was the most southern & perhaps the most exciting of the Imperial capitals of Morocco [others were Fez, Meknes & Rabat], ruling an Empire that extended at times from Spain to the Sudan. Marrakech controlled the trade routes from Africa & was subject to a succession of Islamic dynasties. In the 11th century she became an Imperial Capital under the Almoravides dynasty. As each dynasty took on a more luxurious life-style, it declined in military prowess, only to be succeeded by a more austere and fanatical usurper who won the support of the fierce tribes. The Almohades built a new city after 1147 (including the famous Koutoubia mosque and university) destroying much of the earlier building. They in turn were subjugated by the Merinides from Fez, and Marrakech declined until a new golden era in the 16th century under the Saadi dynasty. The Alouite dynasty then ruled from Meknes, and not until the late 19th century did Marrakech again flourish, when Moulay Hassan was proclaimed King in Marrakech, giving its name to the country of Morocco (Maroc). The great square of Djemaa El Fna is at the heart of the city, with its merchants, musicians, jugglers, acrobats and storytellers. From here radiate the labyrinth of streets with sunshades and fountains to protect the myriad of craftsmen and sellers of merchandise in the great Souk. Here, too is the Bahia Palace with its Andalucian garden, and the arts museum in the Dar Si Said Palace. Our tour includes madrases (theological colleges), the tombs of the Saadian rulers, a view of the great Koutoubia Mosque, the ruined El Badii Palace and the garden once owned by Yves St Laurent. We also plan an excursion into the foothills of the High Atlas along the beautiful Ourika Valley.
3 nights at the Riad Palais Sebban at the start of the tour and two more at the end This is beautiful small riad with just 19 rooms, deep in the heart of the medina, with small pool.
OUARZAZATE, SKOURA & THE GORGES. We cross the High Atlas Mountains, over the Tichka Pass, passing through Ouarzazate ( a town built to garrison the French Foreign Legion) and visiting the Kasbah of Taourirt (owned by the Glaoui family – Lords of the Atlas) before arriving at the oases of Skoura - a convenient stop for excursions into the mountains and the valleys of the Kasbahs. From the hotel we can walk through the oasis (little fields under the date-palm trees), to visit some fascinating kasbahs. Our coach excursions will explore the ‘valley of 1000 Kasbahs’, deviating along the Dadès valley and Gorge, with its amazing rock formations, before entering the narrow defile of the Todra Gorge (probably NOT taking the opportunity to join the intrepid rock climbers on the vertical faces!). We may take lunch at the entrance to the gorge.
3 nights with dinner at the Kasbah of Aït ben Moro at Skoura. This is a genuine restored kasbah converted to a simple small hotel with just 17 rooms, with pool and garden. Please note that all rooms are quite different, & there are staircases and rather dim lighting. We usually dine in a small courtyard.
ZAGORA From Skoura we follow a more southerly route along the edge of the Sahara towards Zagora. We join the Valley of the Draa and turn south along the beautiful series of oases This is a most picturesque journey, passing palmeries and kasbahs along the route. Arriving at Zagora we spend
2 nights at the Hotel Dar Sofian. A small hotel with just 10 rooms, & a pretty garden and swimming pool - our base for visits to the oasis of Zagora, the remarkable town of Tamegrout with its ancient religious library. Some may enjoy a camel ride through the palmeries of Zagora: from camel height you can look down into the gardens!
ZAGORA TO TAROUDANT The journey takes us back to Agdz, where we walk deep into the oasis to a remote hotel bordering the River Draa. This is a charming place to relax, watch the birdlife, perhaps swim?
Overnight at the ‘eco-hotel’ Hara Oasis, small thatched cottages set among the palm trees in a garden. Please note there is limited electricity here – and oil lamps! Weather permitting we will dine beside the river.
We drive to Tazenakht (a carpet weaving village in a remote valley, where we have lunch).. We drive on to Taliouine, famous for its crocus fields and saffron towards Taroudant - another fascinating ancient city with the best preserved city walls of all Morocco (a sunset drive around the walls by horse drawn carriage is delightful). It played an important part in the history of Morocco, being a focus for the tribes of the south. It has most interesting souks and the Place Assarag, where the (male) inhabitants meet for tea and backgammon, has lovely arcades and tiled roofs..
2 nights at a lovely relaxing hotel: Riad Jnane Ines, in a village outside the city, with just 11 rooms, beautiful garden & swimming pool. No alcohol is served, but we can send out for supplies of wine!
ESSOUIRA. The journey to the coast takes us via the town of Tiznit, famous for filigree silver and the resort of Agadir (not very interesting) and then along the very delightful coastline north to the pictureque small port of Essouira (the Mogador of old legends). This was a planned mercantile harbour defended with walls and gates. A large Jewish community traded here (after its expulsion from Spain). Now a haunt of artists, there is still a thriving fishing industry (freshly grilled sardines and prawns on the quay! Wooden boatbuilding) and a bustling souk. A fine beach extends out of the town. After a guided tour, this is a town to explore on our own
2 nights at Dar L’Oussia. Converted from a caravanserai where the merchants unloaded their camel trains, We are within walking distance of the port, the souks and the main sights of Essaouira.
RETURN TO MARRAKECH. From Essouira we turn East once more, passing through the forests and scrub land. In Marrakech we have opportunities for further sightseeing (or relaxation).
2 nights at the Palais Sebban, where we began our tour.
On our last day we plan a farewell lunch, perhaps some last minute shopping or final visit to the square of Djemaa El Fna before our flight, Depart 15.40 Arrive Gatwick 19.05