NORTH MOROCCO - THE GRAND TOUR
17 - 29 March 2018
Tour leader: Richard Hunt
PROVISIONAL COST: Including flights Gatwick - Tangier, half- board in twin bedded rooms, in very good small hotels – each in the heart of the old cities, all transport and touring by private coach, entrance fees, guided visits. £1775
EXTRAS: Insurance, Single room supplement £455, lunches, tips.
This tour takes in many of the highlights that the exciting country of Morocco offers. The tour is designed to enjoy the wonderful variety to be found - its architectural and artistic heritage, its remarkable history from Roman times, its peoples, religions, crafts and some of its truly dramatic landscapes. We fly to Tangier to explore this ancient city. We drive through the Rif mountains to reach the very picturesque town of Chefchouan, settled by Moslem and Jewish refugees after the expulsion from Spain in the 15th century . We then visit three of the great Imperial Cities of the north – Fes, where we stay for 3 nights and Meknes (1 night) and Rabat (2 nights), staying in riads in the medinas, These, together with Marrakech vied with one another as the capital of an empire that, at the height of its power extended into Spain as far as the Pyrenees and east to the Sudan. Controlled by a succession of Islamic dynasties, these cities have a fascinating history, whose architecture bridges the last 1200 years of Islamic civilisation. The mosques (which we may not enter) palaces, souks, universities and fortifications provide insights into the medieval and more recent past. Close to Meknes and Fez is the Roman site of Volubilis - Morocco's best preserved Roman city. We end our tour at Asilah, a fortified port with an ancient medina, before driving the short distance to Tangier airport. 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 tempting country. Warning: Morocco is a serious shopping risk! Please note that we will need to walk from the coach to our hotels which will not have lifts to the bedrooms! Luggage will be delivered!!
Provisional Itinerary Sunday 11 March depart Gatwick 16.45 arrive Tangier 19.40
TANGIERS. We fly to Tangiers in the afternoon and transfer immediately to our small hotel in the heart of the Kasbah. The city is the oldest in Morocco, with great strategic importance commanding the straights of Gibralter, and at one time providing Morocco’s prime port to the Mediterranean. It was a base for the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals and Byzantines and became a focus of the struggles between Arab and Berber Muslims from 706AD. The Portuguese first conquered the city in 1437. It became Spanish, then Portuguese again and briefly British when it was given, along with Bombay, as part of Catherine da Braganza’s dowry to King Charles II. The British left in 1684 not before ingloriously deporting the Jews, alienating the Catholics and destroying the kasbah. Sultan Moulay Idriss rebuilt the city and during the 19th century it was a prosperous trading port and became a tax-free International Zone from 1923. Very little of ancient Tangiers remains, but the Kasbah (with its museum in the palace) and the Medina make a fascinating introduction to Morocco.
2 nights at La Tangerina Hotel. Located inside the Kasbah, a few steps from the port and the souk, this is a charming small 10 room hotel, where we plan to use all 10 rooms for a Moroccan ‘house party’. Meals can be served on the terrace with views over the medina and Mediterranean. There is a hammam.
CHEFCHAOUEN & THE RIF MOUNTAINS. A short and picturesque drive up into the rugged Rif takes us to the lovely blue and white Andalucian town of CHEFCHAOUEN (also called Chaouen) set above the Oued Laou valley. The town was founded in 1471 to prevent the Portuguese and Spanish expansion, and grew with the influx of Jews and Muslims expelled from Spain at the time of the réconquista. It is an important place of Muslim pilgrimage and was virtually closed to Christians until taken by the Spanish in 1920. There were brief periods of ejection by fierce Rif tribesmen, until Independence in 1956. Unlike Tangiers, the Medina of the town is a place to wonder at will – small enough not to get lost! – and where we still see local costumes of Rif men and women as they go about their business. The Medina is dominated by the 15th century Kasbah, which houses an interesting museum and in which we can explore roof-top views over the town as well as the dungeons.
2 nights at Lina Ryad. A small riad hotel located in the heart of the medina of the old city.
FEZ. This is a beautifully preserved city (thanks in part to UNESCO sponsored conservation), full of history and mystery, and one of the great pillars of Islamic learning - of science, medicine, music and poetry as well as theology. The city dates from the 8th century under Sultan Idriss I, founder of the Idrissid dynasty. It became an important trading and manufacturing centre (famous for tiles, pottery, copper, textiles) as well as the great intellectual city, embellished by successive dynasties of rulers. The Merinides made it their capital after 1248 and Fez reached its zenith in the 14th century. It again became the capital under Sultan Moulay Rachid in the late 17th century. While in Fez we plan to see the exteriors of mosques (we cannot go inside), the important museum, medieval madrasas (theological colleges) with their highly decorated interiors, the medina including the souks of potters, dyers, tanners, coppersmiths, spice dealers and cabinet makers.
3 nights at a Riad Dar Bensouda in the heart of the old city. A magnificent riad with just 14 rooms.
MEKNES another Imperial capital - dates from a 10th century settlement of Berber nomads. It then passed under the control of successive dynasties of rulers, each adding to its architecture: the Almoravides in the 11th century; the Almohades in the 12th; the Merinides in the 13th. It became capital of the Empire under the notorious sultan Moulay Idris of the Alouite dynasty who made it his capital in the late 17th century, building the palaces, gardens, granaries, stables and ramparts for which Meknes is famed, partly from despoiling the ruins of Volubilis. The Sultan was famed for the cruelty of his rule.
1 night at the Riad dar Yacout, overlooking the city walls
VOLUBILIS & MOULAY IDRISS a day of sight-seeing en route to RABAT.
The impressive Roman city of Volubilis occupies a majestic site, and the impressive colonnaded streets, archways and above all mosaic floors reflect the prosperity, based on olive oil, of this provincial Roman city.
Nearby is Moulay Idriss, an important pilgrimage centre, as the great-great- grandson of the Prophet who was named Idriss is buried here. He came from Arabia in 786 AD, was accepted as an Imam by the berber tribes and founded Fez. Moulay Idriss grew in the early 18th century, developed by Sultan Moulay Ismal (the same Moulay Ismail who established his capital at Meknes), who took much of the building stone from Volubilis.
RABAT We drive to Rabat on the Atlantic coast - the present day (administrative) capital of Morocco (Casablanca is the largest commercial city) which, with the twin town of Salé across the mouth of the river, was occupied by the Romans as a port (Sala). In the 12th century Rabat became a fortified monastery under Abd al- Mumin, the first Almohad ruler, as a base to attack Spain. His successors built the city walls, Kasbah, magnificent gates and the huge Tower Hassan – an incomplete Minaret for the vast mosque. Rabat & Salé became the base for notorious Barbary Corsairs or pirates.
2 nights at Riad Dar El Kebira, a small 10 room Riad in the heart of the Medina.
ASILAH We drive north along the coast to Asilah - a fortified sea port on the Atlantic coast, whose ramparts and ancient gates remain intact. There is a fascinating old medina which has been partly restored. The history of the town goes back to the Phoenicians, but it has been occupied by Portugal (who built the fortifications in the 16the century), and Spain. Under Sultan Moulay Ismail it became a base for pirates.
We spend two nights here in two tiny hotels in the medina before flying back from Tangier (just 30 kms away) 2 nights at Riad Assilah, just 7 rooms, or Dar Azouia (3 rooms) located in the old medina.
Friday 23 March Depart Tangier airport 13.05, arrive Gatwick 15.55