Casablanca - more than a movie

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Casablanca rates always high on the list of those that want to take on a Morocco private tour. In spite of its myth, Casablanca nowadays appears to be but a large congested city with not much in the way of interesting sites. But is that all there is to it ? Some disagree. And for good reason. Diana Wylie joined her sister visiting from United States on a tailor made tour of Morocco with Sun Trails last April. She had been living in Casablanca for the last 9 months and fallen in love with the place. We met them after the tour concluded and stayed in touch. Then, when I visited Casablanca last June, she was extremely kind to show me some of the hidden architectural gems of the city, uncovering for me perhaps some things I would have never gotten to know otherwise. During the 'tour' it occured to me that she was so much in love with the city that when I thought about writing an article for our blog on Casablanca, there was no doubt in my mind as to whom the most indicated person for the task would be. She gladly accepted and, I would say, more than rose to the challenge. But perhaps it is best to let her do the talking. Here is her story of Dar Baida:

Casablanca was both blessed and cursed when a spectacularly successful Hollywood film bearing the same name came out in 1942. Now everyone knows the city’s name, but few visitors to Morocco bother to know the city itself, especially if they are in search of “timeless” imperial capitals, resuming themselves to visiting the second largest mosque in the world . And yet, for almost a century it has been Morocco’s most important city: it is where modern Morocco was born. The real Casablanca – as opposed to the Hollywood studio where the movie was actually filmed and merits being seen, even on a global stage, as one of the birthplaces of modern architecture. It belongs to the same avant-garde family as the Brasilia of Oscar Niemeyer, the Marseille of Le Corbusier, or the Chicago of Louis Sullivan.

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The real Casablanca is where people still come to find Morocco’s “American dream.” For over a century Casablanca has offered hope to people wanting a new, more prosperous life. In the late 1800s Spanish artisans and fishermen came, followed by French traders, land speculators, and industrialists. Fleeing drought in the hinterland or “bled,” Muslims and Jews pitched up to trade and to work in sugar and cement factories. All shared the dream of acquiring new kinds of freedom.

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Casablanca’s buildings reflect this longing – to be free from want, to be free to buy. Open to the intense sunlight and mild sea air, the buildings express optimism. They flaunt the stylistic innovations of their eras: Beaux Arts, Neo-Mauresque, Art Deco, Cubist, Brutalist, Post-Modern. When you walk along the city’s streets and boulevards, you are strolling through an open-air museum of twentieth century architecture.

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The “ancienne médina” or oldest part of the city is remarkable, not for its antiquity (its oldest structures date only from the late 1700s), but because it foretells the modern future of the entire city. It faces the sea. Its buildings don’t turn in on themselves by presenting solid walls to the street. Large windows and balconies expose their interiors to the eyes of strangers. European traders and consuls who began flocking to the nineteenth century port were putting on display a new style of architecture. It appealed to wealthy Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of the quarter who set about building their own versions, albeit with “Moorish” touches like massive doorways and patios.

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On the edge of the “ancienne médina” sits Rick’s Café. Yes, that Rick’s Café. It even has a piano player named “Sam” (actually Issam) who does “play it again.”  Walking away from the medina up Blvd. Hassan II, you arrive at a hub of action called “Place Mohamed V.” Pigeons are wheeling around a fountain where people scatter crumbs and vendors sell children’s toys. Officials pass in and out of the government buildings that bracket the Place. Construction of a monumental theatre is just beginning. It’s not only a good place to sit and watch people – such as children intent on steering electric toy cars. It also displays the shifting styles of public architecture erected by the French when they were building the protectorate they acquired in 1912.

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Start with the Neo-Mauresque post office built in 1918; note its indigo tiles around the mail slots and the bi-plane cameo to the left of the entrance. Then look across the Place at the 1920 courthouse also inspired by the colored tiles and arcades of Moroccan architecture; these arcades, though, are untypically open to the street. Swing your eyes right to City Hall (1928) with its clock tower modeled on a minaret. Finally, look at the national bank (1937), bearing on its façade a sculpted rug, punctuated by five bold windows. In less than thirty years French architects had taken their admiration for Moroccan style in fresh directions that still please the eye. The Place, full of life, is also full of the history of a Franco-Moroccan encounter marked by mutual stylistic inspiration.

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We may be seeing here the most benign side of imperialism: the liberty to shape a beautiful public space. The French military had formerly camped on this ground, so it belonged to the government; it was therefore available for development according to a unified vision. One man, Maréchal Hubert Lyautey, the first governor or “resident” of the French protectorate, is commonly credited with shaping that aesthetic vision, though he was aided by the work of countless others. He sits, now and forever, on his horse behind a fence on the grounds of the nearby French consulate. Try to find the spot where, before independence, he and his steed had overlooked his domain.

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A seductive harmony also characterizes the boulevard running from the edge of the medina to the main train station, Casa Voyageurs. Art Deco apartment buildings and stores are seamlessly linked to cubist ones. Rich Moroccans like Thami Glaoui and Omar Tazi seized the opportunity to join these architectural ventures and hired French architects like Marius Boyer (1885-1947) to design swank apartment buildings atop glass-roofed shopping malls. Boyer, one of the most prolific architects of his time, was also one of the most inventive. Within less than a decade, he would design such dissimilar buildings as a highly decorated neo-Mauresque newspaper office (1924) and a starkly avant-garde apartment block (1930), its three towers possessing the brand-new modern conveniences of garbage chutes, underground parking, and terraces galore.

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Taking a break from admiring this comfortingly coherent avenue, you can visit the Marché Central to eat oysters, or buy fish for grilling in a restaurant within the market.
Harmonious modernism. Architectural creativity. Mutual inspiration. Does this mean Casablanca is without blemish? Not at all. It is a blazingly white, concrete city built by factory workers. Today it numbers five million or more people and, of course, has its share of big city social problems. You need only watch two fine Moroccan films – Ali Zaoua (2000) and Casanegra (2008) – to begin to grasp them. Many parts of Casablanca look as if they need greater care. The once glamorous Hotel Lincoln, for example, overlooks the elegant new tramway line along Blvd. Mohammed V, but it’s surrounded by protective mesh because only its outer walls remain standing.

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Fortunately there is an association dedicated to giving Casablanca the care, and the higher profile, it needs. Working in tandem with the city’s government, Casamémoire, founded in 1995, is currently preparing an application to UNESCO asking for Casablanca to be declared a world heritage site. Casamémoire aims to raise public awareness of the city’s beauties. The first weekend in April each year it creates a “Heritage Days” festival to honor the city. It offers free guided tours of neighborhoods – the city center, industrial sites, worker housing, and ‘traditional’ housing (“Habous”). In 2014 Casamémoire hosted for the first time a night-walk down a boulevard filled with street performers, thus celebrating the revival of a street once considered forbidding after dark.

An adventurous traveler needn’t stop loving the film. In Casablanca you can, like Sam, “play” the twentieth century again. It could be the beginning of a beautiful, twenty-first century friendship.

Diana Wylie, professor of history at Boston University, spent the academic year 2013-14 living in Casablanca as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar.  She is the author of four books on southern and northern African history, including most recently 'Enchantment, Pictures from the Tangier American Legation Museum'.  (All proceeds from its sale benefit the museum.)

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Salt and all that glitters ( 13 - 16 days)

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This 14 day custom Morocco tour covers Marrakech and Fez, the desert, Taroudant and the Atlantic coast over a two week travel.

The itinerary picks up the ancient caravan route ( this side of Sahara) after stopping in Marrakech and Fez, the most fascinating imperial cities. It also entails a 5 hour drive across the Sahara. It reaches Taroudant, the ‘little Marrakech’, to then follow the Atlantic coast along deserted beaches and turqoise waters and unveil the unique architecture and farniente of Essaouira or to-die-for sea food of Oualidia. The pace is carefully balanced and ample time for relaxing and leisure has  been thought of. The myriad of landscapes is only matched by the diversity of cultures and their heritage: Arab, Berber, Touareg, Jewish, Portuguese and French. From suspended- in- time fishing villages to Berber adobe palaces, desert oases and Portuguese fortresses to the best conserved historic town of the Arab world, this is Morocco's a-thousand-and-one facets' tour. 

Click here to see detailed map

Salt for gold. Literally. Salt mines were present all around Morocco but for a long time, caravans used the salt mines of Taghaza, in the heart of the Sahara. From there, the salt slabs were loaded onto camels and exchanged at the end of a 9-week journey across the desert for gold in Timbuktu, Gao or Oudaghoust. When salt was scarce, an ounce ( 28 grams) of gold was worth a pound ( 454 grams) of salt. The caravans would return with gold, slaves and ivory and reach Morocco through the oases of Akka or Sijilmassa to then cross the Atlas Mountains and deliver their loads to the courts of Marrakech and Fez. Already at the time of the Almoravid dynasty, in the 11th century, their gold dinars were highly sought after at the courts of Europe, which proves that the Almoravids were by then supplying themselves with gold from south, across the Sahara. Five centuries later, the Saadien sultan of Marrakech sent an expedition across the Sahara, seized the salt mines and with them, the monopoly of the gold trade, yet failed at finding the gold source. When the Portuguese discovered the maritime route along the African coast in 15th century, the Saharan trade started to decline. 

Day 1: Casablanca/ Rabat – Fez. ( 3 hour drive)

Our private Morocco tour kicks off with Casablanca which, in spite of its myth, does not hold much in the way of monuments. That is mainly the reason why the former king decided to give the city an imposing monument - the  second largest mosque in the world. The last few years of its completion, 1400 craftsmen worked by day and 1000 by night. The marble, cedar wood and granite all come from Morocco while the glass chandeliers and white granite columns were brought from Murano, Italy. Should your flight arrive in Casablanca early in the day, our private tour will stop in Rabat on its way to Fez.

With a rich history and recently included on the select UNESCO site list, Rabat lies suspended somewhere between Europe and the Arab world. The 12th century Kasbah des Oudayas and its Andalusian Gardens are a delight. We can dwell further into the past and visit the Merenid necropolis of Chellah, where Phoenician, Roman and Merinid traces blend. Or loose yourself inside the splendid 'Jardins d'Essais Botaniques'. Sale, across the bay, harboured a pirate nest and a republic onto its own. But perhaps it is best to hear all about it from our local guide, a passionate university teacher who will give you a comprehensive behind- locked- doors visit. The journey should reach Fez late afternoon/ evening, just in time to freshen up and get ready for dinner. As the dusk gives way to night, the meal is set in the décor of your 1001- nights riad, the most appropriate introduction to the highly- praised Moroccan cuisine.

Day 2: Fez.

With the first light of dawn, you realize you have travelled in time. Four centuries? Five? If it weren’t for the satellite dishes adorning every roof, it could be more. Perhaps as much as the Kayraouine University and mosque, now 12 centuries old, the oldest still- working university in the world. The heyday of the caravan trade coming from Timbuktu is long resolute. Instead, the migration of wealthy Moors and Jews from the courts of Granada and Cordoba in 15th and 16th century is more present. The numerous Islamic schools, among which the most ornate are Bou Inania and El Attarine, will wow you with their intricate stucco and cedar engravings that have resisted the passage of centuries. Out in the streets again, you will most likely smell the tanneries before you sight them... Little has changed here since Fez took over Cordoba in Spain as the center of leather production around the Mediterrenean. Dozens of workers toil over open vats, dipping skins in to treat them before hand-dyeing them in bright yellow, red and white, stomping them under the hot sun to distribute the pigment. 

The trip through the souks takes us to Nejjarine Square you can catch your breath enjoying a mint tea on the roof terrace of Nejjarine Foundouk, an 18th-century caravanserai, turned into a woodwork museum. One can only awe at the level of craftsmanship infused by the Arabic calligraphy imbedded on 12th century wood beans or musical instruments and other chests of drawers. “There is a good deal of frustration involved in the process of enjoying Fez,” wrote Paul Bowles about Fez and that still holds true nowadays. There are thousands of  derbs, streets so narrow you could whisper in your neighbor’s ear. Just when the walls seem to cave in on you, a little square comes up and suddenly all menace disappears. The secrets to be found around every corner pull you into the long forgotten world of travels of Ibn Battuta or Leo Africanus.  

Day 3: Fez - Ifrane - Azrou ( 1 hour drive).

After a full day spent visiting the old town, you should be by now, better with directions or at least more confident about it.  Lately, many derelict palaces of Fez have turned into riads ( boutique hotels built around an inside garden) while others became museums, like Palais Batha.  On display are fine examples of woodcarving, stucco, and zellij, much of it rescued from Fes's crumbling medersas, along with embroidery, Berber carpets, jewelry, textiles, astronomical instruments and calligraphy. The gardens are an oasis in the bustling Medina and especially come to life during the world- famous Fez sacred music festival. Back inside the maze, you will sooner or later end up next to the zaouia of Moulay Idriss, the site where the founder of the city is buried, which at any time of day is packed with women, burning candles and incense looking for the much coveted baraka (good fortune). Up until the 1980’s any Muslim had the right to claim asylum from prosecution or arrest and so the area was a heaven for fugitives and outlaws.

If you feel you had a culture overdose by now, venture in the country side for a picnic (just one hour drive from Fez the countryside is peppered with lakes and forests) or indulge in a traditional Moroccan hammam ( Arab steam bath and body scrub with eucalyptus soap) in one of the hundreds of public baths available. Trekking opportunities also abound eastwards around the holly village of Moulay Idriss, overlooking the Roman site of Volubilis. Perhaps you should allow some time for shopping as well: the leather and brass trade in Fez is without equal in all of Morocco. If you want to try your hand at a Moroccan cooking class, Fez offers the possibility of a complete immersion into the Moroccan culture and family life. Learn how to bake hubz, preserve lemons, the name of the different spices and make mint tea, before embarking on to prepare the ubiquitous tagine. Later in the afternoon, leave Fes behind and take on the Middle Atlas. With Fez in the background, our trip serpents its way up into the shade of cedar forests. The route takes us first through Ifrane, the ‘Switzerland of Morocco’ The waters of the lake nearby are crystal clear and boats are rented out to those wishing to paddle across. Pretty walks are to be had in the foothills of the next town, Sefrou. Country lanes wind through pine forest and lush villages. Dinner and accommodation in Azrou. 

Day 4: Azrou - Beni Mellal - Ouzoud Waterfalls - Marrakech ( 7 hours drive).

The dense forest is also home to the Barbary macaque, almost domesticated now and the 800- year old Gouraud’s cedar. The monkeys and their babies nibble on whatever they can find to eat, spoiled by the generous offerings of the visitors. It will be a rather long day and stops will be frequently accommodated to enjoy the dramatic twists and turns that the Middle Atlas provides. We are soon crossing lush pastures and olive groves, each with its own olive mill. After lunch, we can take a detour and stop by the 110- meter high Ouzoud waterfalls. From the top, it is possible to trek down to the bottom of the waterfall taking a number of stone steps. The oversized grottoes here used to shelter watermills, grinding wheat into flour as the river is diverted through the wheels before plunging over the edge. A path through a grove of olive trees leads to the pools carved out of the rock at the base of the falls: here you can swim, in the right season.

Leaving the falls behind, our boutique Morocco tour bumps off a rutted road, through rich farmland. Fields of golden grain, patched by deep green and thickets of trees, fade to haze in the distance. Here and there stands a farm compound and, in late afternoon, the village is softly hushed, the only sound the bleating of far- off goats. Ahead in the night, lays dormant and sensual Marrakech, its walls and eighteen gates enveloping hundreds of caravanserais that used to accommodate the caravans and their precious cargos.

Day 5: Marrakech - visit of the city.

Where Fez is the bashful scholar, the ‘red city’ is the exuberant dancer. More than its opulent night life and luxurious palaces, the design boutiques or the French restaurants, it’s something in the air. The light of the south as some may call it, a certain feeling that nothing can go wrong, a certain je ne sais quoi…  A good point to start is perhaps Maison de La Photographie, documenting life in Morocco from late 1800’s all the way to the 1950’s through photographs and a worthwhile documentary on the Berbers. The roof terrace offers 360 degrees views over the Medina and freshly infused atay. Crossing the souks, the shops do look like they just got Ali Baba's last shipment and shameless snooping turns compulsive. If it is too early in the day for shopping, you can also admire the dying of the wool or the looming of a Berber carpet on site. Past Place des Epices and its shops stuffed with turtles, colorful spices and witchcraft accessories, we make our way into the Kasbah. Uncovered by chance in 1917, the Saadi Tombs hold the remains of sultans responsible for the last golden age of the city, the 16th and 17th century. 

An English merchant that lived at the sultan's court in 16th century relates: 'Six days past here aryved a nobleman from Gao (in Mali), whoe was sent by thins King 10 yeares paste to conquere the said countrye. He brought with him thirtie camels laden with tybar, which ys unrefyned gold; also great store of pepper, unicornes horns and a certaine kynde of wood for diers, to some 120 camel loades, and great quantitye of eanuches, duarfes, and weomen and men slaves, besydes 15 virgins, the Kinge's daughters of Gao, which he sendeth to be the kinge's concubines. You must note all these to be of the cole black heyre, for that contry yeldeth noe other.'

The Saadien sultan had sent a powerful army over the Sahara, led by Spanish mercenaries, that gained control over the gold trade and made him one of the wealthiest men of his time. Thousands of Christian slaves worked for 16 years at the completion of what was to become the Badi' palace where marble columns were brought from Italy and Ireland, onyx slabs from India and ceilings were inlaid in gold.  A dutch painter visiting Marrakech in 1641 declared the palace was world's eighth wonder. Unfortunately ,the palace was to be dismantled by the succeeding dynasty and only the walls and towers remain nowadays. As the sun sets and the shade of its towers loses its contour, the fumes start rising on the nearby Jemaa El Fna. Musicians, acrobats, snake charmers, witch doctors and food stalls all come alive as if they had never left the place. This is the city at its most essential, a place where people from everywhere mingle, perform and people- watch, half way between a tableau vivant and a circus show.

Day 6: Marrakech - visit of the city/ relaxing/ cooking class.

The popularity of Marrakech is with foreigners and Moroccans alike. Its gardens are a magnet to people living in traffic jammed Casablanca or conservatory Fez. They were likely first introduced by the Spain- born and educated sultan, who brought with him the refinement of Spain with its elegant houses built around an inside garden back in 11th century. The Almohads then built the Kasbah and the vast manicured gardens still in use today. Who could imagine that the Arabs had the engineers back in 12th century to drain water from Atlas Mountains's springs 50 kilometers away into what became the vast pool of Agdal who would then supply the whole capital in water ? The vast basin was then reputedly used to train for the crossing of Mediterranean by the sultan’s armies.

But perhaps the most interesting gardens in Marrakech are to be found inside private properties. One of them belonged to a painter who had fallen in love with Marrakech in the 1920’s and decided to create his own earthly heaven. Majorelle Gardens were subsequently acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and then made available to the general public. They are best visited early in the morning before they become crowded with visitors. One other garden was given as a wedding gift by a sultan to his son Mamoun, that regularly organized nazha (sort of garden parties). In 1923, La Mamounia became a hotel and the epitome of Moroccan luxury, La Grande Dame counting among its guests Winston Churchill, the Reagans and the Rolling Stones. The magnificent gardens ( and the best cocktails in town) are probably best enjoyed at dawn. 

Day 7: Marrakech – Telouet - Ait Benhaddou ( 4 hour drive)

Shortly after leaving Marrakech, our 14 day itinerary climbs up into the Atlas. It is one of the most winding roads, filled with twists and turns and making its way up to 2300 meters altitude to then descend onto Ouarzazate and the Grand sud. Before arriving at the Tizi n Tichka pass, mesmerizing views alternate with the shade of the pine forest, argan oil cooperatives and goat herds. Shortly after the pass, our itinerary takes us away from the tarmac and into the back country roads. The tour reaches Telouet with its imposing derelict palace dominating the village, a fortified citadel that is both a microcosm of an empire and its demise. Pacha Glaoui had managed to overshadow the sultan by controlling most of nowadays Morocco. He had employed the most skilled artisans to build and decorate his main residence and, in its golden age, armies, stables and Christian slaves were confined within its walls while a flourishing Jewish community ruled the nearby salt mines.

Leaving Telouet behind, our 4x4 Morocco tour crosses spaghetti western backgrounds to then follow the canyon. The gardens by the river bed melt into a gigantic green serpent imprisoned between the barren light brown walls of the canyon, only to escape out into the horizon. Here and there, decaying kasbahs stand witnesses of an age soon resolute. Leave your luggage at the kasbah and go visit the troglodyte grottoes. Then, hop on a camel or take the 4x4 and head to Ait Benhaddou. Late afternoon, just before sunset is the ideal time to visit the UNESCO world site citadel. A fat, red sun, only underlines the beige tones of the mud and straws mixture and through the covered passages and stone walls, the past filters itself into the present. Dinner and accommodation in a kasbah by Ait Benhaddou. 

Day 8: Ait Benhaddou – Ouarzazate - Agdz - Zagora ( 4 hours drive)

Early in the morning, bake bread with the local ladies on almond corks. Back on the road, our trip crosses Ouarzazate, famous by its film studios where scenes of  ' Game of Thrones ' and 'Gladiator' were shot. , the tour sways its way through barren rocky hills and valleys before entering the gorges and picking up altitude. The Draa runs underground until the oasis of Agdz. From the pass, under hazy skies and past the djebels , you just about glimpse the palm grove following the river and only wonder where the Sahara commences. As we come out of Agdz, the magnificent Kasbah Tamnougalt deserves a visit. The adobe honeycomb is a testimony to the grandeur it used to shed on its neighbors centuries ago. Across the palm grove, we will stop and visit the Black People village, a small untouched community of Harratin, likely descendants from traded slaves. Further on, you can also admire megalithic rock paintings depicting animals and hunting scenes. Reaching Zagora we are headed to the local Jewish old quarter with its pise synagogue and still- surviving silver craft, once the monopoly of the local Jewish community. Silversmiths, in the shade of alcoves, melt and shape wire-thin segments of metal into intricate earrings and pendants while masks and chests from Mali adorn the walls. Back at the guest house, the dusk is upon us when the breeze stirs the palm trees swaying in the enveloping night. The wind has so many stories to tell but speaks its own secret tongue. Dinner and accommodation in Zagora. 

Day 9: Zagora – Tamegroute - Mhamid - Erg Chigaga ( 3 hours drive)

Our tour takes us past Tamegroute. Seemingly a ghost town on the way to the desert, there is more than meets the eye. The local Sufi zaouia used to be one of the most important in the country, dating back to the 1600’s. Among the thousands of priceless manuscripts on display in its library, works of mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and a 900 year old Koran. The emerald- glazed pottery cast in the open- air earth ovens is famous throughout Morocco. If you wish, you can try your hand yourself at a short clay pottery class.  The palm grove is soon put behind us and a few twists and turns later, through desolate plateaus and tagine- shaped ridges the tour reaches the end of civilized world.

The next two hours of our trip make full use of the four wheel drive as rocky desert gives way to rocky hamada and then sand dunes, past the occasional water well and oasis. The anticipation built doesn’t quite prepare you for the spectacle ahead of you: sleepy yet shifting leviathans of sand as far as the sight can stretch, dotted by the occasional desert camp. Here, we can arrange for you to be met and taken by camel ride to the desert camp for the last bit of the way, next to the highest dunes. These are the dunes of Erg Chigaga. While the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage and preparing your dinner, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. And lose yourself. And while the sun sets, there is nowhere else you would rather be… Dinner and accommodation in a private tent under the stars.

Day 10: Erg Chigaga – Foum Zguid - Tazenakht - Taroudant (7 hours drive)

(If you have an extra day at hand, it is worth spending an extra night in Tata inside a 500 year old noble house to then reach Taroudant on the evening of the next day following one of the most dramatic and off the beaten track roads in Morocco).

Should you have missed the sunrise… well, try not to. If yesterday was about getting away from civilization, today is about getting back to it. After toddling across sand dunes, we reach the vast Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, where the Draa river used to form its estuary. We'll have a break and have tea with the nomads, then search for fossils. Further on we take on the hamada, to finally come out to Foum Zguid. Good bye Sahara, hello tarmac. On the way to Taroudant, we pass through Tazenakht, reputed for its carpet weaving and then Taliouine with its magnificent Kasbah. You may want to keep a small bag handy – this is where the best saffron is found in Morocco .

Arriving in Taroudant, there is hardly anything more relaxing after the desert trip than a plunge in the refreshing pool and/ or ridding off the sand inside the in- house hammam ( steam bath) at the local guest house. As the lights start to twinkle, in the gardens the scent of jasmine perfumes the air while dinner is set. Dinner and accommodation inside the medina of Taroudant or in the palm grove nearby. 

Day 11: Taroudant

Taroudant lies in the middle of a fertile plain that crashes into the foothills of the Anti Atlas while nudging the Sahara in the south. Also called sometimes ‘Petit Marrakech’ due to its similar looking walled old town, it is in fact older than its northern sister. Its present walls were built by the Saadi sultans back in 16th century when the city was their capital and the main base to attack Portuguese invaders on the nearby Atlantic coast. Taroudant retains the inscrutable aura of the caravan trading outpost it was centuries ago with a ride in the cheerfully painted horse drawn caleches around the city walls and a visit to the silver souk the only activities worth undertaking. If you are curious about the surroundings, there is quite a lot on offer. You can have a day trip into the countryside to Tafraoute , with its stunning rock formations and picturesque brick- red houses. This is Morocco's Berber heartland, where proud tribes, traditions and folklore pre-date the Arab conquest by centuries. Just a short ride from the city and along the Atlantic Ocean, the Sous Massa natural preserve is a bird watcher paradise. Catch glimpses of yellow wagtails, greater flamingos, spoonbills and red-necked nightjars. Or spend your afternoon riding Arab horses. Accommodation as previously. 

Day 12: Taroudant – Agadir - Essaouira ( 4 hours drive)

Less than 1 hour drive from Taroudant lies Agadir, best enjoyed outside summer season. Our tailor made Morocco tour is now headed towards Essaouira folows the Atlantic coast, past surfer villages and summer resorts. Past Taghazout and its surfing beaches, the region lays claim to a windswept, untouched spot on the western coast with empty, golden beaches, clear blue sky and waves to surf on.  As we approach the wind city, shepherds—very young boys or very old men—dressed in hooded djellabas tend flocks of sheep and goats. Camels and donkeys graze side by side outside adobe villages. Neat stone fences surround elegant olive groves. Cows lie in fields of purple wildflowers.

Soon, a curious town comes into sight, white cubic buildings with blue doors and windows. With its strong breezes, Essaouira  is one of the world's top windsurfing and kite boarding spots. It has a lot more going for it though, besides water sports, glorious trading past and European military architecture. In recent years, the city has become a cultural center, a place where the calendar is studded with two world-class music festivals and galleries display internationally known local artists. Should you arrive before sunset, you can have a quiet walk on the vast beach, passing the impromptu soccer matches, out to the dunes where hooded horseback riders offer bonjours and a shimmering lagoon is filled with birds. Or listen to the plaintive calls of the gulls, providing a constant soundtrack. 

Day 13: Essaouira – Oualidia - El Jadida ( 4 hours drive )

The present Essaouira dates from 1765, when the sultan decided to build a port on the site of the ancient Mogador, a Phoenician settlement, which would open Morocco up to the world and develop commercial ties with Europe. The influence of the French architecture of the time as used at Saint Malo can be seen within the ramparts, especially the Sqala of the Port and the Sqala of the Medina and the Bastion of Bab Marrakesh. The new port became one of the country's main commercial hubs; it was called the 'port of Timbuktu' as it was the destination of caravans bringing a variety of products (including slaves) from black Africa. The local Jewish community played a very important role as the sultan made use of them to establish commercial relations with Europe. 

On the way to El Jadida, the picturesque fishing village of Oualidia, built around a wide lagoon midway up Morocco’s Atlantic coast, is a quiet, slightly out-of-time place. For much of the second half of the 20th century, the Moroccan bourgeoisie decamped here in the summer, eschewing the urban fug for their modest white-and-blue vacation houses. Today, well-to-do Moroccans come for the clean air, the tranquility and the best oysters in the country, which are shucked tableside on the terrace at L'Araignee Gourmande or the posh Sultana Hotel. The lagoon is right on a wide and deserted beach, with blonde sand gently sloping into the palest blue water.

Day 14: El Jadida – Casablanca ( 1H30 drive).

UNESCO world site El Jadida radiates with the memories of the Arab sultans and Portuguese explorers who came and went on the trade winds, enriching the surrounding coast with their cultural patrimony. It was one of the very first settlements of Portuguese explorers in West Africa on the route to India. Built in two phases in the 16th century by the Portuguese, applying the Portuguese technology of new architectural concepts of Renaissance adapted to the advent of the firearm. When Portuguese left in the 18th century it fell into decline and revived in 19th century. Traces of vanquished prosperity and forsaken grandeur linger in mercantile arcades and crumbling Lusitanian villas. Eeriest of all, the Church of the Assumption, keeps the echoes of its past corralled in impregnable walls. Echoes of Orson Welles' Othello still resonate within the 16th century old water cistern. 

The trip to Casablanca takes no more than 1 hour and a half and the driver will make sure to drop you off at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight. 

One or two days can always be added or squeezed out of the itinerary if your flight schedule demands it.

You may choose to follow the original tour itinerary as described on the website or have us create a tailor made itinerary around you. Please note that all our  tours of Morocco are private  and, all along, stops are accommodated as often as you desire, for you to visit a site, take a stunning photo or stretch your legs. 

We believe our guests deserve to be spoiled and stay only at the best properties while on a customized tour of Morocco. We spend a great deal of time and effort to anonymously test and hand- pick the best boutique and luxury hotels, Riads , eco lodges and Kasbahs across Morocco. These select properties are constantly monitored and updated. Each one of them is inspired by and reflecting the culture, architecture and cuisine of its location. They do not fit into a rigorous star rating system, so we have named them Dreamers, Privilege and Divine, to best resume their nature. Once we receive an enquiry, we provide a day- to- day customized Moroccan itinerary with the names of the accommodations suggested at each overnight.

Please find below the resumed itinerary:

Day 1: Casablanca/ Rabat - Volubilis/ Meknes - Fez ( 2/ 3 hour drive). 
Day 2: Fez - visit of the city with a local guide ( no driving). 
Day 3: Fez - Ifrane - Azrou ( 1 hour drive). Leisure time or sightseeing.   
Day 4: Azrou - Beni Mellal - Ouzoud falls - Marrakech ( 7 hour drive). 
Day 5: Marrakech - visit of the city with local guide. 
Day 6: Marrakech - leisure time or cooking class and introduction to medina's street food.
Day 7: Marrakech - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou  ( 4 hour drive). 
Day 8: Ait Benhaddou - Ouarzazate - Agdz - Zagora ( 3 hour drive). 
Day 9: Zagora - Mhamid - Erg Chigaga ( 3 hour and a half drive). 
Day 10: Erg Chigaga - Foum Zguid - Tazenakht - Taroudant ( 7 hour drive).
Day 11: Taroudant - relaxing day ( no driving) or visit of the surroundings. 
Day 12: Taroudant - Agadir - Essaouira ( 4 hour drive). 
Day 13: Essaouira - Oualidia - El Jadida ( 4 hour drive). 
Day 14: El Jadida - Casablanca airport ( 1 hour drive). End of the tour.

Feel free to let us know if you would like to include a site/ activity of your own in the itinerary. If you don't know where to start some ideas are:

- honey tasting with local bee grower in Taroudant ( no buying obligation);
- visit of Bronze- Age rock engravings and century old granaries;
- trekking in the High Atlas/ Anti Atlas with local English speaking guide;
- wine tasting and lunch at a wine domain next to Essaouira;
- visit the nomad populations grottos at Tamedaght;
- discover the palm grove of Skoura with a local English speaking guide;
- day pass at La Mamounia including one hour spa treatment, access to pools, gym and gardens and Michelin- star French/ Italian restaurant lunch;
- private 3 seat plane flight over the Atlas Mountains or hot air balloon over Marrakech and Palmeraie;
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's street food;
- traditional Moroccan hammam ( steam bath) with eucalyptus soap body scrub;
- lunch at Richard Branson’s Atlas Mountains retreat;
- see how the argan oil is extracted from the fruit in a local Berber cooperative;
- wind surf or surf on a wild beach on the Atlantic coast.

Below you will find our rates based on two persons travelling together, with the relevant accommodation range:

Dreamers: 2265 €/ 2430 US $/ 1950 £ per person (double room and basic tent);
Privilege: 3175 €/  3410 US $/ 2730 £ per person ( junior suite and luxury en- suite tent);
Divine: rates available on request.

Pricing is tentative and can vary slightly at different times of the year. If you book your tour to take place in December, January ( outside end of the year holidays), February, July and August, you will be charged our low season rates. We can only quote an exact rate once we have agreed on the precise itinerary, accommodation option preferred, the extras you would like to include and the duration of the journey. Discounts apply when 3 or more persons share the vehicle(s). You can also choose to mix different accommodation ranges within the same circuit.

Our rates include:

- private use of English fluent driver- guide and modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 12 nights;
- desert camp private basic / luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet for 1 night;
- 9 three- course- meal dinners and 13 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop- off;
- private guided visit of Fez with local official guide;
- private guided visit of Marrakech;
- private guided visit of a palm grove with local guide or guided trek in the gorges/ High Atlas;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- local English speaking guides;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hour travel assistance ( with Privilege and Divine option);
- gasoline and highway tolls;
- transport insurance, VAT and visitors tax.

Most of our guests prefer adding an extra day to either allow for some relaxing time by the beach in Essaouira or trekking in the Atlas Mountains. We can also break the distance in two on Day 4 and/ or Day 10 if you think the drive is too long.

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Land Of The Setting Sun ( 10- 12 days)

erg chebbi dunes

This private 10-day Morocco tour covers the imperial cities, Sahara desert and Atlantic coast.

'Al Maghrib al-Aqsa’ - the land of the setting sun, Morocco was once known as a legendary land perched on the corner of Africa, where the known world would end. This journey through Morocco blends its imperial cities: Marrakech, Fez, Meknes and Rabat with stunning landscapes and wild nature, the Atlantic and the desert's ocean of sand. Our trip uncovers imperial cities to then witness  the splendor of the Roman age at Volubilis. Visit the world’s largest intact medieval city in Fez to then cross the lush country side to reach the Sahara and spend a night under the most beautiful starred sky. The trip then takes us past valleys, gorges, lakes, palm groves and rivers and explores mysterious Ksours and Kasbahs. Crossing the Atlas mountains, we reach the exotic and sensual Marrakech. After a day in the maze of its souks and palaces, what better choice then to shed off the dust in Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast ? The tour can start/ end in Marrakech/ Casablanca/ Rabat and be done in reverse. A day or two can be added/ subtracted to fit your travel schedule, if needed. If you have a night to spare, we recommend adding the visit of Chefchaouen to the itinerary.

Click here to see detailed map

Day 1: Casablanca - Rabat ( 1 hour drive).

Casablanca is nowadays, in spite of its myth, but a large congested city with not much in the way of monuments. That is mainly the reason why the former king decided to give the city an imposing monument - the second largest mosque in the world .  The last few years of its completion, 1400 craftsmen worked by day and 1000 by night. The marble, cedar wood and granite all come from Morocco while the glass chandeliers and white granite columns were brought from Murano, Italy.

Next, our custom Morocco tour takes us to the capital Rabat, recently declared UNESCO world site. With a rich history, Rabat lies suspended somewhere between Europe and the Arab world. The 12th century Kasbah des Oudayas and its Andalusian Gardens are a delight. We can dwell further into the past and visit the Merenid necropolis of Chellah, where Phoenician, Roman and Merinid traces blend. Mohamed 6 museum, opened in 2014 is also worth your attention. On display, the most representative modern Moroccan art along with regular guest exhibitions from Europe. 

But perhaps better stories are to be told about Sale, the sister city to Rabat and, centuries ago, a fearsome pirate nest. Canals used to run through its gates and its pirates were famous for rapidly attacking European ships and taking illustrous nobility as prisoners. Once inside the city, the massive doors would close and the European powers had no other choice than to give in to the exorbitant sums asked for their ransom. The shortly lived 'Republic of Sale', a state within a state, refused to pay any tax to the sultan, who decided to build a new port where he could control piracy and its generous revenues: Essaouira was born. Later on, dinner and accommodation in a charming Riad inside the Medina. 

Day 2: Rabat - Meknes - Volubilis - Fez ( 3 hour drive).

After breakfast, our 4x4 Morocco tour is headed towards Meknes, an imperial city that rose to prominence with the sultan Moulay Ismail ( 1672- 1727) who set the capital of Morocco to Meknes and gave it its golden age by building his imperial palace, city walls and kasbahs upon dismantling Al'Badi ( the matchless) palace in Marrakech and bringing to Meknes most of its marble, ivory and wood.

Places of interest in Meknes include Bab El Mansour gate, the masoleum of Moulay Ismail, the imperial palace and the royal granaries. Back on the road we are to reach shortly the  Roman ruins of Volubilis  with its Galem’s baths, basilica, capitol and forum and the sacred village of  Moulay Idriss . Moulay Idriss was Prophet Mohammed's great grandson and came to live at Volubilis in 8th century, converted the locals to Islam and founded the first Moroccan imperial dynasty. The journey should reach Fez late afternoon/ evening, just in time for freshening up and preparing for dinner. Dinner and accommodation inside the medina of Fez.

Day 3: Fez - guided tour of the city ( no drive).

With the first light of dawn, you realize you have travelled in time. Four centuries? Five? If it weren’t for the satellite dishes adorning every roof, it could be more. Perhaps as much as the Kayraouine University and mosque, now 12 centuries old, the oldest still working university in the world. The heyday of the caravan trade coming from Timbuktu is long resolute. Instead, the migration of wealthy Moors and Jews from the courts of Granada and Cordoba in 15th and 16th century is more present.

There are thousands of derbs, streets so narrow you could whisper in your neighbor’s ear. The numerous Islamic schools, among which the most ornate are perhaps Bou Inania and El Attarine, will wow you with their intricate stucco and cedar engravings that have so well resisted the passage of centuries. Out in the streets again, you will most likely smell the  tanneries  before you see them... Dozens of workers toil over open vats, dipping skins in to treat them before hand-dyeing them in bright yellow, red and white, stomping them under the hot sun to distribute the pigment. 

The guided tour of Fez takes us to Nejjarine Square where you can catch your breath enjoying a mint tea on the roof terrace of Nejjarine Foundouk, an 18th-century caravanserai, turned into a woodwork museum after six years of painstakingly renovation. “There is a good deal of frustration involved in the process of enjoying Fez,” wrote Paul Bowles about Fez and that still holds true nowadays. Just when the walls seem to cave in on you, a little square comes up and suddenly all menace disappears. The secrets to be found around every corner draw you into the long forgotten world of the travels of Ibn Battuta and Leo Africanus. 

Day 4: Fez - Ifrane - Azrou - Mildelt - Errachidia - Merzouga ( 7 hours drive).

With Fez in the background, our Morocco itinerary serpents its way up under the shade of cedar forests. Our trip takes us first through Ifrane, the ‘Switzerland of Morocco’, a rather quiet town, except during snow season when it becomes Morocco’s prime ski resort. Paddling in your boat above the crystal water of the nearby lake, you find it hard to believe you're in Morocco. Prettier walks are to be had in the foothills of the next town, Azrou. Country lanes wind through pine forest and lush villages. The dense forest is also home to the Barbary macaque, almost domesticated now and the 800- year old Gouraud’s cedar. The monkeys and their babies nibble on whatever they can find to eat, spoiled by the generous offerings of the visitors. The surrounding countryside is pigmented by apricots, walnuts and plum trees and pictures of rural Berber life as we approach Midelt.

A few hours later, our trip arrives in Erfoud and the change in landscape is sharp - Sahara isn't far now. Stop in Rissani and visit a traditional adobe ksour. Arrive in Merzouga where, after the long drive, you may just want to have atay by the pool and enjoy the view on the nearby majestic desert dunes. Dinner and accommodation in a local Kasbah.

Day 5: Merzouga - Erg Chebbi ( transfer by camel or 4x4).

After the long drive the day before, you may as well have a late breakfast and eventually lay around the pool. Your driver will then take you on a tour to the Black People village where you will witness an impromptu Gnawa music performance. Later, have tea with a nomad family. The area is also rich in fossils and the ruined French mines and quarters speak of a colonial past not that distant. Or, if you are looking for some adrenaline rush, take onto quad biking or sand dune boarding. In the afternoon we trade the 4x4 for camels, leave most of the luggage at the Kasbah and reach the dunes of Erg Chebbi, some of the highest in Morocco. 

While the staff are busy unloading your luggage, try to find the highest dune and reach the top. Then take it all in. For as far as you can see, there is nothing but sand, an ocean of it as set to conquer everything that stands in its way. All worldly matters loose sense and the feeling of peace is overwhelming. One of the first things the Sahara does is make you aware of your own insignificance. You also realize you are suddenly not somewhere different. You are different. And while the sun sets, there is nowhere else you would rather be. Dinner and accommodation in a private tent in a camp in the dunes. Here, you have the choice between a basic tent with toilets/ bathroom outside or a luxury tent with en suite bathroom and toilets.

Day 6: Erg Chebbi - Tinejdad - Todra Gorges - Tinerir - Boulmane/ Skoura ( 4-5 hour drive).

Try to wake up to catch the sunrise- there is nothing quite like it... After breakfast our custom Morocco tour takes us first to Rissani where gold and slave auctions were taking place as late as 1800’s. Centuries before, the caravan trade and the most important city in Morocco was Sijilmassa, the ruins of which lie opposite Rissani. From its gates, Ibn Battuta and Leo Africanus left Morocco to embark on their illustrious journeys across the Sahara into African countries, at a time when Sijilmassa was the trading hub between Europe and Africa. Arab pure bred horses from Morocco were a much coveted commodity at the court of Timbuktu:

[Here ( in Timbuktu) are many shops of artificers and merchants, and especially of such as weave linnen and cotton cloth. And hither do the Barbarie merchants bring cloth of Europe... Here are verie few horses bred, and the merchants and courtiers keepe certainn little nags which they use to travel upon: but their best horses are brought out of Barbarie. And the king so soon as he heareth that any merchants are come to town with horses, he commandeth a certain number to be brought before him, and chusing the best horse for himselfe he payeth a most liberal price for him.] ( Leo Africanus - History and description of Africa)

On the way to Tinerir, wander through an adobe ksour and awe at the wells of light. Todra Gorges lie within a short distance from Tinerir, presenting an arresting spectacle with its crystal clear river emerging from it, its huge walls changing colour to magical effect as the day unfolds. If you want to stay away from the tourist crowds though ( during the high season), you should instead trek in the Gorges of Dades. We will then skirt through Tinerir, an important carpet- producing center for the Berber nomad tribes with its extensive palm grove, the decaying ksours and 19th century adobe mosque.

Shortly after we reach Boulmane de Dades at the entrance of Dades Gorges. A drive along the gorges will bring out the carpet of almond trees, best viewed in February and the strange 'monkey fingers'. If you want to try some trekking in Morocco, Dades Gorge is the place to start - a trek with a private local guide can be arranged early next morning. We will stop for dinner and accommodation in a local guesthouse. Dinner and accommodation can also be arranged in the palm grove of Skoura, one hour drive away. If possible, we more than recommend adding an extra day to enjoy the many activities/ sites available around the area.

Day 7: Dades/ Skoura - Ouarzazate - Ait Benhaddou - Telouet - Marrakech ( 4- 5 hour drive)

This morning our 10 day Morocco tour takes us first to the immense palm grove of Skoura, where we recommend a guided private tour. In the shade of the palm trees, you will walk past pumpkins and figs, grapes and tomatoes, coriander, parsley and rosemary. Olives are pressed into the precious oil – dip your bread into it and try a local’s breakfast. Fire, water, earth and dye are what make most of things here. On Friday afternoon, when the prayer is over, the caid comes out and spreads a carpet on the grass. The villagers then succeed themselves and present their queries. Most of them are resolved on site. Time is suspended here indeed.

On the road again, our travel passes by the shores of Mansour Eddhabi. Flamingoes and spoonbills stalk about the water on stilleto legs. In Ouarzazate, time allowing, we can visit the film studios where more recently some of the episodes of Game of Thrones were shot. Half an hour later, our tour turns right to shortly arrive at post-card perfect UNESCO world site of Ait Benhaddou. In spite of the local ‘guides’, the best is to just lose yourselves in its alleyways. There is always a new way to reach its peak, from where the snowcapped Atlas Mountains framed by the denim blue sky will steal your breath away. If the climb up hadn’t already.

Past Tamdaght and the kasbah made famous by the slave scene from 'Gladiator', the beauty of the valley serpenting underneath the route is beyond words. Telouet is next, where the former pasha's palace dominates the village, a fortified citadel that is both a microcosm of an empire and its demise. Pacha Glaoui overshadowed the sultan by controlling most of nowadays Morocco and  decided to erect a palace in the middle of nowhere, where his family had originated from. Shortly after Telouet, the trip joins the main road again and after innumerous twists and over Tizi n Tichka pass, we descend the Atlas Mountains and reach the plain. Ahead in the night, lays dormant and sensual Marrakech, its walls and eighteen gates enveloping hundreds of foundouks once protecting the caravans and their precious cargos. Dinner and overnight in a charming Riad.

Day 8: Marrakech - visit of the city ( no drive).

Where Fez is the bashful scholar, the ‘red city’ is the exuberant dancer. More than its opulent night life and luxurious palaces, the design boutiques or the French restaurants, it’s something in the air. The light of the south as some may call it, a certain feeling that nothing can go wrong, a certain je ne sais quoi… A good point to start your private guided tour is perhaps Maison de La Photographie, located in one of the most authentic districts of Marrakech. It accommodates one of the most interesting collection of photos in Morocco, documenting the life in Morocco from late 1800’s all the way to the 1950’s. Patrick, the welcoming owner,is always on hand to give you a tour and precious insight into the history of each photo. The roof terrace offers 360 degrees views over the Medina and is the perfect spot for a mint tea and postcard- photo shoots.

Crossing the souks you may want to spoil yourself with some shopping. Miles of Ali Baba closet- size caves where everything glitters will lure you in. If it is too early in the day for shopping, you can also admire the dyeing of the wool or the looming of a Berber carpet on site. Past Place des Epices and its shops stuffed with turtles, colorful spices and witchcraft accessories, we make our way into the Kasbah. Not before entering the gardens of 19th century Bahia Palace, an epitome of Islamic art of the era and residence of the grand vizier. Uncovered by chance in 1917, the nearby Saadi Tombs hold the remains of the sultans responsible for the last golden age of the city , the 16th and 17th century. The Carrara marble stands witness to the wealth of the dynasty and so does the nearby El Badi palace, albeit only a ruin nowadays. The sultan had sent a powerful army over the Sahara, led by Spanish mercenaries which conquered the gold mines of present Mali and Ghana and made him one of the wealthiest men of his time. 

[ Al Mansur's personal extravagance was chiefly concentrated on building a vast and splendid palace in Marrakech on which he employed thousands of Christians. Many ship- loads of the most precious materials of the East were imported from India for its decoration. Italy and Ireland supplied the marble for its thousands of columns. ] ( E.W.Bovill - The Golden Trade of the Moors)

As the sun sets and the shades of its towers lose their contour, the fumes start rising on the nearby Jemaa El Fna square. Musicians, acrobats, snake charmers, witch doctors and food stalls all come alive as if they had never left the place. This is the city at its most essential, a place where people from everywhere mingle, perform and people- watch, half way between a tableau vivant and a circus show. Try to catch one of the story tellers in action, a tradition perpetuated for centuries and likely to disappear soon. A different way to discover Marrakech is by taking a cooking class with spice shopping and an introduction to the food circuit inside the medina. 

Day 9: Marrakech - visit of the city/ relaxing day. 

The popularity of Marrakech is with foreigners and Moroccans alike. Its gardens are a magnet to people living in traffic jammed Casablanca or conservatory Fez. Ali Ben Youssef, the Spain- educated son of the founder of the city, brought with him the refinement of Spain with its elegant houses built around an inside garden back in the 11th century. The Almohads then built the Kasbah and the vast manicured gardens still in use today. Agdal gardens, south of the city was where the waters from the Atlas Mountains were converged by ingenious Arab engineers and the vast pool was reputedly the rehearsal scene for the crossing of Mediterranean by the sultan’s armies. They also created Menara gardens with its ornate pavilion overlooking the waters, still a favorite of marrakchi families for picnics on Sundays. But perhaps the most captivating gardens in Marrakech are to be found inside private properties. One of them belonged to a painter who had fallen in love with Marrakech in the 1920’s and decided to create his own version of Garden Of Eden. Majorelle Gardens were subsequently acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and then made available to the general public. They are best visited early in the morning before they become too crowded. 

But perhaps you want to try a Moroccan hammam ( steam bath) and body scrub with the locals in one of the dozens well- kept public baths scattered around the Medina. Or take in one of the numerous craft workshops and learn how to work the zellij, tadelakt or Arab caligraphy. 

Day 10: Marrakech - Essaouira ( 2 hours and a half drive). 

After breakfast, our Moroccan itinerary leaves Marrakech behind and, a couple of hours later, the deserted landscape around us softens while the panorama changes from arid beige to vivid green. In the distance, still some way off, a blue stripe rises above the argan groves on the horizon. It takes a little while to realise that it is the Atlantic. Below us, spread out like a map, lies Essaouira - a stunning splash of white between the sea and sky, much more Mykonos than Morocco with its honey-combed white chalk houses and blue framed windows.

Essaouira was for centuries a working port and that is what makes for its rugged charm. The Romans came here for the precious purple dye which they used to stain their imperial togas, but it was the Portuguese who put this place on the map, as a market place for gold and ivory, slaves and spices. Sightseeing visitors sip cool drinks in the cobbled square where slaves were sold after their long march across the Sahara. This was their last sight of Africa before the grim voyage to the New World. The black slaves left their music behind and its streets still resonate with the hypnotic rhythms of Gnawa. After the Portuguese left, Essaouira became a free port in the 18th century - Morocco's window on the world. Orson Welles filmed his 'Othello' on these robust walls more than half a century ago and scenes from 'Alexander', 'Kingdom of Heaven' and more recently 'Game of Thrones' ( where Khaleesi purchases her army of Unsullied) were shot here. Tall towers festooned with cannons still define the borders of the old town. Beyond these battlements, the new town, the ville nouvelle, peters out into countryside.

DAY 11: Essaouira - Oualidia - Casablanca ( 5 hour drive).

Thanks to its magnificent fortifications and overall bohemian ambiance, Essaouira is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it is still a market town and in spite of last few years buzz, rural Berbers still come to hawk their wares to the artisans who live and work here and fishermen and boat builders get on with their daily activities as they have done for centuries. A stay in Essaouira would mean nothing without lunch in one of the food stalls along the sea front where delicious fish and seafood caught the very morning can be enjoyed while taking in the sea breeze and admiring the Purple Isles.

Or, if you are not mad about European military architecture, go on and lose yourself in the art gallery- packed streets, a world away from the hustle in the souks of Marrakech or explore the wild beaches that lie just south of it. Or perhaps, stop by the lagoon in Oualidia and enjoy the turquoise waters and the best oysters and sea food in Morocco, on the way to Casablanca. If you didn't get the chance to visit Hassan 2 Mosque on the first day of the tour, this can be arranged before the drop off at the airport or the hotel.

One or two days can always be added to or subtracted from the trip if your flight schedule requires it.

Remember that this is merely a suggested itinerary and we'll be delighted to create a tailor made itinerary around you. Please note that all our tours of Morocco are private and that stops are accommodated along the way as often as you desire, for you to visit a site, take a stunning photo or stretch your legs.

We believe our guests deserve to be spoiled and stay only at the best properties while on a customized tour of Morocco. We spend a great deal of time and effort to anonymously test and hand- pick the most best boutique and luxury hotels, Riads , eco lodges and Kasbahs across Morocco. These original properties are constantly monitored and updated by our staff. Each one of them is inspired by and reflecting the culture, architecture and cuisine of its location. They do not fit into a rigorous star rating system, so we have named them Dreamers, Privilege and Divine, to best resume their nature. Once we receive an enquiry, we provide a day- to- day customized Moroccan itinerary with the names of the accommodations suggested at each overnight.

Please find below the resumed itinerary ( driving times exclude stops ):

Day 1: Casablanca – Rabat ( 1 hour and a half drive). 
Day 2: Rabat – Meknes / Volubilis – Fez ( 2- 3 hour drive). 
Day 3: Fez – visit of the city with a local guide ( no driving).
Day 4: Fez – leisure time, visit of the city or the surrounding countryside.
Day 5: Fes – Ifrane – Midelt – Erfoud – Merzouga – Erg Chebbi ( 7 hour drive). 
Day 6: Erg Chebbi – Rissani – Todra Gorges – Tinerir – Dades/ Skoura (4- 5 hour drive). 
Day 7: Dades/ Skoura – Ouarzazate – Ait Benhaddou – Telouet – Marrakech ( 4- 5 hour drive).
Day 8 : Marrakech – visit of the city with local guide ( no driving). 
Day 9 : Marrakech – Essaouira ( 2 and a half hour drive).
Day 10: Essaouira – Casablanca ( 4 hour drive). Drop off at the airport.

Feel free to let us know if you would like to include a site/ activity of your own in the itinerary. If you don't know where to start, some ideas are:

- visit the nomad grottos and Berber granary;
- learn about life in the palm grove, the khetarra irrigations, the pottery craft, the olive oil press, etc.
- private 4 seat plane flight over the Atlas Mountains;
- hot air balloon flight over Marrakech and its surroundings;
- day pass at La Mamounia including spa treatments, access to pools and gym, and a-la-carte lunch;
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's street food;
- traditional Moroccan hammam ( steam bath) with eucalyptus soap body scrub;
- lunch at Richard Branson’s Atlas Mountains retreat;
- visit the Black People village, have tea with the nomads and pick up fossils;
- bake bread with the local village ladies on almond corks;
- guided trek/ hike in Dades Gorge/ High Atlas.

Below you will find our rates based on two persons travelling together, with the relevant accommodation option:

Dreamers: 1590 €/ 1705 US / 1370 £ per person (double room and basic tent);
Privilege: 2225 €/  2390 US $ / 1915 £ per person ( junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: rates available on request.

Pricing is tentative and can vary slightly at different times of the year. If you book your tour to take place in December, January ( outside end of the year holidays), February, July and August, you will be charged our low season rates. We can only quote an exact rate once we have agreed on the precise itinerary, accommodation option preferred, the extras you would like to include and the duration of the journey. Discounts apply when 3 or more persons share the vehicle(s). You can also choose to mix different accommodation ranges within the same circuit.

Our rates include:

- private use of English fluent driver- guide and modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 8 nights;
- Sahara camel trek and private basic/ luxury tent for 1 night;
- 6 three- course- meal dinners and 9 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop- off;
- private guided visit of Fez with local official guide;
- private guided visit of Marrakech;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- local English speaking guides;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hour travel assistance ( available with Privilege and Divine options);
- gasoline and highway tolls;
- transport insurance, VAT and visitors tax.

This tour can be stretched or 'compressed' by 1 or 2 days, depending on the time you have available to spend in Morocco.

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Boutique tours of Morocco

What better place than Morocco for a private tailor made tour ? It can be a day trip from Marrakech into the Atlas Mountains. Or a 14 day private luxury Morocco tour. And everything in between. With such a different culture and language, a boutique 4x4 Morocco tour with an English speaking local driver- guide guarantees the best holidays in Morocco. Choose one of the many 4x4 tours from Marrakech or another imperial city and you will discover the off the beaten track Morocco. Much more than excursions from Marrakech or Morocco desert tours, our 4x4 custom tours travel all across Morocco, covering Berber villages, majestic Kasbahs, enchanting palm groves or Touareg desert camps. From Ait Benhaddou to Chefchaouen, from Erg Chebbi to Taroudant and from camel rides in the Sahara to hardcore trekking Morocco can only offer. Browse among our 4x4 boutique tours of Morocco and book your favorite today !