Desert and Roses ( 4 - 5 days)

erg chigaga desert tent

This classic Morocco desert tour from Marrakech visits the dunes of Erg Chebbi and is best done over 4 or 5 days. 

The extravagant ruined palace at Telouet -- postcard like UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou –  Dades Gorge and Rose Valley – the 300 meters high Todra Gorges -- ruined Kasbahs and lush palm groves – camel trek into the dunes of Erg Chebbi – sleep in the Sahra – prehistoric rock carvings at Tazzarine -- century old traditions and crafts - bread cooking in a village stove - Berber granaries and nomad grottos - all part of this 4x4 Morocco tour. 

Click here to see detailed map

DAY 1 Marrakech - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou - Skoura/ Dades Gorge ( 5/6 hour drive)

As our private  tour of Morocco leaves Marrakech, the distant haze begins to resolve itself into a jagged mountain range - the High Atlas mountains, jutting abruptly from the plain. Our route follows the same one caravans used centuries ago, to bring into Marrakech slaves, gold and precious wood from the other side of the ocean of sand, the Sahara.

Beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeed among oak trees, walnut groves and snow patches before arriving at the Tizi n Tichka pass, at 2260 meters high. Once over the pass a totally different picture is unveiled: the lunar landscape of the Anti Atlas. Scent of thyme from the bushes around fills the air. Just after the pass, the tour leaves the tarmac and goes off- road to then reach Telouet and former pasha's 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 and decided to erect a palace in the middle of nowhere, where his family had originated from. 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 was managing the nearby salt mines. Of the three palaces, only one survives and throughout its large rooms, one can admire the excellence of the Moroccan craftsmanship from more than a century ago.

Leaving Telouet behind, flat top bluffs and rocky buttes that wouldn't be out of place in a John Ford Western loom above the route. 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. To fully immerse, have lunch at Kasbah Ellouze. The ingredients come from their own gardens, the meals are unpretentious yet inspired. There's a French twist to it, the guest house owner being a former chef.

Late afternoon. Then it's the time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe citadel. A fat, red sun, only underlines the beige tones of the mud- and- straw mixture and through the covered passages and stone walls, the past filters itself into the present. 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 Ouarzazate, our bespoke tour of Morcco reaches yet another lush area, nested between the deserted crest and the desolate plateaus: Skoura palmgrove. 

Then, our trip reaches Kelaa des Mgouna, famous for the nearby Valley of Roses and 'Rose Festival', where at the end of a 3 day celebration usually held in May, a local girl is crowned 'Rose Queen'. The most looked after product is eau- de- rose and two factories in the area distil and export the product. The process uses approximately three thousand kilograms of rose petals to extract a liter of rose oil.

Further on, Boulmane de Dades follows, the starting point to explore the spectacular Dades Gorge, a lush carpet set against the massive rocks and quite popular among those interested in trekking in Morocco. Your stop for tonight's dinner and accommodation is a charming Kasbah lodge in the area.

DAY 2 Skoura/ Dades - Tinerir - Todra Gorge - Rissani - Merzouga - Erg Chebbi ( 5/ 4 hour drive)

Today, we can pursue our custom Morocco tour right after breakfast or first have a few hours trek in the nearby Dades Gorge - the local guides are experts in the local fauna and flora and easily adapt to your level of fitness. Back on our desert trip, our first stop is Tinerhir (Tinghir), with its extensive palm grove, the Ksours built into the rocky hills above it and its mysterious decaying Jewish quarter. No more than a mountain Berber village, set at 1300 meters altitude, it has been for generations a stop for nomadic Berber tribes travelling from the mountains north of it towards the desert during the winter months. A rather inconspicuos hidden gem is the 19th century adobe mosque nested within the old crumbling ksour, a heaven for photography enthusiasts. 

The most spectacular ( and touristy) gorges  of Morocco, Todra Gorges , lie only 15 km from Tinerhir, presenting an arresting spectacle with its crystal clear river emerging from it, its huge walls changing color to magical effect as the day unfolds. Its 300 meters ( 1000 feet ) high walls are home to more than 150 bolted routes and at any time of day you can catch a glimpse of someone rock climbing his way up the gigantic walls.

Before reaching Merzouga where the tarmac ends, our 4x4 Morocco tour passes Erfoud and Rissani. In Erfoud we can stop for a visit at Musee des Oasis. Rissani used to serve as last stop on the great caravan routes south and gold and slave auctions were taking place here as late as 1800’s. Before it, 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 and Arab pure bred horses from Morocco 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)

Soon after we reach Merzouga and in the distance you glimpse the first leviathans of sand forming the Sahara: the dunes of Erg Chebbi. We'll stop for a break at a local kasbah where you can leave some luggage and/ or have a shower before being hopped onto a camel and taking the route to the camp nested in the middle of the dunes. Then, while the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage and preparing your dinner, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. Take a moment and watch the sun descend with what seems like unnatural haste behind dunes heavily shaded, shadow turning them from golden to burnt orange. There is nowhere else you would rather be. After dinner, the camp staff turn out to be quite gifted musicians . At night, dazed by the millions of stars glittering above, the silence is so thick you feel you could cut a strip and wear it as a scarf, as you fall asleep.

DAY 3: Erg Chebbi - Erfoud - Alnif - Nkob - Agdz ( 4 hour drive)

Should you have missed the sunrise… well, try not to. Stories of Scheherezade, Ali Baba and his 40 thieves and Hollywood have created a mythical Arabian landscape that reality often struggles to match. Except here and now, reality exceeds imagination. With the handful of sand you pour inside your pocket, comes the wish to carry this moment with you forever.

The road to Tazzarine sees almost no traffic, providing a scenic link between Tafilalet and Draa Valley. Aside from the landscape, fossils and prehistoric rock carvings are this region’s main attraction. The scenery grows wilder as you approach Tazzarine, set in a grassy oasis surrounded by bare mountains. On the way to Nkob, with its prominent old Kasbah and dense palm grove, we will awe at Djebel Saghro, a starkly beautiful jungle of volcanic peaks, quite unlike the mountains we have already encountered so far. One can only wonder whether the stark conditions of life around these parts have helped shaping the character of its inhabitants. This is where in the winter of 1933, a 2000 Ait Atta Berber army resisted a 83000 man and 44 planes strong French army as the French were looking to complete their colonization of Morocco. 

General Guillaume, one of the French army heads wrote: ''Our opponent reveals the best warrior of North Africa. He is brave to temerity. He accepts deliberately to sacrifice his possessions, his family, let alone his life, to defend his freedom... This instinctive horror proven against all coercion and domination justifies the  desperate resistance opposed to any foreign penetration. Everyone defends his territory until the end, with a fury that can surprise, but which commands admiration.''

After the desolate landscapes of the last few hours, our boutique Morocco tour reaches the lush Draa Valley, with its numerous oases, Biblical villages and kasbahs, used as overnight stops by the caravans until not too long ago is the beginning of the 'caravan highway' connecting for centuries Timbuktu, Gao and the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali to Barbary ( present day Morocco).

DAY 4 Agdz - Ouarzazate - Fint Oasis - Marrakech ( 5 hour drive).

After breakfast, do not miss a walk in the palm grove, an amazing world of its own: date palms at the edge, terraces of olive, pomegranate, almond and fruit trees further in, with grain and vegetable crops planted in between. Here, the river is diverted and separated by man- made streams to irrigate each and every garden as everyone gets his '8 hour slot' of water. You can witness the ingenious distribution of water through kettaras and seguias and the local craftsmen shape their colorful potteries. Succulent trees ripple in a breeze that wafts down the valley as the village is softly hushed, the only sound the bleating of far- off goats. 

Back on the road, our 4 day Morocco tour leaves the palmgrove behind as the road climbs, twists and turns its way up into the mountains, before breaking through the scarp at the pass of Tizi n'Tinififft. Stopping at the pass and looking back, you catch a glimpse of the Draa valley and the oases, a green river of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs, adobe guardians rising as if from the earth where the green gives way to the desert.

The nearby Fint Oasis provides a precious opportunity to witness life within an oasis set among a stone desert, albeit hundreds of miles away from the Sahara. Smaller in size than a palm grove, an oasis is an essential component of the desert, where water comes out of the ground and used to be shared equally among the caravans. A small community still inhabits the lush gardens surrounding the oasis, preserving the century-old traditions.

Then our tour crosses Ouarzazate, made famous by its film studios where scenes of  'Game of Thrones' were recently shot. We will then start our way back crossing the High Atlas. Few people know it but this route was first laid out by the French Foreign Legion back when Ouarzazate was no more than a French army outpost. Our trip serpents its way through the abrupt valleys and mountain peaks and our desert tour arrives in Marrakech later in the evening.

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 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 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 (driving times don't include stops):

Day 1: Marrakech - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou - Skoura ( 5 hour drive). 
Day 2: Skoura - Tinerir - Todra - Rissani - Merzouga - Erg Chebbi ( 5 hour drive ).
Day 3: Erg Chebbi - Erfoud - Tinejdad - Tinerir - Dades ( 4 hour drive). 
Day 4: Dades - Ouarzazate - Marrakech ( 5 hour drive).

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.
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's street food;
- traditional Moroccan hammam ( steam bath) with eucalyptus soap body scrub;
- visit a traditional adobe ksour, its century old mosque and the 'wells of light';
- visit the Black People village, have tea with the nomads and pick up fossils;
- cook bread with the local ladies in the village's oven;
- trek or hike in Dades Gorge and their 'monkey fingers'.

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

Dreamers: 595 €/ 640 US $/ 510 £ per person ( double room & private desert tent);
Privilege: 775 €/ 830 US $/ 665 £ per person ( junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: price available on request.

Pricing is tentative and can vary slightly at different times of the year. December, January ( outside end of the year holidays), February, July and August are low season and so you will be charged the quoted rates or less, if you travel with us during these months. 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 the different accommodation options within the same circuit.

Our rates include:

- private use of the English fluent driver- guide & modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 2 nights;
- Sahara camel trek and private basic/ luxury tent for 1 night;
- 3 three- course- meal dinners and 3 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop- off;
- private guided visit of a palm grove or trek in the High Atlas with local guide;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- local English speaking guides;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hours travel assistance ( with Privilege and Divine level);
- gasoline and transport insurance;
- VAT and visitors tax.

 

This itinerary can also be arranged on a tour from Marrakech to Fez over 3 nights and 4 days with spending one night in the Sahara desert.

Read more...

Oases and palm groves ( 3 - 4 days)

kasbah ait bennhadou - Copy

This 3 day Morocco desert tour takes us over the Atlas Mountains and reaches Sahara's dunes by the second evening to return to Marrakech via a different route.

Our itinerary crosses the High Atlas at 2300 meters high, visits UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou, the Kasbahs of the south, the Biblical adobe villages, serpents along mythical Draa Valley, stops by the oasis, walks through the palmgroves, deciphers century old Qoran's and Arab treaties, bakes emerald pottery at Tamegroute, uncovers honey- combed ksours, rides a camel into the Sahara, sleeps in the desert under the starriest sky, awes at the extravagant Pasha's residence - all highlights of a bespoke trip of Morocco.

Click here to see detailed map

DAY 1: Marrakech - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou - Agdz.

As the private tour of Morocco leaves Marrakech, the distant haze begins to resolve itself into a jagged mountain range - the High Atlas mountains, jutting abruptly from the plain. Our route follows the same one caravans used centuries ago, to bring into Marrakech slaves, gold and precious wood from the other side of the ocean of sand, the Sahara.

[... in the sands of that country is gold, treasure inexpressible. They have much gold and merchants trade with salt for it, taking the salt on camels from the salt mines. They start from a town called Sijilmasa... and travel in the desert as it were upon the sea, having guides to pilot them by the stars or rocks in the desert. ] ( Tohfut-ul- Alaby by anonymous author, 12th century)

Beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeed among oak trees, walnut groves and snow patches as we brave the pass Tizi n Tichka pass at 2260 meters high. Scent of thyme fills the air. We then dwell into back roads, to shortly reach Telouet and former pasha's 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 and decided to erect a palace in the middle of nowhere, where his family had originated from. 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 was managing the nearby salt mines. 

Leaving Telouet behind, our journey crosses spaghetti western backgrounds to then follow the canyon. The gardens by the river bed melt into colourful mosaic and decaying kasbahs stand witnesses of an age soon resolute. Late afternoon. Then it's the right time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe citadel. A fat, red sun, only underlines the beige tones of the mud- and- straw mixture and through the covered passages and stone walls, the past filters itself into the present. You will be offered guidance but 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... As we pass through Ouarzazate, we can stop and visit the famous film studios where recently scenes of Game of Thrones were shot. 

Soon after leaving Ouarzazate behind, the road climbs, twists and turns its way through dark orange calcified ridges, before breaking through the scarp at the pass of Tizi n'Tinififft and descend onto the lush palmgrove of Agdz. Right after the pass you catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases, the green swath of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs, adobe guardians rising as if from the earth where the green gives way to the desert. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, Le Grand Sud. Dinner and accommodation inside the palm grove. 

DAY 2: Agdz - Zagora - Tamegroute - Erg Lihoudi /Erg Chigaga.

Draa Valley , with its numerous oases, Biblical villages and kasbahs, used as overnight stops by the caravans until not too long ago is the beginning of the 'caravan highway' connecting for centuries Timbuktu, Gao and the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali to Barbary ( present day Morocco).

[As a result of the conquest of the states of the Sudan, the Sultan of Morocco received so much gold dust that envious men were all troubled. So from then on Al- Mansour only paid his officials in pure metal and in dinars of proper weight. At the gate of his palace 1400 smiths were daily engaged in making pieces of gold. This super abundance of gold earned the sultan the surname Adh - Dhahabi ( the Golden).] ( Al Iffrani- 'Histoire de la dynastie Saadiene au Maroc', 18th century).

Have a guided tour of the palm grove after breakfast. Then, cross over the palm grove and visit the Black People village, descendants of the Harratin, the black slaves from across the Sahara. Stroll around the eerie kasbah of Tamnougalt to then follow the route along Biblical villages all the way to Zagora. More ancient than Zagora is Amezrou, nearby. The important Jewish community had left behind the silver jewelry craft and the adobe synagogue. Later on, in Tamegroute, visit the library which hosts a fine collection of Qorans printed on gazelle hide and 12th century old works on mathematics, medicine and history. What makes Tamegroute famous though, is the typical green glaze cast inside the local earth ovens. Roof tiles, jars, dishes and pottery produced here are traded in souks from Tangier all the way to Agadir. The last stretch of the day will take us from Zagora to M'hamid, where the tarmac ends. The first dunes, Erg Lihoudi, are only a 30 minutes drive away. For those that want to experience the true desert, the more remote  dunes of Erg Chigaga await in the distance, a 2 hour off- road driving from Mhamid. As you approach the dunes, you will be met by our camel man and trade the 4x4 for camels to arrive at the desert camp by the time the sun dips onto the horizon. 

While the staff of the camp unloads your luggage and sets up your dinner, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. And lose yourself. Right now, there is nowhere else you would rather be. Have your dinner in front of your private tent, by the camp fire. At night, dazed by the millions of stars glittering above, the silence is so thick you feel you could cut a strip and wear it as a scarf, as you fall asleep.

DAY 3: Erg Chigaga - Foum Zguid - Tazenakht - Ait Benhaddou - Marrakech or Erg Lihoudi - Zagora - Ouarzazate - Marrakech.

Should you have missed the sunrise… well, try not to. After toddling across sand dunes, our trip reaches the perfectly flat Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, casting the fata morgana mirage... Later on, we will have tea with a family of nomads and search for fossils. Then, we take on the hamada, the much dreaded stony desert, to finally reach Foum Zguid. Farewell Sahara, hello tarmac. Have lunch by the pool at a local lodge or a casual snack in the village. On the way to Taroudant, we pass through Tazenakht, a carpet weaving center and center of Berber carpets trade. Later on, we complete the loop and get back to the route we left behind after visiting Ait Benhaddou on the first day ( if you can add an extra day or two to the itinerary, our Caravans Dust tour continues on to Taroudant and the Atlantic coast before returning to Marrakech. 

We will then start our way back crossing the High Atlas. Few people know it but this road was first laid out by the French Foreign Legion back when Ouarzazate was no more than a French army outpost. The journey serpents its way through the abrupt valleys and mountain peaks and our custom Morocco tour arrives in Marrakech late in the evening.

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 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 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 (driving times don't include stops):

Day 1: Marrakech-Telouet- Ait Benhaddou- Ouarzazate- Agdz ( 5 hour drive).
Day 2: Agdz- Zagora- Erg Lihoudi/ Erg Chigaga ( 4 hour drive)
Day 3: Erg Chigaga - Tamegroute- Ouarzazate- Marrakech ( 8 hour drive). 

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;
- visit a traditional ksour and have lunch inside a local family's home;
- pottery workshop class in Tamegroute;
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's street food;
- traditional Moroccan hammam ( steam bath) with eucalyptus soap body scrub;
- trek in the High Atlas mountains.

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

Dreamers: 445 €/ 475 US $/ 385 £ per person ( double room & private desert tent);
Privilege: 645 €/ 710 US $/ 500 £ per person ( junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: price 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 the English fluent driver- guide & modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 1 night;
- Sahara camel trek and private double tent for 1 night;
- 2 three- course- meal dinners and 2 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop- off;
- private visit of the palm grove with local guide;
- 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 accommodation);
- gasoline and transport insurance;
- VAT and visitors tax. 

 

If you can add an extra day or two to the itinerary, our Caravans Dust tour continues on to Taroudant and the Atlantic coast before returning to Marrakech.

 

Read more...

Caravans Dust ( 4 - 6 days)

kasbah ait benhaddou

This 5 day private Morocco tour leaves Marrakech over the Atlas Mountains and reaches Sahara, returning via the Atlantic coast, packing in just 5 days more landscapes, activities and local traditions than any other similar length tour. 

The itinerary follows the old caravan  route from Marrakech into the Sahara's dunes, returning via an off the beaten track route over the majestic Atlas Mountains or by the Atlantic coast via Agadir or Essaouira.  No other tour packs so much diversity in just 5 days as we take in breath taking wild nature and the local culture of the Berber, Jewish and Bedouin people.  Our route will take us past valleys, canyons, palm groves, lakes, rivers, woodlands and mountains. We will explore mysterious Ksours and kasbahs, Berber granaries and grottoes, have tea with the nomads in the Sahara, walk in the shade of palm leaves, cross the Sahara desert, uncover 12the century old Tinmel mosque and shed off the desert sand on the Atlantic coast.

Click here to see detailed map

Day 1: Marrakech- Tizi n Tichka- Telouet- Ait Benhaddou ( 4 hour drive)

As our 5-day tour leaves Marrakech, the distant haze begins to resolve itself into a jagged mountain range - the High Atlas mountains, jutting abruptly from the plain. Our route follows the same one caravans used centuries ago, to bring into Marrakech slaves, gold and precious wood from the other side of the ocean of sand, Sahara.

[... in the sands of that country is gold, treasure inexpressible. They have much gold and merchants trade with salt for it, taking the salt on camels from the salt mines. They start from a town called Sijilmasa... and travel in the desert as it were upon the sea, having guides to pilot them by the stars or rocks in the desert. ] ( Tohfut-ul- Alaby by anonymous author, 12th century)

Beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeed among oak trees, walnut groves and snow patches before arriving at the Tizi n Tichka pass, at 2100 meters high.  Once over the pass a totally different picture is unveiled: the lunar landscape of the Anti Atlas. Scent of thyme from the bushes around fills the air.

Just after the pass, the tour leaves the tarmac and goes off road to then reach Telouet and former pasha's palace dominating 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. 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 was managing the nearby salt mines.

Leaving Telouet behind, our Moroccan itinerary 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. Late afternoon. The right time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe 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. 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. Dinner and accommodation next to Ait Benhaddou. 

Day 2: Ait Benhaddou- Ouarzazate- Agdz- Zagora ( 3 hour drive)

After breakfast, our trip crosses Ouarzazate, made famous by its film studios where scenes of 'Game of Thrones' and 'Gladiator' were shot. As we leave Ouarzazate behind, the road skirts through desolate arid landscapes.  Soon after, the road climbs, twists and turns its way up into the bare dark brown mountains, before breaking through the scarp at the pass of Tizi n'Tinififft and descend onto the lush palmgrove of Agdz. Right after the pass you catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases, the green swath of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs, adobe guardians rising as if from the earth where the green gives way to the desert. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, Le Grand Sud.

Draa Valley, with its numerous oases, Biblical adobe villages and kasbahs, used as overnight stops by the caravans until not too long ago is the beginning of the 'caravan highway' connecting for centuries Timbuktu, Gao and the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali to Morocco. 

[Until the beginning of the 17th century the Taghaza- Timbuktu road, pre- eminent in the gold trade and still more important as a cultural highway appears to have been the greatest of the routes across the desert. At any rate, up to the 1880's the Saharan trade was a factor of considerable importance in the economy of Morocco] ( E.W. Bovill - The Golden Trade of the Moors)

We will stop at Tamnougalt and roam through the eerie kasbah before crossing over the palm grove and stopping to see 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. Our itinerary today concludes with reaching the tranquil town of Zagora. A mock serious road sign spelling 'Timbuktu – 52 days by camel' still greets the visitors. Even though some guide books and travel agents want to have you believe the desert starts here, the Sahara and its saffron dunes are waiting patiently in the distance, the first real dunes a 2 hour drive away. We will stop for accommodation and dinner in a beautiful guest house nested in the palmgrove nearby.

Day 3: Zagora- Tamegroute- Mhamid- Erg Chigaga ( 3 hour drive).

In the shade of an ocean of palm trees, locals get the best out of their fertile land as olives, pumpkins, quinces, apples, pomegranate, wheat  and barley all grow aroused by the ancestral system of irrigation. We more than recommend a guided tour of this unique habitat. The nearby village of Amezrou, carries on the Jewish tradition of silver crafting and the local adobe Jewish synagogue still stands. We will stop for a break in Tamegroute where century old Qorans and Arab treaties on astronomy and sciences are neatly arranged behind glass windows at the local library.  The same village carries a pottery tradition known throughout Morocco and it is of interest to witness the shaping and baking of the emerald pots and dishes inside traditional earth ovens. Crossing Jbel Bani, we wave hello to Mount Tagine on our right and, before long, we reach M’hammid, where the tarmac ends - the last village before the Sahara. 

The next two hours of our tour make full use of the four wheel drive as rocky desert gives way to gravel 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. These are the dunes of Erg Chigaga. Here, we can arrange for you to be met and taken by camel ride to the camp for the last bit of the way. 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. As the sun slowly sets over the dunes, there is nowhere else you would rather be. At night, dazed by the millions of stars glittering above, the silence is so thick you feel you could cut a strip and wear it as a scarf as you fall asleep. Dinner and accommodation in a private tent.

Day 4: Erg Chigaga- Foum Zguid- Tazenakht- Taroudant ( 7 hour 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, our trip reaches the perfectly flat Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, where the Draa river used to form its estuary. Later on, we will have tea with a family of nomads and search for fossils. Then, we take on the hamada, the much dreaded stony desert, to finally reach Foum Zguid. Farewell Sahara, hello tarmac. On the way to Taroudant, we pass through Tazenakht, a carpet weaving center and center of Berber carpets trade and then Taliouine with its magnificent Kasbah. This is also where the best saffron is grown throughout 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 5: Taroudant- Tizi n Test- Tinmel- Asni- Marrakech or Taroudant- Agadir- Marrakech ( 4- 5 hour drive).

Taroudant lies in the middle of a fertile agricultural 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 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. In this quiet town where most folks go around on their bycicle, hop on a caleche and have a tour around the city walls or wander the souks best known for silver, honey and argan oil and imagine how Marrakech used to be 30 years ago. 

Back on the road we are now taking up the imposing High Atlas this time reaching the Tizi n Test pass at 2100 meters, surrounded by snowy peaks. After the pass, our Moroccan itinerary serpents its way through the mountains and scattered Berber villages. At first sight just another Berber village, Tinmel is the birth place of the Almohad dynasty, who was to rise and shape a great empire in the 12th century stretching from Senegal all the way into Spain and Algeria. The open air mosque was built on the model of the mosque in Cordoba and the remains are worth a visit. Later, as you cross Asni, to your right you can wave hello to Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in Nothern Africa and have a late lunch at Richard Branson's nearby Kasbah Tamadot.

If you prefer, you can also return to Marrakech via the highway from Agadir, after having enjoyed some time on the beach just north of Agadir. The beaches around up- and- comingTaghazout are embraced by a warm sea current, local restaurants offer inventive fresh fish cuisine and you can swim in the Atlantic most of the year. Agadir is only a 1 hour drive from Taroudant and 3 hours on the highway to Marrakech. Arrive in Marrakech in the evening. Drop off at your riad/ hotel for the night, the train station or the airport. End of the tour.  

You may choose to follow the original tour itinerary as described on the website or have us create a customized Moroccan 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 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. A day- to- day customized Moroccan itinerary with the names of the accommodations suggested at each overnight will be provided at the time of the enquiry.

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

Day 1: Marrakech - Tizi n Tichka - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou (4 hour drive).
Day 2: Ait Benhaddou- Ouarzazate - Agdz - Zagora ( 3 hour drive).
Day 3: Zagora - Tamegroute - Mhamid - Erg Chigaga dunes ( 3 hour drive).
Day 4: Erg Chigaga - Lake Iriki - Foum Zguid - Tazenakht - Taroudant ( 7 hour drive).
Day 5: Taroudant - Tizi n Test - Tinmel - Asni - Marrakech ( 5 hour drive) or Taroudant - Agadir - Marrakech/ Essaouira ( 4 hour drive). 

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 may be:

- organic honey tasting experience;
- visit the nomad grottos;
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's street food;
- be introduced to the architectural wonders of the Anti Atlas granaries;
- take a class in Moroccan pottery;
- trekking/ mountain biking in the High Atlas/ Anti Atlas;
- learn about life in the palm grove, the khetarra irrigations, the pottery craft, the olive oil press;
- bake bread with the village ladies on almond corks.

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

Dreamers: 695 €/ 745 US $/ 600 £ per person (double room and basic tent);
Privilege: 1090 €/ 1170 US $ / 940 £ per person (double junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: rates are 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 the English fluent driver-guide and modern air-conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 3 nights;
- Sahara camel trek & private basic/ luxury tent for 1 night;
- 4 three- course- meal dinners and 4 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop off;
- caleche ride and/ or visit to the souks in Taroudant;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hours travel assistance ( with Privilege/ 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 if you think the drive is too long.

 

 

 

Read more...
Subscribe to this RSS feed

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 !