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Essaouira - UNESCO world site

essaouira-general view

A day trip from Marrakech to Essaouira is the ideal contrast to the hustle and chaos of Marrakech.

Art galleries, sea food stalls, nearby deserted beaches, Game of Thrones settings and sweet farniente are what makes this day tour special.

 

DETAILED ITINERARY

Our day trip from Marrakech leaves the city behind and two hours later, the deserted landscape around us softens and 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. The spice trade lives on in the colorful stalls in the ancient souks. 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 while some locals may still remember the brief visit of a certain Jimi Hendrix in the 70's. After the Portuguese left, Essaouira became a free port in the 18th century - Morocco's window on the world. Foreigners flooded in, especially Jews, who transformed it into a boom town; in the 19th century there were more Jews than Muslims living here.

The greatest relics of those boom years are Essaouira's stark battlements, built to guard the city against pirates and invaders. Morocco's sultan had decided he had enough of the Republic of Sale and its pirates, a rebel 'state' within his kingdom, and commissioned a French architect to build a new port, with proper bastions, walls, canons and perpendicular streets. 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.

Thanks to its magnificent fortifications and overall bohemian ambiance, Essaouira is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  But Essaouira is still a market town and its white washed houses and year- round hippy-like atmosphere ressembles somehow what Ibiza must have looked like in the 70's. Among all this, rural Berbers still  come to hawk their wares to the artisans who live and work here and the world famous Gnawa music festival held every June still draws crowds of thousands filling its squares and beaches.

It is an ideal place to relax, wander on the beach and admire the different crafts and activities. Essaouira's real strength comes from the fact that tourism hasn't yet spoiled the town, which remains a hive of activity where fishermen and boat builders get on with their daily activities as they have done for centuries. An excursion to 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. In the afternoon, if you are not mad about European military architecture, go on 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 south of it.  

Whatever the choice, your driver will be glad to meet you at the end of the day and share the impressions of the day with you before starting the journey back to Marrakech.

A day trip to Essaouira wouldn't be complete without speaking of argan and thuya. The argan oil produced by the fruit with its unique qualities and wide spread use in both cooking and cosmetics is widely exported to Europe. On the road back, you might catch the sight of goats climbing up these trees in order to collect their food. Before you think the long journey has gotten the best of you, we can assure you this is nothing out of ordinary.

You are free to choose your time of departure. However, in order to make the best out of your day out, we recommend leaving no later than 8 AM. Forecasted return time in Marrakech is 6- 7 PM. 

PRICE.............................................................................................. 70 EUROS PER PERSON ( BASED ON 2 PERSONS SHARING THE VEHICLE). DISCOUNTS APPLY FOR 3 OR MORE PERSONS.

The rate includes: private ( sole use) of the modern air conditioned Toyota 4x4 and the English fluent driver- guide, entrance fees to all sites and monuments, refreshing drinks inside the vehicle, pick up and drop off from/ to the hotel/ Riad and transport insurance.

 

 

 

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Fortress or palace?

kasbah ait bennhadou - Copy

Our day trip from Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou and Telouet is best for Kasbah architecture, Atlas Mountains views and a taste of the Grand Sud.

UNESCO Ait Benhaddou site, Atlas Mountains, pasha's palace at Telouet, Fint oasis and film studios in Ouarzazate can be included in this day tour. 

DETAILED ITINERARY 

Leaving Marrakech behind, our journey encounters beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeeding among oak trees, walnut groves and oleander bushes. The road snakes up before arriving at the spectacular Tizi n Tichka pass. We are now at 2260 meters high. Once over the pass a totally different landscape is unveiled: the lunar landscape of the Anti Atlas and the plain beyond it. Scent of thyme from the bushes around fills the air. 

Just after the pass, our itinerary turns left and we find ourselves on the ancient route caravans used to bring the much sought- after goods at the court of the Sultan. We soon reach Telouet. The ruins of the pasha's palace dominate the village, a fortified citadel that is both a microcosm of an empire and its demise. He 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 managed the nearby salt mines.

Leaving Telouet behind, the trip crosses spaghetti western backgrounds to then meet the canyon. The gardens by the river bed melt into a gigantic green serpent imprisoned between the brown ridges, only to escape out into the horizon. The road follows the green serpent and on the other side, carved into the wall of the canyon, grottoes are still being used for keeping the stock or grains over the winter by the semi nomadic people of the area. Here and there, decaying kasbahs stand witnesses of an age soon resolute. 

Late afternoon. Then is the time to visit Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like UNESCO 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 will steal your breath away. If the climb up hadn’t already. Half hour later, our trip crosses Ouarzazate, made famous by its film studios where recently scenes of 'Game of Thrones'  were shot. With this background, you may want to ride a camel along the kasbah's walls, by the river bed. Further away, the Oasis of Fint is a great example of life within an oasis.

We will then start our way back crossing the High Atlas, this time on the national road, once a camel track that was turned into a proper road suitable for vehicles in the 1030's with the help of the French Foreign Legion. The excursion serpents its way past abrupt valleys and mountain peaks to descend onto Marrakech later in the evening.

You are free to choose your time of departure. However, in order to make the best out of your day out, we recommend leaving no later than 8 AM. Forecasted return time in Marrakech is 7- 8 PM.

PRICE.............................................................................................. 75 EUROS PER PERSON ( BASED ON 2 PERSONS SHARING THE VEHICLE). DISCOUNTS APPLY FOR 3 OR MORE PERSONS.

The rate includes: private ( sole use) of the modern air conditioned Toyota 4x4 and the English fluent driver- guide, entrance fees to all sites and monuments, refreshing drinks inside the vehicle, pick up and drop off from/ to the hotel/ Riad and transport insurance.

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Sun Trails

14 Avenue Hassan Seghir

Casablanca 20000

Phone : +212 638 636 719/ +212 666 915 384

Skype: sun_trails_morocco

We are open 7 days a week from 9 AM to 5 PM local Morocco time. For any last minute enquiry feel free to call us on the number(s) listed above.

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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 !