Lost Kingdoms (8- 10 days)

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This 9 day off- the- beaten- track Morocco tour leaves Marrakech over the High Atlas mountains, reaches the Sahara to then take you deep south into a mystical land where not many have ventured before. 

We follow the old caravan route from Marrakech over the High Atlas mountains, past UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou, along the Draa river with its Biblical villages and lush palm grove and into the Sahara desert.  After riding a camel and having dinner under the stars, spend the night in Erg Chigaga dunes, in the safety of your private tent. Then, ride through the desert, have tea with the nomads and pick up milennia- old fossils. Later on, continue south, and uncover some of Morocco's besh hidden secrets, with the distinct feeling that you are the first person to ever walk there. Trekking up a river bed to find yourself in the middle of primordial gorges, their wax- like lava walls appearing to have caught time suspended. Century- old granaries, fierce mountain- top fortresses, where the village folks still stock their grains. The ruins of a 17th century mosque, hidden in the middle of a palm grove. The millennia old rock engravings, portraying wild animals, hunters and some of the first letters of the Berber alphabet. Then, we head north into the Anti Atlas and spend a night in the highly picturesque village of Tafraoute, a heaven for trekking, hiking and mountain biking. End the tour with some pristine Atlantic beaches, before reaching the 'small Marrakech' - Taroudant. 

Click here to see detailed map

Day 1: Marrakech- Tizi n Tichka – Telouet – Ait Benhaddou ( 3 hour drive).

Leaving Marrakech behind, we soon take on the High Atlas. Breath taking panoramas and hairpin curbs succeed while the route follows one moment out in the open, the next under dense pine trees. Shortly after reaching 2200 meters altitude, you leave the main route to reach the village of Telouet and the Kasbah of the Glaoui. From the ensemble of three ruined kasbahs only one has maintained its reception rooms where intricate zellij patterns and precious wood greet the eye. Pacha Glaoui 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.

Then, our road follows Ounila valley with its mosaic of gardens and tiny douars. Occasionally the valley turns into a canyon, where the nomads have dug centuries ago galleries of grottos to stock grains. Late afternoon is the right time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe citadel. With a bit of luck, the crowds have already deserted the place. 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 yourself in its derbs and explore the honey – comb structures. Spend the night in a refurbished Kasbah, in the vicinity of Ait Benhaddou. 

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

Today our itinerary travels along the mythical Draa Valley, a route so often used for centuries by the caravans bringing gold, slaves, ivory or feathers from Mali or Ghana. But first, locally sourced breakfast – better had on the roof terrace from you can admire the palm grove below. Or why not, bake bread with the ladies in the village oven. In Ouarzazate, the only noteworthy site is the film studios, if you are travelling with children. Leaving the plain behind, the road climbs, twists and turns its way up through bare calcified gorges. Right after the pass you catch a first glimpse of the 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. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, le grand sud.

Right after Agdz, we turn left and will stop to wander around the eerie kasbah of Tamnougalt. Biblical adobe villages border the palm grove. It is worth visiting at least one of them – perhaps the one where most of the population is still black, descendants of former slaves- the Harratin. A picnic lunch by the river, under the palms, is quite a treat. Or perhaps discover the rock engravings at the end of a dusty off road track. We reach the tranquil town of Zagora late afternoon.  

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

After breakfast, our 4x4 Morocco tour will take you through adobe villages bordering the route and the first patches of sand start to show. The nearby village of Amezrou, carries on the Jewish tradition of silver crafting and the adobe 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 in the zaouia’s library.  The same village carries a pottery tradition known throughout Morocco Watch how the clay is being turned into emerald pots and dishes inside traditional earth ovens and glazed into its particular emerald green cover. Before long, our tour reaches M’hammid, where civillization ( or at least the tarmac ) ends. 

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- these are the dunes of Erg Chigaga. Just as you enter the dunes, you are meeting the camels. Ride a camel into the dunes as the sun is slowly dipping into the horizon. While the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. There is nowhere else you would rather be. Have dinner in front of your tent, by the camp fire, under starriest sky. 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 4: Erg Chigaga – Lake Iriki – Foum Zguid – Tata ( 4 hour drive)

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, 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... Though the dunes are behind, the immensity is still present. The tarmac swirls past barren plateau and sun- burnt ridges while you barely cross another soul. Continue south and stop by the nearby waterfalls. A couple of hours later, reach your accommodation for the night, a five- century old noble house erected on a top of a village overlooking the palm grove. The many hidden corners, passages and patios will delight adults and children alike. Food is rustic, locally- sourced and really tasty.

Day 5: Tata – Akka – Icht ( 2 hour drive)

In the morning have breakfast on the roof terrace – one can hardly imagine a breakfast with a better view. Spend the morning learning how a water clock works in the nearby palm grove, preparing traditional bread in the village stove, visit the grottoes or trek by the cliffs. Picnic in the nearby palm grove to then reach a very old Berber village where you will be able to push the gate of a 18th century old granary, recently restored. Inside the palm grove an unfinished mosque from centuries ago stands as a silent guard.  Your accommodation for tonight resembles an African lodge more than a Moroccan kasbah. 

Day 6: Icht - Amtoudi ( 1 hour drive).

Today, we will discover the local area and its not- so- obvious attractions. The remoteness of the spaces is why most people would come and stay here. But don’t let yourself be fooled by the appearances. In the surroundings, at the right place and time of day you can glimpse foxes, eagles, wild boar, hares, mountain gazelles, bustards or partridges. After breakfast, leave the guest house and take the route to the old village at the foot of the local djebel. Visit the old streets of the village, the museum created by Abdesalam, and the women’s cooperative who make colorful rugs and other home objects ( who also adorn the rooms of the guest house).

Back in the 4x4, travel to Amtoudi to drop the luggage at the guest house and have lunch to trek up the river bed and find yourself in the middle of primordial gorges, their wax- like lava walls appearing to have caught time suspended. Natural pools of deep- green transparent water appear here and there, where fish swim. The climb is sometimes steep, but it's worth all the effort. At the end of it, the 300 meter high gorge opens up and you can make your way back through the deserted plateaux above. Dinner and accommodation in the gorges. 

Day 7: Amtoudi – Tafraoute ( 3 hour drive)

After breakfast, walk up the mule track and wander through the 70 odd rooms of the local granary overlooking the village from 600 meters high and see where locals used to stock grains, raise bees and collect rain water. The documents attest the granary is around 800 years old. It was also used as a back drop in times of attack from a different tribe or the nomads from the Sahara.  Back inside the vehicle, a most stunning off road crosses the Anti- Atlas , via one of the former piste des legionnaires. Arrive in Tafraoute late afternoon. 

Day 8: Tafraoute – Taroudant ( 3 hour drive)

In the morning, if any energy left from the previous day, hop on a bike and explore the local gorges and awe at the games of light and shade the palm grove and the bare mountains offer. For those interested, a few tracks are available for trekking or rock climbing. As you thread your way through the gorges and deep red villages, there will be a flash of quicksilver to your left: an oasis of deep- green water, ringed by a white granite bed of rocks, glinting in the sun. The local painted rocks and Napoleon’s hat are also worth a detour. Or the Lion’s head… After lunch, take the route over the Anti Atlas and stop on the way to admire the 360 rooms of a local agadir, set on 5 stories where rock slabs are used as staircases. The route then goes up to cross the tranquil town of Ighrem and then descend on Taroudant and its fertile plains, the snowy peaks of the High Atlas in the background. Arrive in Taroudant in the evening. 

Day 9: Taroudant – Taghazout/ Chichaoua – Marrakech ( 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.

There are two ways to return to Marrakech. One is via the highway from Agadir, after having enjoyed some time on the beach just north of Agadir. The beaches around bohemian Taghazout are embraced by a warm sea current 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. Or, you can choose the other route and stop on the way to visit a 500 year- old apiary where the owner will introduce you to traditional bee- growing, have you taste the different sorts of honey (our favorite must be argan honey) and invite you for an organic lunch in his home. Arrive in Marrakech late afternoon.

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. Upon 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 ( 3 hour drive).
Day 2: Ait Benhaddou – Ouarzazate – Agdz - Zagora ( 3 hour drive).
Day 3: Zagora – Mhamid – Erg Chigaga dunes ( 3 hour drive).
Day 4: Erg Chigaga – Lake Iriki - Foum Zguid – Tata ( 4 hour drive).
Day 5: Tata- Akka – Icht ( 2 hour drive).
Day 6: Icht - Amtoudi (1 hour drive).
Day 7: Amtoudi – Tafraoute ( 3 hour drive).
Day 8: Tafraoute – Taroudant ( 3 hour drive).
Day 9: Taroudant - Taghazout/ Chichaoua - Marrakech (4- 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 grottoes and Berber granary;
- learn about life in the palm grove, the khetarra irrigations, the pottery craft, the olive oil press;
- hot air balloon flight over Marrakech and its surroundings;
- traditional Moroccan hammam ( steam bath) with eucalyptus soap body scrub;
- lunch at Richard Branson’s Atlas Mountains retreat;
- bake bread with the local ladies in the village's oven;
- trekking/ hiking around Tafraoute;
- surfing or wind- surfing on the Atlantic coast.

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

Dreamers: 1395 €/ 1500 US $ / 1200 £ per person ( double room & basic desert tent);
Privilege & Dreamers: 1855 €/ 1990 US $/ 1600 £ per person ( double room/ junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: not available for this tour.

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 the modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 7 nights;
- Sahara camel trek and private basic or luxury tent for 1 night;
- 8 three- course- meal dinners and 8 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- 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 level;
- 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. 

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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 Erg Chigaga dunes, Taroudant and the Atlantic coast over two weeks.

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 Saadi 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).

Notwithstanding the Art Deco heritage, Casablanca is nowadays, in spite of its myth, mainly a large metropolis devoid of any monuments. King Hassan 2 wanted to change that and decided to erect a landmark to match the city - 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.

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.

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.  

Day 3: Fes - Azrou - Beni Mellal - Ouzoud Waterfalls - Marrakech ( 8 hours drive).

( If you wish to avoid the long drive, we can book you a one hour internal flight from Fez to Marrakech. We will arrange for pick up with the hotel in Marrakech and your driver will join you there next morning). After breakfast, 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’. Pretty walks are to be had in the foothills of the next town, Sefrou. 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. 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. 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.'

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. 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 and Menara Gardens are examples of the garden culture permeating the 12th and 13th century. Majorelle Gardens were subsequently acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and then made available to the general public ( 2018 has seen the opening of Yves Saint Laurent museum adjacent to the gardens). They are best visited early in the morning before they become too crowded. Our favorite gardens must be those of La Mamounia hotel, where for the price of a coffee at the bar, you are free to roam around the afternoon.

If gardens are not your things, worry not. Cooking classes, babouche making, Arab caligraphy, a tour of the modern art galleries, a tasting tour, hot air balloon, are but some of the activities you can choose from.

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

Shortly after leaving Marrakech, our 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. 

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. Or at least the end of the tarmac.

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. This is where the best saffron is found in Morocco . Or you can stop for small detour and visit the suspended granary. 

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. Only 40 minutes drive north of Taroudant, you are at the foothills of the High Atlas mountais and trek opportunities abound. Accommodation as previously. 

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

Less than 1 hour drive from Taroudant lies Agadir and the wide beaches of Taghazout, famous for their surfing and warm currents. 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. Or, you can choose to take the highway towards Marrakech and stop on the way to visit a  500 year- old apiary  where the owner will introduce you to traditional bee- growing, have you taste the different sorts of honey (our favorite must be argan honey) and invite you for an organic lunch in his home. 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 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. 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. Leisure time, cooking class or sightseeing.   
Day 4: Fez - Azrou - Beni Mellal - Ouzoud falls - Marrakech ( 8 hour drive) or a one hour flight. 
Day 5: Marrakech - visit of the city with local guide. 
Day 6: Marrakech - leisure time, crafts lesson or cooking class.
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 trekking. 
Day 12: Taroudant - Taghazout/ Chichaoua - 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:

- visit of a 500 year old apiary and honey tasting;
- visit of Bronze- Age rock engravings and century old granaries;
- trekking in the High Atlas/ Anti Atlas with a local guide;
- wine tasting and lunch at a wine domain next to Essaouira;
- visit the nomad populations grottos at Tamedaght;
- visit of a palm grove with a local English speaking guide;
- hot air balloon over Marrakech and Palmeraie;
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's food circuit;
- take a class in Moroccan zellij/ tadelakt/ slippers or Arab caligraphy;
- 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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Dar Al Hossoun, Taroudant

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Beyond the snow covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains, between Marrakech and the Sahara lies a quiet town - older, yet less famous than Marrakech. And that is how its residents like it. Away from the glam, flamboyance and millions of tourists of the red city, Taroudant is a quiet provincial town. Although quite a popular stop for those on a private tour across Morocco, it is a little far to reach on just a day trip from Marrakech. After a caleche ride around its 6 miles, 16 century ramparts and a visit to the silver jewelry souk, you haven't got much else to do. Or have you ? The surroundings are spectacular: the Altantic coast just 1 hour away, the Atlas Mountains nearby, a heaven for trekking, Sous Massa national park is a bird watcher's paradise. Fancy cooking bread with the locals or picking the olives in September ? All is within close distance. To not mention the all- year round amazing climate. It is perhaps what has seduced Ollivier Verra to settle here and create his dream of a guest house where his love for exotic plants and organic local architecture have given birth to Dar Al Hossoun, the luxury eco- lodge to stay at, this side of Marrakech. He was kind enough to share with us the drive  behind this untypical yet most accommodating guest house.
Sun Trails: How did you get the idea of creating Dar Al Hossoun ?

Olivier Verra: I guess by chance ... After 20 years of work in commerce and international relations, I felt I needed a change of pace, environment and career… Before I decided on something , I wanted to fulfill a dream : having one foot in Morocco, not going back to being a tourist traveling across Morocco as I had been for the ten years before.  I was looking for a small house for mostly to 

Dar Al Hossoun general view
dar al hossoun double room    entertain and host friends and family ... I discovered Dar Al Hossoun and I literally fell in love !
  Obviously, the property was much larger than what I needed for my private use and I soon realized that a place like this takes work, staff and had to be shared with people that were moved by those same things that moved me.
I had acquired a taste for hospitality and human relations and so I thought "why not a  

guest house ? ". There were only 6 or 7 of them in Taroudant when I took on the project. 

ST: . Tell us a little bit about your previous experience. Have you ever had a guesthouse before or worked or in the field ?

OV: I was both totally alien to the world of plants/ gardens and the hospitality and catering... I applied basic management practices and organization, I implemented what I loved about all the different places throughout my travels, I researched what

  dar al hossoun outside bhou   pool by night @ dar al hossoun
  dar al hossoun dining room

was available elsewhere and I obviously sought advice with hotel and restaurant managers and experienced travelers.

ST:Where did you travel in the world and what was the destination that has moved you the most ?

OV:My pre-guesthouse owner ‘career’ gave me the opportunity to travel quite extensively.
Many destinations have touched me in my travels : India, China, Australia, United States... Each time, I had the pleasure of the exchange with the local people, the discovery of local traditions and gastronomy. Luxury, for me, was authenticity, calm and being original ... And that is what we have tried to recreate with Dar Al 

   
   fireplace salon @ dar al hossoun Hossoun. 

ST: Why Taroudant ( and not another city) ?

OV: I must confess that Taroudant was not our first choice ... I first tried to set up in Meknes , another city that I love ... Perhaps because it is a city that has been forgotten for a long time. But, certainly, also because the area is very beautiful. It reminded me of my original Provence ( region in France) .
The climate is the same in Meknes as it is in Provence in fact ... Very nice winter days , the 

  dar al hossoun inside lounge  

sun ... But only 15 or 16 degrees in winter ! That wasn’t good enough for me as I wanted good temperatures all year round. That is why I decided to go ‘further south’ and found the sleeping beauty which is Taroudant, whom I had discovered 3 or 4 years before while on a trip with my good friend Antoine Bourseiller , a theatre director. We were then looking for a place to create a festival of theatre and other performing arts !

ST: What makes Dar Al Hossoun different of other guest houses in Morocco in your opinion ?

OV: Well, most of all its ambiance. The comfort is there, but not in excess or unnecessarily so, the authenticity of the building ( traditional adobe structure ) , the exceptional gardens who have been since classified among the 20 most beautiful contemporary gardens of Mediterranean... You feel at home very quickly ... Or staying at a friends place, but certainly not "at the hotel." We wanted above all to avoid that and I think we have managed pretty well.

 

dining room @ dar al hossoun   

ST: Tell us a little about your botanical garden. Was it easy to plant and grow these species ? Did you have any plant of your own or some plants had to be transported from other countries? 

OV: Our beautiful gardens host more than 900 varieties of plants from arid deserts and five continents ! Most plants have grown from seeds collected and brought to Morocco by Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières, the garden architects who created these gardens.

The gardens can be interpreted in a few different ways: you can see them as ‘mere ornamental gardens’ or as experimental gardens since we introduced many species unique in the world or at least in Africa. They can also be seen as preservation gardens since we preserve some endangered species or a few already extinct in the wilderness.
It is a huge responsibility and a permanent training, maintenance and support job, but it is a source of inspiration and pleasure if one is passionate about it.

ST: Do you use in your kitchen products from your own terroir ? Give us some examples. Is the cuisine strictly Moroccan or do you sometimes mix different countries? What is your favorite dish at Dar Al Hossoun ?

OV: This is true ... and let me start with the products of our gardens : cactus, cactus fruit or plants unknown in this part of the world ( Casimiroa from Mexico , dragon fruit ,papaya,etc. ). I am constantly searching for new recipes and I enjoy tasting whatever we prepare fresh. Obviously, some of the vegetables come from our own organic garden and the rest from small local producers.
Our kitchen is naturally Moroccan adapted to Western tastes (less sugar, less fat), but we do not impose couscous or tagine at every meal. We also have fun ‘twisting’ classical dishes from French or Mediterranean cuisine and adapt them with ingredients grown locally.
For example, we make homemade ravioli with beet leaves or minestrone with Taliouine saffron, camel stew... Lebanese, Greek or Egyptian menu are also regulars !

The dishes are sometimes inspired by friends or guests visiting and some have proven quite successful. The turkey fillet with apricot and orange sauce tagine is such an example.

  lounge @ dar al hossoun

ST: By its architecture and gardens Dar Al Hossoun is more than a guest house . You spoke of 'garden lodge' ? What does this mean for your guests ? What are the benefits of staying with you ?

OV: In fact, Dar al Hossoun is a REAL guest house ... in the sense that it was originally a private house that was then open to hosting guests passing through or staying...it is not a "hotel disguised as a guest house."

   
The house was built gradually, linking together several pavilions with contemporary lines, but built in pise ( adobe ) and following traditional methods.
All rooms give onto the outside and the gardens therefore, architecture and vegetation are related . We live “inside-out“ throughout the year and our guests sometimes can’t tell whether it is a house in a garden or a garden in a house!
What people staying with us are saying they enjoy the most , beyond the food or 
tadelakt bathroom @ dar al hossoun   
  outside tables at dar al hossoun

the beauty of the place is the atmosphere. "It feels like visiting friends , not a hotel " is what we hear most often .

ST: In the rooms / suites you are trying to maintain an 'organic' architecture / design while providing a level of comfort and high end finishes. How did you manage ?
OV: In fact , our goal was to provide everything that can be practical and can make a stay here more enjoyable... but more importantly, we wanted to avoid the superfluous load decor and avoid the glitz and bling bling. This is what gives the place its zen ambiance.

ST: The rumor is some of your neighbors in the small palm grove of Taroudant are celebrities: shahs, princes, etc. Is it true ?

OV: Yes, that’s right... Some of them had their " Marrakech period " and got quickly exhausted: too many tourists, too much noise and pollution, too commercial, too " Paris ", too expensive... we heard all sorts !
Many of those who chose Morocco to spend all or part of the year because they like the "real" Morocco have opted for Taroudant area: the former Empress Farah of Iran is our neighbor and so are Belgian royalty and designers, collectors and art dealers or even TV personalities and politicians... The Chiracs also come on holidays regularly.

   double room at dar al hossoun

ST: What are the attractions of the city and surroundings of Taroudant in your opionion ? If a person visits Taroudant, what is a thing not to miss ?

OV: I’m known for saying that Taroudant is not a city to visit, but definitely a city to live. Even for a...few hours or days ! It’s true, besides the 9 km adobe walls , there are no outstanding monuments or exceptional gardens... but the atmosphere of this small provincial town and souks is worth spending a few hours around it.

  

The real attraction in Taroudant is the surroundings: the countryside, the Anti-Atlas to the South, the High Atlas to the north. We organize day trips to discover the Berber mountain villages, lunches or dinners within exceptional natural sites. There is really plenty to do for several days... but our hosts sometimes have trouble leaving the house to see what goes on outside. And then, years after, they come back to ... see everything else !

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now ? 

   pool by day @ dar al hossoun
   garden by bathroom @ dar al hossoun   48845
suite @ dar al hossoun

OV: Probably still at Dar al Hossoun !
This is actually our workplace, but we are not fully aware of that: life is sweeter and the pace is slower here. The guests we receive are always friendly and make up for the otherwise busy social life we used to have back in Europe.

ST: What is your favorite place in Morocco (outside Dar Al Hossoun ) ?

OV: I have a real soft spot for places still ignored by mass tourism... natural sites as Tafraoute. This is another gem that can be discovered and explored on a day trip from Dar Al Hossoun. Then, I really like the mountains and the desert... in Morocco we have it all !

Dar Al Hossoun is currently offered on our 'Caravans Dust' tour and other tailor- made tours in the Privilege level option of accommodation. 

© Sun Trails. All rights reserved . No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Translated from French by C. Martinus.  

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Caravans Dust ( 4 - 6 days)

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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 through bleached volcanic 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.

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. 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 in the moment. 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- Taghazout/ Chichaoua- 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. 

There are at least two ways to return to Marrakech. You can return via the highway from Agadir, after having enjoyed some time on the beach in Taghazout. Or, you can choose to take the highway to Marrakech and stop on the way to visit a 500 year- old apiary where the owner will introduce you to traditional bee- growing, have you taste the different sorts of honey (our favorite must be argan honey) and invite you for an organic lunch in his home. Arrive in Marrakech late afternoon. 

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 - 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;
- the architectural genius 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.

 

 

 

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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 !