Our immersive Morocco tour takes you from the Sahara Desert and across the High Atlas Range to ancient medinas and quiet fishing villages. It’s a uniquely in-depth travel experience that reveals all that we love about this friendly and exotic destination.
Day 1 – Welcome to Casablanca, Morocco
On arrival at the airport in Casablanca, our VIP Welcome Service includes assistance through immigration and customs formalities. At midday, you’ll gather with your fellow travelers for lunch, followed by a briefing with our experienced Moroccan Trip Leader.
Our afternoon sightseeing begins at the nearby Hassan II Mosque. Set on a platform that extends into the ocean and constructed from exquisite Moroccan materials including red marble from Agadir, cedar wood from the Atlas Mountains and pink granite from Tafraoute, this 20th-century icon with its graceful minaret is regarded as one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. In Mohammed V Square, you’ll discover other striking architectural landmarks including fine Mauresque buildings; emerging in the early 1900’s, this unique architectural style blended traditional Moroccan elements with European influences including French Art Deco. You’ll find more examples of the city’s unique mix of French and Moroccan architecture in the historic Habous Quarter. Driving through Anfa, you’ll discover an exclusive hilltop neighborhood with broad palm-lined avenues, lush gardens and stylish villas built over the last century. Though now demolished, the Hotel d’Anfa was the site of the historic 1943 meeting where President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill finalized the date of the Normandy Allied landings.
This evening, we’ll sit down to an à la carte dinner at Rick’s Café. Since 2004, this tribute restaurant has delighted thousands of classic film buffs who come to dine in a setting that faithfully recreates the bar made famous by Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). It may sound a bit cliché now, but the service is excellent, the ambience is truly memorable and the chefs prepare wonderful Moroccan and International dishes. Meals D
Day 2 – Onward to Meknes #WHS# + Volubilis #WHS# + Fès #WHS#
We’ll depart Casablanca this morning and travel to Rabat to explore the Oudayas Kasbah, a walled city within the city; founded in the 12th century, it’s still home to 2,000 of Rabat’s citizens. We’ll also see the splendid Mohamed V Mausoleum and marvel at the Hassan Tower, an unfinished but impressive minaret started nearly 1,000 years ago.
Our journey continues to Meknes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally founded in the 11th century as a military settlement, Meknes became the capital under Sultan Moulay Ismail, the founder of the Alaouite Dynasty. Renowned for its blending of Spanish and Moorish architectural styles of the 1600’s, Meknes is further distinguished by its impressively high and thick walls - punctuated by gracefully arched gates. Chief among these is Bab Mansour, a magnificent gate with superb Zellij tilework, sturdy columns of fine Corinthian marble and an imposing door of wood and iron. We’ll learn about Morocco’s ancient Jewish history as we explore the mellah, the ancient walled Jewish quarter inhabited since the early days of the city. We’ll also visit the nearby Royal Stables, an amazing complex constructed to comfortably house no less than 12,000 royal horses. Though the stables have fallen into an evocative state of disrepair, our guided visit offers further insight into the enormous wealth and power wielded by Morocco’s ancient dynastic rulers.
After lunch at the elegant Riad Yacout, we’ll continue onward to Moulay Idriss. Built along the slopes of two neighboring hills, this picturesque town is the final resting place of Moulay Idriss I, revered as the nation’s religious and secular founder. Non-Muslim visitors are not allowed inside the royal tomb, but our guided visit here in Morocco’s most sacred town will deepen our understanding and appreciation of the country’s culture and faith. Just outside of town, we’ll also explore the archaeological site of Volubilis, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. With finely preserved ruins dating back to the 3rd century, this remarkable ensemble of temples, baths, a basilica, brothels and finely preserved mosaic floors offers a unique look into the ancient history of Roman Africa.
Our day ends in Fès at the luxurious Hotel Sahrai. After dinner, settle in to your beautifully styled guestroom for a 2-night stay. Meals B+L+D
Day 3 – Immerse in the Imperial City of Fès #WHS#
Founded in the 8th century, this ancient city emerged as the capital of the ancient Marinid Dynasty in the 13th and 14th centuries and quickly blossomed into a major Islamic center of commerce, learning and the arts. Even today, many Moroccans regard Fès as the cultural heart of their country.
With so much history and glory, the city offers great monuments and enduring institutions that will highlight our full-day of guided touring. In the still-vibrant historic core of town, where many buildings date back to the founding days of the Marinid Dynasty, we’ll see two of Morocco’s oldest learning centers: Dating to the 14th century, both the Al-Attarine Madrasa and Bou Inania Madrasa are lauded as among the most extravagantly beautiful medieval buildings in all of Morocco.
In el-Nejjarine (Carpenter’s Square), where skilled artisans still chisel and sculpt indigenous cedar wood, you’ll admire the much-photographed Nejjarine Fountain, famous for its ceramic mosaics. Before heading to lunch, we’ll also visit the 9th-century tomb of Moulay Idriss, the revered ruler who founded the city, and see the towering 1,000-year-old minaret of the Kairaouine Mosque, the second largest in the country.
Of course, no exploration of the Fès medina would be complete without visiting the tanneries that have existed here, virtually unchanged, since medieval times. Like an artist’s palette, the deep vats sit side by side, holding dyes in a startling array of colors and shades – each manned by a single tanner. As countless other workers have done for hundreds of years, they place the raw leather into a vat, climb into the sometimes waist-deep dye, and stomp on the hide for hours – working on them until they’ve reached the desired color and suppleness. It’s an experience you will never forget.
Equally as fascinating are the colorful and lively souks; many travelers come to bargain for the amazing variety of goods available, but even the most shopping-averse traveler will be fascinated by the centuries-old rhythms of the souks - where filigreed metal lamps, fine silks, brilliantly colored leather slippers, traditional Berber rugs, exquisitely painted ceramics and hammered brasswork are offered along with freshly slaughtered chickens, fresh figs, seafood and medicinal herbs. This evening, enjoy the fine Moroccan and Mediterranean fusion cuisine of Dar Roumana. Meals B+L+D
Day 4 – Through the Ziz Valley to Merzouga + The Sahara
Leaving Fès behind us, we’ll make our way into the undulating hills and fragrant Cedar forests of the Middle Atlas Range – a favorite habitat of Barbary macaques. Passing through Ifrane, you might be surprised by the distinctly Alpine feel of the town’s layout and architecture. Fondly referred to as “The Switzerland of Morocco,” this charming town was built by the French in the 1930’s.
Midday finds us in the high plains between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas Ranges where we’ll stop to enjoy the scenery and a boxed lunch. In the afternoon, our journey continues into the Ziz Valley. Fed by the waters of the eponymous river, we’ll encounter a lush green ribbon that meanders through an otherwise harsh landscape of arid slopes and rocky peaks. Punctuated by small communities, vast belts of green date palm trees and dusty ancient kasbahs, the region promises not just its mesmerizing scenery but also the chance to witness timeless scenes of rural life.
In Erfoud, perched on the edge of the Sahara, we’ll transfer to 4x4 vehicles and journey deeper into the desert sands to our Luxury Camp, set amidst the dunes of the vast Sahara. Enjoy a camel ride over the dunes and watch the sun set over the desert as you refresh with a cup of traditional Moroccan mint tea. Later, we’ll dine on fine Moroccan fare served under a canopy of stars. Before retiring to your private tent, enjoy Berber music and congenial conversation around the campfire. Meals B+L+D
Day 5 – The Route of 1,000 Kasbahs to Ouarzazate
Arising early this morning, we’ll venture in comfortable 4x4 jeeps deeper into the vast expanse of the Sahara. The sands are ever-shifting, but our experienced drivers know the dips and rises of the surrounding dunes, and they’ll take us to a fantastic vantage point to experience the sunrise. We’ll watch the sun’s first golden rays strike the tawny desert dunes and then return to our encampment for a hearty breakfast.
Then leaving the Sahara behind us, we’ll begin our journey toward to Rissani, a 17th-century ksar that rose to importance in the days before the Alaouite Dynasty came to power. At the nearby ruins of Ksar Abbar, you’ll hear a fascinating tale of its erstwhile residents – disgraced members of the Alaouite family who were banished to live here and virtually abandoned, just as the town has been.
As we make our way through the spectacular Todra Gorge, we’ll marvel at steep canyon walls that soar more than 500 feet on either side; though not long in distance or duration, this stretch of our journey is one of the most memorable drives you’ll ever make! After lunch in a charming restaurant at the foot of the canyons, we’ll travel into the Dadès River Valley, where orchards and villages are surrounded by arid hills and desert rock formations. Our journey continues along the fabled Route of 1,000 Kasbahs; tracing an ancient caravan route, this journey is punctuated by spectacular canyons and valleys, old fortified towns, hilltop citadels and even some 19th-century single-family compounds built with the distinctive crenulated walls of a medieval kasbah. Tonight we’ll enjoy an à la carte dinner and a restful overnight at Ksar Ighnda, an enchanting riad-style hotel on the edge of the desert. Meals B+L+D
Day 6 – Across the High Atlas to Marrakech
Another unforgettable day begins this morning at Taourirt Kasbah. Built in the 19th century for one of the region’s most powerful clans, its impressive architecture reflects the wealth that the founding el Glaoui family amassed from their control of a strategic caravan trade route that connected Morocco with West Africa. Next up is Kasbah Tifoultoute. Though they lie off the beaten path, these hilltop ruins offer deep insight into the relationship between traditional Moroccan architecture and daily life. Then continue to Aït Benhaddou #WHS#, a UNESCO World Heritage Site widely regarded as an exceptionally fine ksar – the fortified towns that can be found throughout southern Morocco. Within the earthen walls, punctuated by gates and towers, you’ll be awed by the tight cluster of buildings – some quite modest, others looking like small fortified castles in their own right. With its crowd of homes, all of red clay, climbing from the arid valley floor and up the steep hillside, you might recognize Aït Benhaddou from many notable films; Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, The Man who Would be King and The Jewel of the Nile all have had scenes set in this striking ksar.
After a boxed lunch – enjoyed al fresco with views of Aït Benhaddou - we’ll leave behind the still and arid pre-Saharan terrain and ascend the southeastern slopes of the High Atlas Mountains. Crossing the 7,400-foot Tizi n’Tichka Pass, we’ll have spectacular views of the mountain landscapes before continuing along a steeply descending road built by the French in 1936 as a military highway. Arriving in Marrakech, we’ll check in to the exceptional La Maison Arabe. Blending traditional Moroccan architecture with contemporary European style, our 5-star riad enjoys a privileged setting in the heart of the ancient medina. Tonight, we’ll gather for a casually elegant cocktail party and dinner here at La Maison Arabe. Meals B+L+D
Day 7 - Explore Imperial Marrakech #WHS#
The tranquil pace (not to mention the plain old-fashioned fun!) of riding a horse-drawn carriage is the best way we know to experience the timeless atmosphere of this ancient Imperial city. Founded in the 11th century during the Almoravid Dynasty, Marrakech is blessed with myriad historical landmarks and sites which we’ll explore today with our engaging Moroccan guide. Against the dramatic backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, the tranquil Menara Gardens were first established 900 years ago as an orchard for palm, olive and fruit trees. Today, you’ll still find ancient olive groves and a reflecting pool watched over by a beautiful 19th-century pavilion, said to be built on the site of a much older structure of the Saadian era.
Continuing your focus on Morocco’s ancient dynasties, you’ll also visit the amazing Saadian Tombs. Constructed during the reign of Sultan Ahmed el Mansour in the late 1500’s, they were sealed for centuries until their rediscovery in 1917. Lavishly decorated with brilliantly colored tiles, graceful Arabic script and elaborate carvings, the tombs were remarkably preserved and have been further restored to their original glory. In the heart of the historic center near the old Jewish Quarter, you’ll tour the fabulous Bahia Palace, built in the mid 1800’s with beautiful mosaic tile work and a gracefully colonnaded arcade.
This morning’s touring also includes the Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century and famed for its impressive minaret, the oldest of the three great Almohad minarets still standing in the world. At the Dar Si Said Museum, dedicated to the work of Moroccan artisans over the centuries, we’ll find extraordinary objects including leather bags made by the nomadic Tuareg people, Berber jewelry, colorful textiles, hand-painted ceramics and magnificent rugs.
After a lunch of traditional Moroccan fare at Al Baraka, set in an historic 19th-century riad, we’ll plunge into the twisting alleyways and atmospheric streets of the Marrakech medina to explore the city’s famous souks. Historically, these markets were divided and laid out according to the specific products being produced and sold. With penetrating cultural insights (and shopping advice!) from our well-versed guide, your exploration will reveal a startling array of merchandise including pottery, textiles, antiques, carpets, jewelry, shoes, leather goods, lanterns and spices!
Of course, we’ll also take time to experience the nearly non-stop action and entertainment that have played out in Djemaa el-Fna Square since the 11th century. Public executions were the main draw back then, but today it’s the musicians, snake charmers, acrobats, henna artists, food vendors and entertainers of all description that make this the cultural heart of Marrakech. Tonight, we’ll enjoy the famed Italian cuisine of Pepe Nero, an enchanting restaurant set in a beautifully restored landmark building. Meals B+L+D
Day 8 – A Day in the Ourika Valley
We’ll set out this morning in comfortable 4x4 vehicles, leaving behind us the bustling pace of Marrakech. Traveling into a tranquil land of olive groves and citrus orchards, we’ll see the peaks of the Atlas Mountains drawing nearer as we make our way into the Ourika Valley.
At an innovative Berber cooperative, we’ll observe and learn more about the production of highly prized Argan oil. The process from tree to oil is time consuming and done almost entirely by hand. Employing local women, this cooperative is an important community resource and promises us an enlightening visit. We’ll also visit the remote village of Tnine de L’Ourika to see its picturesque zaouia (an Islamic monastery).
We’ll stop for lunch at Kasbah Bab Ourika, an enchanting hilltop retreat with views over the valley and Atlas Mountains. In the afternoon, our full-day excursion continues deeper into the Ourika Valley to Setti Fatma, a scenic stream-side village set in a canyon beneath the rugged peaks of the High Atlas range. At the tomb of Lady Fatima, you’ll hear the thousand-year-old legend of this young woman who was known for her healing powers; situated in a small building high on the mountainside, her tomb continues to receive daily offerings from local women seeking a cure for marital and fertility problems.
Next we’ll visit a farm that specializes in the cultivation of the delicate Saffron Crocus flower and the production of the esteemed spice. As we make our return journey, you’ll have an opportunity to take in more of the mountain scenery including red-roofed Berber villages perched on hills so steep that the homes appear to be stacked one on top of another. In the clear rushing streams and waterfalls of the valley, you may even observe women washing their clothes as they’ve done for centuries. Back in Marrakech, we’ll dine at Dar Zellij, an elegant restaurant famed for its fine cuisine and extraordinary setting in a beautifully restored 17th century riad. Meals B+L+D
Day 9 - Flavors and Sights of Marrakech
Moroccan cuisine reflects a rich blend of Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber culinary traditions – and the result is a varied palette of textures, spices, ingredients and flavors. Fresh vegetables are widely used along with beef, lamb, chicken and the freshest of sea foods. Olive oil is a staple as are dried fruits and a remarkable array of spices and herbs including cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, marjoram, sage and pickled lemon. Prepared in an earthenware pot with a conical lid, the richly flavored stew-like Tagine is perhaps one of Morocco’s most famous dishes. Couscous, meat kebabs, grilled seafood and a wide variety of soups and salads are other traditional favorites.
This morning, you’ll delve into this rich world of Moroccan cooking with our specially arranged cooking class with a skilled chef at La Maison Arabe. After this fun and memorable affair, you’ll sit down to a congenial lunch featuring the dishes you and your fellow student-chefs have prepared.
The ancient medina of this erstwhile Imperial city is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it’s honestly one of the world’s most unique and fascinating places. And to truly take in and appreciate its history, vibrant cultural traditions – and the full kaleidoscope of its flavors, colors, sights and sounds – you really need to take some time to just stroll at your own pace. So this afternoon has been left unscheduled so you can explore at your whim. Our in-the-know Moroccan guide will of course be on-hand with suggestions and assistance so that you take best advantage of our time here in Marrakech. This evening, we’ll gather for a lovely dinner at our riad. Meals B+L+D
Day 10 – To Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast
After a leisurely breakfast, we’ll depart midmorning for the short overland journey to Essaouira. En route, we’ll pass through groves of Argan trees. Indigenous to southwestern Morocco and living for up to 200 years, this flowering tree is the source of a small apricot-like fruit that is so irresistible to the local goats that the animals can often be seen climbing into the branches to eat their fill. Although the goats may not care, the tiny kernel inside the fruit is the highly-valued source of Argan oil, an important Moroccan commodity. In the kitchen and at the dining table, this delicately flavored oil is used for dipping bread and can be drizzled on couscous or pasta. And for centuries, women across the Mediterranean have prized the oil for its hydrating benefits for healthy skin and hair.
With its often strong Atlantic breezes, known as alizée or taros in the Berber language, Essaouira has escaped the annual influx of visitors who arrive in other Atlantic towns in search of sun, sea and sand. The result is a beguiling port that has retained much of its traditional culture and atmosphere. After lunch at a charming restaurant near the harbor, our guide will introduce you to the town’s coastal beauty and cultural allure. After sightseeing, we’ll check in to L’Heure Bleue Palais, an intimate Relais & Chateaux hotel set in a restored 18th-century courtyard residence. You’ll have time to refresh before we sit down to an elegant à la carte dinner here at our hotel. Meals B+L+D
Day 11 – Discover Essaouira #WHS#
This day of discovery begins at the old city fortifications. Designed by European engineers in the 1700’s, these massive seaside ramparts are lined with old brass cannons that still face out to sea as they have for hundreds of years. From the watchtower, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the city and the rugged Atlantic coast.
For lunch we’ll head to Ocean Vagabond where the menu changes daily based upon what the local fishermen have brought in that morning. Delicious pastries and a brasserie menu of freshly made sandwiches, tarts and wood-fired pizzas complement the seafood offerings.
The day’s exploration also takes you along the winding alleys that lead you through the old Arab quarter of the town. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Essaouira medina is regarded as one of north Africa’s finest examples of a fortified 18th-century town. With strong elements of Arabic and Islamic architecture, the overall design also reflects European military architecture of the period. As we explore with our in-the know guide, you’ll gain rich insight into the historic role that Essaouira played as a vibrant seaport linking Morocco and Sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and the rest of the world. In the studio of a local artist, you’ll learn how age-old traditions are still used to create the handicrafts for sale here and in the medina’s many colorful shops.
In the open-air fish market, you’ll find friendly vendors with a wide variety of seafood just unloaded from the nearby fishing boats; red snapper, shrimp, enormous prawns, sea bass, calamari and more exotic fare like barracuda and eel are typical offerings you’ll see being cleaned, displayed and sold. This evening’s à la carte dinner features the innovative Moroccan cuisine of Madada. Meals B+L+D
Day 12 – Along the East Coast to Casablanca
Leaving Essaouira behind this morning, we’ll travel to Safi – an ancient port now celebrated for the skill and artistry of its potters and ceramic artisans. At the Kechla, a monumental citadel built by the Portuguese in the 1500’s, we’ll find many of these local artists selling their colorful wares. The Portuguese Cathedral and an impressive seaside fortress, also of the 16th century, are among the town’s other highlights.
From Safi, a picturesque coastal road brings us to Oualidia, a charming but often overlooked village on the Atlantic coast. We’ll have a relaxing lunch at La Sultana, a luxury retreat built in classic Moroccan style overlooking the lagoon. With specialties including fine grilled meats, freshly caught sea perch, spider crabs and Oualidia oysters just harvested from the lagoon’s famous oyster farms, you’ll enjoy a delightful à la carte meal perfectly accompanied by crisp Moroccan white wine.
An after-lunch stroll along the beach affords an opportunity to meet village residents. Most of them earn their livelihood from the sea and it’s not usual to find wandering fishermen offering their catch for sale or grilling some fish right on the sands. Colorful boats and villagers mending their nets add to the captivating seafront tableau.
In mid-afternoon, we’ll continue our coastal journey to El Jadida to explore its fortress – also a legacy of the Portuguese occupation in the 16th century. Our day ends in Casablanca with dinner and another night at the luxurious Sofitel Casablanca Tour Blanche. Meals B+L+D
Day 13 - Depart Casablanca
We’ll be escorted to the airport today for our homeward journey. Meals B