Morocco: Medinas & Minarets
Below please find the day-by-day itinerary for this expedition. Unless otherwise noted, daily excursion options are included in the cost of the trip. We do our best to adhere to the scheduled itinerary, but in the spirit of our expeditionary style of travel we may deviate slightly to take full advantage of encounters with the destination and its people, culture, and wildlife.
Depart USASeptember 22
Board your independent flight to Morocco.
Rabat, MoroccoSeptember 23
Arrive in Rabat and transfer to the Villa Mandarine. This evening, attend a welcome reception with dinner and overnight at our hotel.
Rabat / FezSeptember 24
Rabat is the political capital of Morocco and the fourth of Morocco’s Imperial Cities. Your tour begins at the Kasbah of the Udayas, whose alleyways are reminiscent of a whitewashed Andalusian village. Take a stroll along the narrow streets, with a stop to examine the ornate Oudaya Gate. Visit the well-preserved 12th-century Hassan Tower that stands on the hill overlooking the Wadi Bou Regreg, the iconic symbol of the city, as well as the beautiful Mohamed V Mausoleum. After lunch in the heart of the medina, enjoy free time to browse the souk for exotic treasures. In the afternoon head inland to Fez and check in to Riad Fez, your home for three nights.
Founded in approximately 809 AD, Fez is the oldest traditional city in Morocco, regarded not only as the religious and cultural capital of the country, but also the spiritual and intellectual center of Islam in the West. Holding an enduring fascination for visitors, Fez has one of the largest historic medinas, full of monuments reflecting the different periods of Morocco’s imperial and architectural development. This morning, explore the ancient Fez Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander the labyrinth of streets and browse the markets and souks, where brass makers, storytellers, and performers ply their trades. Within the medina you will also see the Karaouine Mosque, one of the most important religious buildings in Morocco, as well as the 18th-century Foundouk Nejjarine. Formerly a way-station inn, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an excellent museum housing various period artifacts. After lunch at a local riad, view the seven impressive bronze gates of the Dar el Makhzen (Royal Palace), then continue to Fez Mellah (the Jewish quarter). This area is filled with 15th-century examples of Hispano-Moorish architecture, including the renowned cemetery.
Fez / VolubilisSeptember 26
This morning venture outside Fez to explore Volubilis, an imposing Roman ruin and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since the beginning of the 3rd century BC, Volubilis was an important outpost of the Roman Empire. It became the administrative center for Roman Africa and the capital of the Roman Province of Mauritania. Stroll through the ruins as our guide relates the history of the city and the region. A highlight today is a special lunch of ancient Roman dishes taken from Latin texts of Apicius and Cato. Roman cuisine relied exclusively on local ingredients such as olive oil, wine, fresh cheese, game birds, fruits such as pears and melons, honey, and fresh herbs. You will also sample some of Morocco’s delicious wines, including the local favorite, ‘gris,’ made from Caladoc and Marselan grapes.
Return to Fez, where the rest of the afternoon is at leisure. Tonight, enjoy a special Moroccan dinner at a local restaurant in the medina.
Meknes / CasablancaSeptember 27
After breakfast, depart overland toward the coast and Casablanca. En route, stop to visit imperial Meknes, the third of Morocco’s Imperial Cities. In the 18th century, much of the marble found in Volubilis was used to build Meknes. Sultan Moulay Ismail, a contemporary of Louis XIV of France, imitated Louis’ grandiose building schemes; you can see this imitation in the way the city is dominated by a monumental gate at the top of the hill in the medina, one of the finest gateways in North Africa. View the Royal Stable that once housed the Sultan’s 12,000 horses and the palace/tomb of Moulay Ismail, one of two mosques in Morocco which non-Muslims are allowed to enter.
Explore the Meknes medina before lunch at a local restaurant. Then visit an olive oil farm for a tour and samples before continuing on to the fabled city of Casablanca. Tonight enjoy dinner at Rick’s Café, set in an old courtyard-style mansion built against the walls of the Old Medina. The restaurant has been designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the classic movie, Casablanca. Overnight at the Hyatt Regency.
Casablanca / High Atlas MountainsSeptember 28
A morning tour of Casablanca includes the majestic and impressive Hassan II Mosque. Built for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan King Hassan II, it is the largest religious monument in the world after Mecca, with space for 25,000 worshippers inside and an additional 80,000 outside. Take a drive along La Corniche Aïn Diab, one of the liveliest and most scenic areas of the city. Next, explore Place Mohamed V, a busy shopping street and Casablanca’s main square which links the old town and new town. See United Nations Square, designed by French architect Joseph Marrast, and the League of Arab States Park, built in 1925, with a large green area lush with palm trees, arcades, pergolas, and cafés with shady terraces. Of special note is the imposing Cathedral Sacré Coeur, with an interesting mix of Gothic and Art Deco styles. The Habous District (Quartier des Habous) offers shaded squares and narrow streets lined with arcades that lead from one souk to another. Enjoy lunch in Casablanca before continuing on to the High Atlas Mountains.
Drive across the Glaoua Plains, and into the High Atlas Mountains. Arrive at the village of Asni, and check into Sir Richard Branson’s luxurious and intimate retreat, Kasbah Tamadot. Nestled in the rolling foothills of the High Atlas, this kasbah (citadel) was extensively renovated with a unique blend of Moroccan colors and textures.
High Atlas MountainsSeptember 29
The morning begins with an exploration of the Berber village of Ouirgane. Spend time browsing the weekly souk; these mobile markets travel from village to village and are still the mainstay of rural Morocco, where over half of the country’s population still lives. Sip traditional Moroccan mint tea in the home of a local Berber family before returning to our retreat for lunch. The remainder of the day is at leisure to enjoy the facilities and surroundings at the spectacular Kasbah Tamadot.
High Atlas Mountains / MarrakechSeptember 30
Make the short drive to La Pause, an exquisite oasis along the Ouad riverbed. Upon arrival, take a tour of the area with the charming French owner. Lunch is served in Berber tents with fresh salads from the garden and extra virgin olive oil from the resort’s olive grove.
Continue to Marrakech, founded in 1062 at the crossroads of Arab, Berber, and Sudanese civilizations. One of the world’s most mysterious and fascinating cities, Marrakech has a memorable beauty, with palm-lined streets and red earth walls surrounding a huge medina of red, flat-roofed houses, backdropped by the snow-covered peaks of the High Atlas Mountains. Check in to the Four Seasons Resort Marrakech for dinner and overnight.
MarrakechOctober 1 — October 2
A morning tour of the city’s most important monuments includes the stately 12th-century Koutoubia Minaret and Mosque; the aristocratic El Bahia Palace, former home of the 19th-century Grand Vizier; and Dar Si Said Museum, a sumptuous palace housing collections of Berber arms and jewelry, copper, carpets, and delicately carved door and window frames.
After lunch at a local restaurant, visit the lush Majorelle Garden designed by the French painter Jacques Majorelle in 1924, and later purchased by the late French couture designer Yves Saint Laurent. Continue to the medieval Ali Ben Youssef Madrassa, one of the most beautiful buildings in Marrakech. Explore the colorful souks, overflowing with exotic spices, carpets, jewelry, enamel, copper, brass, and cedar. Today’s grand finale is frenetic Jemaa el-Fnaa, the greatest square in all of Africa. Twilight is the magical hour when all of Marrakech seems to descend on the city’s central plaza, creating a tableau straight out of 1001 Nights, with a tumult of acrobats, boxers, storytellers, snake charmers, water carriers, and henna-painters.
The next morning there is free time to pursue your own interests, before a special culinary lesson on the preparation of traditional Moroccan tagine (slow-cooked stew). After your savory lunch, the rest of the day is at leisure. Enjoy time to explore on your own, shop in the souks, or take advantage of the luxurious facilities at the hotel. Gather this evening for a special dinner at an exclusive riad.
Ouarzazate / SkouraOctober 3
Depart early this morning for a drive through the High Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate, stopping en route for a delicious picnic lunch in a shady, hidden oasis. Upon arrival in Ouarzazate, board 4x4 vehicles for the drive to Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, an impressive 11th-century fortified city. This UNESCO World Heritage Site features earthen houses crowded together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers.
Return to Ouarzazate, known as “the door of the desert.” Comprised of numerous traditional kasbahs, this town has served as the setting for a number of movies, including Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. In the late afternoon, take a short drive to Skoura, which lies at the crossroads of Ouarzazate and the Sahara. Palm plantations, crisscrossed by paths that meander between crumbling pisé walls and deserted centuries-old kasbahs, create a beautiful, magical effect. Wind your way through the pretty palmerie (palm grove) and check in to the luxurious Dar Ahlam for dinner and overnight.
Skoura / Sahara DesertOctober 4
This morning you have the unique opportunity to ride a camel through the desert. Mid-morning, depart in 4x4 vehicles for the private El Khiam Ahlam Desert Camp, for a true desert experience. Explore this fascinating and expansive region, including the Dades and Draa valleys, and the stunning Valley of the Roses. Pass through traditional Berber villages, enjoy a picnic lunch in an oasis, and make a stop at an ancient fossil field. Arrive in the fabled Sahara this evening, just in time to appreciate the desert’s amazing natural colors, made even more dramatic when the sun begins to set. After sundowner cocktails, you are treated to a special dinner under the stars. Retire to your private tent and relish the peace of nighttime in the desert.
Sahara Desert / SkouraOctober 5
Rise early this morning to witness the sun rising over the desert dunes. After the sunrise, enjoy a traditional Berber breakfast before departing by 4x4 vehicles for the drive back to Skoura. Check in to Dar Ahlam in time for lunch, with the rest of the afternoon at leisure.
Skoura / Ouarzazate / Casablanca / USAOctober 6
Bid farewell to the desert this morning for the short drive to the airport in Ouarzazate. Board your flight to Casablanca and connect with your independent homeward flight. Arrive in the USA the same day.