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Imperial Cities of Morocco & the Sahara Desert

9days from
£1,715*per person

Overview

ANCIENT MEDINAS AND DRAMATIC WADIS

A regal discovery of the country’s stately past, with time spent amongst the medinas, sprawling sand dunes and dramatic gaping wadis. This immersion of ancient traditions and spectacular landscapes commences in Marrakesh and continues to Casablanca, where a visit to one of the largest places of worship in the world, Hassan II Mosque, sets the scene for the grandeur and craftmanship to come. The first imperial city, Rabat and its medina of intricate façades and Moorish-style architecture will then be discovered. A pause at the striking ruins of Volubilis will be followed by Fes, where its car-free historic district and time-honoured tannery techniques transport you back in time. Continuing past alpine-like Ifrane, ‘Little Switzerland’, the tour will board a 4WD for a sunset journey across the sand dunes, ablaze with colour. Dinner under the starry Sahara Desert sky serves as an experience of a lifetime before you take to the trails of the dramatic wadis of Todra and Dadès the next morning. Lunch at the home of a local family is set against the backdrop of Rose Valley, ensuring an opportunity to gain insight into their culture. Your return to Marrakesh via the picturesque Atlas Mountains, allows you to delve into its heart, barter amongst the market stalls of Djemaa el-Fna and marvel at the beautiful Bahia Palace.

Itinerary

  • Touchdown in Marrakesh today and be welcomed to Morocco’s fourth-largest city by your friendly, local tour manager. You’ll then be transferred to the first hotel, where you can check in and get settled. In the evening, you and the group can choose to go out for an optional dinner accompanied by your tour manager at your own expense.
  • After breakfast, leave Marrakesh and join your tour manager for a visit to one of the largest mosques in the world, Hassan II Mosque, located in Casablanca. Commissioned by King Hassan II of Morocco in the late 1980s, this magnificent place of worship can accommodate up to 105,000 worshippers. Adorned with a towering minaret (the tallest in the world), this mosque, made up of white granite and marble, looks out over the Atlantic Coast. The group will then continue to Rabat, Morocco’s capital and first imperial city positioned along the coastline. Once you’ve checked into your hotel and settled in, you’ll head out into the old medina for a guided tour. Founded as a military town in the 12th century, Rabat is now the country’s political hub. You’ll leave the more developed side of the town for the old medina featuring Moorish-style architecture with intricate façades, detailed tilework, and wooden balconies. As you’re led through the twisting alleys, you’ll see Kasbah des Oudaias, a historic fortress, traditional souks and the Hassan Tower, a historic landmark and minaret of an unfinished mosque. The tour will also pass the charming Andalusian Gardens, the 12th-century Kasbah Mosque, and the main city gates, Bab Oudaia, as you gain a glimpse into local life. Dinner will be served back at the hotel.
  • Once you’ve had breakfast, you’ll check out and travel to your next destination, Fes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and another imperial city. On the way, the tour will call at Volubilis, a partly excavated Berber-Roman city and former Roman capital. A local guide will show you around these expansive and well-preserved ruins, encompassing basilicas, temples, arches, baths, a central square and grand houses. The most striking structure is the Triumphal Arch of Caracalla, which was built in the 3rd century. Its ornate and colourful mosaic stores still remain, depicting Roman deities, daily life, and mythological scenes. Continuing on to Fes, you’ll arrive and check into your hotel, with the rest of the day at leisure to explore or perhaps have a swim in the outdoor pool looking out over the medina. In the evening, you’ll meet the group for dinner and a cultural show, a unique opportunity to enjoy Moroccan music.
  • Following breakfast, you’ll get to know the old city of Fes with a guided walking tour of the medina. One of the world’s oldest cities, this medieval, historic quarter is a warren of meandering streets, mosques, souks, traditional riads and palaces. It’s also the largest car-free urban area in the world, and you’re likely to still see donkeys transporting goods. The first stop will be Medersa al-Attarine, a well-preserved madrasa (Islamic school), known for its beautiful architecture featuring colourful tiles, carved cedar wood and stucco plasterwork. The central courtyard is a highlight of the property, with a marble fountain positioned at the heart of it. You’ll then take a stroll to Funduq Nejjarine, also known as the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts. Originally serving as a caravanserai, an 18th-century inn or lodging place for travelling merchants, today it displays an assortment of finely crafted wooden items, artefacts and tools that have been used through the ages. During your visit, you’ll learn about the importance of carpentry and woodworking in Moroccan culture, as well as take in the views of the city from the upper floors. Lastly, the group will head over to one of the city’s most famous tanneries, the Chouara Tannery, which dates back over 1,00 years Specialising in the tanning and dyeing of animal hides, this tannery still uses traditional leather production methods. You can observe these multi-step techniques from the leather shops and balconies that surround it, watching as strips of leather are dyed in large, colourful mosaic vats (be prepared for a strong smell – some of the shops offer sprigs of mint or mint sweets to help mask it). You’ll also see a nearby ceramics factory and experience a glimpse into the time-honoured processes used by potters today. A free evening allows you to find somewhere to have dinner on your account and take advantage of the local restaurants and street food stalls.
  • You’ll have an early start this morning after breakfast, as the group will check out and embark on an eight-hour journey to the city of Erfoud, known as the ‘Gateway to the Sahara’ or the ‘Door to the Desert’. On the way, you’ll stop for a coffee break at the charming town of Ifrane, referred to as ‘Little Switzerland’ due to its alpine-style appearance, high altitude, and proximity to ski slopes. Constructed during the French colonial period in the 1930s, its architecture is heavily influenced by European design. This town is also known for being impeccably well-maintained and holds the title of one of the cleanest in the world. Once you’ve arrived at Erfoud, you’ll board a 4WD and venture on an exhilarating drive through the Merzouga dunes as the sun sets across the sand. When you arrive at the hotel, you’ll enjoy a special dinner under the star-speckled sky, surrounded by desert scenery (weather permitting).
  • Have breakfast and put on some comfortable shoes to immerse yourself in nature. The tour will start by leaving Erfoud for Todra Gorge, located in the High Atlas Mountains. Consisting of several towering limestone canyons, or wadi, this epic natural wonder is interspersed by the Todra River. You’ll take a short walk following a trail along the walls of these narrow canyons that have been carved out by the rushing water over centuries. You’ll then continue on to the spectacular Dadès Gorge, another series of wadi that have been shaped by the Dadès River. Colourful and unique rock formations and spikes backed by lush greenery make for an impressive sight. This region will be your home for the next two nights, and once you’ve checked into the hotel, you can lounge on the terrace or by the pool, with views of the valley and the desert. Dinner will be served at the hotel’s restaurant this evening, ensuring a panoramic vista.
  • Another day of exploration awaits in the Moroccan wilderness after breakfast. With your guide leading the way, you’ll set off on a route tailored to suit to preference of the group. A short transfer will take you to the start of the trail, which is hilly and can be challenging at times, but is achievable for anyone with a basic level of fitness. Once you’ve made some progress, passing craggy landscapes, interspersed with ancient kasbahs (mudbrick buildings), you’ll stop for lunch at a local village. Here, lunch and tea will be enjoyed with a friendly, local Berber family. As you eat, you can take in the incredible scenery of the Rose Valley, famous for its production of roses, listen to their stories and hear about their daily life. Later in the day, you’ll return to the hotel and have dinner at its restaurant.
  • You’ll check out of the hotel after breakfast and traverse the winding roads through the Atlas Mountains back to Marrakesh, often referred to as the ‘Red City’ because of its distinctive ruby-coloured sandstone buildings. Once you’ve arrived and checked into the same hotel as your first night, the afternoon will be free to do some discovering on your own. Perhaps head for atmospheric Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s main square lined with food stalls, street performers and vendors, or meander around the UNESCO-listed medina. Finding a street-side café to sip on a Moroccan mint tea and sample a pastilla (a sweet and savoury pastry) is also recommended. As night falls, you can head back to the hotel.
  • Fuel up on breakfast as you head out into the heart of the city on an informative guided tour today. First, you’ll make your way into the old medina, with its snaking streets, traditional souks, and historic landmarks. The group will stop by the magnificent Bahia Palace, which dates back to the 19th century. Encompassing elaborate tilework, colourful painted wood and leafy gardens, this beautiful structure is built around a grand, mosaic-covered marble courtyard. Your tour manager will then take you to Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in Marrakesh, with a soaring minaret that dominates the skyline. This place of worship and the city’s most famous landmark is built in a distinctive North African Islamic architectural style, with red sandstone and intricate geometric patterns. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter, but you can still admire its impressive design from the outside. The tour will then continue to the bustling Djemaa el-Fna, and those who didn’t visit this square yesterday can spend some time here, marvelling at the street theatre, snake charmers, and live musical performances. A cup of freshly squeezed orange juice from a local vendor can be enjoyed as you take it all in. You’ll have the rest of the day to survey the city on your own, perhaps ticking off anything on your wish-list. The Saadian Tombs, which house the tombs of the Saadian dynasty in opulent chambers are worth a visit, as is Jardin Majorelle, a landscaped expanse of botanical plants created by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle and later owned by the fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent. Throughout the grounds, striking cobalt buildings, painted in a shade known as ‘Majorelle blue’ can be seen along with several water features, and a diverse assortment of rare plant species. In the centre lies the Musée Berbère, showcasing Berber artefacts, textiles, and art. Nearby, you’ll find the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, which displays over 7,000 garments and 30,000 accessories from Saint Laurent's personal collections. Another sanctuary away from the bustle is Le Jardin Secret, a hidden palace complex of traditional Islamic gardens. Dating back to the 16th century and originally created as a private residence, this site is now open to the public. You can stroll around its immense plant collection, trickling fountains, decked in tilework and climb the elevated terraces to gaze across Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains in the distance.
  • Enjoy your last breakfast, check out of the hotel and transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK.

What's Included

Holiday Highlights

  • Visit the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, home to the tallest minaret in the world
  • Embark on a guided tour of Rabat’s old medina, Morocco’s capital, and first imperial city on the coastline
  • Call at Volubilis, a partly excavated Berber-Roman city and former Roman capital
  • Experience dinner and a cultural show, a special opportunity to enjoy Moroccan music
  • Wander around the medieval medina of Fes, one of the world’s oldest cities, visiting Medersa al-Attarine, Funduq Nejjarine, and a famous tannery
  • Stop off at Ifrane, ‘Little Switzerland’, with its alpine-style buildings and impeccably clean streets
  • Board a 4WD and set off on an exhilarating drive through the Merzouga dunes as the sun sets
  • Follow a walking trail through Todra Gorge, located in the Atlas Mountains
  • Explore the Dadès Gorges and have a traditional lunch with a local Berber family
  • Experience the highlights of Marrakesh, including Bahia Palace, Koutoubia Mosque and Djemaa el-Fna

Our Price Includes

  • Nine nights’ accommodation in Marrakesh (3 nights), Rabat (1), Fes (2), Erfoud (1) and Dadès (2)
  • Nine breakfasts, one lunch and five dinners, including welcome and farewell dinners
  • Visit to the Hassan II Mosque
  • Tour of Rabat
  • Tour of Volubilis
  • Dinner in Fez with a cultural show
  • Tour of Fes
  • Visit to Ifrane
  • 4DW sunset drive from Erfoud to Merzouga
  • Guided walk through the Todra Gorge
  • Lunch with a local Berber family
  • Return flights to Marrakesh
  • Comfortable, air-conditioned coach travel throughout
  • Fully escorted by friendly, experienced tour managers
  • During December, an astronomer will be present for the Geminids meteor shower
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Dates and Prices

 
September 2024
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Departure Airport:
London Gatwick (LGW)

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Price from:£1,715
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Other Information

Holiday code

N2538

Holiday provided by Newmarket Holidays

BOOK WITH CONFIDENCE: fully flexible booking policy, covid-19 cancellation cover insurance as standard and 100% protection with ABTA & ATOL. This holiday is sold and operated by Newmarket Holidays (ABTOT 5509, ATOL 2325, ABTA V7812), you can be 100% sure that your money is safe.

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