Hosted by Jim Heck & Kathleen Morgan
Main Tour: February 27 – March 10, 2023
Morocco is one of the most stable, continuous desert monarchies on earth. Its first dynasty was created in 783 as it threw off the remnants of the Roman Empire. Today there is a slightly more democratic constitutional monarchy, but it is only the fourth dynasty (family) to have ruled in the last millennia and a half.
Part of this success is due to the Berber culture and independence which preserved Morocco as the only northern African country unconquered by the Turks. Throughout this long history of fierce independence the Berbers cultivated a moderate but strong Muslim religion which infuses every day life with a tradition and lifeways cycle missing from other Arab-African countries.
Graced by long histories with few wars, the country has numerous fascinating historical sites from almost every period in recorded human history. With a radical topography from the Sahara Desert to the lush Mediterranean coast, with a beautiful mountain range in between, the scenery is ever-changing and gorgeous.
We’ll try to hit as many of these unique splendors as possible on this relatively short trip, engaging an extraordinary battery of expert guides and using luxury, traditional riad accommodations throughout.
The price is based on the number of participants. Bring a friend!
Feb 27 – Mar 10
|Min. 4 Pax||$ 11,640||$ 2,650|
|Min. 8 Pax||$ 10,225||$ 2,650|
|Min. 10 Pax||$ 9,995||$ 2,650|
|Min. 12 Pax||$ 9,800||$ 2,650|
Join us for this memorable, comprehensive journey of this wise, old and colorful land!
Sightseeing begins this morning at 10 a.m. with a visit to the famous Hassan II mosque, one of the largest and most elaborate in the world. A professional guide will take us through the mosque. There is also a nearby museum near the market fashionable street of Corniche Ain Diab, where everyone will have some independent time to explore and have lunch. In the afternoon a professional guide will take us through the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, an extremely important institution as it is the only Jewish museum found in the Muslim world. The Jewish tradition in Morocco extends back nearly 1000 years. The evening is independent.
Leave the hotel at 8:30a for the relatively short highway drive to Rabat, Morocco’s capital. We’ll start with visiting the city’s grand famous Mausoleum of Mohammed V known especially for its beautiful stained glass windows and extensive use of white marble. During the height of the French war in Indonesia the Moroccan ruler hired a Vietnamese to design his mausoleum in part as a warning to the French. Cong Vo Toan was instructed to use traditional Berber and other craft techniques and icons to let the French know that any such adventure as they were pursuing in Vietnam into their former colony of Morocco would be strongly opposed. Continue to the Hassan Tower originally built in the 12th Century as the country’s main defense against marauding Turks. It was fortified and rebuilt numerous times in the following centuries and now overlooks the Wadi Bou Regret and Oudaïa Kasbah.
An independent lunch is then scheduled before the afternoon drive to Chefchaouen. Overnight at Lina Ryad & Spa.
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Morning guided walking tour of Chefchaouen, famous for its vivid blue-rinsed buildings and Moroccan artisans. The walk visits both the bustling kasbah and landmark Outa Hamam Square. The city was founded in the mid 15th century as a fortress against attacking Portuguese. Its proximity to Tangier, centered in the northern peninsular of the country that nearly touches Europe, means that it's changed occupiers numerous times over the years. The Spanish invaded, the French occupied and even the Americans were enlisted by the French to bomb Chefchaouen so that the Spanish could reconquer it. The place has been stable and peaceful since the late 1920s and has become a tourist Mecca for Europeans in the summer, a sort of Haight-Ashbury drawing lots of young explorers. There is a multitude of explanations as to why the city painted itself blue, but most authorities agree it was a simple PR ploy to attract tourists in the 1970s! The afternoon is free to wander its many small streets and boutiques. Overnight at Lina Ryad & Spa.
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One of Morocco’s most scenic areas is the peaceful and productive agricultural area of the Plains of Saiss under the Rif Mountains, and this is the route we take this morning south towards Fez. A variety of agriculture is practiced here but the area is famous for its olives. First stop is Volubilis where a local guide joins us for a professional tour. This World Heritage archeological site reveals a lot of early Moroccan history and represents the best remaining example of a Roman Empire outpost. Built in 168, the 42 acres were both a fortification and intended agricultural center for the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire. Its structures remain wonderfully intact. Following the tour we continue to nearby Meknes for an independent lunch before the afternoon tour. The fourth most imperial city (after Fez, Marrakech and Rabat), Meknes saw its hay-day in the 17th Century and became one of the largest cities at the time in either Europe or Africa (more than a quarter million). The city gained its stature in the 16th and 17th centuries under one ruling dynasty that saw its central location in Morocco as pivotal to holding the diverse Berber communities together. Unlike the artisinal and stylish flare of the other royal cities’ monuments, Meknes is mostly functional and efficient. During the French occupation the area was targeted for grape growing and today Meknes produces the best of the Moroccan wine. At the end of the afternoon the tour continues to Fez for two nights. Overnight at Riad Fez.
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The day is spent touring Fez, the oldest city in Morocco. It won’t be possible to visit all of its attractions but we’ll try to see the Fez El Bali, Royal Palace gate, the Jewish quarter, Al-Attarin Madrasa and the Tanneries. Fez became a metropolis in the 8th century as the main trans-Saharan route intersected the northern Africa route that had connected the Roman and other armies with the center of the empire. Smaller routes coming off the Atlas also crossed here, so the city became a natural crossroads. Like Petra and Timbuktu it grew to become Africa’s largest trading center, and as such was very multi-cultural. The sculpture and ancient monuments display Greek and Roman, Andalusian and even old European influences, but the Arab domination of the most recent millennia prevails over it all. Fez never lost is preeminence in the area, becoming the French capital of its colony in the early 1900s. In modern times, however, the port city of Casablanca finally overtook Fez as the largest and probably most important city of Morocco. It’s no mistake to call this the country’s oldest city, and as such, the history of virtually every era can be found here. Overnight at Riad Fez.
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Today is the longest driving day in the itinerary, around six hours. There’s no decent accommodation sooner than we’ve planned at the end of the drive at Erfoud. Most of modern Morocco is north of the Middle Atlas Mountains, just south of Fez. The multi-cultural character that we so far have experienced is essentially lost, today, as the route south enters the land of the Berbers. Our first stop is hardly an hour south of Fez, the town of Ifrane. This “hill station” was used by French colonials as a summer vacation retreat, since it’s located on a peak of the Atlas. It remains heavily used as the furthest south summer escape and is reminiscent of a Swiss village. After another hour-and-a-half we reach a forest in the mountains, Azrou, where we’ll stop to see Morocco’s wildlife! This is the land of the Barbary apes. We’ll stop for lunch before entering a spectacularly beautiful High Atlas Mountain pass. We’ll also stop in the Ziz Valley, one of the most picturesque points of the desert just before dropping onto the flatlands. One of the remarkable experiences, today, is the radical change in scenery from the forests of the mountains to suddenly, the great Sahara desert. We arrive Erfoud in time for an included dinner. Overnight at the Palais du Désert.
Most of today is spent exploring the desert. In 4x4's we’ll visit some “living museums” including the tourist village of Khamlia where we’ll enjoy a Moroccan Tea ceremony and be serenaded by local music. We’ll travel among dunes and outside nearest villages for lots of spectacular scenery and before the end of the afternoon we’ll drive into our desert camp. Our camp is located near one of the two sets of famous sand dunes just over the boundary of the desert. Erg Chebbi was long ago the landmark of early Saharan traders who realized they were finally coming to the end of their journey. Today it is a tourist Mecca, with usually more than a dozen “luxury” tourist camps and a variety of down-market hostel campsites. Alas: modern tourism, but in no way does this diminish the fact that this is absolutely the Sahara Desert. Our camp is replete with Berber desert food, music and activities geared to your inclinations, whether that be a short guided hike up one of the dunes or quad biking. Camels, of course, are available. Overnight at Desert Oasis Camp.
More beautiful scenery today as we reverse the drive of the day before and return to the mountains. Several hours along the desert road meets the national southern mountain highway and this is Todgha Gorge, a classic scenic spot in the country. Limestone cliffs, some 600' high, form a 25-mile long canyon with numerous trails that attract rock climbers from around the world. We’ll try a few side roads for some special scenery. Less than an hour more we arrive our hotel in the Dades Valley. Overnight Hotel Xaluca.
The drive from the Gorges to the hotel was in the valley bordered by the High Atlas to the south and the Middle Atlas to the north. This is also known as the Dades Valley, an important early trade route. But while the valley is scenic, it’s not suited to much more, such as agriculture. The amount of limestone, sand and mud, makes it difficult for much to last. So there are remnants everywhere of “mud palaces” or mudbrick villages of nomads and shepherds of the past. Some of the more successful ones are striking for their beauty. This morning our guide walks us through part of the valley before continuing the short drive to the main city of Ouarzazate crossing the Valley of Roses. At Skoura Oasis the route rejoins the Berber farming community as the soil and topography becomes more suitable for cultivation. The little town is famous for its kasbah and we’ll spend a little time there. Compared to the mighty monuments and outstanding scenery we’ve already encountered, Skoura may beg a modest comparison but the local Berbers are very proud of its 300-year long history and agricultural productivity. We’ll arrive Ouarzazate by mid-afternoon in time to visit the city’s cinema studios. Recently revitalized with the filming of part of the Game of Thrones, it was previously famous for a series of religious hits as well as “Lawrence of Arabia.” Overnight at Le Berbère Palace.
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Some of the most impressive scenery comes today as we wind up the mountain drive through a spectacular pass with lots of turnouts for pictures. The drive to Marrakech is short, but we’ll interrupt the route slightly to visit Ksar Ait Ben Haddou. “Ksars” were the desert’s forts, built directly out of the clay and dirt of the earth. As such few last for very long, but this one dates back to the 17th century. The reason UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site is because its location – confirmed by numerous very old documents – suggests that some type of Ksar had existed here for more than a thousand years, and it’s presumed that the extant structure differs little from the earliest forms. Continue in the afternoon to Marrakech. Overnight at the Sofitel.
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The day is spent touring this most colorful of the Imperial Cities. Fez is the oldest of the Imperial Cities (8th century) before the founding of Marrakech in the 11th century which was the first Berber rather than Arab city. That changed over the centuries as the Arab influence consumed all of inhabited Morocco but part of Marrakech’s legacy of being more laid-back seems directly linked to this difference. The city developed as much as a cultural and artistic capital as a trading center, and the French in particular always gravitated to it. Ten percent of the residential population remains French, including many pensioners, and this has clearly modernized the city. Like Fez it’s impossible to hit all the attractions in a day but we’ll try to visit the Saadian Tombs, Menara, the Majorelle Gardens, the Koutoubia mosque, Bahia Palace, several souks and the Djemaa el Fna Square. Overnight at the Sofitel.
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The main trip ends with hotel check-out at 10 a.m. EWT will be happy to help you make your air arrangements home.
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- Everything as described in the day-by-day itinerary, including accommodations as named or similar
- Meals as indicated in brackets at the end of each day’s description
- Private transport including 4x4 vehicles in the desert
- All entrance fees for specified attractions
- V.A.T. and other taxes
- Jim Heck and Kathleen Morgan hosting the trip
Additional Expenses Not Included
- All air fare
- Tipping (Jim and Kathleen do not accept tips)
- Most meals
- Most beverages
- Medical precautions including costs if necessary of PCR tests and any other unanticipated costs associated to Covid-19 travel regulations
- Any items of a personal nature like souvenirs or gear