Imperial Cities of Morocco
|Resort:||Imperial Cities of Morocco|
|Destination:||Africa, Europe, Morocco|
The very name Morocco conjures up an enduring fascination geographically close to Europe but culturally, a world apart. Despite the many years of French and Spanish colonial rule, a sense of the past is always present. In Morocco, you are quite literally walking on history. As a backdrop, the countrys vast geography is also remarkable: from the Mediterranean coastline, through mountain ranges to the empty wilderness of the Sahara Desert. Roman ruins, Berber kasbahs, superb Islamic architecture and the foothills of the Atlas Mountains are all bathed in a unique shimmering light. You can choose to lose yourself in the narrow winding streets of the old medinas or join the locals amidst the clatter of a busy souk.
Fez, Meknes, Marrakesh and Rabat these are the imperial cities of Morocco and all are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. Dating back almost a thousand years, Marrakesh is where Europe, Africa and the Middle East mingle and merge. Perched on the edge of the Sahara Desert and framed by the Atlas Mountains, this ancient trading hub quite simply bursts with intoxicating energy. Marrakesh is also the heartland of the Berbers, who have lived and farmed on this land since Neolithic times.
DAY 1 – ARRIVAL IN MARRAKES
Arrive at the airport for your flight to Marrakesh. On arrival, we will transfer to the four-star superior Hotel Opera Plaza for an overnight stay.
DAY 2 – MARRAKESH & CASABLANCA
This morning well visit the Jardin Majorelle: an inspiring and amazing display of bamboo, bougainvillea and cacti, formerly owned by Yves Saint-Laurent. Exotic plants line the lanes, burbling streams cascade into pools filled with water lilies and lotus flowers, and the Moorish buildings glow with an intense blue. A visit is also included to the Berber Museum, which is located within the gardens and showcases the extraordinary history and culture of the Berber people.
This afternoon, we leave Marrakesh and the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and travel north across the rich agricultural plains. We arrive in Casablanca and our hotel, the Campanile Casablanca Center, where we stay for one night.
The coastal city of Casablanca was founded by the Berbers in the 7th century. Arab tribes also settled here and the Portuguese, Spanish and French followed, all leaving their distinctive mark on the culture and architecture. Moorish white houses, which give their name to the city, are scattered along the coastline, contrasting with the elegant 1930s architecture of the French epoch. The French were heavily influenced by Art Deco and the unique style often seen in Casablanca is known as Mauresque French for the local interpretation of Moorish design. Some fine examples of this style and other Art Deco buildings can be seen along Boulevard Mohammed V. Casablanca was immortalised in the famous 1942 movie, starring Humphrey Bogart, but was actually wholly shot in Hollywood.
Rising high above Casablanca and dominating the skyline is the vast Hassan II Mosque; its minaret soars up to an incredible 690 feet. Your local guide will introduce you to this extraordinary building, one of the largest mosques in the world. Uniquely located, this splendid structure extends out over the Atlantic Ocean. 12 million people gave their own time and money to the construction of the mosque. Whether large or small the smallest amount being just 5 dirham all who donated received a certificate. During our visit we will see the very best of Moroccan artisan skills, from intricate wood and stone carving to magnificent gilded ceilings and intricately decorated tiles. There is even a retracting roof allowing worshippers to pray in the sunlight or under the stars.
This evening we soak up the romantic atmosphere of 1940s Casablanca during our dinner at Ricks Caf, a tribute to Rick Blaines restaurant and bar in the classic film, Casablanca. Set in a renovated riad against the citys old medina, Ricks Caf is filled with decorative details that will have you feeling as though youve stepped right into the film: arabesque arches, elegant balustrades, a sculpted bar, brass lighting and an authentic 1930s piano. The resident pianist entertains with a repertoire of well-loved classics, including the highly memorable As Time Goes By.
DAY 3 – RABAT & FEZ
After breakfast we travel north along the coast to imperial Rabat, the current capital of Morocco. Here we will discover the elegant sweeping boulevards and palm-lined avenues built by the French. A guided walking tour through the narrow streets and dazzlingly blue houses of the 12th-century walled medina reveals another side of this splendid city of kings. When the French arrived in the early 20th century, this was the full extent of the city.
After our tour, theres free time to wander at your own pace. Take a stroll along the beautiful Rue des Consuls, the main shopping street of the medina, or perhaps enjoy a refreshing glass of mint tea as you gaze out over the Atlantic Ocean. Later we will continue to Fez and our hotel, the four-star Barcel Fs. Our three-night stay includes dinner on two nights in the main restaurant. Located close to the medina, the hotel is the perfect base for you to further explore the city. The contemporary guest rooms are comfortable and air-conditioned. After a fascinating day of sightseeing, you can enjoy a drink in the bar.
DAY 4 – FEZ
This morning we explore Fez, the spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco, by coach and on foot. Founded in the 9th century, Fez is the most ancient of the imperial capitals and boasts the most complete medieval city of the Arab world. In the company of our local guide, we will explore the ancient ramparts and gates outside the city and then take a walking tour into the medina.
Time really does feel as if has stood still within the imposing medieval walls. This is the worlds largest urban car-free area, and horses and donkeys have right of way as they navigate through the narrow streets, delivering goods amidst the intricate maze of flat roofs, minarets, stairways and alleys. With its distinctive mosaic tiles, the famous Blue Gate is the main entry into the ancient medina. Once inside we will discover more of the traditional crafts of Morocco. Silversmiths, potters, weavers, leatherworkers and tailors all ply their wares in the stalls that line the bustling streets.
These stand side by side with the community hammams, bakeries and knife sharpeners. At the communal bakeries, families still bake their bread in a wood-fired oven, and a tagine can be left to cook all day at the hammam. Follow the fragrant aroma of herbs and spices piled high at stalls in the bustling markets and souks. Well also see the 14th-century Al-Attarine Madrasa, a school for the study of the Koran thats renowned for its elegant courtyard and intricate mosaics. The Royal Palace is still used by the King of Morocco when he is in the city of Fez. Well stop to admire the elegant esplanade and ornate main entrance.
No visit to Fez would be complete without a visit to the tanneries, perhaps one of the most iconic sights of the city. Here we will experience the colourful process, which produces some of the worlds finest leather, and then enjoy a birds-eye view of the pits awash with vibrant dye. Its fascinating to note that the methods of leather production have changed very little since medieval times.
The afternoon is yours at leisure to further your discovery of Fez. This evening, we will dine on typical Moroccan dishes in the traditional surroundings of a charming riad.
DAY 5 – VOLUBILIS, MEKNES & FEZ
After breakfast, we drive through fertile farmland and olive groves up into the hills. As we descend, the spectacular Roman ruins of Volubilis is laid out before us the best-preserved Roman ruins in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We step back through 2,000 years of history as we explore Volubilis with our local guide. The Romans built their city on what was originally a Berber settlement. Temples, forums, grand villas and bathhouses many decorated with beautiful mosaics once lined the streets and remains of a sophisticated sewer system are still evident. Today, Volubilis is considered one of the most remote settlements of the Roman Empire and a visit to the museum will help us to understand its significance.
Our journey continues to Meknes, where the legacy of the powerful 17th-century ruler, Moulay Ismail, lives on in the elaborate palaces, gardens and mosques of this impressive imperial city. Well stop to admire Bab el-Mansour, the giant imperial gateway built by Moulay Ismail to show the strength of his new capital to Fez and Marrakesh. We will also visit Heri es-Souani, a feat of engineering where stabling and food was provided for 12,000 horses. No expense was spared in the construction of the Moulay Ismail Mausoleum, where the remains of the former ruler, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, are interred. Meknes is renowned for ironware and the sounds of craftsmen in their workshops can be heard throughout the medina.
After our guided tour by coach and on foot, youll have time to explore and perhaps pick up a memento of your visit before we return to Fez.
DAY 6 – FEZ TO MARRAKESH
After breakfast we retrace our steps back to Marrakesh, choosing to take the major roads, with appropriate comfort stops along the way, to ensure a smoother and more comfortable journey. We arrive in Marrakesh in the late afternoon and stay for two nights once again at the Hotel Opera Plaza, with dinner included.
DAY 7 – MARRAKESH & FREE AFTERNOON
Marrakesh is a labyrinth of tiny alleyways teeming with activity like few places in the world. With classic French-colonial buildings and boulevards surrounded by remarkably preserved medieval walls, the city is so perfect it could be and often is used as a film set. Surrounding the city are impressive ramparts stretching 19 miles long, largely intact with imposing forts. The gates are fine examples of classic Moorish architecture with their pastel hues changing colours depending on the time of day.
This morning we enjoy a sightseeing tour, during which we will see the Saadian tombs, one of the worlds finest examples of Moorish architecture, where classic archways are covered in gold leaf and stucco work. Well experience the Bahia Palace, which when built was acclaimed as the worlds most beautiful palace, famed for its 50 marble columns. We also visit the famous souks or covered markets, where immensely skilled craftsmen create intricate leatherware, jewellery and furniture.
You have the rest of the afternoon free to explore as you wish. Later at dusk after dinner in the hotel, we visit the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, a showcase for traditional Moroccan life. Youll experience a fantastic spectacle of musicians, dancers, fortune tellers and snake charmers in an exhilarating kaleidoscope of colour.
DAY 8 – RETURN FLIGHT
Transfer to the airport for your return flight.