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An Extraordinary 16 Day Journey to Morocco

Come join us in what promises to be akin to a story lifted from the Arabian Nights. While a modern van replaces the storied flying-carpet and four-star hotels provide the comforts of the 21st century as we enjoy Morocco’s cities, we will experience the magic of the food, the history, the culture, the music and dance and the myriad other delights that await us in a country storied for it’s exotic qualities.

The following is a partial listing of our visit with some additional information at the end. I hope that when you read the itinerary, it will entice you to join Moroccan native Abdel Fattah Abbou and me on this remarkable journey.

Day One Casablanca (D)
Our trip begins in Casablanca, located on the Atlantic Coast. It is both the business and economic capital of Morocco as well as the country’s largest city. You will be met at the airport by our driver and taken to your hotel to relax. Depending on your arrival time, you may choose to tour the Hassan II mosque, the largest in Morocco and the seventh largest in the world. Otherwise, enjoy our first dinner and relax.

Day Two Casablanca/Meknes (B. D) 3 hour drive
After breakfast, we will travel to Meknes, a three hour trip by van. Meknes was the capital of Morocco under the rule of Moulay Ismail (1672 – 1727) before it was relocated to Marrakech. The city is divided, as so many are, by the old quarter (medina) and the new (Villa Nouvelle). In the old quarter you will see the shops (souks), Mulay Ismail monuments and the old Jewish quarter (Mellah). We will visit the large gate of Bab el-Mansour, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, the granaries of Heri es-Souani and an underground prison. El Hidm Square is filled with musicians, story tellers, snake charmers, traditional medicine physicians and more. We will have lunch and dinner in Meknes.

Day Three Meknes/Volubolis, Moulay Idris/Fes (B, D)
After an early breakfast, we will set out in the morning to the ancient Roman ruins of Volubolis. We will spend the morning exploring the 2000-year-old ruins, built during the occupation of the Roman Empire. We will have lunch in Moulay Idris, one of the holiest cities in Morocco. After lunch we will drive on to one of the oldest inhabited car-free cities in the world, Fes.

Day Four Fes (B, D)
After breakfast, a national tour director will take us on a guided tour of the Fes Medina, one of the world’s largest walled-in-cities. We will explore the narrow streets lined with fresh fruit, mounds of spices, intricately woven Berber carpets and many other Moroccan art objects. A visit to the Kings Palace, the tanneries and pottery studios are just a few of the places we will visit in Fes. Lunch may be eaten in traditional restaurants in the heart of the Medina. After lunch we will complete the tour and return to our hotel/riad (the Moroccan term for a traditional home or palace with an interior garden) for the evening.

An optional 3-1/2 hour Culinary Workshop is available in Fes.

Day Five Fes/Erfoud (B, D) 8 hour Drive
Mid-morning we will begin our ascent across the Middle Atlas Mountains, heading to the Sahara desert. While the trip may sound long, there will be breaks along the way and spectacular scenery as we wind through beautiful forests, jagged rock faces and Berber villages. We will lunch in Midelt, then go on to Erfoud, famous for its phenomenal fossils made into exquisite artwork, including polished table tops studded with ancient fossils.

Day Six Erfoud and the Magnificent Sahara (B, D)
This morning we can sleep in or explore the small desert town of Erfoud, including visiting its famous fossil factories. In the afternoon, those who choose to do so, will head out in 4-wheel drive vehicles across barren land to the majestic Sahara sand dunes. From there, we will travel by camel for a two-hour trek to an oasis, where will dine and sleep in Berber tents. Traveling the Sahara on camel back is akin to sailing on a calm sea. The rhythm of the camels and the silence is extraordinary. Those who prefer, may remain at the elegant hotel/riad.

Day Seven Sahara/Todra Gorges (B, D) 4 hour drive
After breakfast, we will return by camel to the 4x4s and head back to Erfoud. We will then set out behind the High Atlas Mountains en route to the Todra Gorges. In the afternoon we will walk up into the towering Todra Gorges. The picturesque river valleys are a beautiful journey toward Southeast Morocco. We will stay at a desert oasis in a family-owned sustainable farm, with organic food and solar electricity. Some of the rooms are in caves!

Day Eight Todra Gorges/Ouarzazate (B, D) 3 hour drive
After breakfast, we will journey to Marrakech via Ouarzazate. Tucked in the high Atlas Mountains, it is one of the jewels of Morocco. In typical Moroccan fashion, the treasures must be sought – and found – off the beaten path.  This exquisite location has been used for more films than any other location in Morocco, films including Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, and The Gladiator. We will lunch at Ait Ben Haddou. The afternoon can be spent exploring the casbah and the city.

Day Nine Ouarzazate/Marrakech (B, D)
After lunch, we will head over the mountains to Marrakech. We will check into our hotel, then head to the Djemaa el-Fna, the center square of the medina. The Djemaa el-Fna is one of the center attractions of Marrakech. It comes alive at night with local story tellers, entertainers and mouth-watering barbeque pits. A quiet cup of tea on the terrace of an adjacent café provides a spectacular aerial view of the bustling square if you aren’t up to being in the midst of the action.

Day Ten Marrakech (B, D)
After breakfast, we will have a guided tour of Marrakech, the southern pearl of Morocco. We will visit the Palace of the Bahia, the Saadian Tombs, and many other hidden treasures. After lunch, we will continue to the magnificent Koutoubia Mosque and the infamous Djemaa el-Fna once more. We will conclude the tour with an exploration of the souk, including intricately woven Berber carpets and many other art objects.

Optional 3-1/2 Culinary Workshop is available in Marrakech.

Day Eleven Marrakech/Essaouira (B, D) 2-2.5 hour drive
After breakfast we depart for the coastal city of Essaouira. We will spend the rest of the day exploring the coastal city, rest in our hotel/riad which is steps from the beach, or even ride a horse or camel on the beach. This region is famous for seafood.

Day Twelve Essaouira (B, D)
We will have another free day for exploring the city, resting, visiting the local art shops known for thuya wood carvings and enjoying the ocean. One of these two days will include a visit to Fattah’s family home where his mother will prepare a traditional couscous for us.

Days Thirteen – Fifteen (B, D)
After breakfast we will depart for Imi N’Tanout, arriving in a village that evening. We will stay in a guest house in one village then visit additional villages in the High Atlas Mountains, where will meet with locals and get a closer look at the traditions, architecture and music of the indigenous people of North Africa (the Berbers).

Day Sixteen
After breakfast, we return to Casablanca to spend one more night before our tour ends.

Additional Highlights:

* Abdel Fattah Abbou is a master musician, playing numerous traditional instruments and heading the group Aza. Along our journey we will be entertained most evenings by local musicians, singers and dancers.

* While we stay in the guest house in the villages, local women will teach us how to cook traditional food, as well as doing all the prep work for us and overseeing our efforts at making traditional tagines.

* We will stop in a village famous for Moroccan argan oil, both used as cooking and cosmetic oils.

* We will be able to purchase Ras al hanout, the traditional spices of Morocco in the souks. We will talk about the foods that are traditional in each region we visit.

* For those interested in the culinary workshops, I highly recommend purchasing, The Food of Morocco, by Paula Wolfort, an expert on foods of the Mediterranean and Morocco – www.eccobooks.com. This will prepare you so that you will get the best possible culinary experience as we travel through Morocco.

Travel Costs and Details:

* We will travel the second half of September when the weather will be cooler.

* Hotels in the cities are four-star and include dining areas. All breakfasts and dinners are included in the trip costs.

* Lunches are not included. Costs typically run between $5.00 and $15.00.

* Cost of the 16 day/15 night trip is $2300.00 based on double occupancy of rooms. In addition to hotel costs, breakfasts and dinners, transportation and tips are included. Travel insurance is not included.

* Air travel runs approximately $1100.

* A free slide show and discussion of this most remarkable journey will be in early March. For those unable to make it to Santa Cruz but who live within the Bay Area, we will do a second slide show and discussion in a centrally-located area.

* The trip will be no larger than 15 – 16 people, possibly smaller. Single rooms will be available most places for an additional fee.

* Our travel van is very comfortable and has air conditioning.

The very reasonable land price of this trip is possible because Abdel Fattah Abbou is Moroccan and has negotiated all the details. Costs are about 1/3 of what we would pay if traveling on our own. Most trips of this breadth and depth run $3500 – $4500. Come for the slide show/discussion to see if this trip is a fit for you. Can’t make a trip in September but still want to go? Join us for the discussion and learn about scheduled future trips.

Patricia Rain
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