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Morocco - In the Cradle of the Moors

Day 1 - Casablanca/Rabat
After an early morning arrival at Casablanca airport, we stop by the Hassan II mosque, Africa’s largest, and then travel 1½ hours to the stately capital city Rabat. The remainder of the morning is free to relax, with lunch on your own. An afternoon orientation of the city includes the mausoleum to modern Morocco's "father", Mohamed V, the adjoining ruins of the Hassan mosque, meant to have been the world’s largest in the 12th century, and the whitewashed Oudaïa casbah, a former lair of Barbary Coast corsairs, with an Andalusian garden. A welcome feast of Moroccan specialties at the Dinarjat, the city‘s finest traditional restaurant, in the old city.
Day 2 - Rabat/Salé/Fes
We start the day with the ancient city of Salé, with a walk through traditional market areas to its 14th centuryh Koranic school, a beautiful edifice of Merinid dynasty architecture over-looked by mass tourism. Then, a stop at the archaeological museum followed by a seafood lunch on the dramatic coast-line. Next, a tour of the Chellah fortress, its former Roman vestiges, exquisite gardens and intricate 14th century Necropolis of the Merinids. From there we proceed 2½ hours east to Morocco’s intellectual and spiritual capital Fes, followed by a Continental dinner.
Day 3 - Meknes/Volubilis/Fes
An excursion West to Imperial City Meknes, which the 17th century Sultan Moulay Ismaïl built as his capital. There we see his mausoleum, the sole religious monument open to us “infidels,” the immense granary he built to feed the city’s population and his 12,000(!) horses for up to a year-long siege, and the Jamaï Museum of Meknes crafts, set in a former palace. Lunch at the historic Hotel Trans Atlantique overlooking the Meknes medina. From there we reach the ruins of Volubilis, Rome’s capital for northwestern Africa until the 3rd century, with well-preserved mosaics that are still in situ. Early evening return to Fes, with dinner on your own.
Day 4 - Fes
A morning walk through 9th century “Old” Fes, considered by scholars to be the last true example of a typical medieval Arab town. We see the mausoleum to city founder Idriss II, the restored Nejjarine caravansary, now an exquisite museum of wood arts, and the area of the world’s oldest university, the Qaraouine, with its famed, colorful leather tanneries, specialty bazaars and craft workshops. Typical Fesi lunch during the visit at a converted home in the heart of the city. Then, a driving tour of the ramparts and a visit of 14th century "New" Fes, its 700-year-old Bou Inan prime jewel of Merinid-era architecture, and the famed "Blue Gate." Those interested may then proeed to a workshop of pottery and mosaic tile, a Fesi specialty. For dinner we head to the Maion Bleue, reputed to be northern Morocco’s finest traditional eatery, set in a former palatial home.
Day 5 - Fes/Atlas Mountains/Arfoud
A long day of fascinating, ever-changing landscapes as we cross the Atlas ranges south all the way to the Sahara. We begin with the Middle Atlas and its last forests of the giant Mediterranean cedars, passing mountain station Ifrane, site of a new international university. Lunch is in Berber enclave Midelt and then down the Ziz gorges, through ever starker scenery, to Arfoud. Buffet dinner at the hotel.
Day 6 - Sijilmassa/Tafilalet Oasis/Erg Chebbhi Dunes/Arfoud
We first explore the Tafilalet oasis, Morocco’s largest, with its meager ruins of Sijilmassa, Africa’s immense “City of Gold” until the 14th century , the Sijilmassa museum and the ruined 18th century adobe fort of Oulad abd el Halim, where early Alaouite rulers kept their families "out of trouble." Lunch of local Saharan specialties, after which we board Land Rovers and head out to the great Erg Chebbhi dunes, rising 600 ft above the desert’s floor, stopping en route at a vast fossil quarry that supplies museum shops around the world. Witness sunset over the Sahara (optional camel ride). Experience a night under the stars in Berber tents at a private campground set up for us amid the dunes. Enjoy a festive dinner of roasted lamb.
Day 7 - Arfoud/Todgha Gorge/Dades Valley/Ouarzazate
East along desert hills to the deep, narrow Todgha River Gorge, Morocco’s “Grand Canyon,“ preceded by dense palm groves. After lunch overlooking the valley in market center Tinghir, we reach the Dades Vale, considered the South’s most picturesque, with varied orchards guarded by ancient adobe castles, the ksour. Early evening arrival in international film-shooting center Ouarzazate, whose exotic surroundings have been used ever since “Lawrence of Arabia.” Buffet dinner at the hotel.
Day 8 - Draa Valley/Zagora/Tamegroute/Ouarzazate
South over the moonscape of the Saghro range and into the lush Draa Valley, a 60-mile ribbon of datepalm oases guarded by centuries-old adobe citadels. By late morning we reach Zagora, in time for its weekly outdoor bazaar, the largest of the typically southern markets. After lunch amid the oasis South of town, an exploration of ancient learning center Tamegroute, the “Gateway to the Desert.“ There we see the library of illuminated manuscripts from all parts of the world of Islam, some dated to the 11th century and from as far away as Bukhara, then follow the sandy alleys to the town’s primitive pottery works. Return to Ouarzazate in time for buffet dinner at the hotel.
Day 9 - Ouarzazate/Aït ben Haddou/Marrakech
Turn North to the hillside Aït ben Haddou casbah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and oft-used film back-drop (e.g., “Gladiator”) for a hike amid its crumbling yet still majestic multi-storied fortified granaries and homes. Lunch there, following which we con-tinue North over the spectacular road of the Tizi-n-tichka pass, with views on deep verdant vales and their adobe hamlets below snow-capped peaks, descending to legendary Marrakech. Dinner, for a change, is authentic Thai (Thai chef), set in a very Moroccan palace in the medina.
Day 10 - Marrakech
In the morning we see the 12th century Koutoubia minaret, the symbol of the city, along with the early 17th century necropolis of the Saadian dynasty. Then the Bahia palace of vizier Ba Ahmed, a prime example of Moorish-Andalusian art spread over 20 acres. Seafood lunch awaits in the new city of Gueliz. The afternoon is for the exotic gardens established by French Orientalist Jacques Majorelle in the 1930s, and Yves St. Laurent’s Museum of Islamic Art. The day is capped by a walk through the infamous Jemaa el Fna square, where the circus-like atmosphere is at its height just after sunset. Dinner with lively entertainment is at the trendy Comptoir Darna bistro, Morocco’s No. 1 “in” spot.
Day 11 - Essaouira/Marrakech
A full-day excursion West to the Atlantic shore and picturesque fisheries and art center Essaouira, whose history spans Phoenicians, Romans, Portuguese, Jews, Orson Welles and hippies! En route we pass stands of the indigenous argan trees (on which you may see Morocco's infamous tree-climbing goats!) and stop by a women's cooperative to observe how the famed argan oil is extracted from the nuts. In Essaouira we see the colorful port, the setting for Welles’ “Othello,” and the massive ramparts with their workshops for the indigenous thuya wood. Seafood lunch beachside.

Inspired by the hippie era (Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens and Mick Jagger all spent time here), Essaouira developed its own original "naive" art style and we can see it at local art galleries, especially Frederic Damgaard's. A small reception has been arranged to meet some of the artists. Afternoon return to Marrakech. Dinner is on your own today, to sample among the vast array of the city’s excellent eateries.
Day 12 - Mt. Toubkal National Park/Marakech
An early departure by minibuses for Imlil village, at the foot of 14,000-ft Mt. Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, where Berber ways of life and thought have remained truest to their ancient traditions, continuing to flourish well beyond any mass tourism tracks. We begin this exclusive program for Academy Travel with a mule ride uphill through ancient walnut groves and terraced fields to tiny Armed hamlet, crowning a rocky outcrop. We pass its simple abodes, the public oven, steam bath and granary. Then on to a typical Berber lunch at the Kasbah du Toubkal, a former fortress above town, converted to an award winning eco-lodge. A day of learning and adventure, to witness life-styles lost in time. Mid-afternoon return to Marrakech, with dinner again open to savor cuisines of your choice.
Day 13 - Marrakech
This morning we penetrate the vast reed-covered bazaars, the country’s largest, exploring quarters where all types of crafts are still fashioned by hand (and foot!). There we stop at the BenYoussef school, another gem of 14th-C. Merinid art. After browsing among the myriad of wares and colors, lunch and the remainder of the afternoon are open for personal pursuits: shopping, additional sightseeing, relaxing, golf, and packing! A farewell dinner in the 1001-nights fantasy setting of the Yacout, the city’s most renowned Moroccan-style restaurant.
Day 14 - Marrakech/Homebound
An early transfer to Marrakech airport for the flights home via Casablanca.
Itinerary at a Glance

Day 1 - Casablanca/Rabat
Day 2 - Rabat/Salé/Fes
Day 3 - Meknes/Volubilis/Fes
Day 4 - Fes
Day 5 - Fes/Atlas Mountains/Arfoud
Day 6 - Sijilmassa/Tafilalet Oasis/Erg Chebbhi Dunes/Arfoud
Day 7 - Arfoud/Todgha Gorge/Dades Valley/Ouarzazate
Day 8 - Draa Valley/Zagora/Tamegroute/Ouarzazate
Day 9 - Ouarzazate/Aït ben Haddou/Marrakech
Day 10 - Marrakech
Day 11 - Essaouira/Marrakech
Day 12 - Mt. Toubkal National Park/Marakech
Day 13 - Marrakech
Day 14 - Marrakech/Homebound