Explore the souks and spice-infused alleyways of Marrakech, ride a mule on mountain tracks in the High Atlas mountains, learn how to prepare a tajine and kick back on the coast at the ancient fishing port of Essaouira. Marrakech - The atmosphere in Djemaa El Fna square and the bustling souks of the Red City, hear the call to prayer and try haggling at the local markets. The High Atlas - Take a gentle walk (or ride a mule) through the foothills of North Africa's greatest mountains. Essaouira - Ride a camel on the beach, try your hand at surfing and explore the craft markets in the old town.
Arrive in Marrakech. Morocco's famous Red City, Marrakech is the spiritual heart of the country, a cultural melting pot of the mountain Berbers and the desert peoples of the south. Blessed with some of the most stunning architecture in Morocco, its mix of tradition, colour and history makes it the ideal starting point. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Marrakech at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK), which is around 20 minutes' drive. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting. Should you miss the meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to relax beside our hotel's swimming pool or take a stroll around Djemma El Fna Square. Our hotel is located in the heart of the new town surrounded by many restaurants with easy access to the main avenue to the old town.
Like many North African towns, Marrakech is divided into two distinct parts, the Gueliz (the modern French-built city) and the Medina (the Old City). For generations it has been a meeting place for the mountain Berbers and the desert peoples of the south, who come to trade and barter amongst the colourful souks, turning the centre of the old city into a rich cacophony of noise and colour with spectacular architecture and wonderful facades. Heading out into this vibrant city accompanied with a local guide, we wander past vendors selling doughnuts and sweet treats. Meander through native markets where Muslim women, their hands and feet dyed with henna, call out to sell their wares, and enjoy the sounds and the smells of the exotic. For those that want to, there is the option to stay in town and make your own way back to the hotel after our city tour, taking time to enjoy more of the remarkable Medina, perhaps haggling for a bargain or two, or simply sitting at one of the local cafés and watching the street tableaux unfold before you. The city's beating heart is the spectacular Djemma-el-Fna, a site not to be missed and a scene straight out of the pages of the Arabian Nights. You will find the square alive with storytellers and musicians, jugglers and acrobats, snake charmers and clowns. Leaving the city behind this afternoon, we drive south towards the craggy peaks and plunging valleys of the Toubkal Massif. Crossing the Haouz Plain we pass through the tiny town of Asni, from where our road begins to climb towards the foothills of the Massif. Below us the valley of the Oued Rhirhaia stretches out into the distance and small villages cling to the sides of the steep hills as we meander our way towards the village of Ouirgane. The towering peaks of the High Atlas are North Africa's greatest range of mountains, a wild region, culturally removed from the rest of Morocco, and a barrier between the northern plains and the pre-Sahara. This is the land of the fiercely independent Berbers, the Lords of the Atlas, whose traditions and ways still hold sway up here in their mountain strongholds far away from the cities below. The Berbers present us with a unique view of a way of life lost to the rest of North Africa, where music and dance, even language and religion, are far removed from their Arab neighbours.
We walk in the Ouirgane area with its magnificent scenery and dramatic landscapes (mules are provided for the younger children). We visit a Berber village and meet a local family for lunch (the cost of this is paid for locally) and learn something more of the unique lifestyles of these most remarkable and hospitable of people. We then walk back to our hotel on a different route with panoramic views of the artificial lake of Ouirgane. The walk will last around four hours in total and can be adapted based upon the group's fitness, their interest and local weather conditions. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure by the pool.
Heading south today, we first visit the Tin Mal Mosque. Built in 1156, it is one of the only mosques open to non-Muslims and was once considered the centre of the reign of the powerful Almohades dynasty. After our visit, we take a dramatic drive across the spectacular Tizi n' Test pass and down into the region of the High Atlas. At 2092m, the scenes from the pass are quite spectacular, with views back across to the Toubkal Massif and down into the Souss Valley. Our descent is something of an exhilarating ride, dropping 1600 metres in just 30 km. The views as you can imagine are incredible, with mountain peaks and tiny villages nestling amongst the valley slopes laid out before us. We drive along the orange groves to Taroudant, the old capital of the Souss region and arrive with plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings and relax at the hotel pool.
This morning we drive to the oasis town of Tiout, which is on the edge of the Anti Atlas. We meet a local family and learn how to cook a tagine (named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked) of meat, poultry or fish mixed together with vegetables. A walk around the area allows us to visit an oasis and its traditional irrigation system with panoramic views of a local village from an old Kasbah (mules can be hired for the younger children). We walk back to a local Berbers house for lunch (the cost of this is paid for locally) giving the opportunity to experience further the Berber culture (around 3 hours of walking in total) . Driving back to Taroudant, the afternoon allows for more time to discover this small and beautiful market town which is surrounded by red-mud walls. The souks are well worth a closer look and you may be able to find a souvenir or two.
Today we spend the morning driving across the High Atlas towards Chichaoua and then join the new road to Essaouira. We stop off at an Argan oil women's cooperative and learn about how the women from different villages work together to produce the precious oil by pressing the nuts by hand and its economic benefit to the community. After arriving in Essaouira, we check into our hotel opposite the beach and after some free time stroll over to take a camel ride along the beach to enjoy the sunset over the Atlantic ocean. The resort town of Essaouira is a mecca for water sports enthusiasts from all over the world. Essaouira has a lively yet relaxed feel to it, with whitewashed houses and traditional fishing boats presenting a perfect backdrop for your stay. The town has a rich and somewhat colourful history and its importance as a trading port during the 18th and 19th centuries saw it prosper, attracting British, French, Arab and Jewish merchants and sailors to its shores. These influences are still reflected in the architecture and layout of the town.
Explore the delightful old medina of Essaouira and its vibrant fishing port with a local guide. Walk through narrow alleyways lined with traditional craft stores and finish up on the historic ramparts for panoramic views of the old town and surrounding coastline. The afternoon is free to try out a range of water sports including a surfing lesson or visiting the Medina again to snap up some of the locally made rustic leather belts or gleaming gold jewellery. Alternatively wander the town's galleries, cafes and souk.. Try grilled fresh fish, cooked right in front of you at the local market, washed down with a refreshing glass of freshly squeezed orange juice or mint tea. Swimming is possible but please take local advice on currents before entering the water.
We drive back to the 'Red City' of Marrakech, with some time this afternoon to explore something more of this wholly captivating city before our final evening. Marrakech is a city like no other and a walk through its bustling streets will fill the senses and fire the imagination. An option is to traditional Moroccan bath experience at the local neighbourhood hammams.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Marrakech. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Marrakech at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK). Depending on the schedule of your flights, you may have some additional time to wander in the souks of Marrakech or buy your last souvenirs before departure.
8 Break Fast(s)
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