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Selected departures from March to November 2016
Experience exotic Marrakesh and the dramatic Atlas Mountains on our escorted tour to one of the most fascinating regions in Morocco
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Visiting Morocco really is like stepping back in time and is everything you imagine it to be and more. This is a country of great contrasts: it has had many influences, with some of the earliest records from Phoenician times, then coming under the sway of Carthage, the Romans, from the 7th century the Ottomans and finally the French. All have left their own mark, creating a unique country which today, though relatively near, still remains delightfully exotic, mysterious and unspoilt.
Morocco’s most vibrant city, full of myths and mystery, ochre-coloured Marrakesh is today an anachronism – one of the most exciting and romantic places you will ever visit, with one foot in the present and one firmly in the past. It was once an oasis on the ancient caravan routes to the south, thus becoming a natural centre of commerce and consequently, during medieval times, Morocco’s capital. Vast wealth poured in from nearby Moorish Spain and skilled artisans built the city you see today. Surrounded by almost intact medieval ramparts, it has some amazing buildings. Dominating the traditional low-rise skyline is the amazing Koutoubia Minoret, over 200 feet high, visible for miles around and a classic example of Moorish architecture. Then there are the Saadian Tombs, the intricately decorated final resting place of the descendants of Mohammed, plus the Royal Palace and a host of other things to experience. The city’s maze of tiny streets is interspaced by tranquil gardens watered for centuries by an ingenius underground water system, still functioning after all these years.
At the centre of it all though is the Djemaa el Fna, a huge square and site of one of the world’s greatest spectacles. Here, especially atmospheric at dusk, street restaurants serve all kinds of delicacies with mouth-watering aromas filling the air, surrounded by what can only be described as a medieval circus. Storytellers recount tales of old, whilst fire-eaters and skilled acrobats entertain the crowds. Scribes write letters, whilst open-air dentists and barbers are busy at work. Permeating the whole scene is the heavy drumbeat of musical troupes playing their instruments, the sights and sounds of which are enchanting. The balmy warmth of the Moroccan evening adds to the atmosphere and all this under an ocean of stars makes for a fabulous experience!
Moroccans themselves display legendary hospitality: culturally bound to offer help to visitors, they are extremely friendly, generous and open. One of the great delights when visiting Morocco is its cuisine. It is a veritable food-lovers’ paradise. Whilst the tour is on a half-board basis, to get a real feel for the authentic cuisine you may swap dinner for lunch in the hotel to take advantage of the myriad of atmospheric restaurants and try some of the local delicacies. Most famous is the pastilla, a legendary pigeon or chicken pastry prepared with cinnamon and honey. Indeed, the famous TV chef Robert Carrier stated there are three great world cuisines: French, Chinese and Moroccan!
The price of this holiday is per person based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject to availability at a supplement of £125 per person. The price includes return flights, airport departure taxes, five nights dinner bed and breakfast, all tours as mentioned, all transport, two guided tours of Marrakesh, visit to Essaouira, tour into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and the services of a Riviera tour manager. Where hotels feature an outdoor swimming pool, this will be open summer months, weather permitting.
You should arrive at the airport to take the flight to Marrakesh. On arrival a coach will take us to the excellent four-star superior Hotel Opera Plaza for five nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast. Set in its own private landscaped grounds shaded by glossy leaved palm trees, this luxury hotel is ideally located allowing easy access to the sights in the old city. All the air-conditioned rooms are furnished in a comfortable modern style and well-appointed. It has three restaurants, the main one serving international cuisine, or you can upgrade to either the Asian or Moroccan ‘à la carte’ restaurants if should you wish. There is a chic and comfortable lounge bar and a cosy café bar, the ideal spot in which to relax after a hard day’s sightseeing. There is also a large and inviting outdoor pool and spa overlooking the gardens. Outdoor pool open summer months, weather permitting.
Marrakesh is a labyrinth of tiny alleyways, which teem with street life like few other places in the world. With classic French colonial buildings and boulevards surrounded by almost intact medieval walls – it is so perfect it could be, and often is, a film set. This morning, we have a sightseeing tour during which we will see the Saadian tombs, one of the world’s finest examples of Moorish architecture, whose classic archways are covered in gold-leaf and stucco work. Plus, we will also experience the El Bahia Palace, which when built was acclaimed as the world’s most beautiful palace and famed for its 50 marble columns. We also visit the famous souks or covered markets, where immensely skilled craftsmen create intricate leather-ware, jewellery and furniture. At dusk, after dinner in the hotel we visit the Djemaa El Fna, a showcase for traditional Moroccan life. You will experience a fantastic spectacle of musicians, dancers, fortune-tellers and snake charmers in a kaleidoscope of colour.
This morning, we have a second tour of Marrakesh. The city boasts a wealth of wonderful gardens, some quite large with olive groves and lakes providing a haven of peace and tranquillity. One is the pretty Jardin Majorelle: an amazing creation of bamboo, bougainvillaea and cacti, formerly owned by Yves Saint-Laurent. Surrounding the city are immense, 19-mile-long ramparts, still largely intact with imposing forts at various intervals. The gates are fine examples of classic Moorish architecture with their pastel colours changing with the time of day and intensity of light. This afternoon is at leisure.
We drive to the delightful coastal town of Essaouira, coming to prominence during the 15th century when the Portuguese created the present medieval citadel. Within, perfectly preserved maze-like streets connect tranquil squares lined by whitewashed houses and pavement cafes. You can stroll round the markets where the stalls groan under the weight of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables, or simply wander through the harbour, a hive of activity where fishermen repair their nets much as they have done for centuries. Essaouira is so charmingly unspoilt it has attracted filmmakers from Orson Welles’s Othello to Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. During your journey the real Morocco unfolds, the landscape evolves from fertile green plains to moon-like semi-desert studded with occasional palm trees. Shepherds of all ages, tend small herds of sheep and goats, the transport of choice is very much the donkey, whilst mud-brick villages blend perfectly into the background.
Forming an ever-present backdrop and adding to Marrakesh’s wondrous setting are the soaring, snow-capped Atlas Mountains. This morning, we drive through the foothills with the countryside changing from saffron-coloured fields to steeper wooded slopes, slashed by dramatic, river-filled gorges. Huge peaks soaring nearly 10,000 feet blend wonderfully with the deep-blue sky, whilst, below, the desolate mountainside stretches before us. Then the forests commence, rolled out like a huge green carpet and beyond, misty plains stretch to the horizon in a patchwork of muted colours. We return to Marrakesh early afternoon.
At the appropriate time you return to the airport for your return flight.
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