March 8 CASABLANCA
Welcome to Morocco! Plan to arrive this morning in Casablanca.
We recommend Royal Air Maroc, AT201 departing from New York, JFK on March 7th at 6:15 PM and arriving Casablanca at 6:00 AM. We’ll be met and assisted by our favorite guide, Driss.
With a fascinating blend of old and new, modern cities that exist seemingly in the midst of a medieval Sultan’s domain. Casablanca rose to prominence under French rule in the early 20th-century. It was made famous to Americans by the Humphrey Bogart film. Casablanca retains a special charm despite its modern-day role as the commercial and industrial center of Morocco. After lunch at La Mer, a seafood restaurant, enjoy a panoramic tour. See the United Nations Square, the popular Esplanade, and visit the Grand Mosque in the Old Medina, and the original Arab residential quarter. The Royal Palace and the modern Cathedral de Sacre Coeur shows the Moroccan traditions of craftsmanship and style. Then we drive north along the Atlantic coast to Rabat, one of four Imperial Cities in Morocco, and the present day capital of the Kingdom of Morocco. A city of impressive sights spanning several eras of history, Rabat was first founded by Phoenicians exploring the North African coast. They were followed by a succession of rulers including Romans, Almohades, Moorish pirates, and the French.
In Rabat we’ll see the Royal Palace, a splendid example of Islamic architecture, then visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and the Kasbah of the Oudayas. Kasbahs in North Africa usually refer to fortresses; in this case, the fortress has been turned into an interesting museum. Following our tour transfer to the La Tour Hassan Meridien Hotel. Founded in 1914, this lovely hotel is an integral part of the history of Rabat. As a jewel of rabati architecture has been totally renovated, respecting its original majesty and elegance, to enable it to offer all the modern amenities and personal attention you could wish for in a luxury hotel. Every single aspect of the hotel is an expression of Andalusian heritage. Enjoy a welcome Dinner at La Tour Hassan hotel restaurant. (L-D)
***** Hotel La Tour Hassan, Superior Room
March 9 RABAT • MEKNES
Monday VOLUBILIS • FEZ
Moving inland, we drive through verdant rolling hills to Meknes. Meknes was the 17th-century capital of Morocco. The great Alaouit Sultan Moulau Ismail, a maniacal tyrant who had few peers in history, was in power during that period. The Imperial Palace was big enough to house his 50,000 slaves and servants, 500 wives, and 1,500 children. The stable complex you’ll see is especially interesting.
Continue to Volubilis, site of spectacular ruins of an old Roman city spreading over 100 acres. We continue to the Imperial City of Fez, one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in North Africa. The gentle hills that surround Fez are complemented by a classic Moorish skyline of green tile roofs and minarets. Enjoy a refreshment and dinner at our beautiful riad (traditional palace) in the old medina of Fez. (B-D)
***** Riad Fes
March 10 FEZ
After breakfast we’ll explore Fez, the religious capital of Morocco. Fez El Bali is the heart of the Moroccan history and one of the rarest in the Arab world to have preserved the life of a medieval Islamic city. Built in the 9th century by Idriss I, the first king of Morocco, Fez was the first capital city of Morocco and the city that influenced the rest of the country as far as its history, culture, arts and spiritual life are concerned. The 9th century Fez embodies a great number of medersas (schools) dating back to the 14th century. The best of the old Moorish architecture, the Al Karaouin is the oldest in the world. This school specializes in Islamic Theology and medieval sciences. See the Sanctuary of Idriss II, the spiritual center where this descendant of the prophet Mohammed was buried
Fez El Bali is also a “Live Museum”, where certain ancient handicraft traditions still survive, gathered in family run industries such as the vegetable silk dyers, the tanneries, the copper and brass ware quarters, the blacksmiths, the carpenters specialized in making wedding thrones for the whole country, carpet manufacturing and the famous pottery makers.
Fez El Jedid was built by the Merinid dynasty in the 14th century. Start with a drive around the beautifully restored ramparts before we stop to enjoy the most stunning view of the whole city from the hilltops of the southern part of Fez. Your cultural visit will then continue to the most beautifully built Jewish quarter, which stands next to the 14th century Royal palace. This is the famous Mellah, where you may admire a fine example of old Spanish-Moorish architecture; the Jewish cemetery, where the oldest tombs go back to the earliest days of the history of Fez and the region; as well as the recently restored synagogue of Aben Danan, built in the 17th century. Take a short walk in the historical gardens of Jnan Sbil and visit the 19th century Royal Palace. Lunch is at La Maison Bleue and dinner at Riad Fez. (B-L-D)
***** Riad Fes
March 11 FEZ
This morning we depart for Marrakech. Along the way, we plan to stop at a Berber village, home to colorful people who maintain distinct folklore in the face of modern times. View their native handicrafts such as woodcarvings and weavings. Our journey takes us through lovely wooded and mountainous scenic regions with stops in Ifrane and Azvou. These snow capped peaks buffer the oasis of Marrakech from the harsh Sahara. We arrive in Marrakech later this afternoon.
Most of the city architecture attractions are inside the Medina, the old walled section of town. Built in the 12th century, the Koutoubia Minaret is the most perfect Islamic religious structure in North Africa. Hidden away behind high walls are the Saadian tombs. The Bahia Palace is a masterpiece of domestic architecture.
In the afternoon, drive to the old town and walk through the labyrinth of streets of the souks with their quarters and corporations, dyers, herbalists, jewelers, carpenters, and hundreds of craftsmen at work. Next the Djemaa El Fna square, a big popular fairground with its storytellers, fire-eaters, jugglers, fortune-tellers, snake charmers and performers of each and every sort. Drinks are served on a terrace with views overlooking the square. Dinner is at the lovely Sofitel. (B-D)
***** Sofitel Marrakech
March 12 MARRAKECH
Marrakech lies between the Atlas Mountains and the western desert of Morocco, and for centuries it has been an important caravan stop. The official date of the city’s founding is 1062. The city has a colorful history and its control changed hands many times. In 1912 the French took control and introduced Marrakech to the 20th-century. The fine hotels, excellent cuisine and extensive wine lists reflect the French influence. A curious blend of refined modern French tastes and historical Arab traditions is both the charm and mystery of Marrakech. The souks of Marrakech place one in a seemingly timeless environment where traders and craftsmen have been bartering wares for centuries.
Today we will visit the Koutoubia Mosque, the most famous building in North Africa. It dominates the city. Its sheer beauty appeals to all, but its significance to many is religious. The towering minaret, which can be seen from all over the city, once housed a copy of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam. During our time in Marrakech we visit Djemaa el Fna Square. The name means “assembly of the dead” but that description couldn’t be less appropriate. The color and charm of a nation, old and new, are on display here. Dinner tonight at Dar Moha restaurant. (B-D)
***** Sofitel Marrakech
March 13 MARRAKECH
Today we’ll enjoy a free day for independent activities. Tonight we travel in style by horse drawn carriage for a farewell dinner at Restaurant Yacout. (B-D)
***** Sofitel Marrakech
March 14 MARRAKECH
After breakfast, transfer to the airport. We recommend the Royal Air Maroc flights AT402 and AT200 departing at 9:15 AM and connecting in Casablanca onward to New York’s JFK at 12:25 PM, arriving at 4:45 PM the same day. (B)
Note: Flight schedules always subject to change.
(B = Breakfast / L = Lunch / D = Dinner)