Next, Seville, the city of Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro, to not mention its splendid gardens or the largest cathedral in the world. We then leave the ‘Old World’ behind and after a short flight, land in Marrakech, Morocco where a culture shock together with a private 4x4 await you. Centuries ago, caravans laden with gold, ivory and feathers were unloading their riches at the sultan’s palace in Marrakech and Fez after weeks of crossing the Sahara. The itinerary follows some of the ancient route and starts off with Casablanca and Rabat, to then witness the splendor of the Roman heritage at Volubilis. We will reach Fez, a jewel among Arab cities, home to the oldest still running university in the world, the odorant tanneries, stucco- engraved Koranic schools and thousands of derbs, streets so narrow, you can whisper in your neighbor’s ear. Traveling in time. We shall then cross the Middle Atlas cedar forests and lush countryside to reach the Sahara desert. Before crossing the Atlas Mountains, we will uncover mysterious adobe honey-comb villages, trek in the Dades or explore century old palm groves. Upon visiting pasha's ruined palace at Telouet, our tour reaches sensual Marrakech. After spending a night in a riad and a day of wandering around the intricate souks famous with shoppers worldwide, Yves Saint Laurent’s gardens or Saadi tombs the evening will find us open- mouthed by the Jemaa El Fna with its snake charmers, story tellers and local musicians. What better way to shed off the desert dust, than a night in UNESCO world site port of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast ? We shall then drop you at the airport in Marrakech or Casablanca in time for your flight.
Day 1: Madrid
Arrive at Madrid airport. Meet your driver just past customs in Madrid airport. We’ll take you to your hotel before beginning your guided tour at Plaza de Oriente, the center of 15th century Madrid. This walking tour will lead you through streets and squares belonging to the times of the Habsburg royalty. Pass the Royal Palace, Royal Theater and Opera. Your guide will tell you the legends and history of the commoners and nobility during the Spanish Renaissance. . As the capital city, you see the stern nobility and Catholic obedience shine through in some of the older architecture. We will walk you through the periods and point out the important monuments as we go from the famous Thyssen and Prado Museum to the neighborhood of the letters to the ornate Royal Palace. We will orientate you to where the locals go, talk about some of the important festivals and give you a good sense of how to spend your free time. A few other stops along the way are the Tower of Lujan, San Miguel Market, Plaza Mayor where bullfights were once held and Plaza de España.
Day 2: Madrid – Toledo.
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the short drive to Toledo.
Toledo, the former capital of Castile, remains the heart of the country, physically, culturally and spiritually. It is the seat of the Catholic Church in Spain but styles itself as a 'city of three cultures', reflecting the other religions, Islam and Judaism, that have held it in sway in the past. This multiculturalism makes for an intriguing heritage, one that is evident in everything from the architecture to the food.
As you approach, notice how the entire city crowds onto a high, rocky perch protected by the Tajo River. Your guide will meet you at the city gates for a short panoramic driving tour before leading you through the Old Town and Jewish Quarters. Visit the Gothic cathedral and nearby San Juan de los Reyes Convent. You'll also get to see the famous painting by El Greco, "The Burial of Count Orgaz." Along the way, your guide will tell you the story of Toledo's 3 religions and people groups that lived in harmony during a time when the rest of the country was at war. End the tour at St. María la Blanca Synagogue or Cristo de la Luz Mosque. Meet your driver later in the day at Zocodover Plaza for the return trip to Madrid.
Day 3: Madrid – Barcelona ( 2 hour train ride)
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the drive to Atocha train station. Catch the AVE to Barcelona
(2 hours) where your next driver will be waiting for you just past luggage collection. With a stunning diversity of architecture, from the medieval of the Barrio Gótico to the Modernism of Antonio Gaudí, works from artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg on street corners, world class museums and galleries, and music festivals, the city has a wealth of culture to offer its visitors. It is divided into different barrios, all of which are completely individual and are perfectly spaced to explore on foot. Barcelona is enjoying a culinary renaissance, too, and boasts some of the most inventive cuisine in the world. Go here to drink wine in lively bars, savour the taste of Spain in traditional tapas restaurants, and soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant and cosmopolitan Catalan city.
Drop your suitcases at the hotel and freshen up/ rest before taking on a guided tour of Barcelona. The guided tour will show you the city's most iconic sights, beginning with a panoramic driving tour of the Passeig de Gracia Boulevard, past Parc Güell, both Gaudí houses, las Ramblas and the Born district. Stop at the Sagrada Familia and the Gaudí Houses to get a better look at the inside of these fabulously designed buildings. Finish the day with a walking tour through the Gothic Quarters.
Day 4: Freixenet and Sitges
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the short drive to Freixenet cava wine cellars. Your local guide will share some history of the family-run business as you descend to the old cellars and discover how cava wine is made. Hop on a small train that will traverse part of the 12 miles of underground tunnels before arriving at the tasting hall. Here your guide will lead you in a sampling of some of Freixenet's best cavas. Next stop is the quaint seaside village Sitges. This town soaks up more than 300 days of sun per year. Take a stroll through the villages and some free time for lunch on the seafront before returning to Barcelona.
Day 5: Free day in Barcelona
Day 6: Barcelona – Cordoba ( 4H30 train ride)
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the transfer to Sants train station. Today you'll leave Barcelona for Andalucia on the high-speed AVE train. If you were ever in the mood for a poetic reflection on the decline of greatness and the ravages of time, Córdoba would be a fine place for it. The city was at the height of its fame in the 10th century, when it had a population of half a million souls, a vibrant economy and a cultural sophistication that only Constantinople and Baghdad could rival. Wander the streets of Córdoba's old town and you'll soon get lost, finding romantic taverns on your way.The first stop of the day will be to meet your guide for a tour of what was once the most culturally advanced city in Europe. Enter the mosque, converted into a cathedral after the Reconquest in 1236 and listen to the stories of the sultans and commoners who built it together. Wander the Jewish Quarters, known for their jewelers, strolling among the whitewashed houses and red gardenias. Your guide will explain why the Jews lived in such cramped quarters and explain some of their customs. End the tour of Cordoba with a visit to one of the few remaining synagogues in Spain.You'll have some time on your own before continuing with your driver to Granada (2 hours). Arrive at your hotel in Granada.
Day 7: Granada
The city of Granada has one of the most dramatic locations in Spain, poised below the magnificent snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. It is the perfect setting for one of Europe's most stunning monuments - The Alhambra Palace, the romantic palace-fortress of the Nasrid Sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Muslim Kingdom. Modern Granada is both worldly and mystical - a vibrant melting pot of east and western cultures, with a large student population thanks to its university, and an eclectic contrast of Muslim and Spanish culture.
Meet your guide at the entrance to the Alhambra for the early evening visit. We'll go back 900 years to visit the 11th wonder of the world. Gardens of Paradise, Alcazar Fortress and the renowned Nasrid Palaces are just some parts of the Alhambra Forbidden City that you'll visit on tour. After leaving the palaces, take few hours of free time in Granada center. Try the local tapas on Plaza Nueva or take a real Arab Bath on Plaza Santa Ana.In the evening, meet your driver in front of the hotel to go to the Gypsy caves at Sacromonte just outside the city limits. Watch an authentic display of flamenco guitar and dancing followed by a midnight tour of the Albaicín.
Day 8: Free day in Granada
Day 9: White villages and Ronda
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the drive across the plains and through the mountains (2 hours). Discover a small corner of Spain where traditional village life goes on as it has for thousands of years. We'll meet the guide in Zahara de la Sierra, birthplace of Arab noblemen, conquistadors and bandits. Your guide will tell you some of the local legends before visiting an olive mill for a tour and tasting. Next stop on your guided tour is the tiny village of Grazalema, a town within a natural park. Since this area is known for its goat cheese we'll have to stop for a tour and cheese tasting at a local dairy. Finally, we'll take a break for lunch just outside Ronda with a tour and wine tasting at a countryside winery. After lunch, your driver will leave you at your hotel. Take some free time before meeting your guide at the hotel for a late afternoon tour of Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting. Go inside the bullring to step into the matador's shoes. Later cross the New Bridge spanning a plunging gorge that separates Ronda's New and Old Quarters. Once across the bridge, your guide will continue the tour down cobblestone streets into the Collegiate Church and Don Bosco's medieval palace
Day 10: Ronda- Seville ( 1.5 hours drive)
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the drive across Andalucía to Seville. The appeal of Seville, Andalucía's sunny city, lies in its extravagant Moorish architecture and its exuberant street life. There is always plenty going on in Seville's picturesque cobbled streets, from religious processions to fiery flamenco. Check in at your hotel, where your guide will meet you after lunch for an afternoon walking tour. Begin at the city walls, passing the Murillo Gardens with several stops in Barrio Santa Cruz. See the Cathedral and the Giralda prayer tower. Your tour will end at the Tower of Gold on the river where you'll take a slow cruise up and down the Guadalquivir river.
Day 11: Seville - Marrakech ( 1 hour flight).
Upon arrival at the airport in Marrakech, get picked up by your dedicated driver and drop off at the Riad for the night. Freshen up and rest, to then go out and visit some of the sites of the ‘pearl of the south’. As the sun sets and the shades of its towers lose their contour, the fumes start rising on the nearby Jemaa El Fna square. Musicians, acrobats, snake charmers, witch doctors and food stalls all come alive as if they had never left the place. This is the city at its most essential, a place where people from everywhere mingle, perform and people- watch, half way between a tableau vivant and a circus show. Dinner and accommodation in a charming Riad in the Medina of Marrakech.
Day 12: Marrakech – visit of the city.
More than the sum of its opulent night life and luxurious palaces, the design boutiques or the French restaurants, it’s something in the air of Marrakech. The light of the south as some may call it, a certain feeling that nothing can go wrong, a certain je ne sais quoi… A good point to start your private guided tour is perhaps Maison de La Photographie, located in one of the most authentic districts of Marrakech. It accommodates one of the most interesting collection of photos in Morocco, documenting the life in Morocco from late 1800’s all the way to the 1950’s. Crossing the souks you may want to spoil yourself with some shopping. Miles of Ali Baba closet- size caves where everything glitters will lure you in. If it is too early in the day for shopping, you can also admire the dyeing of the wool or the looming of a Berber carpet on site. Past Place des Epices and its shops stuffed with turtles, colorful spices and witchcraft accessories, we make our way into the Kasbah. Not before entering the gardens of 19th century Bahia Palace, an epitome of Islamic art of the era and residence of the grand vizier. Uncovered by chance in 1917, the nearby Saadi Tombs hold the remains of the sultans responsible for the last golden age of the city , the 16th and 17th century. Time allowing, you should also care to visit some of the city’s outstanding gardens. One of them belonged to a painter who had fallen in love with Marrakech in the 1920’s and decided to create his own version of Garden Of Eden. Majorelle Gardens were subsequently acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and then made available to the general public. They are best visited early in the morning before the tourist crowds take over.
Day 13: Marrakech - Casablanca - Rabat ( 4 hour drive).
After a 4 hour drive on Morocco’s highway, we reach the capital Rabat, recently declared UNESCO world site. A quiet administrative center, Rabat has also a much richer history and makes the perfect introduction to Morocco, suspended somewhere between Europe and the Arab world. We will visit the 12th century Kasbah des Oudayas and its Andalusian Gardens, an important outpost of the Almohad dynasty. We can dwell further into the past and visit the Merenid necropolis of Chellah, where Phoenician, Roman and Merinid traces blend. But perhpas better stories are to be told about Sale, the sister city to Rabat and the important place is used to play centuries ago as a piracy center. Canals used to run inside its gates and its pirates were famous for rapidly attacking European ships and taking illustrous nobility as prisoners. Once inside the city, the massive doors would close and the European powers had no other choice than to offer most generous prices for ransom. The Republic of Sale, a state within a kingdom, even came into existence and refused to pay any tax to the sultan, who decided to build a new port where he could keep his hand on the piracy and its generous revenues: that is how Essaouira was born.
Later on, dinner and accommodation in a charming Riad inside the Medina.
Day 14: Rabat - Meknes - Volubilis - Fez ( 3 hour drive).
After breakfast, our Spain- Morocco tour reaches Meknes , an imperial city that rose to prominence with the sultan Moulay Ismail ( 1672- 1727) who set the capital of Morocco to Meknes and gave it its golden age by building his imperial palace, city walls and kasbahs upon dismantling Badi palace in Marrakech and bringing to Meknes most of its marble, ivory and wood. Places of interest in Meknes include Bab El Mansour gate, Masoleum of Moulay Ismail, the imperial palace and the royal granaries and stables.
Back on the road we are to reach shortly the Roman ruins of Volubilis with its Galem’s baths, basilica, capitol and forum and the sacred village of Moulay Idriss . Moulay Idriss was Prophet Mohammed great grandson and fled Mecca during the 8th century AD. He established himself at Volubilis, converted the locals to Islam and founded the first Moroccan imperial dynasty. The journey should reach Fez late afternoon/ evening, just in time for freshening up and preparing for dinner.
Day 15: Fez- visit of the city.
With the first light of dawn, you realize you have travelled in time. Four centuries? Five? Perhaps as much as the Kayraouine University and mosque, now 12 centuries old, the oldest still- working university in the world. There are thousands of derbs, streets so narrow you could whisper in your neighbor’s ear. The heyday of the caravan trade coming from Timbuktu is long resolute. Instead, the migration of wealthy Moors and Jews from the courts of Granada and Cordoba in 15th and 16th century is more present. The numerous Islamic schools, among which the most ornate are perhaps Bou Inania and El Attarine, will wow you with their intricate stucco and cedar engravings that have so well resisted the passage of centuries. Next, the tanneries, where dozens of workers toil over open vats, dipping skins in to treat them before hand-dyeing them in bright yellow, red and white, stomping them under the hot sun to distribute the pigment.
Sip a mint tea and catch your breath enjoying a mint tea on the roof terrace of Nejjarine Foundouk, an 18th-century caravanserai, turned into a woodwork museum. One can only awe at the level of craftsmanship infused by the Arabic calligraphy imbedded on 12th century wood beans or musical instruments and other chests of drawers.
Day 16: Fez - visit of the city/ countryside.
After a full day spent visiting the old town, you should be by now, better with directions or at least more confident about it. Lately, many derelict palaces of Fez have turned into riads ( boutique hotels built around an inside garden) while others became museums, like Palais Batha. On display are fine examples of woodcarving, stucco, and zellij, much of it rescued from Fes's crumbling medersas, along with embroidery, Berber carpets, jewelry, textiles, astronomical instruments and calligraphy. Back inside the maze, you will sooner or later end up next to the zaouia of Moulay Idriss, the place where the founder of the city is buried, which at any time of day is packed with devotees, especially women, burning candles and incense looking for the much coveted baraka (good fortune) that the visit is reputed to bring.
If by now you had your culture overdose, venture in the country side for a picnic (just one hour drive from Fez the countryside is peppered with lakes and forests) or indulge in a traditional Moroccan hammam ( Arab steam bath and body scrub with eucalyptus soap) in one of the hundreds of public baths available. Allow some time for shopping as well: the leather and brass trade in Fez is without equal in all of Morocco.
Day 17: Fez - Ifrane - Azrou - Mildelt - Errachidia - Merzouga ( 7 hours drive).
With Fez in the background, our tour serpents its way up into the shade of cedar forests. Our trip takes us first through Ifrane, the ‘Switzerland of Morocco’, almost a ghost town, except during the snow season when it becomes Morocco’s prime ski resort. The waters of the lake nearby are crystal clear and boats are rented out to those wishing to paddle across it. Prettier walks are to be had in the foothills of the next town, Azrou. The dense forest is also home to the Barbary macaque , almost domesticated now and the 800- year old Gouraud’s cedar. The monkeys and their babies nibble on whatever they can find to eat, spoiled by the generous offerings of the visitors.
A few hours later, our Morocco trip arrives in Erfoud and the change in landscape is sharp - Sahara is not far now. Given the time we will visit the ancient Jewish district and the Musee des Oasis. Or perhaps after the long drive, you just want to relax in the refreshing pool of the Kasbah and enjoy the view on the nearby majestic desert dunes. Dinner and accommodation in a local Kasbah.
Day 18: Merzouga - Erg Chebbi ( transfer by camel or 4x4).
After the long drive the day before, you may be excused for taking your time to have a late breakfast and eventually lay around the pool. Your driver will then take you on a tour to the Black People village where populations from across the Sahara emigrated centuries ago and still maintain their own way of life. Or have tea with a nomad family. The area is also rich in fossils and the old French lead and quartz mines and quarters are also worth a visit. Or, if you are looking for some adrenaline rush, take onto quad biking or high dunes drifting with a customized 4x4 . In the afternoon we trade the 4x4 for camels, leave most of the luggage at the Kasbah and reach the dunes of Erg Chebbi, some of the highest in Morocco. The camel ride is swift and the transfer can also be made by 4x4.
While the staff are busy unloading your luggage, try to find the highest dune and reach the top. Then take it all in . For as far as you can see, there is nothing but sand, an ocean of it as set to conquer everything that stands in its way. All worldly matters loose sense and the feeling of peace is overwhelming. One of the first things the Sahara does is make you aware of your own insignificance. You also realize you are suddenly not somewhere different. You are different. And while the sun sets, there is nowhere else you would rather be. Dinner and accommodation in a private tent in a camp in the dunes. Here, you have the choice between a basic tent with toilets/ bathroom outside or a luxury tent with en suite bathroom and toilets.
Day 19: Erg Chebbi - Tinejdad - Todra Gorges - Tinerir - Boulmane/ Skoura ( 4-5 hour drive).
Try to wake up to catch the sunrise- there is nothing quite like it... After breakfast our imperial cities Morocco tour takes us first to Rissani that used to serve as a caravan trading post until a century ago. Gold and slave auctions were taking place here as late as 1800’s.
On the way to Tinerir, it is worth stopping and admiring a local ksour ( fortified traditional village). The most spectacular gorges of Morocco, Todra Gorges, lie only 15 km from Tinerir, presenting an arresting spectacle with its crystal clear river emerging from it, its huge walls changing colour to magical effect as the day unfolds. If you want to stay away from the tourist crowds though, you should instead visit the Gorges of Dades, not as high but surely at least as dramatic. We are back in the Atlas Mountains as we pass through Tinerir, an important center for the Berber nomad tribes with its extensive palm grove, the decaying ksours and 19th century adobe mosque.
Shortly after we reach Boulmane de Dades at the entrance of Dades Gorges. A drive along the gorges will bring out the carpet of almond trees, best viewed in February and the strange 'monkey fingers'. If you want to try some trekking in Morocco, Dades Gorge is the place to start - a trek with a private local guide can be arranged early next morning. We will stop for dinner and accommodation in a local guesthouse.
Day 20: Dades/ Skoura - Ouarzazate - Ait Benhaddou - Telouet - Marrakech ( 4- 5 hour drive)
After breakfast, our Spain Morocco tour takes us first to the immense palm grove of Skoura, where we more than recommend a guided private tour. In the shade of the palm trees, you will walk past pumpkins and figs, grapes and tomatoes, coriander, parsley and rosemary. Olives are pressed into the precious oil – dip your bread into it and try a local’s breakfast. Fire, water, earth and dye are what make most of things here. On Friday afternoon, when the prayer is over, the caid comes out and spreads a carpet on the grass. The villagers then succeed themselves and present their queries. Most of them are resolved on site. Time is suspended here indeed.
In Ouarzazate, time allowing, we can visit the film studios where more recently some of the episodes of Game of Thrones were shot. Half an hour later, our tour turns right to shortly arrive at post card perfect UNESCO world site of Ait Benhaddou. In spite of the local ‘guides’, the best is to just lose yourselves in its alleyways.
Past Tamdaght and the kasbah made famous by the slave scene from 'Gladiator', the beauty of the valley serpenting underneath the route is beyond words. Telouet is next, where the former pasha's palace dominates the village, a fortified citadel that is both a microcosm of an empire and its demise.
Shortly after Telouet, the trip joins the main road again and after innumerous twists and over Tizi n Tichka pass, we descend the Atlas Mountains and reach the plain. Ahead in the night, lays dormant and sensual Marrakech, its walls and eighteen gates enveloping hundreds of foundouks once protecting the caravans and their precious cargos. Dinner and overnight in a charming Riad.
Day 21: Marrakech - Essaouira ( 2 hour and a half drive).
There is nothing more appropriate after the long journey, then to unwind by the beach on the Atlantic coast. And what better place for that than UNESCO site of Essaouira - a stunning splash of white between the sea and sky, much more Mykonos than Morocco with its honey-combed white chalk houses and blue framed windows.
Essaouira was for centuries a working port and that is what makes for its rugged charm. The Romans came here for the precious purple dye which they used to stain their imperial togas, but it was the Portuguese who put this place on the map, as a market place for gold and ivory, slaves and spices. Sightseeing visitors sip cool drinks in the cobbled square where slaves were sold after their long march across the Sahara. This was their last sight of Africa before the grim voyage to the New World. After the Portuguese left, Essaouira became a free port in the 18th century - Morocco's window on the world. Orson Welles filmed his 'Othello' on these robust walls more than half a century ago and scenes from 'Alexander', 'Kingdom of Heaven' and more recently 'Game of Thrones' were shot here. Tall towers festooned with cannons still define the borders of the old town.
Day 22: Essaouira - Casablanca ( 4 hour drive).
Thanks to its magnificent fortifications and overall bohemian ambiance, Essaouira is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it is still a market town and in spite of last few years buzz, rural Berbers still come to hawk their wares to the artisans who live and work here and fishermen and boat builders get on with their daily activities as they have done for centuries. A stay in Essaouira would mean nothing without lunch in one of the food stalls along the sea front where delicious fish and seafood caught the very morning can be enjoyed while taking in the sea breeze and admiring the Purple Isles. Or, if you are not mad about European military architecture, go on and lose yourself in the art gallery- packed streets, a world away from the hustle in the souks of Marrakech or explore the wild beaches that lie just south of it. Your Spain Morocco tour concludes at the airport in Casablanca, just in time for your flight. If you didn't get the chance to visit Hassan 2 Mosque on the first day of the tour, this can be arranged before the drop off at the airport.
Depending on your flight schedule, your driver will make sure to drop you off at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight takes off.
One or two days can always be added to or subtracted from the trip if your flight schedule requires it.