Imperial Cities of Morocco
Just ten miles from Europe, Morocco is another world, never failing to amaze visitors with its mesmerising and refreshing culture. The jewels in its crown are Rabat, Meknes, Fez and of course Marrakesh: its four imperial Cities, so called because each of them was once capital city of this amazing country with an absolute wealth of different things to experience.
- Return flights
- Seven nights, four-star accommodation with dinner
- Visit to Casablanca and the amazing Hassan II Mosque, second largest in the world
- Tour of Rabat, founded by the Carthaginians
- Visit with tour of Meknes and its 17th century Royal Palace
- Tour of the ancient city of Volubilis, westernmost outpost of the Roman Empire
- Tour of the medieval capital of Fez and its teeming medina, with a staggering 9,000 streets and home to a 9th century university, the world’s oldest
- See the majestic Atlas Mountains
- Guided tour of Marrakesh and its famous souks
- Visit the Saadian Tombs, final resting place of the descendants of Mohammed
- Visit to the beautiful Majorelle Gardens restored by Yves Saint Laurent
- Escorted by experienced Tour Manager
- 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 £159 per person. This price includes: return flights; seven nights dinner, bed and breakfast; all transport and tours as mentioned, walking tours of Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakesh, tour of Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, tour of Roman Volubilis, entrance to all monuments as mentioned, services of Riviera Tour Manager. Please note the London Heathrow flights are to / from Casablanca.
- Visas & Health Matters
- UK passport holders do not require a visa, but other passport holders should check with the relevant embassy. Please consult your GP regarding the appropriate inoculations at least a month before departure.
You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Marrakesh. On arrival a coach will take you to the excellent four-star Novotel in Casablanca for one night with dinner.
This morning we visit the richly decorated Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest religious building in the world after the mosque in Mecca, it would comfortably fit Rome’s St Peter’s inside. The statistics are staggering, it is over 200 metres long, 100 metres wide, 65 metres wide, has the tallest Minaret in the world at 200 metres and can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, plus an impossible to imagine 80,000 outside. 35,000 master craftsmen laboured night and day to create this exquisite masterpiece. You enter through one of the huge bronze or titanium doors decorated with traditional inscriptions, but the real draw is inside. Onyx columns, marble of every imaginable shade, intricate stucco work, a remarkable carved cedar roof, huge expenses of elaborate ceramics combine with fine metalwork and flamboyant Venetian glassware to create at once a harmonious and yet astonishing Moroccan architectural masterpiece. This afternoon we visit Rabat, the first of the Imperial Cities where we see the city’s Medina and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Guarded by two mounted, traditionally robed spear-carrying ‘lancers’, it is built in traditional style, the grandfather and father of the present king are buried here and its contemporary mosaics and spiral designs make a fascinating comparison with the adjacent Hassan Mosque, a wonder of the medieval Moorish world with its great minaret left unfinished when its founder died in 1199. If completed it would have been the largest building in the world at that time. The harbour is full of traditional fishing boats and on the opposite river bank is Sale, Rabat’s twin city where Robinson Crusoe was enslaved before his final escape to Brazil. We drive inland to Fez, staying three nights on half-board at the stylish four-star Barcelo Féz Medina Hotel. Ideally situated in the chic modern quarter of the city just 500 metres from the old walled Medina, it has a lovely outdoor terrace where you can enjoy a refreshing drink. Its modern restaurant, bar and spacious reception dispaly contemporary disigner furniture and lighting whilst the rooms are very tastefully appointed using slate and marble with all the features you would expect from such a well-managed property. to the rear is a swimming pool and terrace.
The scenery on this morning’s short drive will surprise many, this is not the hot dry dusty Moroccan interior bordering the desert; instead against a backdrop of the stunning Atlas Mountains, the rolling fertile hills covered with fragrant wild flowers and vineyards are redolent of Mediterranean Europe. But on arriving in Meknes the sounds of Morocco’s African heritage resound once again. Meknes is renowned for its blend of Spanish and Moorish styles reaching its zenith at the turn of the 18th century. Its 25 miles of city walls remain magnificently intact and include a magnificent 16 metre gate, a large Medina and 150 mosques, the finest of which feature exquisite ceramics and calligraphy. With his 500 wives, the Sultan was obsessed with emulating France’s Louis XIV, building a sumptuous palace earning Meknes the sobriquet “the Moroccan Versailles”. We tour the palace remains, its gardens and huge reservoirs together with the remarkable underground granaries and storehouses, designed to enable Meknes to withstand a 20 year siege. This afternoon we visit nearby Volubilis, the westernmost outpost of the Roman Empire. Wonderfully isolated, set amongst gorgeous rolling hills and olive groves, it is a haunting sight, silent and almost ghost-like. Here our guided tour will ensure you appreciate Volubilis’s historic importance and its stunning mosaics. We return to Fez for dinner at a traditional restaurant, featuring typicall Moroccan cuisine.
Fez, at the foot of the Middle Atlas Mountain range, is a real surprise to most visitors. This is one of the world’s finest historic cities and our tour will for many be the highlight of the whole holiday. The old town is like a trip back to medieval times, with traders leading their loaded mules through the twisting streets – all 9,000 of them in such maze-like complexity. Traditionally attired artisans are busy making every conceivable item, high quality woodwork, leather-ware, even the traditional white sedan wedding chairs, all for the locals. Drink in the lovely aromas wafting from the herbalists and bakers with their open ovens and marvel at the sights and sounds of the medieval market all around you. For a complete contrast there is the majesty of the intricate Moorish decoration of the world’s oldest university, Al Karaouine - founded in the 9th century, home to a staggering 30,000 manuscripts. This learned institution played a leading role in the cultural exchange and transfer of knowledge between the Muslim and European worlds throughout the Middle Ages. Fez, you will love it! This afternoon you are free to explore as you wish or perhaps simply catch up on some reading by the hotel’s pool. After dinner we return to the medina for a short walking tour to soak up the atmosphere.
Today we take a fascinating journey south to Marrakesh with plenty to appreciate en-route. Note the strong French influence as we climb higher into the cooler hills with the plane trees and French restaurants along the roadside reminding you more of Provence than Africa. Dotted throughout the meadows are small tented communities of nomads, settled for the summer where the grass is plentiful for their animals. En route we’ll pause to visit Gouraud’s Cedar, reputedly the oldest Cedar in the country where there’s also a chance to see unusual wildlife including the endangered Barbary ape, probably brought here from Gibraltar. The scenery is quite spectacular as the road begins its inexorable descent. We pass Berber tribesmen adorned with traditional dress, seemingly untouched by modern influences, driving their sheep and cattle to market in Moorish towns before arriving in Marrakesh, staying three nights with dinner at the excellent four-star Hotel Opera Plaza is 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. 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
Marrakesh is a labyrinth of tiny alleyways, teeming with street life like few other places in the world and it is just as you imagine it to be! A mud-brick city, with classic French colonial buildings and boulevards surrounded by almost intact medieval walls – so perfect it could be, and often is, a film set! Founded almost a thousand years ago Marrakesh became the centre of a large empire stretching south into the Sahara, east into Libya and north into Moorish Spain, growing rich trading in anything from gold to ivory, dates and even slaves. Craftsmen from Cordoba then began a feast of building culminating in the Koutoubia, one of the most exquisite Mosques ever constructed. Eclipsing Meknes, the city entered its golden age during which much of what you see today was created. There are some fascinating things to see: firstly the Saadian Tombs, built to house the descendants of Mohammed himself and one of the world’s finest examples of Moorish architecture, whose classic archways are covered in gold-leaf and stucco work; then there is the El-Badi Palace which when it was built was acclaimed as the world’s most beautiful and famed for its 50 marble columns. This morning we will have a walking tour of this stunning city during which we see its principal monuments and souks or covered markets, arranged according to the nature of goods on offer such as leather-ware, slippers, jewellery and hand-made furniture. You see immensely skilled craftsmen creating intricate articles in the blink of an eye. You can see dyed cloth hanging out to dry and experience the smoky din of the metal workers - artisans tirelessly hammering away in the heat and dust, creating anything from lamps to delicate wrought-iron work. This afternoon you are free to explore as you wish or simply relax by the hotel pool. This evening we will offer a transfer to the Djemma El Fna, which has evolved from a medieval place of execution to a showcase for traditional Moroccan life. You will experience a fantastic spectacle of musicians, dancers, fortune-tellers, snake-charmers and all manner of entertainment in a kaleidoscope of colour.
This morning we have a second tour of Marrakesh visiting more of its attractions. The city boasts a wealth of wonderful gardens, some of which are quite large with acres of olive groves and lakes providing a haven of peace, tranquillity and coolness from the unrelenting heat. One of the smaller but most pleasant is the pretty Jardin Majorelle: an amazing creation of bamboo, bougainvillea and cacti, once owned and restored by Yves Saint-Laurent. Surrounding the city are immense ramparts, 19 miles long, 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. Just outside the city is the Palmery, an oasis created by accident. Centuries ago in the days of the great caravan trading, merchants refreshed themselves here with water and dates. The stones were thrown away creating the palm groves we see today. This afternoon is at leisure.
Today at the appropriate time we return to the airport for the flight home.