Marrakesh & the Atlas Mountains

Marrakesh & the Atlas Mountains

Shares

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 possesses a wonderful scenic beauty with an incredibly varied landscape: on the coast we have sweeping beaches with rocky headlands, backed by the eerie emptiness of the desert; then inland, undulating hills dotted with the occasional shepherd tending their sheep, and clusters of palm trees with the timeless landscapes of barren rocks and dried-up riverbeds creating almost biblical scenes. Mud-brick villages, unchanged for centuries, are strewn across a countryside so different from what we see in Europe. Forming the stunning backdrop, lush green foothills and of course the ever-present Atlas Mountains puncture the sky. It has long captured the imagination of cinematographers, being used to film ‘Gladiator’, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. 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 Djemma el Fnaa, 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. You can have your shoes cleaned, watch snake charmers and see herbalists dispensing ancient remedies. 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: what a fabulous experience!

Highlights

  • Return flights
  • Five nights half-board in a four-star hotel
  • Guided tour of Marrakesh - including the famous souks and centre of the ancient caravan routes
  • Second tour of medieval Marrakesh and hinterland
  • Visit to the Royal Saadian Tombs, one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture
  • Tour to the foothills of the stunning Atlas Mountains, Africa’s highest mountains
  • Visit to the ancient port of Essaouira, one of North Africa's most beautiful cities
  • Escorted by our experienced tour manager

Inclusions

  • 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 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.
  • Visas & Health
  • 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.

Itinerary

Day 1

You should arrive at the airport to take the flight to Marrakesh. On arrival a coach will take us to the excellent four-star 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 ‘á 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.

Day 2

Marrakesh is a labyrinth of tiny alleyways, which teem with street life like few other places in the world. With a chaotic myriad of goods on sale – 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! Pavement cafes sit side by side with shops selling everything from silks to exotic spices. Traditionally robed locals go about their daily business, stopping to chat with the western clothed elite who would look at home anywhere in the world, whilst the latest European luxury cars share the roads with overloaded donkey carts taking produce to market. There is probably nowhere better for simply observing street life and people watching! 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. During the 16th century, 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 El Bahia Palace, with 160 rooms, many lavishly decorated. This morning we will have a walking tour of this stunning city during which we see its principal monuments. No visit would be complete without taking a wander around the famous souks or covered markets, arranged according to the nature of goods on offer such as leatherware, slippers, jewellery and hand-made furniture. There are traditional crafts too such as basket weaving and saddle-making. You see immensely skilled craftsmen creating intricate articles in the blink of an eye. You can see rolls of yellow 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. You can visit a traditional apothecary and buy spices at a fraction of their cost at home, though be prepared for some friendly bartering! All in all this morning will be an unforgettable experience. During the afternoon you are free to explore as you wish or simply relax by the hotel pool. At dusk, after dinner in the hotel we visit the Djemaa El Fna - nerve centre of Marrakesh, 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.

Day 3

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, bougainvillaea and cacti, once owned by Yves Saint-Laurent. Surrounding the city are immense ramparts over 19 miles long, 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. 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.

Day 4

Today we drive to the coast and the delightful town of Essaouira, founded by the Phoenicians but coming to prominence during the 15th century when the Portuguese fortified the town creating the medieval citadel you see today. Within, its maze-like streets connect tranquil squares lined by whitewashed houses and pavement cafes. The town is perfectly preserved and home to countless artisans toiling away in their tiny workshops. There are lots of artists and woodcarvers creating high quality work and it is a delight watching such skilled craftsmen making everything look so easy! 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 you can watch fishermen repairing their nets much as they have done for centuries. Lining the busy quayside are numerous restaurants where you can enjoy supremely fresh fish washed down with a refreshing glass of local wine. Essaouira is so charmingly unspoilt, it has attracted filmmakers from Orson Welles’s Othello to Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. During our journey the real Morocco unfolds before your eyes. We drive from Marrakesh with the landscape evolving from fertile green plains to moon-like semi-desert studded with occasional palm trees. Countless shepherds of all ages, complete with traditional crooks tend small herds of sheep and goats, the transport of choice still very much the donkey, whilst mud-brick villages blend perfectly into the background.

Day 5

Forming an ever-present backdrop to Marrakesh and adding to its wondrous setting, are the soaring, snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the greatest range in Africa. This morning we take the short drive over the plain and soon the road starts to undulate through the foothills. The countryside changes from saffron-coloured fields to steeper slopes forested with oak and walnut trees, slashed by dramatic gorges filled with torrential rivers. We pass through traditional villages terraced into the mountainside. You are well off the beaten track here: shepherds tend their flocks on isolated pastures, with the countryside now dotted with just the occasional tiny house nestling amongst immense boulders bigger than the dwellings themselves. You will find the views are simply amazing. Huge peaks soaring nearly 10,000 feet blend wonderfully with deep-blue sky, whilst below the desolate mountainside stretches before you. 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. Blend this with the clear invigorating mountain air, the rare and splendid isolation, and you have a morning, the memories of which will stay for a very long time. We return to Marrakesh early afternoon.

Day 6

At the appropriate time we return to the airport for our return flight.

Accommodation

Hotel Opera Plaza

We stay at the excellent four-star superior Hotel Opera Plaza (www.operaplazahotel.com) 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 3 restaurants, the main one serving international cuisine, or you can upgrade to either the Asian or Moroccan ‘a 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.

  Cost per person: €0pp
  Number of nights:

Tour supplied in Partnership with:

atol iconatol icon
  Call:  01 905 6300