Patrick De Gabriele

Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean

Forthcoming Groups

Morocco

May 2016

After our arrival in Casablanca, our 15-day tour  starts in the attractive capital of Rabat, with its old medina overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, an ancient kasbah, the splendid mausoleum of King Hassan II and the medieval Chellah Necropolis.

From Rabat we drive to Meknes, once the imperial capital associated with the great ruler Moulay Ismail, and now a charming and historic old city. Nearby Volubilis, the country’s major Roman site, well repays a visit.

Fes is the oldest Islamic city in Morocco, and is a living treasure house of history and culture (the old city is listed in its entirety by UNESCO). It’s a major centre of art and craft, and it seems to be the Moroccans’ favourite city –  the bustle of the medina is very appealing.

After a long drive south, covering plains, mountains, rivers and traditional villages, we reach Erfoud, our staging post for a visit to the Sahara Desert -we take in the orange sand dunes, a village of musicians descended from African slaves, an abandoned mining village and a large salt lake. The (optional) balloon flight gives us a wonderful perspective on the desert landscapes.

After driving through the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs (the name says it all) and the spectacular beauty of the Todra Gorge, our next stop is the charming and laid-back town of Ouarzazate. Nearby is the UNESCO-listed kasbah of Ait Benhaddou – a beautifully preserved small fortified town, where several movies were shot. Ouarzazate is known as the Hollywood of Morocco, so naturally we tour of one of the movie studios.

Marrakech is always a highlight of any trip to Morocco. The city has an ancient medina, with a huge central square famous throughout the world, palaces and bazaars, museums and quiet medieval alleys, and an elegant New Town. From Marrakech we take a day trip to the Berber villages of the High Atlas Mountains, meeting some of the locals and sharing their food.

Next stop is Essaouira on the Atlantic coast, a quiet and beautiful old town favoured by Moroccans as a summer resort. It started life as a fortified port in the 18th century, prospered as a fishing and boat-building centre, and lately flourished as a charming resort and artistic town, attracting such people as Orson Welles, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. Its well preserved medina is still home to most of the inhabitants, and its craft workshops and restaurants are a delight.

Our last stop is Casablanca where we spend some time at the magnificent Mosque of Hassan II – modern Moroccan architecture at its finest.

One of the great things about travelling in Morocco is the accommodation in riads, little boutique hotels in old restored mansions – very comfortable, beautiful and staffed by welcoming people. Because these are quite small, numbers on this tour will be limited to about fifteen.

For further details and a fully costed Itinerary, please contact Patrick De Gabriele 02 4464 1289

pdegabriele@shoal.net.au

Romania

with a Bulgaria option

IMG_1190

Departing 5 September 2016

Romania, with its vibrant culture, rural landscapes, the mountain scenery of Transylvania and small medieval cities is always a delightful surprise for the first-time visitor. And the absence of crowds combined with the welcoming attitude of the locals often remind visitors of European travel as it was 30 or 40 years ago.

This small-scale 14 day tour begins in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, where we visit the vast Palace of the People (once the second biggest building in the world), the contrasting Village Museum, and a walk through the old town. The city serves as a start and end point for a roughly circular tour of this beautiful country.

We take in three charming medieval cities – Sibiu, an old Saxon foundation with the second-oldest public gallery in Europe; Sighişoara, the only inhabited medieval citadel in Europe, closely associated with Vlad ‘the Impaler’ Dracula; and Braşov, the most important of the Saxon cities. All of these places are UNESCO World Heritage listed, all are small enough to easily walk around, and we’ll have plenty of time to get a good feel for each one.

The unspoiled rural region of Maramureş is a delight – we stay in the home of a family of musicians, we look at local arts and crafts, we have a coffee with a Roma (or Gypsy) family, and we visit some beautiful wooden churches.

The Bucovina region in the north of the country has some extraordinary fortified and painted monasteries of the 15th and 16th centuries. These are UNESCO World Heritage listed and are still inhabited, mostly by nuns – we get to visit the most important and beautiful.

What’s an old European culture without royal castles? We visit two wonderful examples – Bran, an old and austere fortress turned into a comfortable and charming summer residence by the queen in the 1920s; and Peleş, a vast and opulent residence of the late 19th century.

 In addition to the obvious sites (which it would be a great shame to miss) I’ve included a couple of less obvious but equally enjoyable places – the Merry Cemetery of Sapinta, a weird and joyful celebration of life; and the Salt Mines of Turda, a vast underground mine that operated from the 14th to the 20th centuries. 

The pace of this tour will be reasonable (we stay at all but one stop for two nights), and the distances covered are not very great. We will have a professional English-fluent guide, a dedicated driver, and myself as tour escort. Accommodation will be mostly in small, interesting and comfortable hotels.

Bulgaria option

Departing 18 September 2016

Bulgaria has some similarities to Romania – both are Orthodox Christian nations, both have emerged from oppressive Communist regimes, and both are passionate about their national cultures. But the differences are also very apparent, from the landscapes and cities to the cultures, which are expressed in very different languages and scripts.

This 5 day (4 night) option begins with a short drive from Bucharest to the old and charming small city of Veliko Tarnavo, built on a group of hills and once the capital of Bulgaria.

Nearby we find the atmospheric ruins of the ancient Roman city of Nikopolis-ad-Istrum, founded by the Emperor Trajan and now in the process of archaeological exploration.

Next stop is Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city, with its Old Town, a long and elegant pedestrianised main street, and a very impressive Roman Theatre, still used for performances.

Rila Monastery is the country’s largest and most important religious site, as well as being the most loved in Bulgaria – naturally, UNESCO has listed it on the World Heritage register.

In the national capital Sofia, we see a handsome civic centre, the tiny Boyana Church (with Bulgaria’s finest medieval frescoes) and the very impressive National History Museum, with its fine collection of Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and modern artifacts.

This option will be escorted by a local English-fluent guide-driver, staying at small and interesting boutique hotels.

For further details and a fully costed Itinerary, please contact Patrick De Gabriele 02 4464 1289

pdegabriele@shoal.net.au

 

 

%d bloggers like this: