Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean
A small-group tour for U3A members and their friends
After our arrival in Casablanca, we spend some time at the magnificent Mosque of Hassan II – modern Moroccan architecture at its finest. Then we’re off to the attractive capital of Rabat, with its old medina overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
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, 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, crossing plains, mountains, rivers and traditional villages, we reach Merzouga, our staging post for a visit to the incomparable Sahara Desert – we see the Erg Chebbi dunes, a village of musicians descended from African slaves, and some spectacular scenery.
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 UNESCO-listed kasbah of Ait Benhaddou – a beautifully preserved small fortified town, where several movies were shot.
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, quiet medieval alleys, and an elegant New Town.
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, and lately flourished as a charming resort and artistic town. Its well preserved medina is still home to most of the inhabitants, and its craft workshops and restaurants are a delight.
From Essaouira we drive up the Atlantic coast to overnight in Casablanca, where our tour ends.
Group size will be small and accommodation will be of a very good standard – the riads are princely mansions set in the heart of the old cities, now converted to gorgeous boutique hotels.
The group will be escorted by me throughout, and we will have the services of a professional English-fluent guide throughout the tour. We will also have a single driver for our coach.
An escorted private tour for a group of eight friends
We start in Madrid, with its splendid squares and public galleries, and after a day in the medieval city of Toledo, we head down to Andalusia where we will be spending most of our time.
The sun-drenched southern region of Andalusia is almost like another country, with its centuries of Moorish domination very evident in the architecture, place-names and modern culture. We see the annual floral festival in Cordoba, which also boasts the magnificent Mezquita or Great Mosque. In Granada we visit the Alhambra, the finest example of a Moorish palace complex anywhere in the world. Baeza is a splendid small city rebuilt in the 16th century in Italian Renaissance style. And Sevilla has the largest cathedral in Europe, an impressive royal palace, and a truly vibrant atmosphere.
From Sevilla we fly to Lisbon, and the difference in pace and atmosphere is very apparent. The laid-back Portuguese capital is a place of grand squares, open vistas and some quiet medieval quarters. Nearby Sintra was a favourite royal retreat, and Belem was the starting point for old Portugal’s voyages of discovery.
The hill-top town of Coimbra hosts one of Europe’s oldest and most distinguished universities. And the riverside city of Porto, Portugal’s second city, gives us a down-to-earth atmosphere as well as a fine historic centre. It also serves as a starting point for a riverboat tour of the picturesque Douro Valley, where wine grapes have been grown since Roman times.