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. 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 jaw dropped by the Jemaa El Fna with its snake charmers, story tellers and local musicians. Next morning, we take on the old caravan route from Marrakech into Sahara's dunes, crossing the Atlas Mountains and down the mythical Draa Valley. Our route will take us past bewildering gorges, palm groves, oases, oueds and mountains as we take in the local culture of the Berber, Jewish and Bedouin. We will explore honey- comb ksours and decaying kasbahs, Berber granaries and troglodyte grottos, stop for a tea in an oasis, cross the Sahara desert, uncover 12the century old Tinmel mosque and Biblical villages, and shake off the desert sand on the Atlantic coast. Your Spain Morocco tour driver will then drop you off 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. You will get to 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 museums 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 – Cordoba – Granada ( 4 hour and a half train ride)
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the short ride to Atocha train station. Catch the high-speed train to Córdoba.
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 re-enact 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 getting back to your charming hotel, within the old town.
Day 3: Granada
After breakfast, you're getting picked up by your driver and two hours later arrive in 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. No private tour of Spain could not include the gardens of Alhambra.
Meet your guide at the entrance to the Alhambra and travel back in time 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's Forbidden City that you'll visit on tour. After leaving the palaces, take few hours of free time around Granada's 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 and be taken 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 4: Granada- Seville ( 3 hour drive)
Your Spain Morocco private tour continues today with the visit of Seville. Your driver will collect you at the hotel lobby for the drive across Andalucía to Seville (3 hours). 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 5: Seville - Marrakech ( 1 hour flight).
Meet your driver in the hotel lobby for the drive south of Sevilla through the mountains. 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, conquistadores 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. After lunch get taken to the airport for your flight into Morocco.
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 6: 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 7: Marrakech- Tizi n Tichka- Telouet- Ait Benhaddou- Skoura ( 5 hour drive )
Leaving Marrakech behind, our route follows the same one caravans used centuries ago, to bring into Marrakech slaves, gold and precious wood from the other side of the ocean of sand, Sahara. Beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeed among oak trees, walnut groves and snow patches before arriving at the Tizi n Tichka pass, at 2100 meters high. Just after the pass, the tour leaves the tarmac and goes off road to then reach Telouet and former pasha's palace dominating the village, a fortified citadel that is both a microcosm of an empire and its demise. Late afternoon we will reach UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the honey- comb adobe citadel. Half hour later, our trip crosses Ouarzazate, made famous by its film studios where scenes of 'Game of Thrones' and 'Gladiator' were shot. Shortly after, another large green patch makes its way between the deserted crest and the desolate plateaus: Skoura palmgrove. Your tour takes you past palm trees and pise homes to arrive at the guest house for the night just in time for sunset and dinner.
Day 8: Skoura- Ouarzazate- Agdz- Zagora ( 3 hour drive)
Breakfast will hopefully be served on the roof terrace of the Kasbah. In the shade of thousands of palm trees, locals get the best out of the palm grove as olives, pumpkins, quinces, apples, pomegranate, wheat and barley all grow aroused by the century- old ingenious irrigation. Let yourselves be guided through this Garden of Eden by a local guide. Next, on the shores of Mansour Eddhabi lake, the migratory birds leave Morocco on their journey to Europe or milder climates in spring and autumn. Right after the Tizi n Tinifift pass, you will catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases, a green river of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, Le Grand Sud.
Draa Valley, with its numerous oases, Biblical adobe villages and kasbahs, used as overnight stops by the caravans until not too long ago is the beginning of the 'caravan highway' connecting for centuries Timbuktu, Gao and the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali to Barbary ( present day Morocco). Our itinerary today concludes with reaching the tranquil town of Zagora. We will stop for accommodation and dinner in a beautiful guest house nested in the palm grove nearby.
Day 9: Zagora- Tamegroute- Mhamid- Erg Chigaga ( 3 hour drive )
After breakfast, our 4x4 Morocco tour will take you through adobe villages bordering the route and the first patches of sand start to show. The nearby village of Amezrou, carries on the Jewish tradition of silver crafting and although the last Jews left in the 1950's the craft and the local adobe Jewish synagogue still survive. We will stop for a break in Tamegroute where century old Qorans and Arab treaties on astronomy and sciences are neatly arranged behind glass windows at the local library. The same village carries a pottery tradition known throughout Morocco and it is of interest to witness the shaping and baking of the emerald pots and dishes inside traditional earth ovens.
The anticipation built doesn’t quite prepare you for the spectacle ahead of you: sleepy yet shifting leviathans of sand as far as the sight can stretch, dotted by the occasional desert camp. These are the dunes of Erg Chigaga. Here, we can arrange for you to be met and taken by camel ride to the camp for the last bit of the way. While the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage and preparing your dinner, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. And lose yourself. And while the sun sets, there is nowhere else you would rather be. After dinner and inside your own private Bedouin tent, the silence is so thick you feel you could cut a strip as you fall asleep under the starriest sky.
Day 10: Erg Chigaga- Foum Zguid- Tazenakht- Taroudant (7 hour drive)
After toddling across sand dunes, our trip reaches fossil- filled Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, where the Draa river used to form its estuary. Further on we take on the hamada to finally reach Foum Zguid. Farewell Sahara, hello tarmac. On the way to Taroudant, we pass through Tazenakht, a carpet weaving center and center of Berber carpets trade and then Taliouine known for the best saffron in Morocco and its proud towering Kasbah.
You will arrive by late afternoon at your accommodation for the night. Nothing more natural after the desert trip than a plunge in the refreshing pool and/ or sweating off the sand inside the in- house hammam ( steam bath). As the lights start to twinkle, in the gardens the scent of jasmine perfumes the air while dinner is set.
Day 11: Taroudant- Tizi n Test- Tinmel- Asni- Marrakech (5 hour drive) or Taroudant- Agadir- Marrakech (4 hour drive)
The final day of our 10 day Spain Morocco tour will be dedicated to discovering Taroudant before taking the heights of the Atlas again. Taroudant’s walls were built by the Saadi sultans back in 16th century when the city was their capital and the main base to attack Portuguese invaders on the nearby Atlantic coast. The sole worthy monument is the five mile long rammed earth aforementioned walls wrapping the somewhat uninteresting medina and the silver souk.
Back on the road we are now taking up the imposing Atlas Mountains this time reaching the Tizi n Test pass at 2100 meters, surrounded by snowy peaks. At first sight just another Berber village, Tinmel played a very important role in the 12th century, forming the base for a group of warriors known as the Almohads who were to take over Marrakech and turn it into the capital of an empire stretching from nowadays Senegal into Lybia and northern Spain. One of the few witnesses of this past glory is the 12th century local mosque, largely built on the model of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain. . Past Asni, with its famous Berber souk, held every Saturday, you will reach Marrakech late afternoon / early evening.
If you prefer a more relaxed pace, we more than recommend adding an extra night at the end of your custom Morocco itinerary, in the surroundings of Asni/ Imlil. Thus you can try your hand ( or rather feet) at some serious Moroccan trekking in the High Atlas, have bicycle rides in the surrounding valleys or visit a Berber family on a guided tour. You can also add a second night in Taroudant to relax by the beach in Agadir, ride Arab horses or trek in the Anti Atlas.
If you prefer on this last day to return to Marrakech via Agadir, your driver will be happy to accommodate that. The drive from Taroudant to Agadir takes 1 hour and despite Agadir's reputation for being a destination for package holidays, it nowadays offers nearby unspotted beaches, amazing surfing spots, excellent waterfront restaurants. It s an ideal all year round spot for swimming and sun bathing, unlike Essaouira further up north with its strong winds and cool currents.
Most of our guests prefer adding an extra day to either allow for some relaxing time by the beach in Essaouira or trekking in the Atlas Mountains. If you are flying in/ flying out from Casablanca, an extra day can easily be added to the beginning or the end of the circuit to accommodate for the extra distance.