12-night Imperial City and Desert Tour
The tour below is of 12 nights' duration, but can be extended or slightly reduced in accordance with your wishes
This tour combines the imperial cities of Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech with some of the best of rural Morocco and the desert. The tour has been carefully crafted to ensure you have the perfect balance of travelling and relaxing. We therefore recommend that you stay in both Marrakech and Fez for 3 nights and the desert for 2 nights.
If you have additional time you can divert to Essaouira (2h30 from Marrakech) or Chefchaouen (3 hours from Fez).
The trip is private and can be adapted to your wishes. Whilst your driver will be knowledgeable and fun, it is your trip. Hence the description below of where to stop is only a guide – ultimately it's your decision!
The tour starts in Casablanca and ends in Marrakech but can also be adapted to your needs.
Day 1 - Casablanca
The commercial capital of Morocco, Casablanca is a bustling and energetic metropolis. Its main attraction is the intricately carved and magnificent Hassan II mosque. But its art deco buildings, Jewish museum and local medina are also worth seeing. In my opinion, one should try and visit the commercial capital of any country because it normally reveals more about the character of the country than its tourist sites. Casablanca is no exception to this. Hassan II Mosque can be visited as part of an organised tour and we can organise a local tour guide for the rest of Casablanca. Overnight at Le Doge, the best boutique hotel in Casablanca.
Day 2 - Rabat and Salé
Rabat is the political capital, a tranquil town with a chilled out medina. Whilst it has some impressive monuments, including the Kasbah of Oudayas, Hassan Tower and Mausoleum of Mohamed V, the real attraction is the neighbouring city of Salé. Untouched by tourism, it has a colourful history, having been managed and controlled by pirates for centuries. Whilst Rabat can be discovered on your own or with the assistance of your driver, the history of Salé is brought to life with the help of our wonderful and passionate local guide. It's an introduction to Morocco like no other. Overnight at the stylish Dar Shaan.
Day 3 - To Fez via Meknes and Volubilis
Meknes was the imperial capital during the time of Moulay Ismail. His legacy includes the impressive 25 km city wall, a huge palace (which was never completed) and the granaries of Heri es-Souani. Other places of interest include the Mausoleum and medersa of Moulay Ismail.
Volubilis, a UNESCO heritage site, is a magnificent sprawling Roman town. Built on 42 hectares it had 20,000 inhabitants. The site is impressive and its many mosaics are well preserved and full of mystique.
In both Meknes and Volubilis we will organise a private guide.
Overnight at Riad Laaroussa, a place I simply adore.
Day 4 - Fez
Founded by Idriss II in 800AD, Fez is the religious and cultural capital of Morocco. Whilst the medina is packed with sites of historical interest (e.g. Madrasa Bou Inania, Madrasa Al-Attarine, Al Quaraouiyine Mosque, the tanneries and city gates), for me its main appeal rests in its mediæval streets. It really has a medina like no other. It feels positively mediæval, a cacophony of noise, colour and life. No vehicles are allowed in the medina, just bicycles, mules and donkeys. I love it!
For your first full day we organise a full day guide.
Day 5 - Fez
A full day getting lost in the medina is huge fun; arts, crafts, artisans, mosques, food. You just feel alive! We can also of course organise a guide, especially if you would like to explore the Jewish mellah. Or you can just simply indulge – Riad Laaroussa has an excellent spa and also offers complimentary cooking classes in the afternoon.
Day 6 - Todra Gorge
Departing from Fez, the first part of the drive goes through cedar forests, where you can also see the local Barbary apes. The scenery is impressive, but becomes gloriously bucolic when one takes the rural route from Er-Rich to Todra Gorge. The guesthouse is situated in the gorge, well away from any other guesthouses. Journey time is 8 hours plus stops.
Overnight at Eco Auberge Le Festival, which has some amazing cave rooms.
Day 7 - Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp
Departing after breakfast the route goes through the gorge. Never dull, you skirt around the Jbel Saghro mountains before arriving in the Draa Valley near Zagora. The Draa Valley has over 3 million date palms, the river providing the moisture for a huge oasis in the parched landscape. After Zagora you arrive at Tamegroute, famed for its koranic library which houses manuscripts from the 11th century and where they produce from their ancient kilns their unique green-glazed pottery. There are endless Kasbahs en route in various states of ruin. The kasbah at Oulay Idriss is worth visiting and is home to several families. You enter the desert at M'Hamid, from which it is a 1h45 journey through hamada and dunes to the camp. Total journey time is 7 hours plus stops.
Day 8 - Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp
Camel trek, walking in the desert, climbing the dunes, sandboarding, visiting the nomads, quad biking (this activity takes place 20 minutes from the camp), baking bread in the sand are just some of the activities that you can do during the day. Or you can just chill and enjoy the pristine desert environment: read a book, sleep in a hammock, enjoy the evening sundowners in the dunes, long lunches, or just hang out at the campfire listening or partaking in the informal drumming and singing. You can be as busy or as relaxed as you like in the desert; there are no rules and no fixed times or schedules.
Day 9 - Ait Benhaddou
Departing after breakfast, you exit the desert in the opposite way to how you entered, via Foum Zguid. The drive is 2h45 through an amazing landscape of dunes, dried out lakes and hamada. Your driver's skill in handling the vehicle will be noted! Foum Zguid is a small desert town but its café serves arguably the best French Fries in Morocco! Passing through arid but still inspiring landscape you pass through Taznakht (famous for its rug-making cooperatives) and the eye-catching set for Hills have Eyes II. Ait Benhaddou is Morocco's best known kasbah, best seen in the evening when bathed in the evening sunlight. Journey time is 5 hours plus stops. Overnight at either the stylish Riad Caravane or atmospheric Kasbah Ellouze.
Day 10 - Marrakech
Departing after breakfast, you travel through the stunning Ounila Valley, one of the most inspiring drives in Morocco. The valley is filled with ancient kasbahe set against verdant oasis and steep rock walls. You really are in a different world here. After about 1 hour you reach the Glaoui Kasbah of Telouet. It's a ruin, and that's what makes its interior zellij and stucco features such an amazing surprise. After Telouet, you ascend to the top of the Tizi n'Tichka pass and descend through more amazing scenery until you reach Marrakech. Journey times is 4 hours plus stops. Overnight at one of our recommended riads, all different in character, all amazing places to stay.
Day 11 - Marrakech
Marrakech is Morocco's 4th largest city, founded in 1062. The red walls of the city were constructed in 1122 and during the 12th century the ruling dynasty, the Almoravids, built many madrassas (koranic schools) and mosques. In the 17th century the wealthy Saadian sultans constructed many sumptuous palaces, some of which are open to the public today. The main square, Jemaa el-Fna is a focal point and a hive of activity. Despite all this glorious grandeur, for me the highlight of Marrakech it in its souk, a huge maze of colour, activity, craftsmanship and atmosphere. When I first arrived I spent many many days randomly walking around, soaking up the atmosphere. On your first day in Marrakech we recommend talking a full-day guided tour.
Day 12 - Marrakech
Whatever your interest, be it historical, markets, cooking, shopping or spas, Marrakech has plenty to keep you busy.
Day 13 - Depart or extra day in Marrakech
Depart (or you can always spend an extra night in Marrakech). Marrakech airport is only 15 minutes from the centre of town. If flying from Casablanca the transfer takes 2h30.
As a guide price (and this of course depends on the accommodation selected), a 12-night trip costs 5,000 euro for 2 people. This includes:
- 12 nights' accommodation in carefully selected accommodation including breakfast.
- All meals, drinks and activities (except quad bikes) at the desert camp.
- Transport from Casablanca to Fez with an English-speaking driver.
- Transport in a 4WD Land Cruiser from Fez to the desert and Marrakech with an experienced English-speaking and knowledgeable driver.
- Guided tours in Casablanca, Salé, Volubilis, Meknes, Fez, and Marrakech.
- Transfers on arrival and departure.