Visiting: Spain, Morocco
Once the heart of the Moorish empire, 'Al-Andalus' is where the Moors and Berbers from Morocco first set foot in Spain and remained the longest, until their eventual expulsion from Granada in 1492. They built a sophisticated Muslim kingdom, giving Andalucia its richest and most lasting cultural heritage. After a few days learning how this Moorish legacy pervades Andalucian life at every level, we cross by ferry to Morocco and arrive at Tangier, where the Berber force gathered to conquer Spain in 711. With the vibrant medina of Tangier, the Andalucian quarter of Fez, one of Morocco's oldest imperial cities, and the lively evening atmosphere on Djemaa el Fna Square in Marrakech, this shared Moorish history is evident throughout.
Moorish Spain & Morocco
For those who love meandering narrow streets, beautiful gardens and stunning architecture, it would be difficult to think of four more appealing cities than Granada, Ronda, Fez and Marrakech. Travelling by train lets us fully appreciate the changing scenery through these two contrasting yet familiar countries that are surely a feast for your senses.
Arrive at our hotel in Malaga.
We take a public bus this morning to the historic city of Granada, situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. After an orientation tour, there will be time to fully explore the Albaicin gypsy quarter, the Moorish baths and Capilla Real, resting place of the Catholic monarchs who ended Moorish rule in Spain. We also recommend a visit to the Alhambra Palace, the most visited monument in Spain (optional). Considering its popularity, tickets should be prebooked for the afternoon 2pm session and directly with the Alhambra via www.alhambra.org
Our next destination is Ronda, renowned for its Three Bridges and Corrida Goyesca, the oldest bullring in Spain. This Andalucian city was also admired by Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles who understandably spent many summers here. We also visit the beautiful White Village of Setenil de la Bodegas, set amid Andalucia's rolling hills. After a wander through the narrow streets of this quaint village, there is the option to enjoy lunch at a traditional bodega and try the famous chorizo from the area.
We transfer to the stunning Grazalema National Park for a gentle walk through rolling olive groves and a relaxing break from the city. We return to Ronda in the evening.
After a short transfer to Ronda train station, we board our train to Algeciras for an exciting ferry journey across to Morocco. We arrive in Tangier with a full evening to explore the vibrant medina and get our first taste of Morocco, possibly with a Tagine.
Today we travel by private bus down to one the world's finest Islamic cities, Fez. En route, we will make a stop in the beautiful area of Chefchouen, situated in the Rif Mountains. Founded by Moorish exiles from Spain in 1471, this small settlement was first built as a fortress to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco. Many sought refuge here in mediaeval times and although the Spanish seized Chefchaouen in 1920, it was returned in 1956 after the independence of Morocco.
After a morning guided tour of the labyrinth of alleyways including a visit to the Andalucian Quarter, the afternoon is free to discover more of the intellectual and religious heart of Morocco. Fez has many mosques and medersas (theological colleges) including the 9th century Karouine University, whose architecture is very similar to that seen in Moorish Spain. The famous medina in Fez is one of the largest in the world and in its immense and confusing warren of souks there are thousands of craftsmen in their tiny shops opening onto the narrow alleyways. Noisy and pungent, hot and claustrophobic, the medina of Fez is a totally absorbing and unique experience.
A short transfer this morning takes us to the Roman site of Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to housing the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in North Africa. Despite the damage caused by the 1755 earthquake, this important Roman town managed to retain some detailed and very beautiful mosaics. We delve further into this country's amazing history as we journey to the capital of Morocco, Rabat. We enjoy an orientation walk around the city including a short break at the pretty walled Kasbah des Oudaias.
Today, we head south and board our train in the morning for our 4-hour journey to Marrakech, This wonderful experience gives us time to reflect on all that we have seen and prepares us for a completely different aspect of Morocco. Our journey continues another 1.5 hours into the breath-taking Atlas Mountains, where we settle into a relaxed evening at our characterful gite in Tachedirt.
We take the chance to stretch the legs this morning and enjoy a gentle walk in the foothills of Toubkal, Morocco's highest mountain at a towering 4167m. We return to Marrakech in the afternoon so we can enjoy a visit to the famous Djemaa el Fna Square, around which Marrakech revolves. The name literally means 'place of death', as it was where Sultans used to display the heads of their enemies. Now, with the food stalls, snake charmers, water-sellers, travelling musicians and acrobats, it is a place of entertainment for both Moroccan and overseas visitors.
Today is free to explore the souks for some last-minute shopping, palaces and mosques of Marrakech. Other optional activities include a Calèche ride (bright green horse drawn carriage) to the peaceful Majorelle Gardens, which are decorated throughout in Indigo Blue and house a small Museum of Islamic Art. A final treat may simply be to try a hammam, a traditional Moroccan steam bath - a nice reward to complete our adventure.
Our trip ends after breakfast.
Key: (B) = Breakfast, (L) = Lunch, (D) = Dinner