Day 1: Drive from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate
Our professional driver will pick you up early in the morning from your accommodations in Marrakesh at an already appointed time. Then, we will begin our journey in discovering the historic towns of the semi-arid plain of the High Atlas Mountains. Leaving Marrakesh to the High Atlas Mountains, we will appreciate its snow covered peaks of which will slowly become visible as we drive towards the Deep South of Morocco. As we reach closer to the peak, we will encounter the numerous winding switchbacks of the Tizi Ntichka Mountain pass. It is a marvel of modern engineering and design. At 2,260m above sea level, we will stop at the crest of the Tizi Ntichka to gaze at the surrounding mountaintops. As we descend on the other side of the High Atlas Mountains, we will veer off the main road to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Benhaddou. An ideal model of the many sand castle villages and Kasbah’s that dot the south of Morocco. The ancient town of Ait Benhaddou enchants its thousands visitors with its curious towers. They stand stout in face of surrounding desert resisting its harsh weather forging a place in Morocco’s history. During the 20th century, this Kasbah was the stronghold of Ethami Glaoui as one of the most powerful men in Moroccan History. His fame was worldwide inviting V.I.P.s from all over the world to attend his affluent ceremonies. George Orwell paid him a visit in one of these Kasbah as well as in Marrakesh. Towns like Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou played an important role in Morocco’s past as key stops on the lucrative sub-Saharan trade routes. They were a safe stopover as well as a link over the vast desert and mountain ranges for commercial caravan coming from Timbuktu to the heart of Morocco: Marrakesh. Like Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate encloses an important fortified midpoint, the Taourirt Kasbah. Ouarzazate is the administrative capital and the biggest city of a province well known for its Kasbahs. The same ones that might have inspired Jimmy Hendrix during his visit to Morocco in 1965 to write his famous song “Castel made of Sand”. The etymology of the word ‘Ouarzazate’ comes from the Berber expression meaning ‘without noise’. As part of its effort to join the human struggle against climate change, the province of Ouarzazate had settled the world largest solar power plant. In a collaboration with many other international entities and organizations such as the NASA, its value is estimated at around $9 billion. These solar plants will provide 75% of the Moroccan national needs of energy. Our journey today will start in the old town of Taourirt with its large ancient Kasbah. Its noble founders have moved out, leaving its many towers to families of White storks. The next stop will be in Morocco’s largest movie studios. Over the years, thanks to their prime desert location, these studios have helped turn out classic film like Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000). Recently, certain episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed here. For flexibility purposes and time restraints, we will have to choose of these options, we can visit either the cinema museum or one of the studios. After checking into a hotel in Ouarzazate, we will have the rest of the evening to explore the town on your own. Overnight will be in a cosy hotel overlooking the palm groves of the Skoura oasis.
Day 2: Drive from Ouarzazate to Merzouga
Early in the morning, we will leave Ouarzazate. Our journey will take us through the Dades Valley. This a region famous for its sprawling palm groves growing over an underground river. Along our way, we will visit the famous little town of Kalaat M’gouna. It is identified across Morocco for its high quality rose water. A traditional yearly Rose Festival is organised in May where a local committee elects a beauty queen. Our next stop will be the town of Boumalne Dades where we will have a short break in a panoramic view overlooking the sand castles and the palm groves. Along our way to the shores of the Sahara Sand Sea, we will visit the famous little town of Kalaat M’gouna. This village is famous by its high quality rose water and a traditional Rose Festival in May where a local jury elects a beauty queen. The small town of Tinghir is our following stop. It is a small picturesque town where we can get a glimpse on how locals in this region live. We will also make a short break in the Todra Gorges. The 300m high cliffs attracts climbers from around the world to fight gravity and fear as they scale vertically. Our journey will take us on foot to have a better sight on this fascinating area. Continuing on our way, we will notice how the landscape gets more and more arid, as the temperature gets hotter. As we make our way away from the mountains and towards the desert, we will pass through the town of Erfoud. We will stop for lunch in this beautiful little town and visit a fossil museum. Upon our arrival to Rissani, we will notice hooded men and men bargaining and trading as they used to do centuries ago in their uncovered traditional market. After our little tour of Rissani, we will drive directly towards the shores of the Sahara desert to get to Merzouga. It is the last towns before the end of the road and the beginning of the desert. Upon our arrival to the shores of the Sahara Desert, our road trip for the day will end. Dinner and Overnight in a cosy hotel overlooking the vast sand dunes.
Day 3: Merzouga and its desert surroundings
This morning will give us the first chance to appreciate the glowing sunrise in the Sahara Desert. After a local nomad breakfast containing Moroccan pancakes, mint tea, orange juice, olives, olive oil and other healthy breakfast food, we will be able to spend our day exploring the desert surrounding Merzouga as we like. We can also arrange multiple activities including a visit to the historical towns and palm groves around the Taffilalet Oasis (Rissani, Merzouga, and Erfoud). On the other hand, we can take a 4×4 excursion into the desert to explore black volcanic rock formations and fossils, visit a nomadic family living in a tent, ride quad-bikes around the sand dunes. For better understanding of the myths of the desert creations, we can visit Khamlia village to surrender to the meditative Gnawa music. Alternatively, we can simply relax around the desert tents. In the late afternoon, once the day’s heat has subsided, our camel man will carry us to our Nomad camp in the heart of the sand dunes away from the worries of the world. Here our Berber hosts will cook us traditional nomad meals while in a family like vibe. They will also explain some of the secrets behind the power they hold in standing stout in the face of the harsh weather of the Sahara. Overnight in the cosy goat-wool tent or under the Milky Way and the Poles Stars.
Day 4: Drive from Merzouga to Fez
This morning will be our second chance to witness a mesmerising natural show. Early in a blue-skied morning of our last day in our journey in uncovering the beauties of Morocco, our blue camel man will wake us up to witness one of the most beautiful Natural Shows of Mother Nature: The Sunrise in the Sahara. This natural show displays one of the most beautiful artworks of Mother Nature: a shadow of light pink and orange shadowing the blue desert sky combining the reflection of the golden sun along with all these colours. After breakfast, he will carry us atop his camel friends’ caravan thorough the desert following invisible pathways to our van in Merzouga. We will have some time to shower and freshen up, and then we will proceed to Fez across the atlas. Our first stop will be in Azrou. It is the ancient capital of the Amazigh people in the Middle Atlas region. Situated at 1,250m above sea level, Azrou finds itself nestled cosily in the surrounding hills of the Middle Atlas Mountains. It is famous for its cedar forests, butterflies, and Barbary apes. The rural vibe of this village makes a perfect opportunity to connect with nature. In Azrou, we will visit the old town with the possibility of also taking a walk in the abundant nature. As we ascend on the shoulders of the Atlas Mountains, we will arrive in Ifrane. Thanks to its alpine climate, at 1,665m above sea level, Ifrane cannot escape getting large quantities of snow every winter. As such, the roofs of its buildings are sloped so not to be crushed under the weight of snow, earning Ifrane the cute nickname the ‘Switzerland of Morocco’. French architects designed it in the 1930s as an escape for the French settlers in Morocco from the overwhelming Medinas. During the summer, though, the temperature rises and Moroccan’s flock to Ifrane for its tidy parks, clean air, and beautiful scenery. Ifrane is also famous for the world-renowned Al-Akhawayn University. It attracts the best and brightest students in Morocco and North Africa. We will also make a stop at the Ifrane National Park to appreciate the ancient cedar trees and try to find finding a colony of Barbary apes. Lunch will be in Ifrane in one of its good quality restaurants downtown offering a stuffed menu of local and Western dishes. Our last stop will be in Imouzer. This town is famous for its Apple Festival in September. Many of the inhabitants of Imouzer are of Amazigh descent and speak a language different from Arabic as their mother tongue. The area around Imouzer is dotted with lakes. They are formed during a period of intense volcanic activity in the distant past. Stopping at one of these lakes, Dayet Aoua, we will have the opportunity to go for a quick horse or donkey ride on the lakeshore. In the evening, we will arrive to Fez with all its vibrant sensations concluding our journey as Caravans used to do for a thousand of years ago.