Morocco Circuit

This vibrant and distinct region of North West Africa, has influences from French, Spanish, Islamic, Jewish and ancient Berber dynasties.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • ‘Imperial cities’, Meknes, Fez, Marrakech
  • Volubilis, Morocco’s only Roman site
  • Atlas Mountain vistas and charming villages
  • Merzouga dunes – Sahara experience
  • Dramatic Todra Gorge
  • Relaxed seaside town of Essaouira

TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1: Arrive in Casablanca
Today we arrive in Morocco and transfer to our central Casablanca hotel.

Casablanca is believed to have been a Phoenician settlement and later a Berber town. It was conquered by the Almohads in 1188, and developed by Sutlan Abd el-Moumen as a port. In the 14th century the Portuguese established a settlement here on the site of the village of Anfa, but when it became a pirates’ base in 1468, they destroyed it, repeating this act in 1515. The Portuguese reestablished themselves in the late 16th century, renaming the town Casa Blanca, staying until 1755, when an earthquake destroyed the settlement.

Overnight: Casablanca.
Included Meal(s): Dinner

Day 2: Casablanca – Rabat – Fez
This morning we visit the Hassan II Mosque, a glorious structure believed to be only second in size to Islam’s most important site, Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Completed in 1993, this was the late king’s most ambitious project and his legacy to the city. Its 200 metre-high minaret is the tallest in the world. Hassan II Mosque can accommodate 25,000 worshippers and Non-Muslims may enter as part of a guided tour.

From Casablanca we travel to Rabat, a drive of about one and a half hours. Morocco’s modern capital has a long history having been host to Roman settlements, pirates and more recently the Moroccan parliament. It contains numerous fine Arab monuments, some dating from the 10th to 15th century Almohad and Merenid dynasties, and others that are far older. The earliest known settlement is Sala, occupying an area now known as the Chellah, where you will visit the remains of the citadel. You will also see the vast minaret of the Hassan Mosque and explore the lovely walled quarter known as the Kasbah des Oudaias. Leaving Rabat we travel to Fez arriving in time for dinner.

The historic city of Fez lies in the Oued Sebou basin, astride the traditional trade route from the Sahara to the Mediterranean and the path from Algeria and the Islamic heartland beyond. For centuries the dominant axis within Morocco was of Fez and Marrakech, two cities linked by their immense power and rivalry. Fez is still seen as the spiritual and cultural capital and holds an enduring fascination for visitors with one of the largest historic medinas full of monuments reflecting the different periods of Morocco’s imperial past.

Overnight: Fez.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 3: Fez – Volubilis – Meknes – Fez
This morning we visit the impressive site of Volubilis, the best-preserved Roman site in Morocco. Situated on the ledge of a long plateau, the dramatic site was once one of the Roman Empire’s most remote outposts. Our local guide here will take you on tour of the site; we also allow free time for photographs.

We also stop to see the sacred town of Moulay Idriss. Moulay Idriss is a dramatic sight, houses and mosques piled up around two rock outcrops, with the ‘zaouia,’ or sanctuary, in between.

We continue to Meknes, Morocco’s youngest Imperial City. We feature the Bab El Mansour gate dating from 1752, complete with its Corinthian columns. The city was built by a massive army of slaves, both Moroccan and Christian, and the Sultan was in particular famed for his barbaric treatment of these people, supposedly interring them in the walls. The city contained within it all that was necessary for such a large population and military machine, with store houses, stables, armouries, exercise areas, gardens and ponds.

We return to Fez.

Overnight: Fez.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 4: Fez: City Tour
Today we will have a walking tour of Fez El Bali, the extraordinary medieval walled city. Once inside the gates of this great spectacle, you will see an entirely different view of life in Morocco. In contrast to the well-planned Ville Nouvelle, the old city is a labyrinth of alleys and lanes lined with shops, mosques, homes and schools. In 1980 UNESCO designated the medina a World Heritage Site.

Our guide will take us to the medina to view the market shops, or suqs. Everything from food to clothing can be purchased. We will see the famous dying works with the brightly coloured cloth hanging to dry. A visit to the Royal Palace, several mosques, theological schools, and shops where we can see craftsmen tailoring their work will round out the day’s tour. Today’s walk is an amazing look into the life of the Moroccan city dweller where little has changed over the centuries.

Overnight: Fez.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 5: Fez – Erfoud
We have a morning departure for the Middle Atlas, a region of folded mountains and high, windswept plateaux, vast forests of cork oak and cedar, and lakes and streams full of trout. This is Berber country and sheep and goat-rearing is the main occupation of these resilient, friendly people. We drive via the Berber villages of Imouzzer du Kandar; Ifrane, a fairy-tale town unlike any other in Morocco with white-walled French-style villas with steep red roofs and gables. As the altitude increases, we come to a bare, arid, sandy plateau with another range of mountains in the distance.

We continue to Erfoud, an attractive town — red and sandy, exuding desert ambiance.

Overnight: Erfoud.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 6: Rissani & Merzouga Dunes
This morning we journey to the historic 8th century caravan town of Rissani to visit the Tafilalt Oasis. The first capital of the Tafilalt and the last stop on the caravan routes south, Rissani has a special place in Moroccan lore. The ruling Alaouite dynasty (from whom Morocco’s current ruler, Mohammed VI, is a descendant) launched its bid for power here before triumphing finally in Fez and Marrakech. Today, a quarter of Rissani’s population still inhabits a large 17th-century ksar in the center of town.

Later this afternoon we drive by 4WD vehicle to Merzouga to witness sunset over the dunes. We have time to explore the dunes on foot. This is a magical landscape, with huge drifting expanses of sand dunes reaching heights of more than 45 metres (148 ft). Their colour shifts from pink to gold to red to white depending on the time of day.

Overnight: Erfoud
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 7: Erfoud – Todra Gorge – Ouarzazate
This morning we depart for the Todra Gorge, one of Morocco’s most spectacular sights. It is a vast fault in the plateau separating the High Atlas from the Jbel Sarhro, two sheer cliffs over 300 metres (958 ft) high separated by a narrow corridor only 20 metres (66 ft) wide.

Later we cross the southern slopes of the High Atlas before arriving at the captivating city of Ouarzazate. We stop en route in the heart of the Dades Valley at the oasis of Kelaa Mgouna.

Overnight: Ouarzazate.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 8: Ouarzazate – Ait Benhaddou – Taroudannt
Our first visit this morning is the Kasbah Taourirt, once belonging to the famous El Glaoui governors. We then proceed to the kasbah of Ait Benhaddou, one of the most spectacular sites in Morocco. The site, which has received extensive renovations from UNESCO, towers high above the El Mellah River and has some of the most highly decorated dark red pise walls. We arrive in the new village on the west bank of the river and proceed to cross the river, usually with an entourage of local children.

After a brief tour and time for independent exploration, we continue our journey toward Taroudannt through the Souss Valley. The area is rich in agriculture, producing oranges, bananas, tomatoes and other crops.

Overnight: Taroudannt.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 9: Taroudannt: City Tour
As the capital of the Souss Valley, Taroudannt has traditionally been an important staging post in the Trans-Sahara caravan routes. The old city is surrounded by nearly 5 km (3 miles) of rich red-ochre walls. The walls, considered by many to be the best preserved in Morocco, give the town an elegant feeling. This morning we have a caleche (horse-drawn carriage) ride around the walls of the city before beginning our walking tour of the suq area. The town is famous for its two suqs: the Souk Arabe and the Marche Berbere. The former specialises in handicrafts and jewelry; the later is famous for house-wares, spices, wooden objects and furniture.

This afternoon is free for you to explore on your own. You may wish to spend more time in the bazaar or take a walk around the impressive city walls and bastions.

Overnight: Taroudannt.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 10: Taroudannt – Essaouira
This morning we travel toward the Atlantic coast and make a short stop in Agadir. From here we travel northward to the fortified, whitewashed fishing village of Essaouira. Once a pirate community, the town is located on a rock promontory overlooking the sometimes raging Atlantic Ocean. There was a small Phonenician settlement at Essaouira, previously called Magdoura or Mogador, a corruption of the Berber word ‘Amegdul,’ meaning ‘well-protected’. The Romans were interested in the purple dye produced from shellfish which they used to colour the robes of the rich.

Orson Welles stayed here for some time, filming part of Othello at the Skala. In the 1960s Essaouira had a brief reputation as a ‘happening place’, which attracted hippies, notably the rock star, Jimi Hendrix. Before dinner you may want to stroll along the extensive beach or visit the colourful fish market.

Overnight: Essaouira.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 11: Essaouira: Walking Tour
Essaouira is one of Morocco’s most charming towns. Old Mogador was occupied in the 15th century by the Portuguese who built the fortifications around the harbour. These impressive ramparts still give the city a fortified look.

Today you will be guided on a leisurely walking tour of this coastal city. The port area offers an interesting look into the fishery industry of Morocco, and the jewelry suq offers some of the best silver items available. Essaouira is most famous, however, for its wooden handicrafts. Almost every shop in the town offers fabulous wooden boxes, chess sets, letter holders, statues, etc. Alternatively, you may wish to visit one of the many art galleries or visit the Musee Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah which features excellent displays of marquetry and handicrafts. Be sure to visit the Marchee d’espices (spice market) where you can purchase your cooking spices or pick up some “cures” for whatever ails you.

Overnight: Essaouira.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 12: Essaouira – Marrakech Essaouira – Marrakech
Today we travel from Essaouira inland to Marrakech. As we approach Marrakech, the scenery becomes flatter and greener, as the city is the centre of a large palmerie oasis. You will notice an abundance of the pink mud-brick buildings amid this tree-filled city. With it’s unique character and charm, Marrakech lures visitors with a hospitable climate and superb location.

This evening we visit the famous Djemma el-Fna in the centre of the city. The Djemma el-Fna is like nowhere else in North Africa. This “Assembly of the Dead,” offers a spectacle that is a must-see when visiting Morocco. In the busy square you will witness a carnival of musicians, snake charmers, acrobats, story-tellers, witch doctors, dentists, clowns, monkey’s and the like. The enduring smells of the Djemma’s food stalls, piled high with platters of specialty cuisine, are well worth a visit just for the experience..

Overnight: Marrakech.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 13: Marrakech: City Tour
Marrakech is one of the world’s most enchanting cities. The city is situated on a lush palmerie and city dates to the Almoravid Dynasty circa 1670. Founded by Youssef bin Tachfine, the city became the dominant centre of Morocco. Our morning walking tour takes us to the Koutoubia, nearly 70 m (230 feet) high and emulating the classic Moroccan design. We will also take a short walk through the Mellah or Jewish quarter.

This afternoon we allow free time to visit one of the many gardens — the Majorelle Garden is recommended. Within the gardens is an excellent museum displaying a collection of Berber objects originating from diverse regions of Morocco, from the Rif to the Sahara.

Overnight: Marrakech.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 14: Departure
Departure from Marrakech.

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Come and visit Tunisia, home to a civilisation that rivaled the Roman Empire, Carthage was eventually conquered and resettled into a sprawling metropolis, while the influence of the Roman Empire still lingers in the many temples and theatres that are still standing. A country rich in natural beauty, from seafront forts to majestic sand dunes of the Sahara.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tunis the colonial French style of the Ville Nouvelle, and the dynamic Arab souks of Tunis’ old Medina.
  • Legendary Carthage
  • Mosaics of Bardo Museum
  • Roman sites Sufetula, Dougga, Bulla Regia
  • Island of Djerba
  • El Djem Amphitheatre

TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1: Tunis
Arrival in Tunis.

Tunis, the capital of the country, is a bustling metropolis and the home of one-sixth of the country’s population. Situated in the Gulf of Tunis on the Mediterranean Sea, the modern city extends along the coastal plains and to the surrounding hills. It is a city of many contrasts, with its modern office buildings, shopping malls and European cafes, the colonial French style of the Ville Nouvelle, and the dynamic Arab souks of Tunis’ old Medina.

Overnight in Tunis.
Included Meal(s): Dinner

Day 2: Tunis: Medina, Carthage & the Bardo Museum
We begin the day with a visit to the Bardo Museum, recently re-opened after extensive renovations. The Bardo houses the largest and finest collection of ancient mosaics in the world. These mosaics were discovered in the wealthiest of Roman villas in the many ancient cities found in Tunisia. Rich patrons commissioned a vast array of subjects and themes, from scenes of gods and goddesses, daily life (hunting, fishing, harvesting), the zodiac, seasons, amphitheatre games.

After lunch we have a walking tour through the old medina of Tunis, its narrow lanes crowded with markets, mosques, tombs and palaces. This was Tunis until the arrival of the French in the late 19th century, who subsequently built their quarters outside of the “Sea Gate” — now the Ville Nouvelle. On our walk, we pass through the various bustling souks of spices, carpets, clothing, gold, and the Souk des Chechias, the area of workshops where the traditional red hats of the Tunisians are still made by hand. En route we will see the Great Mosque of Tunis, Jemaa Zitouna, and the elegant Place du Gouvernement.

We continue to Carthage – the legendary city of Queen Dido and Hannibal. We will begin with a visit to the ancient Punic cemetery, the Tophet, or sanctuary to Baal and Tanit. Our next stop is the Punic ports, once the foundation of Carthage’s prosperity. Here we see the remains of what was once an sophisticated naval harbour, complete with ship sheds for dry-docking their warships, and a elaborate merchant harbor, for their fleets of cargo ships which engaged in trade throughout the Mediterranean. From here we visit Byrsa hill; the ancient acropolis and the first area to be settled by the Phoenicians. Crowning the hill is the 19th century Cathedral of St. Louis and the Carthage museum with finds excavated from the city. Our final stop is the Antonine Baths; the monumental public baths of the city.

Overnight in Tunis.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 3: Tunis – Bulla Regia & Dougga – Tunis
We leave Tunis early this morning for Bulla Regia. This ancient site is famous for its unique subterranean villas, which belonged to the wealthiest of its inhabitants; we descend to see these luxurious villas and their splendid floor mosaics, still in place.

After lunch we continue to Dougga, the best-preserved Roman city in Tunisia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monumental Capitolium temple stands in the city’s Forum, with a breathtaking view over the green rolling hills and plains below. The theaters, gymnasia, baths, shops, stone paved streets and lavish villas are all testimony to the golden age this North African city enjoyed during the Roman era.

Overnight in Tunis.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 4: Tunis – Kairouan
This morning we head to Kairouan, travelling through the fertile valleys and rolling hills of the North. Since antiquity to the present, Tunisia is still referred to by other Maghreb countries by the epithet, “Tunisia the Green.” This area is a favorite haven for storks, who build their nest on top of telephone towers, minarets and rooftops. We head toward into the Sahel, the transitional barren region between the fertile north and the Sahara desert to the south.

The Holy City of Kairouan is not only the spiritual center of Tunisia, it is the first Islamic city to be established in North Africa, and the 4th oldest Muslim city outside of Arabia. Founded as the capital of the region in 670 AD by the Arab general Oqba ibn Nafi, Kairouan soon acquired magnificent ramparts, mosques, palaces and hammams. Our first stop is the Aghlabid basins, enormous artificial reservoirs constructed in the 9th century to store water for Kairouan, as part of a monumental system in which water was brought by aqueducts to the city from 36km away.

Later this afternoon we will have a walking tour of old medina of Kairouan — the entire medina is protected by UNESCO. Meandering through the lanes, we will stop to admire the beautiful traditional doors and architectural styles, the main monuments, markets, pastry shops and traditional workshops where weavers still create textiles on hand looms.

Overnight in Kairouan.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 5: Kairouan – Sbeitla – Tozeur
We start the day with a visit to the Great Mosque of Kairouan, the oldest, largest and most important mosque in Tunisia. The lowest story of the towering minaret is thought to date to 730 AD, one century earlier than the structure of the present mosque. Inside we will see the colonnaded courtyard with its ancient wellheads and sundials, and the forest of columns of the prayer sanctuary. The hundreds of columns all differ from one another, in marble types, size, shape and capital designs, since most were taken from ancient Roman sites and reused in the mosque’s construction. Our final stop before leaving Kairouan is the Mausoleum of Sidi Sahab, also known as the Mosque of the Barber.

We continue to the spectacular Roman city of Sufeitula — modern Sbeitla. The Roman civic center is incredibly photogenic, due to the excellent state of preservation its three monumental temples dedicated to Juno, Jupiter and Minerva towering over the Forum. Sbeitla, like other North African cities, prospered in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD under the Pax Romana. Upon entering the site, we will see olive press — one of many in the city, since the inhabitants here became extremely wealthy from the trade of olives and olive oil. After visiting the forum and its temples, we will walk through Sbeitla’s stone paved streets to see the public baths, the theater, and numerous Christian basilicas with their elaborate baptisteries covered in colourful mosaics.

Heading south, we arrive in the late afternoon at the fascinating oasis town of Tozeur. In medieval times, Tozeur was an important cultural and market center, due to its strategic location on the caravan routes. Merchants from North and West Africa gathered in this thriving oasis, to trade such goods as wool, dates, gold, ivory, salt and slaves. Some of the finest dates of the world are grown in the region, the deglat nour. While in the vicinity of Tozeur, we will visit the palmerie to view the various crops being grown and to absorb the oasis atmosphere.

Overnight in Tozeur.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 6: Tozeur – Douz – Djerba
Today’s journey continues eastwards across Chott El Jerid, Tunisia’s largest salt lake, extending over 5,000 km2. The chott lies 30m below sea level, and is a remnant from over 1.5 million years ago when the area was flooded by the sea. Water on the surface of the salt floor reflects strange hues of pink and yellow, and the refraction of light on this depression often creates mirages.

Our next stop is Douz, the “Gateway of the Sahara”, another ancient oasis town surround by vast expanses of sand dunes. Here you will have the opportunity to participate in optional adventure excursions (payable locally). One option is to drive a dune buggy out to the sand dunes. Or, you may choose to take an “ultralight” airplane over the dunes and the palmeries of Douz.

The final leg of our journey takes us to the legendary Island of Djerba, where we will spend the first of two nights. Our drive takes us through one of the main olive growing regions of the country. Tunisia has over 65 million olive trees (6 for each inhabitant!) and is currently the 4th largest exporter of olive oil in the world.

Overnight in Djerba.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 7: The Island of Djerba
We will spend the morning exploring the sites of this splendid island. Originally settled by the Phoenicians, the isle of Djerba is the mythical place where Odysseus encountered the Lotus Eaters during his journey back home from Troy. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Normans, Arabs, Spaniards, and Ottoman Turks — all have come to Djerba and left their footprint. Historically Djerba has been known for its sponge fishing and agriculture — here we can find olive trees which are over 1000 years old. The island today is one of Tunisia’s most famous resorts, with its small villages, charming towns, and 125 km of sandy beaches. Today’s inhabitants of Djerba are culturally distinct from mainland Tunisians, and are proud of their customs, dress and dialect.

Our first visit is to the ethnographic Museum of Patrimonie, which celebrates the island’s peoples and traditions. Here we will see displays of marriage festivals and traditional wedding dresses from various parts of the country, traditional costumes of the island, circumcision ceremonies, household and agricultural implements, and displays of typical arts of weaving, calligraphy, jewelry and metalwork. We proceed to the center of Guellala, the pottery producing center of the island where we stop to see the kilns and workshops. Next is El Ghriba (“The Miracle”) synagogue: one of the oldest synagogues and most important Jewish pilgrimage sites in the world. Djerba is home to one of the world’s most ancient Jewish communities: tradition states that they arrived here after the First Destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 566 BC. This holy synagogue is fascinating for its historic and spiritual importance, as well as for its distinctive style of architecture (a marvelous blend of Jewish, Tunisian, Maghrebian and Sephardic elements). We proceed to the main town Houmt Souq, where first we shall stop to see the medieval fort, Borj el Kebir; In town, we will explore the fruit and vegetable markets and wander the narrow lanes and souqs. You will have free time to explore more of this charming town, perhaps do some shopping and have lunch at one of the many restaurants in the center.

The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to stay in Houmt Souq, go to the beach, or relax at the hotel.

Overnight in Djerba.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 8: Djerba – Matmata – Sfax
We depart Djerba for Matmata, where the inhabitants live in rock-hewn dwellings (“troglodyte” homes), some of which are over 400 years old. We will visit the pit dwelling of a local family who will happily show us around. We will also stop to see the cave home which appeared in the first Star Wars film (1977) and was later converted into Hotel Sidi Driss.

Our drive continues to our destination, the coastal city of Sfax where we arrrive in time for a walk though the medina. This is the second largest city in Tunisia; today Sfax a major commercial and manufacturing centre (mainly of olive oil, almonds, phosphates and textiles) with very little tourism. Inside the massive 9th century ramparts of the old walled city, is the country’s finest “living and working” medina. Part of the Blacksmith’s souq was featured in the film, ‘The English Patient.’ We will do a walk through the historic lanes, markets and workshops before heading to our hotel.

Overnight in Sfax.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 9: Sfax – El Djem – Monastir – Sidi Bou Said – Tunis
Today we head inland to El Djem (ancient Thysdrus). Our first visit is the excellent Archaeological Museum, with its splendid collection of floor mosaics from the villas of the wealthiest inhabitants of El Djem. Just behind the museum is the House of Africa, an opulent villa covering over 3000 sq m which was found in the center of town, dismantled and moved here in its entirety. The villa is named after one of its excellent fine floor mosaics depicting the Goddess of Africa (the only mosaic of its kind in the world).

The sudden appearance of the massive Roman Amphitheatre is an extraordinary sight. With a capacity of 30,000 spectators, it rises 3 stories above the surrounding plains — though smaller than the Colosseum in Rome, it is in many ways more impressive due to its excellent state of preservation. It was built during the reigns of the (usurper) Emperors Gordion I and his son, Gordian II, both of whom reigned for only a few weeks before being defeated by the legions sent from Rome. We climb up to the upper tiers for excellent views of the arena and surrounding countryside, before descending to the basement to see the chambers where scenery, gladiators, prisoners and wild animals were kept. Wild animals were hoisted by a sophisticated (if not theatrical) system of elevators and pulleys into the arena to the delight of the spectators.

Returning to the coast, we go To Monastir to see the 8th century ribat, a kind of fortified Islamic monastery, after which the city is named. The Ribat of Monastir affords wonderful views of the city and the sea. North African ribats were built when the inhabitants were threatened by invading European armies; they served not only a military but religious purpose as well, as fortresses and places of prayer and study for devout soldiers. This spectacular ribat served as a backdrop in numerous films, including Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and Zeffirelli’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’

The final leg of our journey takes us Sidi Bou Said, the charming hilltop village, famous for its beautifully decorated blue and white architecture. Visited by the likes of Cervantes, Simone de Beaauvouir and Jean Foucault, Sidi Bou Said made an indelible impression on the works of Paul Klee, August Macke and Louis Moilliet who stayed here together in 1914. You will have some free time to explore this beautiful village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, before we meet for sunset and our final farewell dinner.

Overnight in Tunis.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 10: Departure
Departure from Tunis.

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tunis the colonial French style of the Ville Nouvelle, and the dynamic Arab souks of Tunis’ old Medina.
  • Legendary Carthage
  • Mosaics of Bardo Museum
  • Roman sites Sufetula, Dougga, Bulla Regia
  • Island of Djerba
  • El Djem Amphitheatre

TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1 Madrid
The capital of Spain, located in the heart of the peninsula and right in the center of the Castillian plain, is a cosmopolitan city, a business center, headquarters for the Public Administration, Government, Spanish Parliament and the home of the Spanish Royal Family.

Overnight in Madrid.
Included Meal(s): Dinner

Day 2 Madrid & The Prado
This morning we have a panoramic tour of broader Madrid, terminating at the Prado Museum for a guided tour. Our route to the museum likely takes us past Plaza Espana point and the Cervantes Monument.

Originally opened to the public in 1819, the Prado houses all of the finest works collected by Spanish Royalty as well as Spanish paintings gathered from other sources over the past two centuries. The Prado is one of the most important repositories of art in the world, including a vast collection of Italian paintings. For the purposes of our visit, however, we will concentrate on works by Spanish masters — Velasquez, Goya, Ribera, El Greco, Zurbaran, to name a few.

After our tour, we’ll head off on foot for an informal stroll up Gran Via and into the old quarter of Madrid. You’ll then have free time for lunch and an afternoon of independent exploration. Your Tour Leader can help you plan your free time, with recommended shopping, other historical sites and galleries. You may want to visit the nearby Reina Sofia for the important modern art collection, including Picasso’s masterpiece, “Guernica.” Or visit the Museo Naval, one of the world’s most important Navy Museums, to learn about the history of the Spanish Armada.

Overnight in Madrid.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 3 Madrid – Toledo – Madrid
This morning we travel to Toledo, a city with a unique blend of Arab, Jewish, Christian, Roman, and Visigothic elements. Toledo sits on a rocky promontory isolated on three sides by a looping gorge of the Tagus River. The history of several different cultures is contained within this region, represented by the houses, synagogues, churches, and mosques.

Our excursion includes a visit to the Cathedral, as well as the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, which shows the influence of the Granada Moors.

We also see one of Toledo’s most outstanding attractions, El Greco’s masterpiece “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” located inside the Church of Santo Tome.

After lunch and some free time in Toledo, we return to Madrid.

Overnight in Madrid.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 4 Madrid – Cordoba: City Tour
Today we travel by fast train to Cordoba (+/- 2 hours), crossing the Despenaperros Mountains and the border pass between Castile and Andalucia.

During our time in Cordoba (a World Heritage City), we will gain a sense of the city’s long and varied past and multicultural nature. Our tour starts at the Roman Bridge and the Calahorra Tower, an Arab defensive tower. Next we arrive at the Mezquita-Catedral, or Great Mosque of Cordoba, one of the oldest structures still standing from the time Muslims ruled Al-Andalus. The buildings on this site are as complex as the extraordinarily rich history they illustrate. Historians believe that there had first been a temple to the Roman god, Janus, on this site. The temple was converted into a church by invading Visigoths who seized Cordoba in 572. Next, the church was converted into a mosque and then completely rebuilt by the descendants of the exiled Umayyads — the first Islamic dynasty who had originally ruled from their capital Damascus (in present-day Syria) from 661 until 750.

Finally we will have a stroll in the Jewish Quarter where the synagogue is located.

Overnight in Cordoba.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 5 Cordoba – Granada
First thing this morning we visit the Alcazar fortress, built by King Alfonso XI, and containing mosaics and sarcophagi. We then proceed to Granada by bus.

We’ll include a visit to the Granada Archaeological Museum (likely today upon arrival if possible; please note, however, that this museum has been periodically closed due to renovations). The museum is located in the Castril Palace from the 16th century. It hosts many artefacts from the many different civilizations that settled in Granada, including the Carthaginians, Phoenicians, the Romans, and the Arabs. If the museum is closed, we can visit instead the royal chapel and cathedral.

Overnight in Granada.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 6 Granada: The Alhambra
Today we tour Granada, set in the heart of Andalucia with the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop. Conquered by the Moors in AD 711, Granada blossomed into one of Europe’s wealthiest and most refined cities. The legacy of Granada’s rich history and heritage remain visible throughout the city centre with its cobblestone streets and lovely plazas. In 1992 Granada celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Christian re-conquest by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.

The focus of our sightseeing today is Granada’s main attraction, the Alhambra, a mighty fortress that houses an extraordinarily delicate and beautiful Moorish palace begun in the 13th century. This was the palace of the Nasrid Sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Moorish Kingdom. A fantasy of “lace in stone” surrounded by arabesque gardens and fountains, it affords superb views of the Old Quarter and Sacromonte, a mountain occupied by gypsy cave dwellers. In many ways, the Alhambra represents the Moorish concept of life itself — something glorious to be ennobled by learning and enlivened by every kind of pleasure.

We also visit the nearby Generalife Gardens as well as the old Moorish quarter of the Albaicin.

Overnight in Granada.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 7 Granada – Reserva Tauro – Ronda: Town Tour
We continue our tour (by road) to Ronda, a historic town located on a towering plateau in the mountains of Malaga Province. En route we visit Reserva Tauro, a 500 acre bull and horse breeding farm. Here we have the opportunity to get close to bulls and gain an understanding of the culture without attending a bull fight.

In Ronda, we will walk around the old town where you will learn the origins of this ancient town where Romans, Arabs, and Christians left their traces. We visit the Mondragon Palace, built in a Mudejar style and finally to the Bullring, the oldest in the country. Ronda is famous for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevin through its centre. We suggest a walk to the 18th century Puente Nuevo ‘new’ bridge, which straddles the 100m/328 ft chasm below, for its unparalleled views out over the Serrania de Ronda mountains.

Overnight in Ronda.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 8 Ronda – Pileta Caves – Sevilla
Today we travel to Seville via a stop at the well-preserved rock paintings at the Pileta Caves (walking required on wet stone with no hand rails – speak to your leader for further guidance). The 25,000 year old Neolithic and Paleolithic drawings of black, ochre, and red are mostly just lines or patterns, but there are also horses, goats, cattle, and a rare giant fish, made from a mixture of clay and fat. This is not a well-developed tourist attraction; you must be steady on your feet and prepared for some slow walking.

We then follow (by road) the route known as “the route of the white villages” for the singularity of the scenery. Lunch and time to explore Grazalema, a white hill down nestled in Grazalema National Park. Prior to arrival in Sevilla (Seville), we stop in the little hilltown of Zahara, for a nice walk up to the castle.

Overnight in Sevilla.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 9 Sevilla: City Tour
Sevilla, the fourth largest city in Spain, is the picture-perfect image of Andalucia, complete with restored Andalusian architecture, orange groves, flower-filled patios, and castanet-rattling Gypsies.

While in Sevilla we visit the largest cathedral in Spain, built in a Gothic style with lovely stained glass windows, choir, and chapels. We visit the Giralda Tower, with its spectacular views of the city. We will also see the Moorish Alcazar Palace, a 14th century palace, the oldest royal residence in Europe and still in use. King Juan Carlos resides here while in Sevilla, as King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella once did. Later we will walk along the Guadalquivir riverbank and view historic monuments like the Maestranza Bullring, the Torre del Oro, and the Monument to the Tolerance by Eduardo Chillida.

Overnight in Sevilla.
Included Meal(s): Breakfast and Dinner

Day 10 Depart
Departure from Sevilla.

mn-mongolia

Travel through wild Mongolia’s northern and central regions and experience the nomadic traditions and culture. From mountains, to grasslands, to lakes there is great diversity, with visits in between to ancient Buddhist monasteries. Wildlife abounds and roams free including wild horses, and bird watching.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • travel in 4×4 minivans or jeeps
  • ancient Bhuddist monastries
  • mountain treks
  • lakes and bird watching

TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1: Ulaanbaatar
Day 2: Amarbayasgalant Monastery
Day 3: Erdenet city
Day 4: Khuvsgul Lake
Day 5: Khuvsgul Lake
Day 6: Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake
Day 7: Khorgo Mountain
Day 8: Khorgo Mountain
Day 9: Tsetserleg / Zaya Gegeen Monastery
Day 10: Orkhon Valley Natural and Historical Reserve
Day 11: Kharkhorin city, Erdene Zuu Monastery
Day 12: Ugii lake
Day 13: Ulaanbaatar
Day 14: Ulaanbaatar
Day 15: Ulaanbaatar

es-barcelona-madrid

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Art Walk in Madrid is every art lover’s dream.
  • Barcelona culture and architecture
  • Gaudi’s modern basilica, La Sagrada Familia, a gothic masterpeace
  • The beaches of Valencia
  • Churches and plazas of Cuenca

TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1: Barcelona
Barcelona’s quirky character and fabulous Catalan cuisine mixes seamlessly with a groundbreaking art scene, Gothic architecture, superb dining and a non-stop nightlife, making it a city you won’t soon forget. In the afternoon, there are plenty of options to keep you busy. Wander the labyrinthine streets of the old Gothic Quarter and navigate your way through the throngs of tourists along La Rambla, Barcelona’s famous tree-lined boulevard. Perhaps pay a visit to the Picasso Museum, the National Art Museum of Catalonia or the Museum of City History to brush up on your local knowledge. Take the funicular to the top of Montjuic or Tibidabo for panoramic views of Barcelona and the harbour. The heart of Catalonia prides itself as a gastronomic centre and so this evening perhaps head out to taste the reputation for yourself. Take a tapas crawl through rustic Catalan dishes in the funky neighbourhood of El Born.

Overnight: Barcelona
Meals Included: Breakfast

Day 2: Barcelona
In the morning we start the day at the Santa Catarina Market to discover the local produce set out in stalls beneath a colourful, undulating roof. We will continue to explore the city’s famous architecture, from its impressive gothic main cathedral to the houses, concert halls, palaces and basilicas designed in the unique Catalan Modernista style. The mastermind Antonio Gaudi’s eccentric creations are spread across the city. The most famous is the modern basilica of La Sagrada Familia, on which Gaudi worked for decades until his death, and it remains in constant construction. Also well worth visiting are the Neo-Gothic mansion of Guell Palace andthe wave-inspired structure of Casa Battlo.

Overnight: Barcelona
Meals Included: Breakfast

Day 3: Valencia
Today take the train down the coast to Valencia (approximately 4 hours).
It’s known for being the Spanish gateway to the Mediterranean, with a big port, beautiful beaches, restaurants and a beach promenade along the waterfront. The old town is set back from the seafront through, and in the centre you will find the beautiful monuments and historical buildings. Busy markets, clean beaches, spectacular mountains and a fascinating mix of old town and new town makes up the best of Valencia. Over the next couple of days, you have a lot of free time to wander around the city and see the sights. Explore the colourful stalls of the Mercado Central, and this evening perhaps head out to bar-hop and eat tapas in the Ciutat Vella (old town).

Overnight: Valencia
Meals Included: Breakfast

Day 4: Valencia
Take today to explore. Possibly visit the 13th-century cathedral, which houses what’s claimed to be the Holy Grail, and climb the 207 steps of the Miguelete tower for the best views of the city. The Museum of the Fallas is another unique option, which contains a history of the Valencia Fire Festival in the form of giant papier mache figures. There are also many fine parks and gardens, or you may want to head to the beach of Playa de la Malvarrosa to soak up some sun. To try the paella that Valencia is famous for (rabbit and chicken), do as the locals do and head to the restaurant area of Las Arenas for a hearty and reasonably priced lunch. Valencia is also built with separate cycle paths, so it’s really easy to get around. Perhaps rent a bike from one of the many bike stations dotted around the city. Cycle through the park that runs through the centre of the city to the impressively designed Museu de les Ciencies Príncipe Felipe (Arts and Science Museum). Tonight, maybe head south to Ruzafa, one of the city’s coolest areas.

Overnight: Valencia
Meals Included: Breakfast

Day 5: Cuenca
Today we travel west to charming Cuenca (approximately 4 hours).
The town is located literary on the edge of deep gorges created by two rivers: Jucar and Huecar. On arrival, venture out on an orientation walk around this historic World Heritage fortress city. The old part of this city is an outstanding medieval development built on steep mountainsides, with many casa colgadas (hanging houses) that are literally on the cliff edge. Like many towns in Spain, it was occupied for a period of time by the Muslim Moors who built the original fortress. Afterwards, use your free time getting to know the city. Perhaps visit the impressive 12th-century gothic Cathedral. There is also wonderful art all over the town, with a number of abstract artists making Cuenca their home in the 1960s. Evening is a great opportunity to gather together with the group and enjoy a dinner in this picturesque town, with the old city beautifully brushed with light from a series of high-powered lamps suspended half-way up the rock.

Overnight: Cuenca
Meals Included: Breakfast

Day 6: Madrid
Today travel by bus to Madrid (approximately 2.5 hours).
Madrid, Spain’s central capital, is a city of elegant boulevards and expansive, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro. It’s renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor, and nearby is the baroque Royal Palace and Armory, displaying historic weaponry

Overnight: Madrid
Meals Included: Breakfast

Day 7: Madrid
Today we visit the the baroque Royal Palace and Armoury, followed by a brake in the Real Jardin Botanico, a garden wonderland dating from the 18th century. In the evening we head out to Chueca, Plaza Dos de Mayo or Plaza Santa Ana, to explore the city’s nightlife.

Overnight: Madrid
Meals Included: Breakfast

Day 8: Madrid
Final day, we leave Madrid