Textiles, Tajines: MOROCCO

Riding camels on Erg Chebbi sand dunes of Morocco

Some people on a camel for the first time! Headed over Saharan dunes to our tent glamping site at Erg Chebbi.

November 6 – 22, 2021
Our popular Textiles of Morocco trip is back!

Camel in Morocco wearing textiles and tassels.This custom-designed 17-night tour to an amazing and exotic country emphasizes the textiles of Morocco, plus the cuisine, ceramics, architecture, and archeology. Scroll to bottom for price and details.

We’ll go behind-the-scenes for an authentic experience of traditional Morocco and Moroccan hospitality! You’ll meet many charming and friendly local artisans and craftspeople, happy to show you the best of their country. Travelers are very welcome here. No visa is necessary for most visitors.

Everywhere we go, our delightful guide will show us the hidden corners to visit and the most interesting people to meet. And our amazing driver navigates the Sprinter around the country with unflappable confidence. Click here, and scroll down to the Morocco Team for their profiles.

As we travel around the country, our small group will marvel at SEVEN stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites! Morocco has remote kasbahs of striking architectural design. These contrast with the bustling cities of Casablanca and the chaotic medina of Marrakech.

We are proud of our new partnership with the California-based Morocco Library Project. Bring books and we’ll visit a school library to donate them in a remote community.

Charming little hotels or riads will be our home bases, except for that night glamping in a Berber tent on the sand dunes! In each town we visit, we’ll explore the historic walled medinas and watch craftsmen at work. We can poke around in the traditional little souks for spices, textiles, and other treasures to take home.

Trip Details:

Variety of Moroccan cooked mezze vegetable dishes with goat cheese salad and fresh bread; Casablanca restaurant.

Variety of mezze dishes with goat cheese salad.

Arrive on November 6 in Casablanca;
November 22 is last included night of hotel.
Fly home on November 23 from Casablanca.
Total 17 nights hotel included.

We’ll start our textile and cuisine tour by flying in to legendary Casablanca. You will be met by Cynthia and the guide, or an official tour driver at the Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) upon arrival anytime (preferably morning) on November 6. We’ll spend that first night settling in to Morocco, in Casablanca.

Next day on our way out of town, we’ll go inside the fabulous Hasan II mosque at seaside Casablanca. It’s the largest mosque in Africa, and has exquisite mosaic work and painted ceilings. The mosque was completed in 1993 after 7 years of construction. We’ll visit with a specialized guide who’ll explain the high-tech features that include a heated floor and a roof that glides open to let in the ocean breezes on holidays when it is especially crowded.

Al Jadida Site

After seeing the mosque we’ll drive south for a look at the seaside fort and photogenic underground cistern at Al Jadida. The cistern was probably built originally as an underground warehouse in the late 1500s by the Portuguese. Old town Al Jadida with its fortified ramparts was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. It’s considered an “outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures.” The cistern’s visual qualities are such that several movies have been filmed within the cavernous space. Orson Welles’ dramatic Othello is the best known of these.

Seaside Essaouira, MoroccoEssaouira by the sea

Then we’ll continue to the beautiful ocean-side city of Essaouira. We’ll wander in the small medina (UNESCO WH site) and check out the art galleries where many of us have bought stunning original paintings. Our heritage hotel looks down on the crashing waves of the ocean to lull you to sleep! A local friend Latifa will host a typical home cooking class in her kitchen. There we will learn how to make some typical dishes and a dessert. Then we’ll eat our creations for a delicious lunch.

Next we head to marvelous Marrakech, enjoying a picnic along the way. In Neolithic times, the region was primarily agricultural, and it wasn’t until 1062 that the town of Marrakech was founded. The red walls of the city, built in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in reddish sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the “Pink City.” Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading center. Today the popular city has modern businesses on the outskirts, but still manages to feel exotic and other-worldly. In the old fortified city area, called the medina, we will meet master artisans at work as we wander through the little stalls or souks in yet another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Medina of Marrakech

The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city with labyrinthine alleys. We will stay at a beautiful hotel, as always decorated with traditional Moroccan mosaics, furniture and accessories. In our high-tech and entertaining cooking class we’ll create a gourmet lunch of homemade bread, tajine, a succulent stew, and a couple of cooked vegetable ‘salads.’ Our culinary creations, seasoned to our personal taste, will be our delicious lunch. At some point we’ll visit the food and spice market to find specific ingredients necessary for the unusual flavor combinations that are now familiar to you in Moroccan cuisine. You can pick up some spices in the souk for foodie friends too.

Majorelle Gardens

Berber jewelry from the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech.

A Marrakech must-see is the Majorelle Gardens begun by French painter Jacques Majorelle. The new Yves Saint-Laurent Museum is spectacular also. This sleek, modern brick museum is in the same block as the Gardens. Its superb displays of fashion showcase Saint Laurent’s multi-cultural creations on dozens of mannequins. Another room exhibits hand-loomed shaggy, colorful Berber carpets, the first exhibit to recognize this village art.

Lunch this day will be in the Majorelle Garden Restaurant. Later we’ll visit the bustling open-air square called Place Djemaa el Fna where snake charmers vie for space between tiny barbecue grills and water sellers. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, the central square of Marrakech is chaotic and thrilling at the same time.

After a few days, we leave Marrakech and drive over the Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate. In this area we’ll see more textiles in the form of carpets, as we visit some women’s groups of rug makers. Along the way, we’ll see the mystical ‘mud castle’ at Ait Ben Haddou. A striking example of the architecture of southern Morocco, this spectacular ksar or fortified city makes a an interesting stop. This group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls is another UNESCO World Heritage site. The earthen castle effect and the decorative motifs sculpted into the reddish adobe walls make Ait Ben Haddou an aesthetic wonder.

Morocco textile tour travelers with friend who makes trim for clothing.

Group shares a laugh with Bouchra who has come to the hotel to show us how to make plaited trims called sfifa.

In Ouarzazate we can go through the quirky Museum of the Cinema. Dozens of ‘swords and sandals’ films have been made in this desert area. For instance, Ben Hur was filmed here, but also Cleopatra, Gladiator, and Lawrence of Arabia were set in this desert landscape. We’ll also drive through the spectacular Todra Gorges, carved by the forces of two rivers, the Todra and the Dades. On their final 25-mile stretch through the mountains, the water carved out a colossal red sandstone canyon measuring 33 feet across, with cliffs of more than 500 feet tall on either side.

In the date capital of Erfoud, we’ll visit the local market to buy some succulent sweet dates. We’ll see the unripe yellow dates hanging in the date palms, and learn about how they are harvested and dried. And in Erfoud, we’ll have the treat of visiting a new school library started by the non-profit  Morocco Library Project. If you would like to bring some books to donate to the students here, we’ll send you the list of most requested titles. I met recently with the dynamic founder of this wonderful California-based project, and she is as excited as I am about collaborating to offer books to students in this remote and under-served area.

Textiles of Morocco: Berber Weavers and Carpets

A colorful wool Berber textile, a rug with a variety of motifs and weaving techniques.

Berber wool handwoven rug.

And along the way, we’ll check out the glowing handmade carpets in favorite shops (right), and meet some Berber weavers who will show us their textiles and techniques. We continue into the arid and spectacular eastern region, towards the Algerian border. In the mid-afternoon, we’ll go by 4-wheel drive across the stark landscape to the golden-orange Saharan sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. Then we’ll climb aboard camels for the short trek into the dunes to watch the sunset. We’ll have a traditional couscous dinner and fall asleep in comfy Berber tents under the stars.

After breakfast next day, we head back in the Jeeps and then we’ll begin our drive through the Middle Atlas Mountains. We’ll traverse beautiful palm groves, dramatic rock formations, and little villages on the route northward. As always there will be stops for photos and bathroom breaks whenever desired.

Half way along this drive to Fes, we will stop for the night in the town of Midelt. The town is famous for its minerals – geodes, trilobites and ammonite fossils and interesting crystals from the nearby mines at Mibladen. Beautiful mineral specimens are for sale in Midelt. Don’t you want to take home a few pounds of rocks?! Next day we’ll drop by a weaving and embroidery cooperative before continuing to fascinating Fes, another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Famous Medina of Fes

We’ll spend several days in Fes, sleeping in a charming riad in the old medina area. Wander here to find a carpet, or a pair of earrings or a painted plate. A carpet collector friend will show us many examples of carpets and other textiles of Morocco. His collection comes from many areas and exemplifies many different techniques. Here and at other places along the way, we’ll learn about the regional varieties and how the rugs are woven and knotted.

Leather tannery of Fes, Morocco

Often referred to as the country’s cultural capital, Fes has over a million inhabitants. However it’s primarily known for its ancient, sprawling, medina or walled city, the best-preserved in the Arab world. Additionally it’s another UNESCO World Heritage site. Motorcycles are not allowed this medina so we can relax here. Shopping and visiting the mosques and madrasas is much easier than in Marrakech. The little market shops here offer a treasure of traditional textiles, baskets, felted slippers, pottery and jewelry.

Craftsmen still work and sell their products in the medina. The huge space is divided into areas by trade—the leather crafters, dyers, textiles, ceramicists and so forth. Men are the leather dyers (above), felt makers and woodworkers.

Both the guide and driver live in Fes; because of this they’ll make you feel at home as they show you this fascinating city. In Fes, we will meet weavers who work at old-fashioned looms to make fabric with a very modern look. We’ll see the machines that plait and braid the complex trims on traditional Djellabas, the hooded robes for men and women. One afternoon, we’ll visit a ceramics workshop and see their exquisite hand painted pieces. Both men and women paint the colorful designs on the ceramic pieces, but men make the zellij mosaics that we will see covering walls and fountains all over the country.

Volubilis is site of dozens of intricate floor mosaics, some of them depicting textile or rug patterns..

Colored stone floor mosaic at Roman site of Volubilis.

Roman Site of Volubilis

Next stop is to marvel at the detailed stone mosaics and ancient structures of Volubilis, another UNESCO World Heritage site. We may see the resident storks that make their nests high on the columns of the Basilica. Founded in the 3rd century B.C., Volubilis became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and had many fine buildings; extensive remains of some survive at the archaeological site. UNESCO says: “Covering an area of 42 hectares, [Volubilis] is of outstanding importance, demonstrating urban development, Romanization at the frontiers of the Roman Empire, and the graphic illustration of the interface between the Roman and indigenous cultures.”

Chefchaouen, Blue City

After Fes, we’ll head north to the famous Blue City of Chefchaouen. Built on a hillside, the town is blue from top to bottom! The city was founded in 1471 as a small kasbah (fortress) by Moulay Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami. He founded the city to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco. Many Moorish and Jewish people settled here after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval times.  In 1920, the Spanish seized Chefchaouen to form part of Spanish Morocco. Then Spain returned the city after the independence of Morocco in 1956.  Nowadays there is a town council to help people keep up their pretty blue steps and walls, but nobody seems to know exactly why all the buildings are sky blue.

Blue city Chefchaouen MoroccoMore textiles of Morocco will be seen in the Blue City when we visit a weaving atelier. A free day in Chefchaouen will give you time to explore the arts and crafts and take all the charming blue alley photos that you want!

Then we’ll drive to the coast to admire the charming, little seaside town of Asilah. We can wander around admiring the murals painted on all the medina walls. These paintings that fill the white washed walls are one of the town’s main attractions and attract art lovers all year round. We’ll eat lunch overlooking the stone ramparts built oceanside by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Then we’ll drive on to Rabat for the night.

Next morning we’ll see the main sights of Rabat, such as the Kasbah Oudaya and Mohammad V’s Mausoleum, before returning to Casablanca. We drive from Fes to Casablanca at the end of the tour.

Tonight (November 22) will be our Farewell Dinner when we take leave of new and old friends. October 6 is the last included night of hotel; we’ll be in Casablanca, where we spent the first night.

Departure details to be arranged; we will suggest some convenient flights. Plan flights HOME on November 23, anytime. We will spend the night of November 22 in Casablanca; you’ll fly in and out of Casablanca.

After the trip, you’ll receive a photo journal book that will keep you dreaming of Morocco and your new friends!

Note that citizens of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, and many other countries do not need a visa to enter the Kingdom of Morocco and may stay up to 90 days. To sign up, click here for instructions and forms.  Email:  [email protected] if you have any questions.

Textiles of Morocco Tour Price: $ 5750 for 17 nights/18 days

Note that there is a minimum number of 8 travelers for this trip to ‘go’; maximum group size is 12. Please don’t buy air tickets until you are sure the trip will happen; email us to ask.

Single Supplement: $ 995

  • Includes the following:
  • 18 nights accommodations: double occupancy, in charming riads (small private villas with central courtyards), a comfortable Berber desert tent
    [1 night], and centrally-located, modern hotel in Casablanca – 2 nights.
  • All meals and non-alcoholic beverages with meals–except 2 lunches and 2 dinners on your own.
  • Licensed English-, French- and Arabic-speaking guide to accompany the group, with French- and English-speaking textile expert Cynthia Samake.
  • All ground transportation by Mercedes SPRINTER private van with excellent, professional driver.
  •  5 UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • Bottled water in the van at all times.
  • Transportation to/from airport for arrival/departure on dates indicated.
  • Cooking class with gourmet cuisine for your lunch.
  • Entrance to all historical sights, museums, etc., on the itinerary.
  • Beautiful custom photo book, created and sent after you get home.

Not included: Tips to guide and driver (we’ll suggest guidelines for this), four meals as listed on itinerary, personal items such as laundry, sites or activities not on the itinerary, between-meal snacks and bottled water. (Water included on van trips.)

If you don’t want to join the cooking classes, the lunches included are on your own that day, since class participants will eat what they create. Cooking classes are lots of fun, but optional; we hope everyone will join in!

Email:  [email protected] if you have any questions, or call 707-939-8874.

To sign up, click here for instructions and forms.

Photo Credit: Tannery at Fes: Dreamstime.81298498. David Hall. Fes.Morocco

 

 

 

Textiles & Blue City

Textile and Crafts Tour to Exotic Morocco
September 8 – 17, 2019  Depart for home on September 18.

Textile tour crafts art and architecture small group travel Chefchaouen Morocco

Lovely blue lane in Chefchaouen, the Blue City.

Highlights: This 10-night custom-designed tour to see the textiles of Morocco emphasizes art, architecture, culture, and cuisine, in addition to the textiles. Travelers are very welcome here; the country is peaceful, and no visa is necessary for most visitors! We’ll meet you at the Mohamed V International Airport in Casablanca (CMN) on September 8, and you’ll fly home from Tangier on September 18.
This trip takes you behind-the-scenes to share an authentic experience of Moroccan hospitality with a small group of friendly people. And we’ll take in 4-5 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

We’ll first go south to charming Marrakesh, see exciting places along the way, and end up in the north at Tangier. Along the way, we’ll visit Fes and beyond, to see the textiles and to meet many artisans: felt makers, metal workers, ceramic artists and more!. We’ll see the mellow blue town of Chefchaouen, famous for its stunning old city that is painted in watery blues, left. The far north of Morocco is not so often visited by tourists and with the help of our wonderful guide we will explore the northern regions. Exotic Tangier awaits our discovery too, and we’ll wend our way through the medinas to see mosques and madrasas, and find the most interesting textiles, jewelry. pottery and artwork.

Cooking class Maison Arabe Marrakech tajine lunch

Hand-painted traditional tajine dish. Marrakech.

Charming little hotels called riads will be our home bases. In a mid-morning workshop, we’ll learn how to knot the complex silk buttons, with a group of delightful ladies who will also serve us an amazing lunch! As we travel, we’ll explore the historic walled medinas, watch craftsmen at work, and poke around in the traditional little souks for spices and other treasures to take home. In cooking classes we’ll put our spice knowledge to work and create a delicious lunch that will include tajine, a typical, succulent vegetable stew, with or without meat. Everywhere we go, our guide will show us the hidden corners to visit and the most interesting people to meet!

Morocco cuisine textile tour food Marrakech souk medina 2019


Trip Details:
Arrive in Casablanca on September 8; depart for home from Tangiers on September 18. We’ll start by flying in to legendary Casablanca, check in to our hotel, and get a good night’s rest. Next day we’ll visit the fabulous Hasan II mosque, inside and outside, at seaside Casablanca, then we’ll head south to fabled and friendly Marrakech.

In Neolithic times, the region was primarily agricultural, and it wasn’t until 1062 that the town of Marrakesh was founded. The red walls of the city, built in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in reddish sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the “Pink City.”

Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading center. Today the popular city has modern businesses on the outskirts, but still manages to feel exotic and other-worldly, especially in the old fortified city area, called the medina. The Marrakech medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city with labyrinthine alleys where little market shops offer a treasure of traditional textiles, baskets, felted slippers, pottery and jewelry. Here we can meet master artisans at work, and wander the narrow, cobblestone streets of the market.  In Marrakesh we will stay in a beautiful and comfortable riad, as always decorated with traditional furniture, rugs, mosaics, and textiles of Morocco.

Feltmaker of Fes; felted boots in foreground. 

One morning we will have a professional cooking class, then eat our delicious creations for lunch! We will also see the stunning Majorelle Gardens begun by French painter Jacques Majorelle, and the excellent Museum of authentic Berber jewelry, clothing and textiles. Lunch that day will be in the  garden patio of the museum.

In the bustling open-air square called Place Djemaa el Fna, snake charmers vie for space between barbeque stands, musicians, and water sellers. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, this central square of Marrakech is chaotic and thrilling at the same time. Shopping nearby is also good.

Next we’ll drive north to Fes which has over a million inhabitants, but it’s primarily known for its ancient sprawling, medina or walled city, the best-preserved in the Arab world. The old medina is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Fez was founded in the 9th century and reached its apogee as the capital of the Marinid Dynasty in the 13th and 14th centuries. Major monuments in Fes date to that era. It also hosts the world’s oldest university, University of Al Quaraouiyine. We’ll spend several days in Fes, sleeping in a charming riad in the old medina area, and explore the mosques, madrasas and souks with their highly decorated mosaic walls. This medina is much calmer  than the one in Marrakech. Craftsmen still work and sell their products here, and like others, this medina is divided into areas by trade—the leather crafters, ceramicists and so forth.Wander in the medina to find the perfect carpet or pair of earrings.

We’ll tour a large ceramics factory where the craftspeople still hand-paint plates and vases. Other workers there paint tiles and cut the intricate tile pieces for zellij – complex mosaics composed of tiny geometric shapes – used to decorate walls, fountains and floors of mosques, madrasas (Koranic schools) and villas.

On the route north, we’ll visit a family where they make the famous ‘laine de Habba’ or the natural white sheep’s wool yarn somehow hand-spun with tiny pill balls added in. It is one of the most interesting textiles of Morocco, used to add interesting texture to high quality djellabas for men. It defies the usual spinning methods; see if you can figure it out!

Sleeping in ceramic couscous dish, Fes market

World Heritage symbol

Next, we’ll drive north to the famous blue city of Chefchaouen, noted for being one of Morocco’s most picturesque towns. This is a holy city with some 20 mosques and sanctuaries, where thousands of the faithful participate in an annual pilgrimage. For other visitors though, Chefchaouen’s chief appeal is in its incredibly photogenic streets with the white-and-blue-washed houses. Then we’ll drive to Tangier. We’ll explore the Kasbah of this city and see St Andrew’s Church, one of Tangier’s most interesting sites. Completed in 1905 as a gift from King Hassan I of Morocco, the church is a fusion of different architectures and religions, reflecting Morocco’s multicultural population. Although the church is a focal point for Christians in Tangier, it also exhibits Quranic inscriptions on its Moorish interior and marks the direction of Muslim prayer to Mecca. A visit to this religious holy site gives a new meaning to the interfaith experience. “If only we could all just get along….!”

Morocco crafts tour, mosaic art architecture 2019

Intricate mosaic or zellij floor of palace in Marrakech.

After lunch, stroll around the kasbah-medina area, and have an afternoon break of mint tea.  One day we’ll see the Great Moque and explore the Kasbah, where the sultan once lived. The gate opens onto a large courtyard, which leads to the 17th century Dar el-Makhzem Palace and the modern-day Kasbah Museum. This Museum brings together an amazing number of exhibits from Morocco’s history and there is also a large section devoted to Moroccan arts, with silks and illustrated manuscripts as well as centuries-old ceramics decorated from golden yellow to the famous Fes blue.

The Dar el-Makhzem Palace was enlarged by each successive Sultan. The carved wooden ceilings and marble courtyard showcase the intricacies of talented Moroccan craft-work.

Kathy & Sue relax at the leather shoe souk, Fes.

Salima Abdel-Wahab, Moroccan fashion designer, has a boutique in the Tangier kasbah. Last year we found some interesting clothing here and unusual jewelry and gifts in shops nearby. On our last included night of hotel (September 17) at the Farewell Dinner, we’ll take leave of old friends and new, and pack our bags, ready for flights home from Tangiers the next morning/day of September 18. Arrange your plane tickets to arrive on September 8 and to fly out of Tangiers on September 18, 2019. After the trip, you’ll receive a photo journal book to remember your trip. We welcome your photos to add to the book, so after the trip, send us some great group people pictures to be included.

Tour Price:  $  3695 for 6-8 travelers; $3525 for 9-12 .
Single Supplement:  $ 700

Bowl piled with brightly colored agave silk for weaving.

Vegetal silk made from Agave fiber or rayon, dyed and ready for weaving, Fes medina.

Includes the following:

  • 10 nights hotel accommodations (Sept. 8 through 17), (double occupancy), in charmingly decorated riads (small private villas with central courtyards), and excellent modern hotel in Casablanca)
  • All meals and non-alcoholic beverages–except 1 lunch and 1 dinner on your own.
  • All ground transportation by private van with excellent, professional driver.
  • Bottled water in the van for road trips
  • Transportation to/from airport on set arrival and departure dates.
  • English- and French/Arabic-speaking easy-going and professional guide to accompany the tour.
  • French- and English-speaking textile expert Cynthia Samake also to accompany itinerary.
  • A cooking class in Marrakesh to learn gourmet cuisine for your lunch.
  • Entrance to all historical sights, museums, etc., on the itinerary.
  • Beautiful custom photo book, created and sent once you get home, with group pictures, sites and recipes from our classes!

Not included: Personal items such as internet fees [our hotels have free/not-very-fast wi-fi]; laundry; overweight luggage; sites or activities not on the itinerary, between-meal snacks and bottled water when not in the van.

Note that not all hotels have hair dryers. Bring a dual-current hair dryer if you really need one.

*If you don’t want to do the cooking classes, the meal included during class time is on your own, since class participants will eat what they create. Cooking classes are lots of fun, but optional; we hope everyone will join in!

Please note that citizens of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, and many others do not need a visa to enter the Kingdom of Morocco and may stay up to 90 days.

Email:  [email protected] if you have any questions, or call 707-939-8874.

To sign up, click here for instructions and forms.

 

All photos  © Cynthia LeCount Samake except Dreamstime.com:
Chefchaouen blue lane