Textiles, Tajines: MOROCCO

 

Traditional Muslim textile weaver with Cynthia, tour leader.

November 6 – 24, 2020
Our popular Textiles of Morocco tour is back!

Camel in Morocco wearing textiles and tassels.This custom-designed tour to an amazing and exotic country emphasizes not only the textiles of Morocco, but also the cuisine, ceramics, architecture, and archeology.
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.

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 that contrast with the bustling cities of Casablanca and the chaotic medina of Marrakech. A new partnership with the California-based Morocco Library Project will allow us to donate books at a school library in a remote, desert community in eastern Morocco.

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;
fly home on November 24 from Casablanca.
Total 18 nights.

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.

Everywhere we go, our delightful guide will show us the hidden corners to visit and the most interesting people to meet. 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 stunning 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, of which Orson Welles’ Othello is the best known internationally.

Essaouira by the sea

Painting detail by Youniss Toulil, young painter in Essaouira, Morocco.

Detail of large painting by Youniss of Essaouira.

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 found stunning original paintings. Our heritage hotel looks down on the crashing waves of the ocean to lull you to sleep! A local friend 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.

Ali tastes olives in Morocco

Ali tries red olives in the souk in Marrakech.

Medina of Marrakech

We will stay in a beautiful and comfortable hotel, as always decorated with traditional Moroccan furniture, rugs and accessories. The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city with labyrinthine alleys. 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 a 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 show Saint Laurent’s multi-cultural creations on dozens of mannequins. Another room exhibits hand-loomed shaggy, colorful Berber carpets, the first exhibit of the sort.

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 has been declared a 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.

Handwoven tapestry technique Rug from Textiles of Morocco tourIn 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

Typical tapestry textile of sunset colors and beautiful shading.

Tapestry rug in glowing sunset colors.

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. You can learn about the regional varieties and how the rugs are woven and knotted.

The little market shops offer a treasure of traditional textiles, baskets, felted slippers, pottery and jewelry. Motorcycles are not allowed in Fes medina so we can relax here. Shopping and visiting the mosques and madrasas is much easier than in Marrakech.

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 Fes is another UNESCO World Heritage site.

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, 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

Blue city Chefchaouen MoroccoAfter 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.

More 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.  Tonight (November 23) will be our Farewell Dinner when we take leave of new and old friends. November 23 is the last included night of hotel; we’ll be in the Casablanca Novotel, where we spent the first night.

Departure details to be arranged; we will suggest some convenient flights. Plan flights HOME on November 24, anytime. We will spend the night of the 23rd in Casablanca, so you will 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: $ 5795 for 18 nights/19 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.
  • 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.
  • Modern felted slippers made of sheep's wool, in Fes medina souk.

    Bright hand-felted slippers for sale.

     

  • English-speaking, licensed, professional and charming guide to accompany whole itinerary.
  • French- and English-speaking textile expert Cynthia Samake also to accompany whole itinerary.
  • Flight or drive from Fes to Casablanca at end of tour
  • 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 do 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.