Textiles, Tajines: MOROCCO

 

Trip leader behind the scenes adventures owner portrait.

Photo by Ali Alami, Fes, Morocco.

November 6 – 21, 2020
Our popular textiles and cuisine tour is back!

Arrive on November 6;
fly home on November 22 from Casablanca.
Total 16 nights.

Highlights

This custom-designed tour to an amazing and exotic country emphasizes not only the food and textiles of Morocco, but also the ceramics, architecture, and archeology. We’ll go behind-the-scenes to experience traditional 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!

Morocco has remote kasbahs of striking architectural design that contrast with the bustling cities of Casablanca and the chaotic medina of Marrakech. Our small group will marvel at FIVE stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites. And we’ll meet Berber women who are excellent rug weavers and button-makers. Men are the leather dyers, felt makers and woodworkers. Both men and women paint the colorful designs on the ceramic pieces, but men make the zellij mosaics.

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

Variety of mezze dishes with goat cheese salad.

Trip Details:

Charming little hotels or riads will be our home bases, except for that night 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. 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 7. Then we’ll check in to our hotel, have lunch if the timing is right, then relax at the hotel.

Later we’ll go inside the fabulous Hasan II mosque with a special mosque guide, at seaside Casablanca. It’s the largest mosque in Africa, and the 3rd largest in the world. The Hasan II mosque was completed in 1993 after 7 years of construction. It’s a fascinating place to visit, with its exquisite mosaic work and painted ceilings. High-tech features include a heated floor and a roof that glides open to let in the ocean breezes on holidays when it is especially crowded.

Painting detail by Youniss Toulil

Detail of my large painting from a gallery in Essaouira.

Al Jadida Site

After seeing the mosque we’ll drive south for a look at the seaside fort and the interesting underground cistern of Al Jadida. The cistern was built in the late 1500s by the Portuguese. Old town Al Jadida was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, on the basis of its status as 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

Seaside Essaouira, MoroccoThen we’ll continue to the beautiful ocean-side city of Essaouira. We’ll wander in the small medina 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 cooking class in her home. There we will learn how to make some typical dishes and desserts.

Next day, 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.

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

We will also see the Majorelle Gardens begun by French painter Jacques Majorelle, and the new Yves Saint-Laurent Museum. Lunch this day will be in the Majorelle Garden Restaurant. We’ll visit the bustling open-air square called Place Djemaa el Fna where snake charmers vie for space between tiny barbeque 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.

UNESCO heritage adobe city

Ait Ben Haddou, UNESCO site for its historical earthen architecture.

After a few days, we leave Marrakech and drive over the Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate. 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 perfect stop along the way. 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.

In Ouarzazate we can go through the 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.

Berber Weavers and Carpets

A colorful wool Berber rug with a variety of motifs and 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. Most of the day will be spent traversing beautiful forests, dramatic rock formations, and little villages on the route north to Fes, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  As always there will be stops for lunch, photos, and bathroom breaks whenever desired.

Half way along this drive to Fes, we will stop in the town of Midelt for lunch. 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?!

Typical tapestry textile of sunset colors and beautiful shading.

Tapestry rug in glowing sunset colors.

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 carpets and textiles from many areas, and will talk about how they are woven.

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. 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.

Volubilis is site of dozens of intricate floor mosaics.

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.”

Man uses friction and soap/water to felt sheep's wool at the Fes craft market.

Artisan in Fes makes hand-felted purses; see below.

Then we’ll return to Fes for our Farewell Dinner when we take leave of new and old friends. November 21 is the last included night of hotel.

Departure details to be arranged. Plan flights HOME on November 22, anytime after 2 pm.

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

Tour Price: $ TBD

Note that there is a minimum number of travelers for a trip to ‘go’ and that varies by country. Please don’t buy air tickets until you are sure the trip will happen; email us to ask.

Single Supplement: $  

To sign up, click here for instructions and forms.

  • Includes the following:
  •  5 UNESCO World Heritage sites
    16 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–except 2 lunches* and 2 dinners on your own (*depending on cooking class participation)
  • All ground transportation by private van with excellent, professional driver.
  • Bottled water in the van for road trips
  • Transportation to/from airport for arrival/departure.
  • 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.
Modern felted slippers in Fes medina souk.

Bright hand-felted slippers for sale.

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

*If you don’t want to do the cooking class, the lunch included during class time is 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!

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.

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

To sign up, click here for instructions and forms.

 

 

 

 

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