Those that are on the group flights will be met at the airport in Marrakech and transferred to the hotel. Those not on the group flights will join the group at the hotel. Even today, the name Marrakech conjures up images of scenes from the Arabian Nights; alleyways, souks, stalls and markets. This remarkable city, dating from the 11th century, never fails to satisfy the curiosity of adventurous travellers. The graceful architecture of the renowned Koutoubia Minaret, dominates the skyline.
This morning starts with a horse-drawn calesh ride which makes a comfortable tour of the city and takes in the main sights. Then you make your way into the sprawling souk. As is usual in a souk, individual trades and crafts are concentrated in one street or area, so the shoemakers are all next to each other, as are the jewellers, the potters, weavers etc. This is the best place in Morocco to sharpen your bargaining skills, and it's great fun trying negotiating in the souk.
You're almost certain to be tempted by some of the extraordinary variety of merchandise on display - perhaps a pair of traditional Moroccan slippers, or some exotic spices. The Djemaa el-Fna provides the throbbing atmosphere of a medieval fair; it always seems full of life and continues late into the night. In this great open square at the heart of the medina, snake charmers and jugglers are among those who vie to entertain you. In the evening wonderful smells waft by as food stalls cook up their local delicacies. Each time of day seems to carry a distinct character, so do keep popping back for more! You then have the option to transfer by bus back to the hotel or stay in the city to explore further and make your own discoveries. The tanneries around Bab Debbagh still cure leather in a way that has not changed for hundreds of years, and are extraordinarily photogenic. If you'd like to experience the relaxation of a traditional bath, your Group Leader will advise where to find the nearest hammam; for just a few dirhams, you'll be steamed and scrubbed until you shine!
This morning, you journey into the Atlas Mountains. Your destination, the hamlet of Ourika, lies 50km (a one hour drive) from Marrakech, set in a valley at 1000m. You stay in a mountain inn which offers peace and quiet in a breathtaking landscape. In springtime the almond blossom provides a colourful spectacle. This is an excellent base from which to explore the mountains in easy rambles.
Today you trek into the mountains with mule support; small children can either walk or ride mules. You will walk or ride for around 1½ hours. The fresh mountain air will give you a hearty appetite for your picnic lunch under the shade of the trees. After some time to relax you will return to your base.
Our journey to the coast today is the longest journey of the week (4 hours) and we see how quickly the Moroccan landscape can change. We go from the beautiful rural mountain landscape to the outskirts of busy Marrakech and then the land seems to flatten out until we reach the exciting port town of Essaouira. Here, we find ourselves in one of Morocco's most attractive coastal cities. The wild waves of the Atlantic crash remorselessly onto the rocky coastline of this old pirate's hideout, and the windswept beach has an appealing view out to sea. Portuguese, Berber and French battlements encircle the maze of narrow lanes with tiny cafes looking out onto small squares. Two fortresses look out over the ocean, and on an offshore island stands another, even larger castle. As befits a seaport, the pace of life is more relaxed here, and the whitewashed streets lend a seemingly Mediterranean air to the city.
This morning you can stroll around the lively old port, which is full of colour and interest. The early morning is the best time - when fishermen can be seen bringing in their catch or mending their nets. The harbour was once the lair of pirates who sailed out to plunder richly laden ships that passed along the main trade route round the Cape of Good Hope to Western Europe. It later became a free port, when it had a small international community of merchants. The cosmopolitan mixture of different influences makes it a wonderful place to explore and it is full of visual surprises. The whole day is free to relax and wander as you please. Take a leisurely stroll along the ramparts, visit the little workshops which specialise in ornate inlaid work using Thuya wood (a local conifer), spend time on the glorious beach where you can take an optional camel ride or enjoy a meal of freshly-cooked sardines down on the quayside.
Leaving Essaouira behind, we travel by minibus back to Marrakech (journey time approx. 3 hours). The rest of the day is free to be dazzled by this charismatic city, or to take a dip in the hotel pool. Perhaps a visit to the peaceful Majorelle Gardens, decorated throughout in Indigo Blue for Yves Saint Laurent or simply relax and try a traditional Hamman (steam bath) - a real highlight of Morocco. In the evening we can visit the Djemma el Fna, the open-air central square around Marrakech revolves, with bustling bazaars in all directions. The name literally means 'place of death' as it was the place where the Sultans used to display the heads of their enemies. Now, with the foodstalls, snake charmers, water-sellers, travelling musicians and acrobats, the square is a place of entertainment for both Moroccan and overseas visitors.
For those not on the group flights the tour ends after breakfast. Those on the group flights will be transferred to the airport for your flight home.