The Living Eden: Madagascar’s Unique Flora and Fauna

‘The Living Eden’

A garden tour to explore Madagascar’s unique flora and fauna


Antananarivo – 1 night

Day 1: Monday 9 October, Arrive Antananarivo

Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight (from Mauritius MD187 1045-1130)
Orientation tour of Antananarivo
Welcome Evening Meal
We arrive in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city, affectionately known as ‘Tana’. Following a light lunch of sandwiches we proceed immediately from the airport for a short orientation tour of the city including stops at the former Prime Minister’s and Queen’s Palaces.

The city of Tana was built in three stages; the high city was the first area occupied during the royal period, and it is here that the old Manjakamiadana Rova (Queen’s Palace) is located. This royal palace complex (rova in Malagasy) served as a residence for the kings and queens of the Merina Kingdom during the 17th and 18th centuries and the rulers of the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 19th century. Its religious counterpart is the nearby fortified village of Ambohimanga, which served as the spiritual seat of the kingdom. Originally made of wood, in 1869 the palace was rebuilt in stone by order of Queen Ranavalona II. In 1995 a fire almost completely destroyed the palace sparing only the stone walls. From its high position the palace offers great panoramic views of the city and the Twelve Sacred Hills.

The Andafiavaratra Palace, also known as the Prime Minister’s Palace, is located north of the Queen’s Palace. The original wooden palace was built under the supervision of Queen Ranavalona I. In 1872, it was rebuilt according to the plans of British architect William Pool. The 3-storey palace centres on a large reception hall lit up by a glass dome. Each of the four corner towers includes a bell tower. From 1864 to 1895 the palace was the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who married three queens and exercised ultimate power from here. After Madagascar became independent, the palace was used as army barracks, a court, school of fine arts, presidential palace and finally again as the prime minister’s office. In 1976 the palace burnt down. Following extensive restoration it now houses a museum displaying precious items which were saved from the fire of the Rova in 1995 including the red jacket of Radama I, the royal coral jewels, various royal portraits and the diadem of the last queen.

We next drive down to mid-city Tana, or the administrative district, ending at the Rainiharo tombs. While poorly maintained, the tomb designed by Jean Laborde in 1835 for the deceased prime minster is nevertheless a significant example of French colonial architecture and the first structure in Madagascar to use carved stone. A three-year stay in Bombay, shortly before Laborde’s fateful shipwreck on Madagascar, gave a decided Hindu air to his design for this mausoleum.

Finally we visit the low city which is the commercial area of the town with its magnificent Avenue de l’Independence and its imposing colonial buildings including the old railway station. In the late afternoon we transfer to our hotel located in the heart of the government district. This evening we gather for a welcome meal at La Varangue, one of the city’s top gourmet restaurants thanks to it’s chief Lalaina Ravelomana who is a kitchen maestro and chocolate specialist. (Overnight Antananarivo) LD


Andasibe National Park – 3 nights

Day 2: Tuesday 10 October, Antananarivo – Marozevo – Andasibe

Peyrieras Reptile Reserve (Mandraka Nature Farm), Marozevo
Physical Endurance: Our visit to the reserve may include an optional ten minutes hike to the top of a nearby hill where a family of Coquerel’s Sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) and a group of Common Brown Lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) reside. The hillside is quite steep. Duration: 2hrs
Early evening walk in the VOI Community managed forest of the Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra
Physical Endurance: The night walk starts at around 1800 from the entrance to the VOI preserve. The trail, winding in the understory of the forest, is reasonably flat. Duration: 1.5hrs
This morning we depart Antananarivo for Andasibe, a region of primary forests and lakes. En route we stop at the Peyrieras Reptile Reserve, founded by the French entomologist and naturalist André Peyriéras, for a close-up look at some of Madagascar’s numerous reptiles and amphibians, including several species of chameleons, snakes, geckos and frogs. We arrive at our atmospheric lodge, set on the edge of the rainforest, in the late afternoon. In the early evening we make our first visit to the special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra with a stroll through the VOI community managed forest. Here we search for a number of nocturnal species including various tree frogs, chameleons, the Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger), Furry-Eared Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogalus crossleyi) and Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus Lehilahitsara). (Overnight Andasibe) BLD


Day 3: Wednesday 11 October, Andasibe

Birdwatching and nature tour of Mantadia National Park: The Tsakoka and Belakato Trails
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails in Mantadia can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. As our plan is to combine birdwatching and wildlife, lemurs in particular, we cannot limit walks to the lower elevation. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 4-5hrs.
The Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is a pristine primary growth rainforest reserve, separated into two sections, each home to plants and animals found only in that part. The two protected areas are referred to as the ‘special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra’ (or Andasibe National Park) and Mantadia National Park. Mantadia National Park, located 21kms north of the Andasibe National Park, was created primarily to protect the Indri and also constitutes a habitat for the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegat). A quiet, beautiful area with numerous waterfalls, it is undeveloped and less visited than its popular neighbour to the south.

We spend today exploring this section of the park, looking for lemurs, reptiles and rare endemic birds. The terrain at Mantadia is ranked from rough to very rough and searching for wildlife will be physically demanding. We will dedicate four to five hours to following a combination of the Tsakoka and Belakato trails. We intend to be back at our lodge around 1500hrs where the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Andasibe) BLD


Day 4: Thursday 12 October, Andasibe

Birdwatching and nature tour of the special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails in the reserve are steep in spots and can be sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 3-4hrs.
Lemur Island
This morning we explore the special Reserve of Indri d’ Analamazaotra, world famous for its population of Indri whose unforgettable wail can be heard emanating from the misty forest throughout the day, most commonly in the early morning. There are about 60 resident family groups of two to five Indris each. In 2005 the Goodman’s Mouse Lemur was discovered here and identified as a distinct species. There are numerous other species to see as well, such as the Bamboo Lemur and the Brown Lemur, the Emerald-Green Parson’s Chameleon and a number of rainforest dependent birds.

In the middle of the afternoon, we visit Lemur Island, a tiny reserve owned by Vakona Lodge, home to three species of lemur including the Bamboo Lemur, the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur and the Brown Lemur. Here we may obtain a close-up view of these endemic creatures. (Overnight Andasibe) BLD


Antsirabe – 1 night

Day 5: Friday 13 October, Andasibe – Ambatolampy – Antsirabe

Aluminium Pot Workshops, Ambatolampy
Evening orientation walk of Antsirabe (time-permitting)
We spend most of the day travelling from Andasibe to Antsirabe. Our journey will take approximately seven to eight hours. South of Tana we make a brief visit to the charming and very typical plateau town of Ambatolampy, famous for its aluminium pots. A visit to a local foundry will enable us to view the workers who, out of the blazing hot metal, create small artworks, cutlery and cooking pots. Their skilful technique is interesting to watch. The metal is smelted by one worker in a crucible until it is molten. In the mean time, another member of the team creates the inverted shape of the inside of the pot on the floor of the workshop using a very fine-grained mixture of sand, laterite and powdered charcoal. Once this shape has been completed, a wooden mould is lowered carefully over the foundry sand, and more sand is packed around it. Finally the molten metal is poured into the cavity between the two to create the pot. The pot is then left to cool – which is a surprisingly quick process – before the mould is removed and the foundry sand is gently swept away to expose the new pot. It is then sanded and burnished to remove the rough edges and reveal the characteristic silvery white colour of the metal.

Depending on the traffic, we hope to arrive into Antsirabe in time for a short evening orientation stroll along the Avenue de l’Independence. Colonial Antsirabe’s broad tree-lined avenue, which stretches from its handsome railway station to the Hôtel des Thermes was intended to achieve the goals of defining the resort as European and of making it a symbol of French rationality and modernity with which to impress the Malagasy. (Overnight Antsirabe) BLD


Ranomafana National Park – 3 nights

Day 6: Saturday 14 October, Antsirabe – Amboistira – Ambatovaky – Ranomafana

Rickshaw ride: visit to the semi-precious stone workshops and handicraft sector of Antsirabe
Wood carving of Ambositra
Blacksmith village of Ambatovaky
Early this morning we begin with a short tour of Antsirabe, the third largest city in Madagascar. Located on a high plateau, at an altitude of approximately 1500m, it has a relatively cool climate. Its name, meaning “where there is salt”, honours the large number of hot springs whose curative qualities were appreciated by the local population when French colonists decided to locate a thermal bath here in the 19th century. It is also renowned for having hundreds of registered rickshaws (or pousse-pousses in French) and specialises in the cutting of semi-precious stones. In the town’s thriving handicrafts sector we may view a variety of products including jewellery made from zebu horn, toys crafted from old tin cans, wood carvings, polished minerals, embroidered tablecloths and clothing.

At mid-morning we depart Antsirabe and continue 90 kilometres south to the Betsileo town of Ambositra, whose close proximity to the forest has made it the centre of Madagascar’s wood carving industry. Its name means “the place of the eunuchs” supposedly because the Merina tribe castrated all defeated warriors of the local tribe, the Zafimaniry. The cultural influence of this tribe can be found in the traditional motifs on the local houses with their intricately carved balconies, panels and shutters. We’ll encounter many specialized workshops in printmaking, wood carving and marquetry. Saturday is market day; raffia products are particularly plentiful.

The village of Ambatovaky, situated 24 kilometres from the entrance to Ranomafana National Park, consists of a small population of farmers and artisans. Here shall visit a local blacksmith before continuing to Ranomafana National Park in the mountainous highlands. (Overnight Ranomafana) BLD


Day 7 & 8: Sunday 15 October & Monday 16 October, Ranomafana National Park

Mornings: Birdwatching and nature walk along the Varibolamena Trails
Physical Endurance: One of the most difficult trails, it is taxing due to the rough terrain and humidity. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 4 hrs.
Afternoon: Birdwatching and nature walk along the Vohiparara Trails
Physical Endurance: The Vohiparara Trail is flatter than the Varibolamena Tail. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: dependent on bird species spotted; approx 2hrs.
Particularly rich in wildlife, this hitherto unprotected fragment of mid-altitude rainforest and higher-altitude mountain cloud forest first came to the world’s attention with the discovery of the Golden Bamboo Lemur in 1986; formal protection followed in 1991. Today this exquisite upland cloud forest is one of Madagascar’s top wildlife hotspots. The 12 lemur species that live here include all three Bamboo Lemurs: Grey Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus), Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) and the Golden Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus). The Bamboo or Gentle lemurs have grey-brown fur. Their muzzles are short and their ears are round and hairy. Lengths vary from 26 to 46 cm, with tails just as long or longer, and they weigh up to 2.5 kg. Bamboo Lemurs prefer damp forests where bamboo grows and as their name suggests they feed almost exclusively on bamboo. Completely dependent on this low-energy food source, the lemur must lead a very sedentary lifestyle and spend much of its time eating. As with many specialised species, this lemur is unable to adapt to its rapidly changing habitat. Widespread clearing of its rainforest habitat has caused populations to become isolated in the few remaining patches of forest capable of supporting the species. Other residents of the park include the striking Milne-Edward’s Sifaka and the robust Black and White-Ruffed Lemur. There are also scores of reptiles and beautiful chameleons.

We shall spend two days in Ranomafana National Park exploring the network of paths through the forests and dense stands of giant bamboo. Expect to see various lemurs, such as Red-Fronted Brown Lemur (Eulemur rufus), Red-Bellied Lemur (Eulemur rubriventer) and the shy Grey Bamboo Lemur. For the tree lover we will see some of the species of Dombeya with their heads of pink or white flowers. Ranomafana is also superb for birdwatchers as many of the rainforest dwelling endemics occur in the park. There are Brown Mesite, Blue Coua and the Velvet Asity. Ranomafana is a herpetologist’s paradise, with a variety of chameleons, geckoes, skinks and frogs. The floral diversity is bewildering, with numerous species of palm, bamboo and orchid thriving here.

The Ranomafana National Park trail is considered to be one of the most difficult walks included on this tour due to the roughness of terrain and the permanent humidity. Difficulty will undoubtedly arise while tracking wildlife, in particular Golden Bamboo Lemurs and Milne’s Edward Sifaka, the former being very often met only off track – which can be a strenuous endeavour. The terrain where birds are usually encountered is more even. (Overnight Ranomafana) BLD


Isalo National Park – 2 nights

Day 9: Tuesday 17 October, Ranomafana – Anja – Isalo National Park

Ring-Tailed Lemurs of Anja Community Reserve
Physical Endurance: Relatively easy trail with only slight uphill slopes. The narrow trails follow open vegetation through dry-deciduous forest. Duration: 2hrs
Leaving the rainforest early after breakfast we drive across the desolate central southern interior to the community-run Anja Reserve. Known for its superb scenery, the reserve covers eight hectares and is home to about 300 Ring-Tail Lemurs (Lemur catta), instantly recognisable by their banded tail, and some intriguing plants adapted to the dry southern climate. The region is sacred to the Betsileo; their ancestors are buried here and it has always been fady (meaning taboo in the traditional culture of Madagascar) to hunt the lemurs. The caves here have provided a useful sanctuary in times of trouble and were inhabited up to a century or so ago. We spend a couple of hours in the Anja Reserve following a relatively easy trail through dry-deciduous forest to spot groups of Ring-Tailed Lemurs and various species of reptiles.

In the afternoon we will continue our drive to Isalo’s remarkable landscapes, with eroded ‘ruiniforme’ sandstone outcrops, giving hints of silver and green reflections of sunlight, and interspersed with endless palm savanna of the endemic Bismarkia Palms (Bismarkia nobilis). (Overnight Ranohira) BLD


Day 10: Wednesday 18 October, Isalo National Park

Morning nature trail to the Natural Pool (Piscine Natural), Isalo National Park
Physical Endurance: The path to the natural pool climbs steeply and there is little shade along the way. The hiking time for the uphill climb is approximately 1-1.5 hours at a leisurely pace with stops. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2-3hrs.
Afternoon trail to the Piscine Noire et Bleu, Isalo National Park.
Physical Endurance: This 4km walk begins with easy walking, but becomes more difficult towards the end of the canyon due to stream crossings on flattened boulders, cliff ascents on carved steps, followed by a descent to the pools along narrow steps and stepping stones. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 3hrs.
We explore Isalo National Park’s fascinating plant community, including some very localised species of palm, aloe and the squat ‘elephant’s foot’ pachypodiums, which flourish on the rock faces. With luck, we’ll see some Ring-Tail Lemurs or Verreaux’s Sifakas in dense vegetation lining the canyon streams. Isalo offers several options for hikes into rocky canyons and verdant oases, with opportunities to take a refreshing dip in naturally formed pools at the base of hidden waterfalls. We shall look for Ring-Tail Lemurs, Verreaux Sifakas and Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs that have adapted to life in this dry desert climate.

Our morning trail leads us to the ‘Natural Pool’, providing views of xerophytic and sclerophyllous vegetation as well as stunning sandstone runiforme scenery. Our afternoon trail leads to the ‘Piscine Noire et Bleu’ (Black and Blue Pools), both fed by narrow waterfalls, located at the end of the Namazaha Canyon. This canyon features riparian (riverbank) vegetation and shelters a variety of birds including the Benson Rock Thrush (Monticola bensoni). We begin the trail in a dry deciduous pocket forest that is home to birds, reptiles and insects. At the centre of this forest we may see Ring-Tailed Lemurs, the Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs and a Verreaux Sifaka. (Overnight Ranohira) BLD


Toliara – 1 night

Day 11: Thursday 19 October, Isalo – Zombitse National Park – Toliara

The Succulent Thicket of Zombitse National Park
Physical Endurance: An easy walk along the Mandresy Trail; terrain includes loose sand. Duration: 2hrs
Arboretum d’Antsokay
We make a very early start to drive to Zombitse National Park which protects one of the most important remnants of dry deciduous forest of Madagascar. Madagascar Cuckoo Rollers displaying maniacally over the canopy is one of the highlights here. Males of this huge forest endemic engage in flapping displays and loops accompanied by shrieking whistles. The forest is a very special transition zone between the southern flora and the western deciduous forest. Similar in appearance to the latter, it contains the baobab species of the former. Here we will find our first Angraecum orchids and see Rhopalocarpus, a large tree and a member of a family unique to Madagascar. We might also find the giant green Phelsuma standingi gecko, a roosting White-Browed Owl and perhaps even Oustalet’s Chameleon, the largest chameleon in the world! The large white Verreaux’s Sifakas bound from tree to tree and often allow close views. The forest is also home to one of Madagascar’s rarest endemic birds, the Appert’s Tetraka or Appert’s Greenbul (Xanthomixis apperti). The species was first described as late as 1972, and has been the subject of considerable taxonomic confusion. It was initially placed in the Greenbul genus Phyllastrephus, and later with the Old World warblers in the genus Bernieria. Recent research indicates it is part of an endemic Malagasy radiation currently known as the Malagasy warblers.

In the late afternoon we visit the splendid Aboretum d’Antsokay, located 12 kilometres south-east of Toliara. Created in the early 80s on the initiative of a Swiss amateur botanist, Hermann Petignat, the arboretum is devoted to the conservation of plants from the south-western part of Madagascar. In close collaboration with many institutions including the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and WWF it presents a typical spiny thicket (also known as spiny forest) in a botanical garden preserving more than 900 species, of which 90% are endemic to the region and 80% have medicinal virtues. (Overnight Toliara) BLD


Kirindy Reserve – 1 night

Day 12: Friday 20 October, Toliara – Morondava – Kirindy Reserve

Fly from Toliara to Morondava (MD740 1030-1130)
Nocturnal guided visit of Kirindy Reserve
Physical Endurance: Trails are broad and mostly flat, making walking easy. Duration: 2hrs
We take an early morning flight from Toliara to Morondava, and then drive to the Kirindy Reserve. The 10,000-hectare reserve is a rare remnant of Madagascar’s threatened dry tropical deciduous forest. The reserve contains such oddities as the endangered Giant Jumping Rat collected by Gerald Durrell and now resident at the Durrell Wildlife Foundation, the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) – Madagascar’s largest predator and a member of the mongoose family, and seven species of nocturnal lemur including the Fork-Marked Lemur, Coquerel’s Dwarf Lemur and the smallest of all primates, the Pygmy Mouse Lemur. Also present is the hissing cockroach. Kirindy boasts the highest density of primates of virtually any forest in the world. Diurnal lemurs include the acrobatic Verreaux’s Sifaka and Red-Fronted Brown Lemur. Kirindy is part of the Manabe forests, also noted for their diverse botany which includes three of the island’s seven endemic baobabs, including the Giant Baobab and the smallest, the Bottle Baobab. Birdwatching is excellent, and we should see the Madagascar Jacana, Coquerels and Crested Couas and Sicklebill Vangas to name but a few. You may also see iguanids and the Flat-Tailed Tortoise – known as Kapidolo (ghost turtle), currently one of the most threatened of all the world’s tortoises.

This evening, at approximately 1800hrs, we take a walk through the reserve to spot some of these nocturnal species including the Giant Jumping Rat (Hypogeomys antimena). Accommodation is provided in extremely basic wooden huts with en suite facilities. Your impressive nocturnal wildlife walk should leave you feeling that the night in this basic accommodation was well worthwhile. (Overnight Kirindy Forest Lodge) BLD


Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve – 3 nights

Day 13: Saturday 21 October, Kirindy – Belo Tsiribihina – Tsingy de Bemaraha

Diurnal visit of Kirindy Forest
Physical Endurance: Trails are broad and mostly flat, making walking easy. Duration: 2-3hrs
Journey by 4WD to Bekopaka via the Tsirbihina River and Belo Tsiribihina
At 7.30am we make a day visit to Kirindy Forest. We walk from our camp straight through the forest to spot the two diurnal lemurs and if lucky, the Narrow-Stripped Mongoose (Mungotictis decemlineata). During the couple of hours walk we hope to come across most of the forest’s resident birds and a number of its reptiles.

By 11.00am we depart Kirindy and drive for about an hour northwards to the shores of the Tsiribihina River where a barge will transport us across the river to the town of Belo Tsiribihina. The river crossing takes about 45 minutes. Following lunch in Belo Tsiribihina we make the four to five hour drive to Bekopaka. Our journey takes us across savanna, a grassland home to the Madagascar Harrier-Hawk (Polyboroides radiatus). One of the commonest raptors of Madagascar, this is a very large bird of prey. Aside from its size, it is unmistakable with its black and white stripes (called barring) on its underside, grey back, long bare yellow legs and bare pink or yellow skin patch around the eye. A second barge will take our party across the river Manambolo to the village of Bekopaka. We shall spend the next three nights based at the Soleil des Tsingy. Located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Tsingy de Bemaraha, the lodge is perched on the highest point in this region, offering spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. (Overnight Bekopaka) BLD


Day 14: Sunday 22 October, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

The Gorge of the Manambolo River by pirogue
Physical Endurance: The excursion by pirogue on the Manambolo River is not suitable for anyone with bad knees. Further details are provided below. Duration: 2hrs
The Petite (Small) Tsingy
Physical Endurance: The walk includes a short ascent following a series of iron ladders and wooden walkways. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2-3hrs.
The spectacular mineral forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha stands on the west coast of Madagascar. The area, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990, comprises 1575 square kilometres of canyons, gorges, undisturbed forests, lakes and mangrove swamps. The northern section is designated an Integral Reserve, and therefore off-limits to visitors, but we shall visit the southern section, declared a national park in 1998. This vast forest of rugged and eroded karst pinnacles supports about 90 species of birds, 8 species of reptiles and 11 species of lemurs. Scientists estimate that 86.7% of the flora and flora are endemic to Madagascar, and 47% are endemic to this region.

This morning we make an excursion by pirogue (wooden dug-out canoe) to the spectacular Manambolo Gorge, where the river has carved a deep channel through the limestone plateau. As we canoe past dry forest and sheer, vertical cliffs, craggy caves and overhangs, we shall view unusual vegetation, endemic water birds, and hear the shrill cries of black parrots resounding against the rock walls. Madagascar Fish Eagles can sometimes be seen perching in large trees edging the river. The park is generally divided into two parts – the Petit (Small) and the Grand (Big) Tsingy – a distinction based upon on area and also on the height of the pinnacles.

This afternoon we visit the Petit Tsingy. An easy walk through a dry deciduous forest (where you’ll get to see plenty of lemurs) takes us to the base of the karst formations. Here a short ascent – following a series of iron ladders and wooden walkways (designed by a French mountaineer) – takes us to the viewpoint that opens up to a vista of the surrounding Tsingy forest. (Overnight Bekopaka) BLD

For stability, there are always two pirogues “attached” to each other; pirogues with outriggers are unknown in this area. Usually, there is one rower, although most of the time he will propel the pirogues by punting. Each single canoe can seat three to four passengers, yet for comfort, this can be limited to a maximum of three people. Passengers will sit on a movable piece of plank which rests on the opening edge of the boat. Passengers’ legs are either extended forward or folded depending on the room each person has. Despite the discomfort one might experience travelling aboard this type of pirogue, and unless someone has serious knee problems, the visit should remain enjoyable as it is carried out with a couple of breaks when te shall get ashore to visit caves and relax our knees. Certain birds such as the Madagascar Fish Eagle may only be viewed from the middle of the river.

Day 15: Monday 23 October, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

Climbing The Grand Tsingy (Option 1: strenuous)
Physical Endurance: Option 1: Climbing the Grand Tsingy is long and strenuous and can be very hot during the middle of the day. It includes many steps, cables, walkways, caves, and a fair bit of rock scrambling. You need to be okay with heights. A climbing harness is provided for those undertaking the cables and rock scrambling section. Duration: 4hrs.
The Grand Tsingy: Adjacent Forest Walk (Option 2)
Physical Endurance: Option 2: A more leisurely forest walk. Duration: 2hrs
Afternoon at leisure
This morning we depart early for a one-hour drive to the Grand Tsingy. We may see lemurs and dozens of birds, orchids, aloes, pachypodium and baobabs. The endemic and medicinal plants make the flora of this park unique. Here there is the option to take an adventurous (and indeed strenuous) walk traversing the pinnacles either along a harnessed track or following the iron ladder way. A harness clipped to a steel cable is used for safety on the vertiginous and exposed scrambling sections amongst the rock. (Note: no technical climbing experience is necessary). For those who do not wish to climb the Grand Tsingy, there is the option of exploring the adjacent forest for birds: Decken’s Sifaka (Propithecus deckeni), Randrianasolo’s Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur randrianasoli). At the entrance of the Tsingy we may also search for the Western Ring-Tailed Mongoose (Galidia elegans occidentalis). Note: the Grand Tsingy, the outskirts of which are characterised by xerophyte vegetation, may be viewed from below, from quite short distance without needing to climb. After visiting the park we shall return to our hotel for lunch and an afternoon at leisure to relax. (Overnight Bekopaka) BLD


Morondava – 1 night

Day 16: Tuesday 24 October, Bekopaka – Morondava

Return journey to Morondava by 4WD
Avenue des Baobabs
We return to Morondava by road, viewing the sunset in the Avenue des Baobabs. This cluster of towering Grandidier’s Baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri) is one of Madagascar’s most famous views. In 2007 the avenue (together with about 300 baobabs of three species in the surrounding one kilometre) became an officially protected natural monument. Andansonia grandidieri is the most majestic and famous of the baobab species and may reach 30m in height. The best-known specimens form the Boabab Avenue. These trees would once have been surrounded by dense forest, but today their isolated silhouettes can be seen for miles across the flat, featureless rice fields. There is now an active program to plant saplings amongst the existing trees. The project suffered a setback late in 2012 when a fire engulfed 11ha of the 320ha reserve, destroying 99 of the 2220 newly planted trees, but no mature baobabs were affected. We overnight in Morondava, a relaxed coastal town located on the Mozambique Channel. (Overnight Morondava) BLD


Antananarivo – 1 night

Day 17: Wednesday 25 October, Morondava – Antananarivo

Morning flight Morondava – Antananarivo (MD702 0855-0955)
Royal Hill of Ambohimanga
Handicraft market of Antananarivo
Time at leisure
Following a morning flight from Morondava to Antananarivo we spend the remainder of the day exploring this city, including the UNESCO heritage listed Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, one of the most important spiritual and historic sites for the Malagasy people. Occupied since the 15th century, it was a fortified political capital, royal palace and royal burial ground. In the nineteenth century, the French colonial authorities made several attempts to undermine the significance and national symbolism of Ambohimanga, all of which proved unsuccessful. We shall also visit the wonderful craft market which has beautiful fossil specimens for sale and stalls selling baskets, woodcrafts and vanilla pods. (Overnight Antananarivo) BL


Maroantsetra – 1 night

Day 18: Thursday 26 October, Antananarivo – Maroantsetra

Flight from Antananarivo to Maroantsetra (MD416 1140-1255)
Orientation tour of Maroantsetra
The Tomato Frog, Dyscophus antongilii
Vanilla Plantation
We take a late morning flight from Antananarivo to Maroantsetra. Located at the far end of the Bay of Antongil, near the mouth of the Antainambalana River, this charming town described as ‘Madagascar at its most authentic’, enjoys both river and ocean views. Time-permitting, we make a short tour of the town which often smells of vanilla and cloves; looking around we may see tables of drying vanilla beans on colourful blankets or cloves drying on mats and plastic bags. Vanilla is a major export from Madagascar’s east coast. The only fruit-producing orchid, it is one of the most labour-intensive crops in the world, taking as long as five years from planting the vine to producing aged extract. Production involves the entire family, who pollinate the vanilla by hand when it flowers after two years, and then collect, cure and dry the pods. World vanilla prices experienced a massive spike after a 2000 cyclone devastated much of the East Asia crop. The sudden drop in supply pushed vanilla prices to nearly $500 per kg. However, by 2010 prices had dropped to as low as $25 per kg. Today, vanilla prices are surging again due to drought, fungal attacks and low prices driving many producers out of the market. Vanilla now sells for $80-$120 per kg. Despite the establishment of a financial cooperative which allows farmers to access credit during the lean season that lasts for most of the year (vanilla is sold only between June and October), very few people are still interested in caring for their plantations. Many have moved away from vanilla to other cultivations. Seeing drying vanilla pods is therefore very much dependent on the year and whether vanilla plantations are still tended. There is also an abundant market featuring food such as large jumping shrimp, rice, greens, coconuts and a variety of cooked dishes, housewares, clothing and jewellery. Among the local crafts are lovely handmade raffia hats and bags which are primarily used by the local women. Women with stately postures may be seen balancing raffia totes and baskets piled high with fruit, vegetables and other goods on their heads.

While in Maroantsetra we may also visit an area dedicated to the breeding habitat of the Tomato Frog, Dyscophus antongilii, a conspicuous red-orange frog belonging to the Microhylidae family. Currently listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it is present in eastern and north eastern Madagascar, with two main nuclei, one around and within the town of Maroantsetra, and the other in the surroundings of Antara, close to the town of Toamasina.

In the late afternoon we continue to the Relais du Masoala, located to the north of Antongil Bay, in the heart of the clove and vanilla growing region of the island. Our drive takes us past farms growing rice, vanilla, cloves and coffee and Zebu grazing in the fields. Time-permitting we may make a brief visit to one of the vanilla plantations. (Overnight Maroantsetra) BLD **Note: Our plans today are dependent on flight times.


Masoala National Park – 3 nights

Day 19: Friday 27 October, Maroantsetra – Nosy Mangabe – Masoala National Park

Réserve de Nosy Mangabe
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels. Duration: 2 hrs
We leave Maroantsetra early this morning and travel by boat to the Masoala Peninsula. En route we make an excursion to the island nature reserve of Nosy Mangabe, a small island (520 ha), located in Antongil Bay two kilometres offshore from Maroantsetra, and covered in humid dark-green thick forest. The boat takes around 40 minutes before we wade ashore. The island is home to White-Fronted Brown Lemurs and Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs, Leaf-Tailed Geckos (Uroplatus fimbriatus), several species of chameleons, frogs and snakes, including the Madagascar Tree Boa (Sanzinia madagasciensis), some of which can usually be spotted easily on the forest trails during a day visit. There is also the nocturnal Aye-Aye Lemur, which in the past could be seen if one stayed overnight on the island. However, the Aye-Aye on Nosy Mangabe are now more elusive and night walks are no longer permitted on the island. In the early afternoon we continue by boat to the Masoala Forest Lodge. Accommodation here will be in rustic but quite adequate thatched huts. (Overnight Masoala) BLD


Day 20: Saturday 28 October & Day 21: Sunday 29 October, Masoala National Park

The Western Coastal Trail, Lohatrozona
Physical Endurance: Hiking trails can be steep and are often sandy/muddy. Group may be divided into smaller groups based on ability levels.
The Tampolo Marine Reserve
Nocturnal Forest Walks
That the Masoala peninsula is ‘truly exceptional’ is not an extravagant or vain claim: two percent of all of planet earth’s animal and plant species are to be found here. Some species like Aye-Aye, Red-Ruffed Lemur, Madagascar Red Owl and the extremely rare Serpent Eagle are endemic to the peninsula.” Encompassing 2,300 square kilometres of rainforest and 100 square kilometres of marine parks, Masoala is Madagascar’s largest protected area. The park was established in 1997 to preserve this unique ecosystem comprising coastal rainforest, flooded forests, marsh and mangroves from the serious threat of encroachment by local communities that depend on the area for agricultural land and firewood, and from international logging companies harvesting timber. The park forests, which abound with chameleons, geckos, frogs as well as several species of butterflies, tumble down to the edge of a pristine, unspoiled shore peppered with unexplored golden beaches. The three marine parks protect over 10,000 ha of coral reefs, marine plants and mangroves around the peninsula. Presently, more than 3,001 fish species have been inventoried in the marine parks. Antongil Bay is also used as a shelter by humpback whales that gather here during the summer breeding season, when Antongil’s waters literally froth with cetaceans. The region also supports one of the most diverse groups of palm species in the world. The park is home to a total of 102 species of birds, more than 60% of which are endemic. During our stay we shall be looking for, among others, the rare and localised Helmet and Bernierʼs Vangas, Madagascar Long-Eared Owl, Red-Breasted Coua and both Short-Legged and Scaly Ground-Rollers. There are also several rare species of lemur (Red-Ruffed, White-Fronted Brown, Fork-Marked) and chameleon. Among the carnivores, Masoala is the only locality where the Mongoose Salanoia Concolor or Brown-Tailed Mongooses have been observed since 1970. This species is the least known of the Malagasy carnivores.

During our 2-day program here, there are options for both full day or half day walks. On the Western coastal trail, Lohatrozona is a paradise for ornithologists, while the marine reserve of Tampolo offers superb corals and nice, clean beaches for a swim. We may also explore the forest for wildlife in the vicinity of our lodge. Kayaking is also possible for the more energetic! (Overnight Masoala) BLD


Antananarivo – 1 night

Day 22: Monday 30 October, Masoala – Maroantsetra – Antananarivo

Afternoon flight from Maroantsetra to Antananarivo (MD417 1430-1540)
Farewell Evening Meal at Villa Vanille
We travel this morning by boat to Maroantsetra, where we’ll connect to our flight back to Tana. This evening we enjoy a farewell meal at Villa Vanille, a charming restaurant housed in an old colonial villa. (Overnight Antananarivo) BLD


Day 23: Tuesday 31 October, Antananarivo TOUR ENDS

Airport transfer for participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight (MD186 TNRMRU 1310-1555)
Following some time at leisure in the morning we transfer to the Antananarivo airport in order to check-in for our late afternoon flight for Australia (via Mauritius) B

Natural Landscapes & Gardens of Morocco

Natural Landscapes & Gardens of Morocco with Sabrina Hahn


Rabat – 1 night

Day 1: Tuesday 18 April, Arrive Casablanca – Rabat

Arrival transfer from Casablanca to Rabat
Royal Palace (exterior)
Hassan Tower
Welcome Evening Meal at the hotel
Our tour commences in Rabat. Upon arrival in Casablanca, participants taking ASA’s ‘designated’ flight will drive by private coach to our hotel in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Those taking alternative flights should meet the group at Casablanca airport or at the Golden Tulip Farah Rabat Hotel.

In the afternoon (time permitting) we visit the Hassan Mosque and view the exterior of the Royal Palace. The official residence of King Hassan II of Morocco, this sumptuous building is constructed upon the ruins of an 18th-century palace. It is surrounded by vast lawns with various trees and brilliantly coloured flower beds.

All that remains of the Hassan Mosque is a series of huge columns from its hypostyle prayer hall and the huge Hassan Tower, originally the mosque’s minaret. The vast size of the Hassan Mosque gives a measure of the ambition of its founder, the Almohad Caliph Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur; when he died, the mosque, which would have been the largest in the world, was never completed. The minaret (1195-1196), stands to the north of the mosque’s forecourt on an axis with its mihrab in order to emphasise the mosque’s orientation. It was meant to be one of the highest minarets in the world, although its upper section was never built. The Hassan Tower, with the beautiful decorative screen-work on its upper façade, provided the model for the Giralda of Seville and the minaret of the Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakesh. The mausoleum of Muhammad V, an example of modern Moroccan architecture, is located at the south end of the Hassan Mosque site.

Tonight we enjoy a welcome evening meal at the hotel. (Overnight Rabat) D

Tangier – 3 nights

Day 2: Wednesday 19 April, Rabat – Tangier

Marinid Necropolis of Chellah Gardens
Gardens of the Qasba of the Oudayas
Welcome Drinks at the private home of Interior Designer, François Gilles, Tangier
Rabat is situated on the southern bank of the Bu Regreg River, across from the town of Salé. A Roman town existed in the vicinity but modern Rabat is a Muslim foundation. The name ‘Rabat’ comes from the Arabic word ribat, which means a fort on the Islamic frontier, usually manned by Muslims as a religious duty. Such a fort existed on the site of modern Rabat by the 10th century. Rabat’s earliest monuments built after the Romans, however, date from the Almohad period (1147-1248). The Almohads expanded the settlement by building a qasba (kasbah), or fortress, during the reign of ‘Abd al-Mu’min, the second leader of the Almohad movement. ‘Abd al-Mu’min’s grandson, Ya’qub al-Mansur, transformed Rabat into his capital by constructing a six-kilometre defensive wall around the town, and initiating the construction of the huge Hassan Mosque.

We begin today with a visit to the Chellah, a medieval fortified necropolis built on the ruins of the Roman town. Inside are beautifully landscaped gardens with hundreds of flowers that come into bloom during springtime. The result is an amazing variety of scents. We may also view Roman ruins and the remains of a small mosque and madrasa.

We return to the centre of Rabat to the ceremonial triumphal arch, the Bab al-Oudaya, which is the gateway to the Qasba of the Oudayas. This qasba, originally both a fortress and palace, now holds the walled complex of the Museum of Moroccan Arts which includes the palace, a library and an interior garden. The present garden is sometimes referred to as the Andalusian Garden. It was created between 1915 and 1918 by the French colonial administration in the spirit of the original garden and was restored in 1960 by the Moroccan architect Ahmed Sefrioui. The garden is composed of walkways and progressively lower terraced flowerbeds, sectioned into squares. The one major allée leads from the main entrance of the palace to the secondary entrance. Another axial walkway leads to the library entrance. Fountains are located at the intersections of the walkways. An ancient waterwheel survives as a reminder of its role in bringing water to the flower beds. Along the side of the wall facing the ocean and the cliff on which the qasba stands, a trellis covered with grapevines leads to a secluded area adorned with four small parterres and a pavilion located over a well. Plants in the garden function primarily to provide touches of brilliant colour. Hibiscus, poinsettia, agapanthus, morning glories, marguerites, angel trumpets, large oleanders, citrus trees, palms, and a few Italian cypress combine to create a dazzling array of colours.

Following lunch at a local seafood restaurant we drive from Rabat to Tangier where we shall spend the next three nights at the Hotel El Minzah. Built in the 1930s, this beautiful hotel is decorated in the traditional Moorish style and is surrounded by ample gardens.

Tangier is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Morocco. Founded by the Phoenicians (c.1100 BC) it was subsequently incorporated into the Roman Empire as Tingis, capital of the province of Mauretania Tingitania. With Rome’s decline (4th c. AD) it became the only surviving Roman town of any consequence in Morocco. Temporarily lost during the Vandal invasions, Tingis was recaptured by the Byzantines in the 6th century.

In the late 7th century, Tingis was captured by Muslim armies and transformed into the garrison and port of Tangier. It served as a stepping-stone for Muslim attacks on the Iberian peninsula (Spain & Portugal). When the Castilians and Portuguese eventually reconquered Iberia and began attacking north Africa, Tangier became a regular victim of Portuguese raids and was finally captured late in the 15th century. The Portuguese monarchy ceded it to Britain in the 17th century as part of the dowry of Catharine of Braganza, wife of Charles II. But the expense of retaining Tangier against constant Muslim attacks persuaded the British to withdraw in 1684 and Tangier again became a Muslim city. Morocco’s ‘Alawi dynastly added new defences and a qasba and Tangier became a small port trading with Cadiz and other Spanish ports. In the 19th century, Tangier became the ‘City of the Consuls’, the residence of European diplomats and it became an ‘international zone’ in the early 20th century during the French Protectorate. Tangier gained a shady reputation for espionage, prostitution and drug-smuggling. Since Independence in 1956 the city has been gradually re-integrated into the Moroccan cultural mainstream, although it still has a large expatriate community, especially of writers, artists and gardeners.

This evening we enjoy welcome drinks with François Gilles, whose home enjoys spectacular views over the Atlantic. François is a London-based interior designer who has been sourcing Moroccan textiles for over 30 years. We shall then enjoy an evening meal at the Hotel El Minzah. (Overnight Tangier) BLD

Day 3: Thursday 20 April, Tangier

Cape Malabata
Villa Léon L’Africain: The private gardens of Pierre Bergé
Anglican Church of St Andrew (gardens, cemetery)
Gardens of Grand Hotel Villa de France
Lunch at the Hôtel Nord-Pinus
Medina of Tangier
Old American Legation
Dar al Makhzan Museum: Museum of Moroccan Arts
Private residence of Anna McKew: Afternoon tea and tour of her woodland garden
When, in 1923, Tangier was declared an international zone the city began to attract artists, poets, and philosophers much as the Côte d’Azur did on the other side of the Mediterranean. Henri Matisse, William S. Burroughs, Jean Genet, Paul and Jane Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Patricia Highsmith and Allen Ginsberg were all inspired by Tangier and foreign residents, many of them artists, today own some of its most stylish homes. Foreign residents include the English antiques expert Christopher Gibbs, the Italian interior designer Roberto Peregalli, the American garden designer Madison Cox and French collector and philanthropist Pierre Bergé. “It is alarming,” Truman Capote wrote, “the number of travelers who have landed here on a brief holiday, then settled down and let the years go by”.

In the company of François Gilles, we begin the day at Cape Malabata, located 6 miles east of Tangier, for a morning view (with the sun behind us) of the Strait of Gibraltar. Returning to the heart of Tangier we visit the private gardens of Villa Léon L’Africain, purchased in 2007 by Pierre Bergé. The villa, built in 1912 and restored by Studio KO, is recognized as the most beautiful example of the French colonial style in Morocco. The gardens, designed by Madison Cox, were inspired by Oliver Messel’s film Suddenly Last Summer. “Romantic, full and animated with tree ferns, clivia, water papyrus and caladage pebble paving, Bergé’s urban refuge is a sophisticated, poetic response to the local palm-tree-and-rosebush school of garden design”.

Nearby is the Anglican Church of St Andrew, where many of the colourful British characters who resided in Tangier are buried. Foremost among them was Harry Maclean, a Scotsman who trained and commanded generations of Moroccan soldiers in the late 19th century. When Matisse came to the city in the winter of 1912, he was astonished by the colours and the “decorative force” that came out with the sun. He painted his famous “La Fenêtre à Tanger” from the window of his hotel (room 35); it depicts St Andrew’s Church in a field of blue. We shall visit St Andrew’s gardens as well as the impressive gardens of Grand Hotel Villa de France.

Following lunch at Hôtel Nord-Pinus, a renovated pasha’s palace overlooking Tangier’s old port, we take a tour through the old town where traces of Tangier’s intimate relations with Europe abound. Many consular buildings, such as the American Legation, dot its narrow streets and architectural styles bear witness to ongoing northern Mediterranean influence. Here we visit the seventeenth-century ‘Alawi citadel which was constructed above the sea defences of the town and visit the Dar al-Makhzan museum, located in the ‘Alawi governor’s residence. The museum displaying Moroccan arts from around the country, features fine marquetry, carpets, silks from Fes, and rare manuscripts.

We end our day with afternoon tea at the private residence of Anna McKew, which is surrounded by a “magical woodland garden”. (Overnight Tangier) BL

Day 4: Friday 21 April, Tangier

Cap Spartel Lighthouse
Private gardens of Umberto Pasti
Villa Buckingham: The private gardens of Désirée Buckingham
Lunch at the private residence of Christopher Gibbs
Private gardens of Veere Greeney
Private gardens of Claude-Nathalie Thomas
Afternoon tea at Villa Joséphine
We spend another day with François Gilles visiting private gardens in the lush hills of the area known as “la montagne”. It’s here that foreign home owners such as Madison Cox tend their magnificent gardens; Tangier is a landscaper’s paradise because just about any plant will thrive here.

We begin with a short drive to Cap Spartel, which lies 14 kms west of Tangier. This is the northwestern extremity of Africa’s Atlantic Coast. A dramatic drive takes us through “la montagne” and over the pine-covered headland to the Cap Spartel Lighthouse.

In the “nouvelle montagne” we visit the stunning residence and garden of Umberto Pasti, a well-known Italian novelist and horticulturalist. “This is a magical labyrinth of narrow paths, alleyways and walled enclosures. Plants of eucalyptus, palms and bitter orange trees provide peaceful shade from the burning rays of the Moroccan sun. Lush vegetation, fountains and frog song are the only sign of life in this world of tranquility”.

Nearby, in the “vieille montagne” (old mountain) we visit the private gardens of Désirée Buckingham. This is a small, secret garden which has a mystical feel.

Lunch will be served at the private residence of Christopher Gibbs, a British antique dealer and collector who was also an influential figure in men’s fashion and interior design in 1960s London. His gorgeous cliff-side compound which is set in 14 acres of plush gardens includes a century-old water garden.

Across the road, we visit the home of Veere Greeney, a New Zealand born interior designer, whose garden provides a unique view of Gibraltar. We also visit the private gardens of Claude-Nathalie Thomas, the translator and friend of the late writer Paul Bowles (Sheltering Sky).

We end our day with afternoon tea at Villa Joséphine. This stunning Belle Époque home was built in the early 1920s by the famous English journalist, Walter Harris, reputed to be the model for Indiana Jones. Later a pasha’s residence, it was converted to a hotel in 2004. The white-washed villa is renowned for its lush banks of hydrangea and geranium, and an expansive swimming pool overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. (Overnight Tangier) BL

Chefchaouen – 1 night

Day 5: Saturday 22 April, Tangier – Tetouan – Chefchaouen

Medina of Tetouan
The Royal Artisan School, Tetouan (Dar Sanaa)
Old Town of Chefchaouen
Today we travel along the picturesque mountain road from Tangier to Chefchaouen, a small town nestling in a deep, narrow valley at the western end of the Rif mountains, where we spend the night.

We break our journey in the city of Tetouan, situated on the slopes of the fertile Martil Valley. Tetouan, from the Berber word “Tit’ta’ouin” means “springs” which explains the greenery of the town, its many fountains, its flowering gardens and its surrounding fertile plains. The city was of particular importance from the 8th century onwards as it served as the main point of contact between Morocco and Andalusia. After the Spanish Reconquest, the town was rebuilt by Andalusian refugees who had been expelled by Isabella and Ferdinand (1492). This is reflected in its art and architecture, which reveal clear Andalusian influences.

Tetouan’s ancient walled medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site whose houses reflect a rich aristocratic tradition. Their tiled lintels, wrought-iron balconies, courtyard gardens and extravagant interiors have a lot in common with the old Muslim quarters of Córdoba or Seville. Despite subsequent conquests, the medina has remained largely intact and one of the most complete in Morocco. Inside the medina proper are most of Tetouan’s food and crafts souqs, including the Souk el-Hots where Berber rugs and foutas (woven cotton cloth) are sold. Throughout Morocco we will find carpets, textiles and leather that are dyed with natural pigments that are derived from indigenous plants. Deftly woven carpets, expertly crafted leatherwork, intricately carved woodwork, superbly tooled metal work, colourful tiles and exquisite ceramics are all to be found in Tetouan. We visit Dar Sanaa, the Royal Artisan School where local children are apprenticed to masters for 4 years of intense training in traditional artisan work (this school is typically closed on weekends, but we can still visit its workshops).

“Chefchaouen” is a Berber name, meaning “two horns”, which refers to two rocky peaks that dominate the town. The town was founded in the 15th century by a descendant of the Prophet, called Mawlay ‘Ali ibn Rashid, and refugees from Spain who sought to create a mountain stronghold where they would be safe at last from the Christians. Around 1760 Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdallah (Mohammed III) ordered the Jewish families to move into the medina, their mellah (walled Jewish quarter of a city) taking in the area that today encompasses the southern quarter between the qasba and Bab el Aïn. Until this century, Chefchaouen was completely closed to Europeans, who risked their lives if they tried to enter its gates.

The Hispanic origin of Chefchaouen’s inhabitants is clearly evident in the architecture of this little town which has much in common with villages of southern Spain. Small, whitewashed ochre houses with balconies, windows covered by ornate metal grilles, tiled roofs and Andalusian-style courtyards, pile up upon one another. Chefchaouen’s famous shades of blue arose when the Jews added indigo into the whitewash to contrast the mellah against the traditional green of Islam. The town’s stone-built Friday mosque resembles rural Spanish churches. The focus of town life is the central plaza where the inhabitants promenade in the balmy dusk air. In the early evening there will be an optional walk to explore the old town of Chefchaouen. (Overnight Chefchaouen) BLD

Fes – 4 nights

Day 6: Sunday 23 April, Chefchaouen – Volubilis – Mawlay Idris – Fes

Roman Site of Volubilis
Town and Shrine of Mawlay Idris
Today we travel south from Chefchaouen to Fes via Volubilis. The Roman city of Volubilis was built in the 1st century BC on the site of earlier Prehistoric and Phoenician settlements when Morocco and Algeria were incorporated into the Roman Empire as the client kingdom of Mauretania. The kingdom was ruled by Juba II, the Roman-educated son of its vanquished Berber ruler. Juba II was a classmate of both Octavian and Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Antony and Cleopatra. When Octavian became Augustus, he married Juba II to Cleopatra Selene, and made them client rulers of Mauretania. They founded two capitals: Iol Caesarea in Eastern Algeria and Volubilis in Morocco. The wealth of Volubilis was based on local production of grain, olive oil and copper which were exported to the rest of the empire.

In 40 AD Caligula had Juba’s son, Ptolemy, assassinated. Mauretania went into revolt only to be formally annexed to Rome and made into the directly-governed province of Mauretania Tingitania. The wealth of Volubulis’ agricultural hinterland ensured its ongoing importance to the Romans. Despite the shrinking Roman presence in Morocco from the 3rd century onwards, Volubilis probably remained partly Romanised until the 7th century.

We visit the ruins of Volubilis, which is set in broad wheat bearing plains as it was in the Roman period. Its monuments include the well-preserved Basilica and Arch of Caracalla and there is a fine collection of very important Roman mosaic floors. We also explore the the House of Orpheus, the Baths of Gallienus, the Forum, the Temple of Saturn and a number of houses. From Volubilis we travel southeast into the fertile Sais plain to the city of Fes, where we shall spend the next few nights. (Overnight Fes) BLD

Introduction to Fes

Fes is the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities and is still its historic religious and cultural centre. Fes is actually composed of three discrete entities: Fes al-Bali (old Fes), wedged into the narrow valley of the Wad Fes (River Fes); Fes al-Jadid (New Fes), originally a royal complex; and the Ville Nouvelle (New Town), the modern French-built section of the city.

Fes al-Bali, was founded by Idris I around 799. His son, Idris II made Fes his capital in 809 and its population was swelled by immigrants from other Arabo-Islamic lands. Fes soon became an important centre for religious scholarship, commerce and artisanship. Fes benefited from its position at the juncture of land trade routes to and from al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), sub-Saharan Africa and the Islamic east.

The 11th-12th century Almoravid dynasty conquered North Morocco and incorporated Muslim Spain into its empire. Although the Almoravids founded Marrakesh as their capital in 1070, they also built mosques, baths, funduqs (multi-storey lodging houses for merchants and their wares), and fountains in Fes. Many Hispano-Muslim artisans moved to Fes to work on Almoravid buildings, which were renowned for their stuccowork decoration.

After 1154 the Almohads gave the city new walls which still define the limits of Fes al-Bali to the present day. The Qarawiyyin Mosque could now hold approximately 20,000 worshippers. The Qarawiyyin is quite different to Hispano-Muslim mosques and medieval European cathedral architecture for despite its vast size it hides within the narrow streets of the city and has no defined exterior or monumental façade.

In the 1240s the Marinid dynasty replaced the Almohads and fought against the Christians in Spain. Moroccan rulers henceforth dedicated themselves to holy war, (Ar. jihad), against the aggressive Christians. Much of Fes’ exquisite architecture dates from the Marinid period (13th-15th century). They amalgamated Moroccan and Hispanic elements in a style subsequently known as ‘Andalusian’, which remains dominant in Fes and other Moroccan cities to this day. The Marinids built the royal complex of Fes al-Jadid which included palaces, mosques and residential quarters for the sultan’s troops. They commissioned a series of palaces and funduqs in Fes al-Bali and introduced the madrasa or theological college to Morocco, constructing a series of wonderful madrasas in Fes. These madrasas have a central courtyard, a prayer hall, and several storeys of student rooms wrapped around the courtyard and prayer hall. They are all decorated in the distinctive registers of carved cedarwood, stuccowork, and mosaic tile, a hallmark of the Moroccan Andalusian style. The Marinids also created the shrine of Idris II.

In the 15th century Morocco broke up into small principalities ruled by strong men able to resist Spanish and Portuguese aggression. Fes’ cultural and commercial life was nevertheless enriched by Jewish and Hispano-Muslim migrants fleeing Spain. Fes consequently maintained its religious and cultural importance despite the 16th-century Sa’di dynasty’s choice of Marrakesh as their capital. The ‘Alawi sultans also recognised the importance of Fes and added palaces, fortifications and the Jewish quarter (mellah).

Day 7: Monday 24 April, Fes

Burj al-Janub
The al-Andalus Mosque
Sahrij Madrasa
The Dyers’ Street
The Tanneries
The Zawiya of Ahmad al-Tijani
Marinid Funduq
‘Attarin Madrasa
Sharratin Madrasa
Souqs of Fes
Lunch at Le Jardin des Biehn
Dinner at Dar Roumana
We start today with a visit to the Burj al-Janub, or South Tower, which gives a panoramic view of Fes from the alternate side to the North Tower. We then explore Fes al-Bali visiting the al-Andalus quarter; Marinid madrasas in the city; areas of artisanal production; a Marinid funduq; and the souqs, or markets.

The al-Andalus quarter lies on the eastern side of the Wad Fes, and has its own great mosque with a dramatic monumental gateway with a horseshoe arch. One of the most beautiful Marinid madrasas in Morocco, the Sahrij Madrasa, is located close by. The small, perfectly proportioned courtyard of the madrasa is tiled with turquoise-tinted tiles whose colour is picked up and reflected by the large central pool. This intimate space is enclosed by carved wood screens.

From the Sahrij we descend to the river and cross to the Qarawiyyin quarter of the city to see the street of the dyers and the tanneries. Every morning, when the tanneries are at their most active, cascades of water pour through holes that were once the windows of houses. Here, hundreds of skins lie spread out on the rooftops to dry, while amid the vats of dye and pigeon dung tanners treat the hides. The rotation of colours in the honeycombed vats follows a traditional sequence – yellow (supposedly ‘saffron’, in fact turmeric), red (poppy), blue (indigo), green (mint) and black (antimony) – although vegetable dyes have largely been replaced by chemicals, to the detriment of workers’ health. This ‘innovation’ and the occasional rinsing machine aside, there can have been little change here since the sixteenth century, when Fez replaced Córdoba as the pre-eminent city of leather production.

From the tanneries we continue to the mausoleum or zawiya of Ahmad al-Tijani, an eighteenth-century Algerian mystic and founder of an important religious brotherhood, and a Marinid funduq decorated in a similar style to the Marinid madrasas. Other madrasas we shall see today are the ‘Attarin Madrasa, built around 1325, and the Sharratin. The ‘Attarin and Sharratin, like the Sahrij, are relatively small and intimate madrasas decorated with rich tile work. All three served as residences for students at the great mosques of Fes rather than as teaching centres.

During the day we break for lunch at Le Jardin des Biehn, a large Andalusian garden in the middle of the medina, scented by Isfahan roses, jasmine, orange blossom and bergamot. The gardens, surrounded by a former 20th-century summer palace, were redeveloped by Michel Biehn. Its quadrants are divided by mosaic paths, with tingling streams and fountains, and include flowers, aromatic herbs, fruits and vegetables.

Dinner tonight will be at Dar Roumana, a traditional riad, where chef Vincent Bonnin, classically trained in French Michelin-starred restaurants, has adapted his Mediterranean style cuisine to incorporate Moroccan influences. (Overnight Fes) BLD

Day 8: Tuesday 25 April, Fes

Palace and Andalusian Gardens of Fes including the Jnane Sbil Garden (Bou Jeloud Garden) & Museum Dar Batha
Lunch at Restaurant Numero 7
Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa
Qarawiyyin Mosque (exterior)
Shrine of Mawlay Idris II (exterior)
Fondouk el-Nejjarine
Fes was one of the first cities in the world to build a water distribution network which enabled it to develop the art of gardening. This morning we return to Fes’ medina for a walking tour which explores the city’s palaces and Andalusian gardens.

The 19th-century Jnane Sbil Park (formerly Bou Jeloud Gardens), covering an area of 7.5 hectares, underwent 4 years of extensive renovations and was re-opened in 2012. Renovations works included the rehabilitation of its old and ingenious hydraulic systems (including fountains, seguias, channels and norias), restoration of the central boulevard and bamboo garden, as well as the creation of the Garden of Scents. The Oued Fes (Fes river) and the Oued Jawahir (river of pearls) flowed through the garden; a water wheel remains as a reminder of how the medieval city provided power to its craftsmen and their workshops.

From Jnane Sbil Gardens we proceed through the vividly decorated Bab Bou Jeloud Gate to Fes al-Bali, unique in its maintenance of an urban plan dating to the ninth century. The narrowness of its steep, winding streets means that motor vehicles may not enter and donkeys, mules and handcarts still transport food and merchandise around the city. Many of the religious, domestic and commercial structures lining the streets date to the fourteenth century, providing a unique insight into the physical experience of living in a medieval city.

In Fes al-Bali we begin with a visit to the Dar Batha Museum, a collection of antique Moroccan woodwork, marblework and other craftwork housed in a converted ‘Alawi palace. This museum contains the original carved wood doors of some of Fes’ madrasas and a marble doorway from the Sa’di palace in Marrakesh, along with many other artefacts which demonstrate Moroccan adaptation of Hispano-Muslim styles. The palace’s garden shaded with citrus trees and perfumed with orange blossom, red roses and sweet-scented jasmine, provided a serene escape from the bustling medina. Its layout is based on the principles of charbagh – a Persian-style garden where the quadrilateral layout is divided by walkways or flowing water that intersect at the garden’s centre. In Persian, char means ‘four’ and bagh means ‘garden’. This highly structured geometrical scheme, became a powerful metaphor for the organization and domestication of the landscape, itself a symbol of political territory. The gardens were restored by landscape architect, Carey Duncan in 2005. Duncan worked with Cotecno and Architect Raffael Gorjux from Italy recreating the Andalusian Garden while keeping existing large trees, but replanting the undergrowth which was either bare or overtaken by weeds, and revitalising the existing planting.

Tucked into the streets of the surrounding neighbourhood are a number of private palaces which we briefly visit. The Dar Adiyel, which has recently undergone restoration by the Italian government, was built as a residence for the governor of Fes. Today it functions as a conservatory of traditional music. The Riad Mokri, is home to the Institute of Traditional Building Crafts where students learn carpentry and traditional painting and plaster work. Its lovely garden includes orange trees and a fountain. The Dar Ba Mohammed Chergui is an impressive albeit dilapidated palace complex that includes an unusual garden featuring star-shaped zellij planters.

Midday we dine at Restaurant Numero 7 which operates as a venue for an intriguing new visiting-chef-in-residence project. Each visiting chef is invited to create a daily menu based on seasonal produce sourced from Fes’s central market or nearby farms. The restaurant is owned by Stephen di Renza, a former fashion director for Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, who divides his time between Fes and Marrakesh where he is the creative director for the Jardin Majorelle.

Following lunch we visit the 14th-century Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa; the Qarawiyyin Mosque and the shrine of Mawlay Idris II. The two latter buildings form the sacred core of the city, and the prestigious markets for perfumes, spices and silk garments are located nearby adding pungency and fragrance to the air. Although non-Muslims may not enter these buildings, we can view their interiors through their gateways.

We also visit the Fondouk el-Nejjarine, home to the Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts which showcases the skill of woodcarvers and artists both in the embellishments of the building and the intricately decorated items on display. Various types of timber are used in Moroccan woodcarving, including oak, mahogany, acacia and cedar, with the latter being one of the most popular, most likely due to its availability in Morocco, particularly in the Middle Atlas regions, but also because of its durability, warm shades of color and its texture which is particularly suited to carving. Declared a national monument in 1916, the funduq was originally built in the 18th century as a caravanserai (roadside inn) where travellers could rest before continuing their, sometimes arduous, journey. These buildings, which are found throughout Morocco, were typically built in a square or rectangular shape around an inner courtyard, usually with a fountain in the middle creating an oasis from the Moroccan heat. (Overnight Fes) BLD

Merzouga – 1 night

Day 9: Wednesday 26 Apri, Fes – Ifrane – Midelt – Merzouga

Today we travel from Fes to Merzouga, on the edge of the Sahara, through the Middle Atlas mountains. We shall pass through Ifrane, a small mountain town built by the French to escape the summer heat of the plains. The town is famous for its luscious gardens. Just outside Ifrane we drive through huge cedar forests, second only to those of Lebanon. These forests provided the wood to be carved into the magnificent decoration of Moroccan monuments. From Ifrane we will drive to Midelt through some of Morocco’s most magnificent scenery in which broad high plains are framed everywhere by snow-capped mountains.

Midelt, where we eat lunch, marks the start of one of the main routes through the eastern High Atlas mountains to the Sahara. This route was carved through the mountains by the Wad Ziz, a river which snakes south alongside the road. As we drive south the cedars and oaks of the north gradually give way to barren rock, clusters of date palms marking water sources, and finally the sand of the desert. We emerge from the mountains into the fertile Ziz Valley down which vast numbers of date palms stretch to the horizon like brilliant green rivers; dates are a Moroccan staple and one of the country’s major exports, (Overnight Merzouga) BLD

Tineghir – 1 night

Day 10: Thursday 27 April, Merzouga – Rissani – Erfoud – Tineghir

Dawn Camel Excursion (Optional)
Ruins of Sijilmassa
Tomb of Mawlay ‘Ali al-Sharif, Rissani
Rissani Market
Moroccan Khettara
After an optional dawn excursion to the sand dunes of Merzouga to watch the sunrise, we depart for Rissani, the capital of the province of Tafilalt and ancestral home of the ‘Alawi dynasty. Rissani lies alongside the ruins of the early Islamic town of Sijilmassa which controlled Moroccan trade with sub-Saharan Africa from the early 8th century until the 14th century. Sijilmassa’s vast ruins reflect the wealth of this medieval city, but by the 16th century it was no more than one of a number of fortified mud-brick villages (qsars). These mud-brick villages are composed of many small houses wedged together whose outer walls form a continuous outer rampart through which a single ornate portal provides access to the village. The modern town of Rissani, constructed this century, itself grew out of the largest set of local qsars.

The ‘Alawi dynasty’s founder Mawlay ‘Ali al-Sharif died a hero fighting the Portuguese in North Morocco. His tomb in Tafilalt became a local shrine, set amid date palms, irrigation canals and brilliant green qsar gardens. We visit both his tomb and a restored 18th-century ‘Alawi qasba or fortified house. In Rissani’s Thursday market, we may view wandering traders, nomads, Berbers and Arab desert dwellers who come to sell all kinds of clothing, wares, plants, spices and vegetables, and animals.

After lunch in Erfoud, we take the Tinjdad road west to the town of Tineghir at the mouth of the Tudgha Gorge. This road marks the start of the Route of the Qasbas, so-called because of the many fortified houses, or qasbas, which line its edges. Along the way we stop to view part of the 300 km network of khettara (qanat) – subsurface irrigation channels which were excavated in the Tafilalt basin beginning in the late 14th century. More than 75 of these chains provided perennial water following the breakup of the ancient city of Sijilmassa. Khettara continued to function for much of the northern oasis until the early 1970s, when new technologies and government policies forced changes. (Overnight Tineghir) BLD

Ait Ben Haddu – 1 night

Day 11: Friday 28 April, Tineghir – Tudgha Gorge – Taourirt – Ait Ben Haddu

Qsars of Tineghir
Tudgha Gorge
Qasba de Taourirt
Near Tineghir the High Atlas meets the Jabal Saghru, a small massif which is part of the Anti Atlas range. The deep gorges of Tudgha and Dades mark the fault line between these two mountain ranges. Both gorges were carved out of the rock by torrents of melt water from the peaks above them. As they widen, small terraces of crops line each watercourse and villages cling to their sides, placed above the line of the torrential meltwaters which can close the gorges in spring. Here the mud-brick is the same brilliant red as the soil, creating a striking contrast to the rich green crops.

This morning we visit the qsar (fortified village) of Tineghir and then head up the Tudgha Gorge. En route we shall take a leisurely walk through one of the rich, cultivated areas nestling on the banks of the Wad Tudgha. After lunching in the Tudgha Gorge, we shall return to the Route of the Qasbas and continue west.

This afternoon we visit the Qasba of Taourirt located in the town of Ouarzazate. Built late in the 19th century, the qasba became important in the 1930s when the local Glawi dynasty’s powers were at their peak. The qasba was never actually resided in by the Glawi chiefs but rather by their second tier of command, including their sons and cousins and their massive entourages of extended family members, servants, builders, and craftsmen. The qasba has close to 300 rooms grouped in more than 20 riads (apartments).

Then we drive to Ait Ben Haddu, one of the fortified villages under control of the Glawi family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where we spend the night.(Overnight Ait Ben Haddu) BLD

Marrakesh – 3 nights

Day 12: Saturday 29 April, Ait Ben Haddu – Marrakesh

Ksar of Ait Ben Haddu
Tiz n’Tishka Pass
This morning we visit Ait Ben Haddu. Located in the foothills of the High Atlas, Ait Ben Haddu is the most famous qsar in the Ounila Valley, and a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. This fortified village in its dramatic landscape is regularly used as settings for films.

This afternoon we cross the High Atlas by way of the Tiz n’Tishka Pass to Marrakesh, leaving behind the landscapes of the pre-Sahara with its pisé qasbas and qsars, the verdant palm groves of the Ziz valleys, and the rocky drama of the gorges. (Overnight Marrakesh) BLD

Introduction to Marrakesh

Marrakesh is the 3rd imperial city we visit, founded in 1070 by the Almoravid Abu Bakr. He chose the site because it was well watered and flat: perfect as a camping ground for the Almoravid army, composed of nomads from the Sahara. Marrakesh began as the perfect springboard for the Almoravid conquest of North Morocco, but it soon became the Almoravid capital by virtue of its location on the trans-Saharan trade route.

After the Almoravids had conquered much of Spain, a period of cultural and artistic exchange ensued bringing the sophisticated urban culture of al-Andalus (Iberia) to Marrakesh. All that remains of Almoravid Marrakesh is an exquisite qubba, (domed chamber), which may indicate the site of the lost Almoravid great mosque of Marrakesh.

In 1147 Marrakesh fell to the Almohads, who then captured North Morocco, Muslim Spain, and North Africa as far as Tunis. The most famous Almohad ruler, Ya’qub al-Mansur, builder of the Qasba of the Udaya and Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda of Seville, constructed a spectacular Almohad great mosque (1190), sister to the great mosques of Rabat and Seville here. The mosque soon became known as the Kutubiyya, or Booksellers’ Mosque, as a result of the book market which grew up in its shadow.

The minaret of the Kutubiyya is one of the most important extant Almohad buildings as the only Almohad minaret which has survived intact. Like the Hassan Tower, the minaret’s façades are decorated with intricate screenwork, punctuated on the upper levels with small windows. It is crowned with a small domed pavilion surmounted with a gold spike holding three gold balls and a crescent, and gives an impression of how the Hassan Tower would have looked. Ya’qub al-Mansur also enclosed the city in a new set of walls punctuated by gateways, of which the most important is the Bab Agnaou. The Almohads also constructed the suburban Menara Gardens with their huge central pool and olive groves as a place for recreation and physical training of the Almohad army.

The Marinids showed little interest in Marrakesh but nevertheless commissioned the Bin Yusuf or Yusufiyya Madrasa here. Like Morocco’s other Marinid madrasas, the Yusufiyya has a central courtyard leading to a prayer hall flanked by students’ cells.

The Sa’di dynasty added palaces, shrines and mosques to Marrakesh. The greatest Sa’di sultan, Ahmad al-Mansur al-Dhahabi, embellished the Sa’di tomb complex and renovated the Yusufiyya Madrasa. The Sa’di reproduced Andalusian stucco work in marble from Italy.

Fes, Meknes, Rabat and Marrakesh all became ‘Alawi capitals when this dynasty supplanted the Sa’adi. Many ‘Alawi sultans loved Marrakesh and built palaces and gardens here. Mawlay ‘Abd al-Rahman (1822-1859) restored the Agdal gardens and his son, Sidi Muhammad sponsored agricultural projects in the area. His grandson’s minister, Mawlay al-Hassan (1873-1894), built the Bahia and Dar Si Sa’id palaces.

Day 13: Sunday 30 April, Marrakesh

Bahia Palace & courtyard gardens
Sa’di Tombs
Bab Agnaou
Kutubiyya Mosque
Le Jardin Secret
La Mamounia: historical gardens and afternoon tea
This morning we visit the 19th-century Bahia Palace, a fine example of Andalusian-style architecture. This was previously the home of Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s and embellished from 1894 to 1900 by slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed. The name ‘Bahia’ means ‘palace of the beautiful.” There are 160 different rooms in the palace which sprawl out in an open, rambling fashion. Decorations take the form of subtle stucco panels, zellij decorations, tiled floors, smooth arches, carved cedar ceilings, shiny marble (tadlakt) finishes and zouak painted ceilings. It has three beautiful courtyard gardens, rich with intoxicating roses, jacaranda, jasmine, orange blossom and pomegranates.

We also see the Sa’di Tombs. Sultan Ahmed al Mansour constructed the Sa’di Tombs in Marrakech during his rule of Morocco (16th c.) as a burial ground for himself and some 200 of his descendants. The most significant chamber in the tombs is the Hall of Twelve Columns. Here rests the Sultan Ahmed el Mansour and his entire family. This chamber has a vaulted roof, Italian marble columns, beautifully decorated cedar doors and carved wooden screens. Inside the inner mausoleum lies Mohammed esh Sheikh, founder of the Sa’di dynasty, as well as the tomb of his mother. The tombs are surrounded by a small garden with richly coloured and scented roses.

We end the morning visiting the the 12th-century, horseshoe-arched Bab Agnaou and the Kutubiyya Mosque. The Almohad Bab Agnaou is one of the 19 gates of Marrakesh. The Kutubiyya Mosque, Marrakesh’s largest, is ornament with curved windows, a band of ceramic inlay, pointed merlons, and decorative arches. It was completed under the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184 to 1199).

Following lunch at the La Maison Arabe’s renowned restaurant “Les Trois Saveurs”, we visit Le Jardin Secret, a public garden designed by English landscape architect, Tom Stuart-Smith. Due to be opened in spring 2016, the garden is located on the former site of the Riad of the Governor of the medina in the 19th century. Described by Tom Stuart-Smith: “Part of the garden is a faithful reconstruction of an Islamic garden that could have existed in Marrakech in the 19th century. The smaller garden has been largely reconfigured and is a more romantic interpretation of a Moroccan garden, full of the sorts of flowers and colour that would not be found in the more traditional garden. The west courtyard has a citrus grove with underplanting of Stipa tenuissima, California poppy, Lavender and Tulbaghia.”

We end the day with a visit to the gardens of La Mamounia one of the most famous hotels in the world (1929) and beloved of Winston Churchill. Its vast gardens are cared for by 40 gardeners who twice a year plant 60,000 annuals to enhance its grounds. They garden has immaculately mown grass under citrus and olive orchards, a desert garden, a rose garden and a tropical garden as well as many fountains. At the back of the 15-hectare garden there is a herb and kitchen garden whose produce is used in the hotel’s daily meals. You will be served Moroccan style afternoon tea in the garden. (Overnight Marrakesh) BL

Day 14: Monday 1 May, Marrakesh

Jardin Majorelle and Musée d’Art Berbère
Villa Oasis: the private garden of Pierre Bergé
Gardens of Jnane Tamsna with Gary Martin and Meryanne Loum-Martin
Yusufiyya Madrasa
Jama’ al-Fana’
Marrakesh, perhaps known best for its souqs (markets), squares and spices, also has many lush gardens. Green spaces have always been an integral part of life in Marrakesh. The city’s gardens have also inspired many artists, fashion designers and writers over the years. The British writer Osbert Sitwell said Marrakesh “is the ideal African city of water-lawns, cool, pillared palaces and orange groves.” Matisse, Delacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jean-Paul Getty visited too, finding inspiration and spending long periods in the city.

Early this morning we visit the Jardin Majorelle, created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) and later owned by Yves Saint Laurent. The garden presents a cacophony of pink bougainvillea, blush-coloured water lilies, and a vast array of cacti. The inner walls are painted a vibrant “Majorelle” blue, named after the garden’s founder. Majorelle’s art-deco studio houses a Berber Art Museum which displays valuable ceramics, weapons and magnificent jewellery, textiles, carpets, woodwork and other treasures. We also, by special invitation, will visit the gardens of Villa Oasis, Yves Saint Laurent’s private home adjoining The Majorelle Garden.

At midday we move to Jnane Tamsna for lunch. Owned by ethnobotanist Gary Martin and his wife Meryanne Loum-Martin, this beautifully designed boutique guesthouse boasts a magnificent botany collection. It is set in the Palmeraie area of Marrakesh where tens of thousands of palm trees create shade for other plants to prosper, providing the atmosphere of an oasis. The free-flow approach (there are no formal lawns), adds to the ambience with grounds that encourage aromatic herb gardens, olive groves, lemon trees, vegetable plots and flower beds. The organic gardens are spread over nearly 9 hectares, and are watered constantly by traditional groundwater flow (khetarra) and drip irrigation, while the air is naturally scented by gardenia, jasmine and white bougainvillea.

In the afternoon we visit the religious heart of old Marrakesh where the Almoravid Qubba, the Yusufiyya Madrasa and Yusufiyya Mosque stand, probably on the site of the original Almoravid great mosque of Marrakesh. We shall also walk through the old medina visiting the city’s fascinating souqs. Marrakesh’s souqs are renowned for their vast size and the quality and variety of crafted goods on sale there. As in other Moroccan cities, each different craft can be found in its own particular street or alley: we shall see streets dedicated to gold jewellery, silver, cedar wood carving, silk robes, textiles, leather slippers, copper utensils, ceramics, rugs and carpets. The market area is covered by reed lattices whose dappled shade shelters the alleys from the hot southern sun.

We walk through the old city to its commercial and recreational heart, the Jama’ al-Fana’, an extraordinary public arena lined with booths selling fresh orange and grapefruit juice, nuts and sweets. In the centre a number of stalls offer snacks and meals of infinite variety, and numerous people provide public services and entertainments. Dentists, preachers, acrobats, black musicians from the Gnawa religious brotherhood, letter writers, snake charmers and story tellers all mingle in the Jama’ al-Fana’ from dusk late into the night. This square is very dear to the people of Marrakesh, a place to meet and promenade. This is evening is at leisure. You may wish to stay on in the Jama’ al-Fana’ to enjoy its extraordinary atmosphere. (Overnight Marrakesh) BL

Taroundant – 7 nights

Day 15: Tuesday 2 May, Marrakesh – Tnine Ourika – Ouirgane – Tinmel – Taroudant

Private gardens of Dar Azaren, Tnine Ourika
Lunch at Domaine de la Roseraie, Ouirgane
Tin Mal Mosque, Tin Mal
Today we journey south to Taroudant. We follow one of the most spectacular routes in Morocco that winds its way up and then down through the High Atlas, above the beautiful valleys and past isolated villages, eventually reaching the Tizi-n-Test pass, with its breathtaking views across the Souss Valley to the Anti Atlas.

Thirty kilometres south of Marrakesh we visit the secluded retreat of Dar Azaren owned by Liliane Fawcett. This dar (house), set in 6.5 hectares, is nestled within olive groves and walled gardens, and offers spectacular views of the High Atlas Mountains. The grounds and gardens, conceived by Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart, blend subtle plantations of fragrant flowers and sculptural cacti with local crops.

We break for lunch in Ouirgane, a small village surrounded by stunning greenery, red-earth hills and pine forests. Lunch will be served in the Domaine de la Roseraie which is set in the middle of 25 hectares of flower beds, olive trees, orchards and, as the name suggests, plenty of rose bushes. Winding paths through the estate offer unique views over the Toubkal range. (Mt Toubkkal is the highest peak in the Atlas mountains and in North Africa at 4137m).

The small village of Tinmal, cradle of the Almohad Empire and later its spiritual centre, is located deep in the foothills of the High Atlas. The High Atlas Almohad Berber leader Ibn Toumert built an exquisite small mosque here (1125) that presaged the far more monumental Almohad mosques of Marrakesh, Rabat, and Seville. His successor Abd el Moumen completed the mosque after Almoravid Marrakesh had fallen to him. Tinmal has the exquisite abstract decoration of its larger counterparts. Today the roofless mosque retains its beautiful arcades that cast lovely shadows in the clear, bright Morrocan sun. The arch before its mihrab has a particularly intricate profile.

We continue south along windy roads to Taroudant, known as the ‘pearl of the Souss Valley’. Here our group will be divided into three, to stay in three adjoining properties: Dar Igdad, L’Orange Bleue and Dar Al Hossoun, easily accessible to each other via gardens designed by Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD

Day 16: Wednesday 3 May, Full day program with Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart, Taroudant

Dar Al Hossoun
Dar Igdad and L’Orange Bleue
Dar Ahbab
Dar El Nour
For over 25 years Maurières and Éric Ossart have been designing gardens in France and throughout the Mediterranean region. When they moved to southern Morocco they realised the importance of designing low maintenance gardens for a dry climate. Since 2002, they have been working to create gardens in the olive groves to the west of Taroudant. Their work focuses on preserving areas of unspoiled natural wilderness, designing and building gardens and rammed-earth houses that have by stages added an entirely new neighbourhood to the city.

We begin this morning with a tour of Dar Al Hossoun, Dar Igdad and L’Orange Bleue. Dar Al Hossoun was Ossart & Maurières’ very first build, one of the most widely publicised examples of their work as landscape architects. Surrounded by a garden that served originally as a test bed to study plant performance in the arid, pre-Saharan environment of the Souss Valley, the property boasts hundreds of species of plants proved to be drought-tolerant, plus an impressive 500m square sunken garden for fragile species not usually found in this region.

The Dar Al Hossoun build prompted the construction of the two adjoining properties, Dar Igdad and L’Orange Bleu, which marked Ossart & Maurières’ very first venture into steppe planning: with groups of grasses, drought-tolerant shrubs (grown mainly from seeds collected in Madagascar and Mexico) and succulents featuring a rich collection of opuntia (prickly pear).

Dar Igdad, meaning ‘the house of the birds’ in Berber was begun in 2007 on the site of a former olive grove. Like Dar Al Hossoun, it is surrounded by high earthen walls in a rich mahogany colour, against which still stand many of the grove’s original multi-trunked trees. The garden, which featured in Garden Illustrated by Louisa Jones, is drought tolerant. The most spectacular part, a vast meadow, appears natural but is actually composed of species from similar biotopes from all over the world, like American agaves and African euphorbias that grow among the meadow’s Sahara grasses.

Following a buffet lunch in the sunken garden of Dar Al Hossoun we continue with a visit to Dar Ahbab. These two houses and gardens were specifically designed for a relatively small plot of land, focusing on the affinity between rammed-earth buildings and natural swimming pools. The gardens appear wild, but do in fact contain at least 200 different species of carefully selected plants.

At Dar El Nour we see Ossart & Maurières’ most recent designs, one completed in 2014 and the other in 2015. Both gardens offer an unusually broad range of steppe plants, making it possible to track growth from planting to maturity.

Tonight we dine together at Dar Al Hossoun, followed by a screening (with commentary) of Sarah Amrouni’s film Chasseurs de graines pour jardins fous (hunting for seeds for crazy gardens). (Overnight Taroudant) BLD

Day 17: Thursday 4 May, Taroudant – Tiout Oasis – Taroudant

Tiout Oasis and the Anti Atlas
In the company of Ollivier Verra, owner of Dar Al Hossoun, we subdivide into two groups to take two small coaches on a scenic drive through the Souss Valley to the fertile oasis of Tiout, located on the northern edge of the Anti Atlas mountains.

In the Souss Valley we’ll witness the tremendous contrast between commercially farmed irrigated cash crops (such as oranges, maize or bananas) and subsistence farming of arid land including the strange sight of goats grazing in the native argania (trees). Argania spinosa, endemic to the semi-desert Sous Valley and the Algerian region of Tindouf, is a source of argan oil used for dipping bread, on couscous, salads, and in natural cosmetics. In Morocco, arganeraie forests now cover some 8,280 km², designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

The Tiout Oasis, formed by a now dried-up ancient lake, is probably the westernmost of all the oases that have survived from antiquity. It provides a perfect demonstration of the traditional custom of sharing irrigation water and also reflects the diverse richness of sub-Saharan arable farming. Our excursion includes a guided tour led by a local farmer, with lunch under Berber canvas at the heart of the oasis.

Tonight we dine together at Dar Igdad. This will be followed by a screening (with commentary) of Jardin d’Eden. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD

Day 18: Friday 5 May, Tour of Taroudant’s secret gardens by horse carriage with Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart

Tour of Taroudant’s secret gardens by horse & carriage
Dar Kasbah
Dar Louisa
Dar El Hana
Lunch at Dar Sidi ou Sidi, the private home of Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart
Sidi Hussein
Les Jardins de Andrew
Taroudant, a walled Berber market town, lies just south of the High Atlas and to the north of the Anti Atlas. It gained commercial and political importance thanks to its position at the heart of the fertile Souss Valley. The Sa’adi made it their capital for a short time in the 16th century before moving on to Marrakesh. The 7.5 kilometres of ramparts surrounding Taroudant are among the best-preserved pise (reinforced mud) walls in Morocco. As the sun moves across the sky their colour changes from golden brown to the deepest red.

Built in the 16th and 17th century, a string of mighty defensive towers create the gates of the city. One of the most commonly used of these gates is the impressive, triple-arched Bab el-Kasbah, approached along an avenue of orange trees. Beyond and to the right past an olive press stands another gate, Bab Sedra that leads to the old qasba quarter – a fortress built by Moulay Ismail in the 17th century that is now the poorest part of town.

At the heart of this ancient city lies the medina, home to traditional Moroccan houses with interior gardens or courtyards, many of them built or restored by Ossart and Maurières. These are the riads for which Morocco is famous – havens of freshness usually exclusively reserved for their owners, and now ours to discover on this enchanting tour.

Situated at the foot of ramparts, Dar Kasbah is a modestly-sized house that enjoys stunning views of the city and the Anti Atlas Mountains beyond. It is a fine example of modern rammed-earth architecture in an urban setting.

Both the house and garden of Dar Louisa were designed by Ossart and Maurières. Here everything is arranged around a central courtyard, taking inspiration from traditional Andalucian architecture. It features a beautiful small fountain (which is also a small dipping pool) surrounded by a garden of exotic bougainvillea, fruit and palm trees. The interior of the house was designed by François Gilles.

Dar El Hana is located in Taroudant’s former Jewish quarter and is the setting for a most unusual house whose design took its lead from the medina and its traditional way of life.

Today lunch will be served in the Dar Sidi ou Sidi, the private home of Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart, tucked away deep in the souq, at the heart of the old town. The house, a fine example of Taroudant vernacular architecture, features a terrace-planted botanic garden housing Ossart and Maurières’ private plant collection.

After lunch we visit Sidi Hussein, the house of five courtyards. This is one of Ossart and Maurières’ most ambitious projects in the medina. It is composed of several buildings, each one arranged around an amazing inner garden but all built in different styles to reflect the changing face of Taroudant architecture. The site was formerly occupied by badly dilapidated houses that were demolished to free up some 1,000 square metres of building space.

Nearby, we visit Les Jardins de Andrew. Andrew is an eccentric British collector with a taste for whimsical constructions. Andrew’s garden, located outside the ramparts, is punctuated by fanciful creations that lend an air of mystery to their lush surroundings. Ossart and Maurières describe their work thus: “using the same plants as at Dar Igdad, we laid out here a very formal garden corresponding exactly to the architecture of the house. Keeping in mind the advice of the great Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx, we used the right plant in the right place, whether rare or commonplace, native or exotic. We often use bold swaths of the same plant to get different moods even in this relatively small garden”.

Tonight we dine together at Dar Al Hossoun. This will be followed by a screening (with commentary) of Isa Genini’s film La route des cédrats (the citron trail). (Overnight Taroudant) BLD

Day 19: Saturday 6 May, Taroudant

Assads and the Vallée des Cédrats (Valley of Citron)
In the company of Ollivier Verra, we again divide the group and take two small coaches on a scenic drive through the Vallée des Cédrats. This lush valley, tucked away in the foothills of Morocco’s arid Anti Atlas, has been the home of citron cultivation for some 200 years – a unique place of terraced citron trees, kept generously watered by a desert spring. The citron itself is rich in symbolism, mentioned in the Torah as being required for ritual use during the Feast of Sukkot (Hebrew for ‘booths’ or ‘huts’). According to tradition, the Jews brought the first ‘etrogs’ (Yiddish for citron) back to Israel from their exile in Egypt. Today’s citrons are cultivated by Muslims but still sold to rabbis from all over the world – discerning customers who come here to make their selection at the beginning of Sukkot. Today’s visit includes a tour of the village and orchards, finishing with a walk along the terraces to the spring that makes it all possible. A picnic lunch will be provided.

Tonight we dine in a private house located in the Taroudant medina. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD

Day 20: Sunday 7 May, Taroudant with Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart

Claudio Bravo palace and gardens
Afternoon at leisure in Taroudant to explore the town’s souq and ramparts
In the company of Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart, we spend the morning in Taroudant visiting the Claudio Bravo palace and gardens. Chilean painter Claudio Bravo spent his last years building an enormous palace in Taroudant in which to house his collections. The gardens surrounding the palace are equally enormous and are arranged around a large pond that provides water for citrus and banana trees; the interior gardens were designed by Ossart and Maurières.

Today, Taroudant is an important hub in southern Morocco well known for its handicrafts, jewellery design, Berber crafts and woodwork. Within the walled inner city there are two main squares – Place Assarag (Place Alaouyine) and Place Talmoklate (Place en Nasr) – which mark the centre of town, with the main souq area between them. The pedestrian area of Place Assarag is the centre of activity, and comes alive in late afternoon as the sun’s heat eases off and people come out to promenade. Lately it has seen the return of performers such as storytellers, snake charmers and musicians – as in Marrakesh’s Jemaa el-Fnaa, but on a smaller scale. Following lunch at the Bravo Palace we spend a few lazy hours in the gardens around our riads, or you may wish to take a stroll around the Taroudant souq.

Tonight we dine together at Dar Igdad. This will be followed by a screening of Jacques Becker’s Ali Baba et les 40 voleurs (Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves) – a 1954 film shot in Taroudant, starring French actor and singer Fernandel. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD.

Day 21: Monday 8 May, Taroudant: Afensou and the upper valley of the Oued Ouaer – with Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart

Trek to explore the Argan plantations and other flora in the lowlands of Tamaloukt
High-altitude garden designed by Éric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières, Afra
Trek across high plateaux to study flora found at medium altitude around Imoulass
Farewell Evening Meal at Dar Igdad
Taroudant stands at the foot of the Western High Atlas Mountains, which reach a maximum elevation at Djebel Aoulim of 3400 metres. In the upper valleys are ancient mud brick and pisé villages nestling in high-altitude oases – traditional settlements planted with palm trees, olive groves and even walnut trees in the highest villages. The tracts of land in between them provide an ideal habitat for a wealth of native flora. In the company of Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart we trek along the hillcrests (nothing too demanding) to an Argan plantation, taking in the view of the Souss Plain and exploring the flora that grows in the lowlands around Tamaloukt (Argana spinosa, Warionia saharense, Narcissus boissieri, Astragalus akkaensis, etc).

In the village of Afra we visit Ossart & Maurières’ high-altitude garden – the perfect location for hundreds of different plant species, including some rare specimens.

Following a light lunch at their house in Afra we trek across the high plateau (again, nothing too demanding) through thickets of thuja (a tree of the coniferous family, close to cedar, which grows only in Morocco, specifically in the Atlas Mountains, used by artisans for making tables, boxes etc) and the flora found at medium altitude around Imoulass (Callitris articulate, Polygala balansae, Thymus saturejoïdes, Salvia taraxifolia, Chamacytisus albidus, etc).

We return to our riads in Taroudant for a farewell meal at Dar Igdad. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD

Day 22: Tuesday 9 May, Taroudant – Agadir, Tour Ends.

Airport transfer for those taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight
This morning we shall transfer to Agadir airport in order to board our domestic flight to Casablanca. Group members taking the ASA designated flight will transfer to the airport for the flight home. Those not taking this flight can use a taxi or contact ASA to arrange a private transfer. B

Gardens of South Africa

Gardens of South Africa
Gardens, Landscapes, Wildlife and Wine with Genevieve Jacobs


For operational reasons this tour is deferred until 2017. New details will be available late-2016, please contact Renaissance Tours.


Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Indian Ocean on the east, South Africa is rich in indigenous flora, exceptional gardens, stunning natural landscapes, amazing wildlife and vibrant, diverse cultures.

Begin in Johannesburg, the heart of the country, and journey south to the coastal city of Durban with its African, Indian and Colonial influences. Explore the university town of Stellenbosch with its stunning architecture and discover one of the world’s most remarkable coastal stretches: South Africa’s Garden Route. Finish in Cape Town, shadowed by iconic Table Mountain and renowned for its Cape Winelands.

Indulge in a short stay at the private game reserve of Sabi Sands, host to the ‘Big 5’ (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros) and enjoy visits to the famous Brenthurst and Stellenberg gardens, as well as the botanical gardens of Durban and Kirstenbosch.

• Enjoy leisurely stays in the culturally diverse cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town
• Encounter the ‘Big 5’ at the private Sabi Sands Game Reserve (including 4 game viewing drives)
• Discover charming villages and exceptional wine estates
• Visit Botanical gardens, private gardens and nature reserves
• Journey through the Western Cape with its spectacular hinterlands and mountainous coastline
• Optional extension – Rovos Rail train journey Cape Town to Pretoria

Sat 01 October 2016 / Australia – Johannesburg
Suggested departure from Australia on QANTAS / South African Airways flights to Johannesburg. Late afternoon arrival and transfer to your hotel for check-in.
This evening, join Genevieve and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing and dinner. (D)

Sun 02 Oct / Johannesburg
Begin your exploration from the cosmopolitan heart of Johannesburg, Sandton CBD. Drive through the suburbs of Sandhurst, Hyde Park and onto Houghton, home of the past President Nelson Mandela. Enter the bustling lively suburb of Hillbrow, followed by Constitution Hill, and across the Nelson Mandela Bridge to Newtown. Walk around the old Mining House District, home to most of the world’s largest mining companies such as Anglo American and BHP Billiton. Continue past Ghandi Square to the Carlton Centre, Africa’s tallest building and enjoy panoramic views of downtown Johannesburg from the 50th floor.

Following lunch, visit the Apartheid Museum and the iconic suburb of Soweto. Stop at the Kliptown Memorial, site of the famous Freedom Charter gathering on which South Africa’s constitution is based, and drive past the present home of Nobel prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Stop at Nelson Mandela’s first home, now the Mandela Family Museum. (BL)

Mon 03 Oct / Johannesburg
After breakfast visit Brenthurst Gardens Parktown, one of South Africa’s most magnificent gardens. The private park is attached to Brenthurst Estate which has been owned by the Oppenheimer family since 1904.

The 48 acre park of woodland, formal and informal gardens has evolved over time with the help of a succession of remarkable gardeners. Since 2001 Strilli Oppenheimer has implemented numerous organic, ecologically friendly garden practices, gradually adapting the planting to its Highveld setting, introducing indigenous grass and endemic plants.

Following lunch continue to St Christopher garden, an estate that seamlessly integrates Italian garden design with contemporary English border planting. Spend time wandering through the many factors of this garden including highlights such as the classical pergola and formal parterre, as well as an oval reflection pond and Azalea Bowl. (BL)

Tue 04 Oct / Johannesburg
This morning, journey 50km northwest of Johannesburg to the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site’s name reflects the large number of, as well as some of the oldest hominin fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years. It contains a complex of limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves, where the 2.3 million year-old fossil, Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed Mrs. Ples), was found in 1947 by Dr. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson.

After lunch visit the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden founded in 1982 and named after the anti-apartheid activist. Set against the backdrop of the magnificent Witpoortjie waterfall, the garden covers almost 750 acres and consists of both landscaped and natural veld areas. (BL)

Wed 05 Oct / Johannesburg – Kruger
Transfer to Johannesburg Airport for a morning flight to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport. (NB: economy class checked baggage allowance of 1 bag up to 20kg applies).

On arrival, transfer to Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, the oldest and most successful private reserve in South Africa. The reserve is located adjacent to the Kruger National Park’s unfenced south-western boundary.

Spend the afternoon settling into your accommodation. Kirkman’s Kamp, consisting of 18 cottages is a well-known historic camp originally built in the early 1920s, and celebrates the atmosphere of an early South African lowveld homestead, with a colonial style and gracious ambience. Enjoy spectacular views of the unspoiled wilderness and the Sand River. Breakfast and lunch are served on shady verandahs, and dinners are shared in the dramatic boma (enclosure) or in lantern-lit bush settings.

Late afternoon embark on the first of four game drives, followed by dinner at the lodge. (BLD)

Thu 06 Oct / Kruger
Today, enjoy early morning and late afternoon game drives. (BLD)
Game drives are conducted in open safari vehicles, seating between 6 and 12 passengers. They are under the expert guidance of experienced rangers and insightful trackers and include off-road driving, night drives and guided nature walks, all of which greatly enhance the game viewing experience.

Fri 07 Oct / Kruger – Durban
Following an early morning game drive and breakfast, transfer to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport for an afternoon flight to the coastal city of Durban, one of Africa’s busiest ports.

On arrival transfer to the hotel. (BD)

Sat 08 Oct / Durban
Begin with a city tour of Durban, one of the most culturally diverse cities in Africa. See how the city has been shaped by the indigenous Zulu population and the Indian workers who arrived as indentured labourers in the 19th century.

The city centre overlooks a long golden beach that curves round to one of the largest harbours on earth. Drive along the ‘Golden Mile’ to the Victoria Embankment, passing Vasco Da Gama clock, Dick King statue and the Royal Natal Yacht Club. Continue past the sugar terminal, the University of Natal and the elegant mansions in the residential areas of Berea and Morningside.

Visit the Durban Botanical Gardens, world-renowned for their indigenous and exotic plant collections. It began as a site for growing experimental tropical crops, and today offers a herbarium, an orchid house, and an award-winning Sensory Garden.

Following lunch, visit the Umgeni Bird Park and the vibrant Indian and Victoria Street Market with its blend of all things Indian and African. (BL)

Sun 09 Oct / Durban – George
Following breakfast, transfer to Durban Airport for a morning flight to George Airport.
On arrival in George, transfer to the Garden Route Botanical Garden which plays an important role in both conservation and raising awareness about the critical Cape floral kingdom of the Garden Route, one of the richest (and yet one of the smallest and most threatened) floral kingdoms on Earth.

After lunch, transfer to the hotel for check in.

Remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. (BLD)

Mon 10 Oct / George
Today, visit Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, the world’s first free roaming multi-species sanctuary. Enjoy a ranger guided walking safari into the forest and across the 128 metre canopy walk, which rises above the forest canopy, for a bird’s eye view.

Visit the Birds of Eden’s free-flight aviary (The world’s largest), covering 5 acres of indigenous forest spanning over a gorge.

Following lunch journey east to the picturesque Knysna Lagoon with its entrance to the Indian Ocean guarded by two grand sandstone cliffs, known as Knysna Heads. (BL)

Tue 11 Oct / George – Franschhoek
Depart George early and enjoy a scenic drive west to Franschoek, travelling a section of the famous route 62 (420km, approx. 7-8 hours including stops).

Prior to arriving in Franschhoek visit the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden, a truly unique garden cultivating a wide variety of desert and semi-desert plants and the only true succulent garden in the southern hemisphere. (BLD)

Wed 12 Oct / Franschhoek
Enjoy a full day exploration of the Cape Winelands. Begin with a tour of Franschhoek renowned for its spectacular beauty, superb Cape wines and world class restaurants. Founded in 1688 by French Huguenots, this charming village nestles in a rich and fertile valley between towering mountains.

Continue to Paarl, the third-oldest town in South Africa. View the Afrikaans Language Monument erected in 1975 to commemorate the semi centenary of Afrikaans as an official language, separate from Dutch. The monument overlooks the farmlands of Stellenbosch and Paarl.

Travel through the Stellenbosch area to Simonsig Estate, for wine tasting and a cellar tour followed by lunch at the Delaire Graff Estate.

In the afternoon visit the historic university city of Stellenbosch. South Africa’s second oldest settlement after Cape Town, Stellenbosch is synonymous with the oldest wine route in the country with over 100 cellars. (BL)

Thu 13 Oct / Franschhoek – Cape Town
Depart Franschhoek for a leisurely days’ drive to Cape Town, stopping at historic Vergelegen Estate, granted to the Governor of the Cape in 1700. Willem Adriaan Van der Stel, a man of divergent interests, transformed the uncultivated land into a veritable paradise. He planted vines, camphor trees and oaks, laid out fruit orchards and orange groves, and introduced cattle and sheep. Amongst the horticultural treasures are five magnificent Chinese camphor trees planted between 1700 and 1706. They are the oldest living, officially documented trees on the subcontinent and were declared a National Monument in 1942.

Late afternoon arrival into Cape Town. (BLD)

Fri 14 Oct / Cape Town
This morning begin with a visit to The Cellars-Hohenort, located on nine acres of beautifully maintained land in the Constantia Valley of Cape Town. The garden at The Cellars-Hohenort is acknowledged as one of the finest hotel gardens internationally, and has been voted by Garden Design, American magazine, as one of the top 30 hotel gardens in the world.

Following lunch, enjoy a city tour of Cape Town, including a visit to the Company’s Garden. Situated on the site of Jan van Riebeeck’s vegetable garden, it was created in 1652 to provide produce for the settlers and ships bound for the East and is now a delightful botanical garden. Visit the Castle of Good Hope, which now houses a collection of museums with exhibits relating to the Dutch East India Company.

Continue to the magnificent Table Mountain (weather permitting) and ascend to the summit by revolving cable car for magnificent 360º views of Cape Town. (BL)

Sat 15 Oct / Cape Town
Enjoy a day at leisure. (B)

Sun 16 Oct / Cape Town
Begin the morning with a visit to the glorious Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, it is renowned for the beauty and diversity of the Cape flora it displays, and for the magnificence of its setting. Covering 1300 acres, Kirstenbosch grows only indigenous South African plants and supports a diverse fynbos flora and natural forest. The cultivated garden (85 acres) displays collections of South African plants, particularly those from the winter rainfall region of the country.

After lunch, drive through the Cape Peninsula Park to the spectacular Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The Nature Reserve is a floral treasure, with over one thousand different species of Cape Fynbos (Afrikaans for fine bush). The Cape Fynbos kingdom has earned international recognition as one of the world’s six Floral Kingdoms, albeit definitely the smallest. Cape Point is perceived to be the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Return to Cape Town via FishHoek, Muizenberg and the southern suburbs of Cape Town.

Tonight celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (BLD)

Mon 17 Oct / Depart Cape Town
Tour arrangements conclude with a transfer to Cape Town International Airport. Arrive by 12.30, in time for an afternoon South African Airways flight to Johannesburg, connecting with QANTAS / SA flights to Australia. (B)

Tue 18 Oct / Arrive Australia
Afternoon arrival in Australia.

Rosetta House, Durban

Rosetta House, Durban


Rosetta House is a gracious Edwardian homestead which has been beautifully restored and successfully established since 1998.

This is where perfect location, fine food, abundant hospitality and attention to detail are keynotes of a memorable stay.


Four luxury en-suite bedrooms (three with own entrance and patio)

All rooms are bright and airy and beautifully decorated with a tasteful blend of specially selected antique and modern pieces.


All Rooms:

  • Serviced daily
  • Complimentary (free) Wi-Fi.
  • Flatscreen TV
  • MNET and own DSTV decoder offering The Lodge Bouquet and CNN
  • Ceiling Fan (3 rooms)
  • Low-Energy (Green) Airconditioning (all rooms)
  • Tea/Coffee facilities
  • Fridge
  • Clock radio
  • Hairdryer
  • Complimentary toiletries
  • Desk
  • Safety deposit box


Local area:

We offer well-lit, off-street parking and are centrally located in exclusive Morningside (adjacent to the Berea) with easy access to:

  • Florida Road (2 min)
  • International Convention Centre (10 to 15 min)
  • Major sports venues (5 to 10 min)
    (Rugby, Cricket, Golf; Horse Racing)
  • King Shaka International Airport (34 km / 35 min)
  • Beaches (5 min)
  • Clifton School, Durban Prep. and Gordon Road Girls’ School (2 to 5 min)
  • uShaka Marine World (15 min)

Discover Delicious Réunion Island!

Réunion, exotic and primal, offers breathtaking contrasts, from the dramatic natural amphitheatres of the three cirques (Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos) to the stark, smoldering lunar landscape of the Plaine des Sables. Add an active volcano, lush tropical forests and 17km of white or black sandy beaches and Réunion gives the visitor the extraordinary.

But it is the people of Réunion who add a living soul to this intense island. A plethora of ethic groups (Creole, French, African, Malagasy, Chinese and Indian) live together in harmony, contributing rich and varied cultural traditions. This results in a cuisine that is unique and exotic. Eating is a favourite activity in Réunion and the fertile island provides a variety of local ingredients, including turmeric, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla.

Join us as we explore the exotic flavours, spices and tastes of Réunion!


Full itinerary



You will arrange to be at Johannesburg International Airport for your flight to Reunion approximately 2 hours before departure for you flight to Reunion. (4hrs). On arrival you will be met by our ground operators who will assist you and transfer you from the airport to the Diana Dea Lodge 4* where you will overnight for 3 nights on a Dinner bed and breakfast basis.



09h – After breakfast you will be transported by bus to St. Denis, the Capital of Reunion, where you will be taken on a city tour of the Capital as well as a Visit of the Museum Histoire Naturelle and the Jardin D’etat

The Jardin de l’État, formerly known as the Jardin du Roy, is a historic botanical garden on the island of Réunion, found in the capital Saint-Denis.

Planted with trees and spices taken from outside the island by Pierre Poivre, the garden is home to a natural history museum opened in August 1855. The garden was built from 1767 to 1773.

The garden’s golden era came at the beginning of the 19th century, when its plants were tended to by famous botanists such as Joseph Hubert, Nicolas Bréon and Jean-Michel-Claude Richard. At that time the garden housed 2000 species. 7000 of its plants were distributed to the islanders in 1825 as part of a scheme to improve the colonial agriculture.

Today, the garden’s main entrance faces the historic Rue de Paris. In the garden itself a bust of Pierre Poivre and a Wallace fountain.

Lunch will be at your own expense in St Denis. You will be taken to a Patisseries or Saladrie where you will be able to choose a light lunch. Budget approximately euro 10 for a Sandwich and a juice or bottled water or coffee.

14h00 – From there you will proceed to St. Andre, to a Vanilla Plantation,. Here you will see a traditional vanilla processing factory as well as being able to sample some of the products.

16h00 – You will then be taken to the Sucre de Bois Rouge for a tour of approximately 45 minutes . Connected to the Bois-Rouge factory, one of the islands two sugar refineries, Distillerie de Savanna lets visitors in on the secrets of making rum. This visit takes visitors through the magical transformation of the cane into sugar and introduces visitors to the preparation of the great rums, fermentation processes and the mysteries of ageing in the cellars of Savanna Distillery. Finally the tasting at Tafia & Galabé shop : the charm of Réunion flavours.

You will then return to the Diana Dea Lodge 4* where you will overnight on a dinner bed and breakfast basis.



09H00 – After breakfast you will be taken on a full day excursion to the Cirque of Selazie. Cirques are natural amphitheaters and Salazie is the most beautiful of the 3 and the wettest. Resting against the Piton des Neiges and drained by the Rieviere du Mat and its tributaries, Selazie is the largest and the greenest, with hundreds of waterfalls cascading down its walls. Hell-Bourge village is well known for its pretty houses and flowery Gardens. You will visit the Kafé La Gregue in Hellbourg as well as the Mare a poule d’eau. You will take part in a small hike learning about the history of the coffee Bourbon Pointu, visit of a coffee plantation, a plantation of chouchou, orchards and peach trees. Here you will experience the unique preparation of a Creole meal cooked on a wood fire and lunch served on banana leaves.

In the afternoon you will return to your hotel where you will overnight on a Dinner bed and breakfast basis.



After breakfast you will depart to the Wild South where you will be taken on an excursion to visit the Lava Tunnels

Accompanied by qualified potholing guides, the more curious among you will be able to venture into the belly of the volcano for an easy trip to discover the scenery underground.

With the ‘full’ outing you can complete the full length of the tunnel which is 1.2km long, for a total of 3h30underground. The tour begins with an informative look at the landscape and creation of the Piton de la Fournaise, starting with 2004’s ‘lava flow of the century.’ After that, it’s down into the heart of the volcano for a visit to see the beautiful formations arising from the cooling of lava as the flow rate dropped during the late eruptive phase.

Lunch will be at own expense . Budget about euro 10

After lunch you will visit the Spice and Fragrance Garden, where you will discover some endemic species. A guide with perfect knowledge of the garden and its history will take you around where past and present meet.

Here you will discover over 1,500 species of scented, spice and medicinal plants, examples of fine cabinetwork, ornaments, and much more…

This was a private garden opened to the public since 1989. It provides visitors with a glimpse of the many gifts nature has bestowed upon La Réunion, flora and fauna alike. Scented plants such as geraniums, vetiver and Ylang-Ylang, spices plants such as clove trees, cardamom and vanilla, ferns, orchids, palm trees and fruit trees. The Jardin des Parfums et des Epices is located in Mare Longue, on an 800-year-old lava flow in the midst of the forest. Guided visits last around 1½ hours and includes sampling of seasonal fruits at end of visit.

You will also be taken to the Domaine du Café to Grille. In this garden of 4 ha located in Saint-Pierre, travel back in time as you learn about the important crops which shaped the history of Reunion, from today to the first plant which has colonised the island. The visit starts with the discovery of exotic plants (colourful shrubs, rock area, scented-tiare plants area, frangipani tree, ylang ylang, jasmine, fransciceas… blooming all year) which will delight visitors with many fragrances. Then, we follow with “the game of lianas” (alamanda, devil’s claw, “garlic creeper”, gold cup ( with coconut flavored), passionflower…

It is in a cool blossoming undergrowth that one discovers species introduced by man (Anthuriums, orchid hybrids, placed on calabashes trees, bauhinias, cinnamon, trees dophins). Then we arrive to the palm grove, in harmony with orchids flower beds, followed by a small bamboo grove which is the Zen area of the garden.

Finish with some tasting of the very best coffees at the La Savanne bar.




Overlooked by the piton de Neiges (3.071 m) Cilaos is the driest and sunniest of all the Cirques. Up until 1932 the only way to get up to Cilaos was by foot or sedan chair, carried over a very narrow path. The only path that leads to the heart of the caldera is in itself quite spectacular. The Road “with 420 hairpin bends” Although there Is no real wine making tradition in Reunion, Cilaos is the small exception . You will be taken to visit a small Winery as well as a visit of the Ilet (hamlet) Cordes , the village of lentils. A picnic lunch will be provided.

Cilaos is also known for its thermal spa and mineral water, its wine, lentils and handicraft (House of Embroidery, sculpting and copper engraving)

In the afternoon you will return to your hotel Palm Hotel 4* where you will overnight for 1 night on a Dinner bed and breakfast bases.



Altitude: 2360 metres

Temperatures: 3 to 21°C

What to wear: good shoes, rainwear, hat, pullover, sunscreen cream

Head off to the Piton de la Fournaise for an unforgettable hike. This volcano is one of the most active in the world and yet accessible to everyone. As you gradually approach the volcano, the scenery slowly changes until it looks like you’re on the moon. The descent down into the area around the summit begins at Pas de Bellecombe. The conical summit

looms majestically above this natural arena. The footpath leading up to the final ascent to the crater (2.631 m) is marked with white paint on the rocks. The lunar atmosphere of the Plaine des Sables was also created by the volcano, and is in stark contrast with the steep cliffs of basalt on the wild coast down in the South. The successive lava flows down to the ocean have made them truly unique.

Lunch will be at own expense. Budget about euro 10

After lunch you will visit the Volcano’s House. This modern, interactive museum, conception shows us the tempestuous life of volcanoes, and the geologic formation of the island.

Return to the hotel around 17h00

Overnight at the Palm hotel 4* on a Dinner bed and breakfast basis.




You will have the morning with a leisurely breakfast. You will then be taken to La Petite Ile where you will take part in a cooking course at a local guesthouse

After you have partaken of your cooked lunch you will be taken to the Conservatoire Botanique de Mascarin. The Conservatoire botanique was established in 1986 as the Conservatoire et Jardin Botanique de Mascarin on farmland belonging to the family of the Marquis Antoine Sosthène Armand de Châteauvieux, at an elevation of 500 meters on the leeward side of La Réunion. In 1993 it was given its current name as it became one of France’s eight Conservatoires Botaniques Nationaux. In 1996 its mission changed focus from conservation within its gardens, and the cultivation and the propagation of rare and threatened plants endemic to La Réunion, to a primary emphasis on management and monitoring of species in their natural habitats.

Overnight Hotel St Alexes on a Dinner bed and breakfast basis.



At leisure for the full day. Those that wish may wish to book a day of Golf, a spa treatment, or a helicopter flight over the island. This has to be booked and settled directly.

Overnight on a dinner bed and breakfast basis.



After breakfast you will be taken to visit the Geranium Destillery Via the Maido. Maido is situated in Petite France and is also the gateway to one of the most spectacular views of the Cirque Mafate, the most inaccessible of the cirques. In Petite France there are a number of flower farms that distil their own essence. These farms concentrate of the production of geraniums and their oil for the world’s perfume industry.

On the return from Petite France you will stop off at the market of St. Paul where you will see local produce and arts and crafts on display. The market is only open on a Friday. Lunch will be at own expense. Budget about euro 10.

After lunch you will be taken to visit the Garden of Eden. Visitors to this “English-style” landscaped tropical and ethnobotanical garden in the heart of Saint-Gilles-les-Bains are taken on a guided walk through the 2.5 hectares of grounds, which are planted with some 700 species, spices and tropical fragrances.

A leisurely stroll through the midst of bamboos, aquatic plants, the geranium collection, blue flowers, stream of dreams, plants used for dyeing, aphrodisiac plants, plants sacred to Hinduism, sea of bulrushes, and more besides.

Overnight at the hotel St. Alexis on a dinner bed and breakfast basis.




You have the day at leisure to relax and enjoy your surroundings, play around of golf, spa treatments etc. lunch at own expense

In the late afternoon you will be taken on a sunset cruise with a cocktail

Overnight hotel St. Alexis 4* on a dinner bed and breakfast basis.




Early morning transfer to the airport for flight back to Johannesburg.