Natural Landscapes and Gardens of Morocco
In Tangier, spend two days visiting a variety of private gardens and learn about the world of Moroccan interiors.
While based in a charming dar in Taroudant for 5 days, view the work of French landscape designers Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart, exploring their garden projects designed for a dry climate.
View the stunning garden of Umberto Pasti, a well-known Italian novelist and horticulturalist, whose garden is a ‘magical labyrinth of narrow paths, alleyways and walled enclosures’.
Enjoy lunch 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 is set in 14 acres of plush gardens.
In Marrakesh, visit Yves Saint Laurent Museum, Jardin Majorelle and Bergé’s private gardens at Villa Oasis, the Jardin Secret, the palmeraie Jnane Tamsna, André Heller’s Anima, Beldi Country Club and take afternoon tea in the gardens of La Mamounia – one of the most famous hotels in the world.
Wander through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed medinas of Fes and Tetouan.
Delight all your senses in Marrakesh’s teeming, colourful souqs, with their textiles, jewellery, carpets, carved woodwork, acrobats, snake charmers, letter writers and fortune tellers.
Journey across the pre-Sahara and through huge date palm plantations of verdant oasis river valleys.
Encounter the rich urban architecture of Andalusian mosques and madrasas, and desert mud-brick qasbas and villages.
Cross Morocco’s majestic Middle, High and Anti Atlas mountain ranges and past small Berber mountain villages.
Eat fine local food in old palaces whilst listening to exquisite Andalusian music.
Stay in charming riads in Fes and in Marrakesh – lovingly restored by local artisans and located in the medina.
22-day Cultural Garden Tour of Morocco
Overnight Rabat (1 night) • Tangier (3 nights) • Chefchaouen (1 night) • Fes (3 nights) • Merzouga (1 night) • Tineghir (1 night) • Ouarzazate (1 night) • Marrakesh (5 nights) • Taroudant (5 nights)
This 22-day cultural garden tour of Morocco is led by Stephen Ryan, horticulturalist and nurseryman. The tour explores the dynamic relationship between Morocco’s unique and diverse environments and the country’s gardening traditions. It focuses on five key themes: the tradition of the Andalusian courtyard garden; the cultivation of date plantations and palmeraies in the desert and in the south around Marrakesh; the creation of ecologically sustainable desert gardens; the cultivation of gardens and plantations in high mountain locations, and the innovations of expatriates in garden design. We travel from the rich, well-watered coastal plain across the Atlas mountains to the arid pre-Sahara, and then south for our six-day program to study landscape design projects by Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart and the ecology of the Taroudant region. In the grand, medieval Imperial cities of Fes and Marrakesh we will be introduced not only to traditional ‘Andalusian’ courtyard gardens but also to the latest in garden design. In cosmopolitan Tangiers, Morocco’s equivalent of the Côte d’Azur, we explore the wonderful houses and gardens of international expatriates. Beyond the Atlas Mountains we encounter rich palm oases that follow rivers as they snake through the empty desert. These extraordinary ‘rivers of green’ are complemented by luscious vegetable gardens in small villages. Here we learn how precious water is shared amongst the village farmers. We stay in a desert house before crossing the High Atlas to Marrakesh, the red city of the south. Here we enjoy extraordinary gardens like that of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in which verdant plants contrast with vivid blue buildings. Further south we encounter powerful contrasts between lowland and mountain plantings, observing many of Morocco’s unique flora as well as imported and acclimatised specimens. We’ll also come to understand how traditional architecture relates to its garden armature, and how contemporary architects, gardeners and plantsmen have adapted traditional relationships to create new, fascinating environments. To complement this fascinating study of the relationship between diverse ecologies and garden design, we’ll learn about the unique history of Morocco, its artistic and architectural traditions. Fes is arguably the least changed medieval city in the world, with lovely 15th-century madrasas and funduks (caravanserai). In exploring Morocco’s vivid craft traditions, we’ll learn how traditional plant dyes are used in carpets, textiles, the colouring of leather and in painting. We’ll come to understand the vital influence of Iberia upon Morocco’s development and how the countries six great dynasties, the Idrissi, Almoravids, Almohads, Merinids, Sa’adi and Alawi have interacted with Mediterranean Europe. We’ll wander through souqs selling all manner of wares from fine copper to carved wood, textiles, ceramics and Morocco’s ubiquitous carpets and also have ample opportunities to sample Morocco’s fine cuisine in a number of carefully selected restaurants.
Garden visits to be confirmed later in 2019
The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in opening hours, road conditions, flight schedules etc. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents. Meals included in the tour price are indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B= breakfast, L= light lunch or picnic lunch and D= evening meal.
Rabat – 1 night
Day 1: Tuesday 19 March, Arrive Casablanca – Rabat
Arrival transfer from Casablanca to Rabat
Welcome Dinner 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 Farah Rabat Hotel. Tonight we enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel. (Overnight Rabat) D
Tangier – 3 nights
Day 2: Wednesday 20 March, Rabat – Tangier
Royal Palace (exterior)
Marinid Necropolis of Chellah
Welcome Drinks at a private residence with 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 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.
We then visit 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.
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 century 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. François is a London-based interior designer who has been sourcing Moroccan textiles for over 30 years. Designer and decorator, Laure Welfling and the painter, sculptor and bohemian ‘Gipi’ de Richemont Salvy are kindly opening their ornately decorated Palace in the Medina to host the welcome event. We return the Hotel El Minzah for our evening meal. (Overnight Tangier) BLD
Day 3: Thursday 21 March, Tangier
Palace Moulay Hafid, Mersha
Lunch at the Hôtel Nord-Pinus
Dar Al Makhzan Museum
Afternoon tea in the private gardens of Jean Marc Collinet and Richard Delabaume
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. 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 and the American garden designer Madison Cox. “It is alarming,” Truman Capote wrote, “the number of travellers 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 take a short 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 its architectural styles bear witness to ongoing northern Mediterranean influence.
The American legation is an elaborate Moorish-style building of stuccoed masonry. This complex structure contains the two storey mud and stone building presented to the United States in 1821 by Sultan Moulay Suliman. The first property acquired abroad by the United States government, it housed the United States Legation and Consulate for 140 years, the longest period any building abroad has been occupied as a United States diplomatic post.
Today it is the Tangier American Institute for Moroccan Studies, a museum and cultural centre for the study of Morocco and Morocco-United States relations. The museum holds an impressive display of paintings that give a view of the Tangerine past through the eyes of its artists, most notably Scotsman James McBey, whose hypnotic painting of his servant girl, Zohra, has been called the Moroccan Mona Lisa. There is also a wing dedicated to the expatriate writer and composer Paul Bowles.
We then visit the renovated Palace Moulay Hafid, considered the most beautiful historical monument in Tangier. Also known as the ‘Palace of Italian institutions’, Moulay Hafid’s palace is today admired for its beautiful garden with old trees, its large patio with a gorgeous marble fountain and stucco salons.
This palace was built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Sultan Moulay Hafid. He wanted his palace to be a masterpiece of Moorish architecture also known for its beautiful gardens. The namesake of the palace, the sultan, never lived in his grand palace as he was forced into exile in France upon signing the treaty of Fez on 30 March 1912. This treaty would see Morocco become a French protectorate, and Moulay Hafid’s abdication and forced exile to France. The sultan did however demand the completion of this palace as a condition of his signing the deed of protectorate and construction was completed in late 1912.
Following lunch at Hôtel Nord-Pinus, a renovated pasha’s palace overlooking Tangier’s old port, we visit the Dar Al Makhzan Museum of Moroccan Arts located in the ‘Alawi governor’s residence and its Andalusian garden.
We finish the day in the magnificent gardens of French expatriates Jean Marc Collinet and Richard Delabaume. (Overnight Tangier) BL
Day 4: Friday 22 March, Tangier
Cape Spartel Lighthouse
Rock Lodge, private residence of Jonathan Dawson
Private gardens of Umberto Pasti
Lunch at the private residence of Christopher Gibbs
Private gardens of Veere Greeney
Afternoon tea at the private residence of Daniel Aron
We spend another day with François Gilles visiting private gardens in the lush hills of the area known as la Montagne. It is 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 Cape Spartel, which lies 14 kilometres 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 Cape Spartel Lighthouse. Nearby, we visit Rock Lodge, a cottage renovated by Jonathan Dawson, the Australian-born architecture and design journalist. The house is bursting with pictures, rugs, books and maps. In his courtyard garden, bougainvillea and honeysuckle share the space with liana and moonflower.
In the Nouvelle-Montagne we visit the stunning residence and garden of Umberto Pasti, a well-known Italian novelist and horticulturalist. Pasti’s garden 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’), 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. Garden designer Sabrina Hahn describes the garden as: “A lovely free flowing garden with lots of greenery, palms, murraya and iceberg roses hedging and spring flowering perennials. Pots are filled with geranium Maderense, hollyhocks and gaura.”
Across the road, we visit the home of Veere Greeney, a New Zealand born interior designer, whose garden provides a unique view of Gibraltar. In this garden, long paved avenues are edged with very old transplanted olive trees. Hardy perennials like sage, helichrysum, perennial salvias euphorbia and large urns are filled with geraniums and annuals.
We finish the day with a visit to the garden of award-winning French photographer Daniel Aron, known for his visuals of the Hermes brand and work for Harper’s Bazaar (USA), Vogue France, House and Garden (USA) and Elle (France). (Overnight Tangier) BL
Chefchaouen – 1 night
Day 5: Saturday 23 March, 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 24 March, Chefchaouen – Volubilis – Fes
Roman Site of Volubilis
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 (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 25 March, Fes
The Dyers’ Street
Souqs of Fes
Lunch at Le Jardin des Biehn
Dinner at La Maison Bleue
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 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 Fes replaced Córdoba as the pre-eminent city of leather production.
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 La Maison Bleue restaurant, a traditional Moroccan residence built in 1915 by Sidi Mohammed El Abbadi, a judge and astronomer. (Overnight Fes) BLD
Day 8: Tuesday 26 March, Fes
Palace and Andalusian Gardens of Fes, including the Jnane Sbil Garden (Bou Jeloud Garden) & Museum Dar Batha
Lunch at Restaurant NUR
Bu ‘Inaniyya Madrasa
Qarawiyyin Mosque (exterior)
Shrine of Mawlay Idris II (exterior)
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 reopened 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 organisation 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.
Midday we dine at Restaurant NUR 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 and the ‘Attarin Madrasa, built around 1325. The ‘Attarin is a relatively small and intimate madrasa decorated with rich tile work. Both madrasas served as residences for students at the great mosques of Fes rather than as teaching centres.
We also visit the Qarawiyyin Mosque and the shrine of Mawlay Idris II. The two 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.
Finally we 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) BL
Merzouga – 1 night
Day 9: Wednesday 27 March, 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 28 March, Merzouga – Rissani – Erfoud – Tineghir
Dawn Camel Excursion (Optional)
Tomb of Mawlay ‘Ali al-Sharif, Rissani
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 shall visit the mausoleum of Mawlay ‘Ali al-Sharif (gardens only) and the Ksar Oulad Abdelhalim, a restored 18th-century kasbah 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-kilometre 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
Ouarzazate – 1 night
Day 11: Friday 29 March, Tineghir – Tudgha Gorge – Taourirt – Ouarzazate
Qsars of Tineghir
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). (Overnight Ouarzazate) BLD
Marrakesh – 5 nights
Day 12: Saturday 30 March, Ouarzazate – Ait Ben Haddu – Marrakesh
Ksar of Ait Ben Haddu
Tiz n’Tishka Pass
This morning 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. 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 31 March, Marrakesh
Bahia Palace & courtyard gardens
Le Jardin Secret (See Youtube video)
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 century) 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 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 (1184-1199).
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. 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. We will be served Moroccan style afternoon tea in the garden. (Overnight Marrakesh) BL
Day 14: Monday 1 April, Marrakesh
Gardens of Jnane Tamsna with Gary Martin and Meryanne Loum-Martin
This morning we transfer to Jnane Tamsna. 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 (khettara) and drip irrigation, while the air is naturally scented by gardenia, jasmine and white bougainvillea. We enjoy a visit of the garden and the estate before sitting for lunch.
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
Day 15: Tuesday 2 April, Marrakesh
Jardin Majorelle and Musée d’Art Berbère
Villa Oasis: the private garden of Pierre Bergé
Yves Saint Laurent Museum
Afternoon at leisure
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 Jardin Majorelle.
Located right next to the Jardin Majorelle is the Yves Saint Laurent Museum dedicated to the work of the French fashion designer. This new museum houses an important selection from the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent’s impressive collection, which comprises 5,000 items of clothing, 15,000 haute couture accessories as well as tens of thousands of sketches and assorted objects.
The remain of the day is at leisure. (Overnight Marrakesh) B
Day 16: Wednesday 3 April, Marrakesh – Ourika Valley – Marrakesh
Private gardens of Dar Azaren, Tnine Ourika
Beldi Country Club, lunch and garden
Today we drive thirty kilometres south of Marrakesh to 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. The colours of the landscape using the grey santolina, mauve lantana and enormous Kalanchoe set a dramatic scene.
We then visit the nearby newly opened Anima, one of the most beautiful and imaginative gardens in Morocco. Austrian multi-media artist André Heller’s opulent, two-hectare botanical garden is a magical place of sensuality and wonder. It combines unusual sculptures with flowers and plants, paying homage to local traditions and fauna, as well as incorporating modern Western elements.
We return to Marrakesh to dine at the Beldi Country Club, set in a breathtaking landscape. After lunch, we visit the gardens, a fabulous combination of traditional Arabic plantings with long reflection pools, and French influences, with a field of roses and bold colours on furniture.
The remainder of the day is at leisure. (Overnight Marrakesh) BL
Taroudant – 5 nights
Day 17: Thursday 4 April, Marrakesh – Ouirgane -Taroudant
Lunch at Domaine de la Roseraie, Ouirgane
Dar Al Hossoun
Today we journey south to Taroudant, following one of the most spectacular routes in Morocco. It 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.
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 4137 metres).
We continue south along windy roads to Taroudant, known as the ‘pearl of the Souss Valley’. Here our group will stay at Dar Al Hossoun, designed by Arnaud Maurières and Éric Ossart.
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.
In the company of Ollivier Verra, owner of Dar Al Hossoun, we take a tour of Dar Al Hossoun before dinner.
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 500-metre-square sunken garden for fragile species not usually found in this region. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD
Day 18: Friday 5 April, Taroudant
Dar Igdad and L’Orange Bleue
Tour of Taroudant’s secret gardens by horse & carriage
Dat Sidi Hussein
Dinner at Dar Sidi ou Sidi, the private home of Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart
Today we continue our discovery of Ossart & Maurières’ finest gardens in the Hossoun olive grove.
The Dar Al Hossoun build prompted the construction of the two adjoining properties, Dar Igdad and L’Orange Bleue, 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.
At Dar Deboules and Dar Carlhian, we see Ossart & Maurières’ most recent designs. Both gardens offer an unusually broad range of steppe plants, making it possible to track growth from planting to maturity.
Following a buffet lunch in the sunken garden of Dar Al Hossoun, we take a tour of Taroudant’s secret gardens by horse and carriage.
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.
We enjoy some tea at Palais Salam, the former Pasha’s residence, before visiting 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 1000 square metres of building space.
We enjoy some tea at Palais Salam, the former Pasha’s residence, before visiting Dar Ali, Empress Farah’s house. Then, 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 1000 square metres of building space.
Dinner 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.
Dinner is followed by a screening (with commentary) of Frédéric Wilner’s film Jardins d’Eden (Gardens of Eden). (Overnight Taroudant) BLD
Day 19: Saturday 6 April, Taroudant – Tiout Oasis – Taroudant
Tiout Oasis and the Anti Atlas
Dar El Nour
In the company of Ollivier Verra, 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 8280 square kilometres, 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, a visit to women argan oil cooperative, with lunch under Berber canvas at the heart of the oasis.
We return to the Hossoun valley to visit Dar El Nour and 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.
Tonight we dine together at Dar Al Hossoun. This will be followed by a screening of Jacques Becker’s Ali Baba et les 40 voleurs (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) – a 1954 film shot in Taroudant, starring French actor and singer Fernandel. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD
Day 20: Sunday 7 April, Taroudant
Les Jardins de Andrew
Dar Zahia, lunch and garden
Visit to the souq and ramparts
La Tour des Faucon, dinner and garden
This morning we visit three gardens located in the outskirt of Taroudant. We start the day with a visit to 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”.
Nearby, we visit the recently designed Dar Zahia Garden with the owner Marc Belli. French photographer Marc Belli designed his own garden covering nearly 4,000sq m. Behind the property main gate, one discover a field of roses and hibiscus. Around a patio, we find jacarandas, euphorbias, palm trees and acanthus. A 32-meter long swimming pool has been built in the middle of the plot. It has on one side an orchard and rose garden and on the other side, fields of olives and fig trees. All around the garden, cacti, agaves, grasses and zoysia lawn have been arranged with the pool water used to irrigate the soil. We enjoy lunch in Dar Zahia’s garden.
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.
Then we head for La Tour des Faucons (The Falcon’s Villa). Welcomed by Karl Morsher, the owner and designer, we visit his contemporary style villa and tower, as well as the renovated farmhouse and its extensive grounds of palm and olive trees (producing their own organic olive oil) and exotic flower-filled gardens. We enjoy our dinner at La Tour des Faucons.
We return to our riad, Dar Al Hossoun, for a screening of the film La Route des cédrats (‘The Citron Trail’) directed by Izza Genini (with commentary). (Overnight Taroudant) BLD
Day 21: Monday 8 April, Taroudant – Afensou and the upper valley of the Oued Ouaer – Taroudant
Claudio Bravo palace and gardens
Lunch in traditional Berber house
Trek across high plateaux to study flora found at medium altitude around Imoulass
High-altitude garden designed by Éric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières, Afra
Farewell Dinner at Dar Al Hossoun
Today, we spend the morning 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.
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.
Following a light lunch in a traditional Berber house, we trek across the high plateau (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).
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.
We return to our riad for a farewell meal at Dar Al Hossoun. (Overnight Taroudant) BLD
Day 22: Tuesday 9 April, 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