We depart this morning from London on a direct flight to Marrakech (regional flight connections and overnight accommodation in London are available at a reasonable supplement). On arrival we will be met by our local coach and guide and transfer to our hotel in the city.
Dinner will be served in the evening.
After breakfast this morning, we will have an introductory tour of Marrakech, the city which gave its name to the country of Morocco and is thought to derive from the Berber for ‘Land of God’. We will see the Koutoubia Mosque, whose immense minaret dominates the city skyline. Dating from the 12th century, the mosque is considered the ultimate structure of its kind and its minaret was the model for the Giralda tower in Seville, which in turn influenced the design of countless church towers throughout Spain and Eastern Europe. We will also enjoy a stroll in the pleasant gardens here, planted with roses, orange trees and tall palms.
In the afternoon we continue our exploration of Marrakech, beginning with a visit to the Saadian Tombs, which date back to the time of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603) but were only re-discovered in 1917. The mausoleum contains the remains of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty and features finely worked cedar wood and stucco work and monuments made of Italian Carrara marble. Outside the building is a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants. We continue to El Badia Palace, also built by Ahmad al-Mansur over a period of 25 years in the late 16th century. The original building is thought to have consisted of 360 rooms, richly decorated with marble and gold. It also has a small, underground, tunnel-like jail with about four cells where the king kept his prisoners. Unfortunately, the palace was torn apart by the Sultan Mawlay Ismail but there is still a lingering sense of grandeur and some interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
Finally we visit El Bahia Palace, which was built in the late 19th century by the great vizier Sidi Moussa and intended to be the greatest palace of its time, capturing the essence of the nation’s style, both Moroccan and Islamic. There is a 2-acre garden with rooms opening onto sunlit courtyards, planted with cypress, orange trees and jasmine and furnished with wells and fountains to provide a sheltered and private space.
Dinner is served in the evening.
Following breakfast we head towards the Atlas Mountains, the range of snow-capped peaks that provides the dramatic backdrop to Marrakech. Our destination is the verdant Ourika Valley, where a number of interesting plants were recorded from the late 19th century onwards, including Fraxinus dimorpha, a species of ash native to Morocco. We will have lunch at La Roseraie, a hotel set in 50 acres of rose gardens and lush parkland, near the village of Ouirgane at an altitude of 3000 feet.
We return to Marrakech, where dinner is served in the evening. Later you may wish to visit the central square of Djemaa El Fna, which teems with acrobats, jugglers, snake-charmers and story-tellers and provides a colourful taste of Moroccan life and culture.
Enjoy your breakfast. This morning we travel to the west of the city to visit the tranquil Menara Garden, which also has its origins in a 12th century orchard of palm, olive and fruit trees. An orchard, pools and pavilions are the primary components of Islamic gardens and Menara is a classic example, with a formal pool overlooked by a pavilion previously used by the sultan and his family. The present pavilion dates from the nineteenth century but is believed to be on the site of a 16th-century Saadian structure. The image of the trees and surrounding mountains reflected in the shimmering pool provides perfect photo opportunities and lingering memories.
We then continue to the Musée de la Palmeraie, which is a newly built museum, housed in one of the oldest agricultural buildings in Marrakech. Here we will have the opportunity to admire the contemporary Moroccan art collections by the many artists who find inspiration from the surrounding gardens. Exhibits include photographs, paintings, sculptures and calligraphy, which ultimately bring art and culture to life in this very unique place. There will also be an opportunity to enjoy the grounds.
Concluding todays’ visit’s, we will journey on to the garden at La Majorelle, which was made in the 1920s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, with marble pools, raised pathways, banana trees, groves of bamboo, coconut palms and bougainvilleas. Unsuprisingly, the garden is composed and coloured like a painting, with many of the solid features painted in a rich blue ('Majorelle Blue') which works very well with the soil, climate and plants. Water is a prominent feature of the garden, with channels, lily-filled ponds and fountains and there is a wide range of plants, for Majorelle was an avid collector. After years of neglect, the garden was then taken over and restored by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and today presents an extraordinary and at times surreal combination of colour, form and light.
We return to our hotel where dinner is served in the evening.
Following breakfast we depart on our final garden visit at Agdal Gardens, which began life in the 12th century as an orchard and were enlarged in the 19th century, when they were enclosed by their distinctive pisé walls, made from packed earth. The gardens are irrigated by a number of pools and ditches, supplied by a network of underground channels that bring water down from the Atlas Mountains. There are a series of linked gardens, one leading to the next, with an orange grove and olive plantation as well as the ubiquitous palms trees.
Later we return to the airport in time for our return flight to London where on arrival the group shall disperse or make onward connections.