Cristian

Cristian

With a passion for travel and particularly Morocco, I own and manage Sun Trails.

Friday, 06 February 2015 00:00

The Other Morocco

Route across the south headerFrom Marrakech to desert to the coast in 9 days. Our most off- the- beaten- track 4x4 Morocco tour, away from the tourist crowds: pristine gorges with see- through natural pools where fish swim, Bronze- Age rock engravings, wildlife including gazelles, falcons and hares, 3000- year old tombs, century- old towering Berber granaries, majestic saffron dunes, a 12th century mosque. And then some. Yet, the ultimate luxury is the feeling that you may be the first person to ever walk there.

Sunrise in the gorges

DETAILED ITINERARY

DAY 1: The first day of our Morocco tour will be dedicated to crossing the High Atlas and reaching the lush valleys where we will have our first contact with palm groves and kasbahs. Leaving Marrakech behind, the road soon starts taking on the mountains. Breath- taking panoramas and hair pin curves succeed while the route follows one minute out in the open, the next under dense pine trees. Shortly after reaching 2200 meters altitude, we leave the main route to reach the village of Telouet and the Kasbah of the Glaoui. From the ensemble of three ruined kasbahs only one has maintained its reception rooms where intricate zellij patterns and precious wood greet the eye. Pacha Glaoui had employed the most skilled artisans to build and decorate his main residence and, in its golden age, armies, stables and Christian slaves were confined within its walls while a flourishing Jewish community was managing the nearby salt mines, which although no longer in use, are also worth a visit. After a succulent fig tagine, our road follows Ounila valley with its mosaic of gardens and tiny douars, each displaying its own ruined Kasbah. Occasionally the valley turns into a canyon, where the nomads have dug centuries ago galleries of grottos to stock grains and sometimes cattle. Late afternoon is the time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe citadel. Hopefully, the crowds have already deserted the place. A fat, red sun, only underlines the beige tones of the mud and straws mixture and through the covered passages and stone walls, the past filters itself into the present. In spite of the local ‘guides’, the best is to just lose yourself in its derbs and explore the honey – comb structures. Stroll back to a local refurbished Kasbah or a lodge nested in the nearby palm grove for dinner and accommodation.

sunset in africa

DAY 2: Today our 4x4 Morocco tour will follow the mythical Draa Valley, a route so often used for centuries by the caravans bringing gold, slaves, ivory or feathers from Mali or Ghana. But first, locally sourced breakfast – better had on the roof terrace from you can admire the palm grove below. A tour of the palm grove with a local guide will teach you how the ingenious khettaras are dug, the name of the different plants and herbs, show you the pottery district or how the olives are pressed into oil. If the right season, your driver can stop on the shores of Mansour Eddhabi lake to admire the migratory birds leaving Morocco on their journey to Europe or milder climates. A visit to the world famous film studios in Ouarzazate is possible, especially if you travel with children.

a house on a bare mountain

Soon after, a dramatic change in the landscape takes place. Leaving the plain behind, the road climbs, twists and turns its way up into the bare dark brown mountains. Right after the pass you catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases, a green river of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs, adobe guardians rising as if from the earth where the green gives way to the desert. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, le grand sud. Biblical adobe villages border the palm grove. It is worth visiting at least one of them – perhaps the one where most of the population is black, descendants of former slaves. Then, have a picnic lunch by the river under the palms. Or perhaps awe at the rock engravings at the end of a dusty off road track. But the real treat here is the road itself following the river and the palm grove, one ksour after the other and that unique light of the south. We will stop for accommodation and dinner in a beautiful guest house nested in the palm grove nearby.

time suspended 2

DAY 3: After breakfast, our Moroccan itinerary we can visit the nearby village of Amezrou which carries on the Jewish tradition of silver crafting and although the last Jews left in the 1950's the craft and the synagogue are still there. We will stop for a break in Tamegroute where a gold- lettered Qoran from 1036 and Arab treaties on astronomy and sciences are neatly displayed behind glass windows inside the century-old library. The same village carries a pottery tradition known throughout Morocco and it is of interest to witness the shaping and baking of the emerald pots and dishes inside traditional earth ovens. Before long, our tour reaches M’hammid, where the tarmac ends - the last village before the Sahara.

camels well

The next two hours of our tour make full use of the four wheel drive as rocky desert gives way to gravel and then sand dunes, past the occasional water well and oasis. The anticipation built doesn’t quite prepare you for the spectacle ahead of you: sleepy yet shifting leviathans of sand as far as the sight can stretch, dotted by the occasional desert camp. These are the dunes of Erg Chigaga and no comprehensive trip around Morocco could possibly not include them. Here, we can arrange for you to be met and taken by camel ride to the camp for the last bit of the way. While the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage and preparing your dinner, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. And lose yourself. One of the first things the desert does is make you aware of your own insignificance. You also realize you are suddenly not somewhere different. You are different. And while the sun sets, there is nowhere else you would rather be. After dinner, use the camp’s telescope to make out some constellations. Like someone once said: ‘Why be happy with 5 stars when you can have billions’ ?’ As you stroll back to your tents, the silence in the dunes is immeasurable. Azalai Desert Lodge’s canvas tents offer a nice alternative to the Bedouin- style spartan yet honest and clean wool tents. They accommodate double beds with real mattresses , private bathrooms with showers, a crackling firepit and excellent food, a package that will draw cheers from even the most commited tentophobe.

Erg Chigaga dunes and tent

DAY 4: Should you have missed the sunrise… well, try not to. If yesterday was about getting away from civilization, today is about getting back to it. After toddling across sand dunes, our trip reaches fossil- filled Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, where the Draa river used to form its estuary. Further on we take on the hamada, the much dreaded stony desert, to finally reach Foum Zguid around noon. Farewell Sahara, hello tarmac. Next, lunch and a dip in a pool are best had at a local lodge where you can skip the ubiquitous tagine. Though the dunes are behind, the immensity is still present. The tarmac swirls past barren plateau and sun- burnt ridges while you barely cross another soul. Continue south and reach the nearby waterfalls reputed for their salty water. And somewhere in the distance, the ululating call of the muezzin mingles with the bray of a donkey. A couple of hours later, reach your accommodation for the night, a five- century old rustic house erected on the top of a village overlooking the palm grove. The many hidden corners, passages and patios will delight adults and children alike.Accommodation ranges from small-yet-delightful  where ceiling is only 1.5 meters high to large suites with stunning wide views and stone slabs for stairs. All rooms here are air conditioned and come with en suite hot showers and toilets. Food is rustic, locally- sourced and really tasty.

Breakfast and view

DAY 5: One can hardly imagine a breakfast with a better view in the south of Morocco. Spend the morning learning how a water clock works in the nearby palm grove, preparing traditional bread in the village stove, visit the old still- working salt mines or trek by the cliffs. Picnic in the nearby palm grove to then reach a very old Berber village where you will be able to admire the old Jewish mellah, the local granary that has just been restored. Inside the palm grove an unfinished minaret from Saadian or Almohad era stands as a silent guard. The owners of the nearby lodge, former rally pilots, are the most welcoming hosts and have plenty of stories to tell over the excellent dinner. The lodge accommodates both Berber style- tents with comfortable mattresses and puffs as well as air conditioned hot showered double rooms and suites, and a small yet very spot- on pool. Furthermore, here you can get a real expresso at the bar and home- made gateau au chocolat is served for dessert. The ladies should also consider an in- house henna tattoo session.

rock engravings morocco

DAY 6: Today, our Morocco tailor made tour is dedicated to discovering the local area and its attractions. The remoteness of the spaces is why most people would come and stay here. But don’t let yourself be fooled by the appearances. In the surroundings, at the right place and time of day you can glimpse foxes, eagles, wild boar, hares, mountain gazelles, bustards or partridges. After breakfast, leave the guest house and take the route to the old village at the foot of the local djebel. Visit the old streets of the village, the museum created by Abdesalam, and the women’s cooperative who make colorful rugs and other home objects ( who also adorn the rooms of the guest house). Then treck to Ait Ouabelli and head south after crossing two beautiful dry wadi ( rivers). Discovery of pre-Berber tombs (burial sites of over 3000 years) and a stunning rock engravings site. Picnic within a beautiful wild oasis under the shade of the palm trees. Back on the tarmac for about 15 km to then go off road again by a field of Selaginella lepidophylla ( Jericho roses) and Calotropis procera ( Sodom apple) and then over a dried small lake to observe the fata morgana mirage.

ancient mosque south of morocco

After a desert area very "Sahel" with its typical acacias, we reach the sand dunes posed against the cliffs of black sun burnt ridges. Time to climb some dunes on foot (or 4x4 ...) Going back towards north, and over an ancient dry lake we will cross nomad herders with their camels and goats. And at the day’s end, you get to return to surroundings that, given the middle- of- nowhere coordinates, are impressively indulgent.

Storage rooms

DAY 7: Today we will leave the deserted plains behind and, depending on your wish, will reach the Atlantic coast or a most picturesque village high in the Anti Atlas. In the winter months, we recommend the latter. Then and there a subtle but undeniable transition happens: where desert vistas and acacia trees give way to abrupt cliffs, barren mountains and almond trees. Even clothes change: from touches of pink, turquoise or yellow, the garments are now sober, black being the predominant color. Only one hour drive away, you’ll wander through the 70 odd rooms of the local granary overlooking the village from 600 meters high and see where locals used to stock grains, raise bees and collect rain water. It was also used as a back drop in times of attack from a different tribe or the nomads from the Sahara on one of their ruthless razzias up north. After a Berber omlette and coffee in a local gite, trek up the river bed to find yourself in the middle of primordial gorges, their wax- like lava walls appearing to have caught time suspended. Natural pools of deep- green transparent water appear here and there, where fish swim. With a bit of luck, you and a couple of falcons will be the only ones disturbing the silence of this immemorial spectacle. The climb is sometimes steep but you’d do it again in a heartbeat. At the end of it, the 300 meter high gorge opens up into a lush valley and you can make your way back through the deserted plateaus above. Back inside the vehicle, a most stunning off road crossing of the Anti- Atlas follows, via one of the former piste des legionnaires. Just outside Tafraoute, stop for dinner and overnight in a 6- room guest house run by the most hospitable French hosts.

The river at a turn

If choosing the other variant, after the visit to the granary and the gorges you will follow west, reaching the Atlantic coast at Sidi Ifni. As the road unfolds in turns and twists from Goulmine, reputed otherwise for its weekly camel souk, the hard light of the south softens into pearlescence, as moisture from the Atlantic layers the landscape in a prismatic haze and the argan trees and white washed houses come about. Follow the sea side route and stop at the natural beach arches before reaching Mirleft. Here the most amazing view over the Atlantic awaits you on the terrace of your accommodation for the night.

Taroudant and the High Atlas in the distance
DAY 8: If you have decided for Tafraoute and if any energy left from the previous day, take a mountain bike through the local gorges and awe at the games of light and shade the palm grove and the bare mountains offer. The deep ochre rectangular houses are a landmark of the region. For thos interested, a few tracks are available for trekking or rock climbing. As you thread your way through the gorges and deep red villages, there will be a flash of quicksilver to your left: an oasis of deep- green water, ringed by a white granite bed of rocks, glinting in the sun. Swimming suit, anybody? The local painted rocks and Napoleon’s hat are also worth a detour. Or the Lion’s head… After lunch, take the route over the Anti Atlas and stop on the way to admire the 360 rooms of a local agadir, set on 5 stories where rock slabs are used as stair cases. Arrive in Taroudant in the evening. If you chose Mirleft, this town, far from the crowds and the concrete, lays claim to a windswept, untouched spot on the western coast with empty, golden beaches, clear blue skies and waves to surf on. On your way along the Atlantic coast, stop on the way at Sous Massa national park, one of the most diverse bird reserves in Morocco.

Pawns at Dar Al Hossoun

DAY 9: Today, our Morocco tour should be about relaxation. After all, it would be easy to spend a lazy day sitting on one of the deck chairs that await by the side of the pool. To not mention the vast tropical gardens where banana, papaya and cactus blend in with the other 800 plants brought from different deserts around the globe. Or have a Moroccan hammam and body scrub. But tempting as it is to remain permanently tucked away by the pool, it would be a shame not to get out into town. Not that it is some bustling metropolis. And that’s exactly the charm of it: Taroudant is a laid back walled town with its own quiet pace where most people go about on bicycles, a version of what Marrakech was like 20 years ago. Hop on a caleche ride around the city walls or visit a local bee grower shop and have a honey tasting session or try the local argan products. In the afternoon, cross the High Atlas at 2100 meters and a couple of hours later stop to visit the 12th century old mosque of Tinmel, the birthplace of the Almohad dynasty, once rulers of an empire stretching from Spain to Senegal and Libya. The influence of the Great Mosque of Córdoba (period of al-Hākam, who reigned between 961–966) can be seen in the use of multi-foil arches and in the mihrab’s masterly treatment. As you pass by Asni and its apple tree orchards, on your right you may just make out in the distance the Mount Toubkal, at 4160 meters, the highest peak in Northern Africa. Arrive in Marrakech in the evening. Drop off at your Riad/ hotel.

View over the Atlantic

For availabilities and rates, please send us an enquiry here.

skoura palm grove panorama

When visiting the south of Morocco, many think of Ouarzazate. And yet, this 20th century city with its famous film studios, plethora of large hotels and a few manicured kasbahs is far from representing Morocco or the region itself. To immerse oneself into the local culture, one has to travel a little outside Ouarzazate: south of it, Fint Oasis is splendid – a great way to observe life within a traditional oasis as it has unfolded, unchanged for centuries; east of it, the UNESCO Ait Benhaddou post- card honey comb village is a must. Further south, the legendary Draa Valley, once a ‘highway’ of caravans, coming over the Sahara, with their loads to be delivered at the courts of Marrakech or Fes. But closer, just a half hour drive west of Ouarzazate lies the palm grove of Skoura. Set between the High Atlas in the north and Djebel Saghro in the south, it first meets the eye as a large green ribbon making its way between the beige ridges, white sometimes in winter. And driving past it, one cannot help but wish to explore it. Once past the oued and within the shade of the palm trees, a true earthly heaven uncovers itself: figs and pomegranates, vine and pumpkins, tomatoes and olives, rosemary and thyme all grow next to each other, as the water streams gently make their way to each garden, ingeniously separated by hand- made dams, that get open and closed every few hours. One can wander for hours here, protected by the shade of the palms, past century- old kasbahs where the local guide will tell you the differences between Berber and Jewish architecture. With the ever- present sunshine, how can one resist and not want to settle here forever ? By the looks of it, more and more foreigners come to spend some part of the summer here, just renting out one of the adobe houses and living the life of the locals for a few weeks. Some others, like French- born Caroline, decided to spend the whole- year round. Eleven years ago, she opened Jardins De Skoura, a truly enchanting guest house set within the palm grove and quickly became a reference in the area. Not surprisingly: her welcoming is warm and she immediately makes you feel at ease. She sits down with each guest and talks about her favorite spots in the area. The cuisine is exquisite and highly praised by those on a private tour of Morocco, who by the time they reach Skoura, have had their fair share of traditional Moroccan food. Not that there is anything wrong with Moroccan food. But who wouldn’t crave a homemade gazpacho ? Or a mousse au chocolat ? The house reflects the local architecture: its walls are made of pisé ( adobe) and the ceilings supported by birch and palm trees. And then, there are the gardens… But let’s leave her do the talking.

Pool in the gardens

Sun Trails: Tell us about some of your professional experience before the opening of Jardins de Skoura.
Caroline Lecomte: I started my professional life as a florist, a job I really enjoyed and which allowed me to surround myself with a team of 10 employees as I wanted to develop my next project – event organization. Then came the thirties, and a change of direction took me to other horizons- organizing event trips.

ST: Why Morocco? How did you get the idea?
CL: In 1998, I crossed the Mediterranean to come and live in Marrakech where I continued to do what liked most: organizing incentives, congresses, seminars. Program preparation led me to travel all the south of Morocco; thus gaining valuable knowledge of the territory. And there, I fell in love with the real south. The palm grove of Skoura enchanted me, near Ouarzazate. It seemed to be the ideal location from where you could travel in all directions. Explore the area without having to pack your suitcases every day. Before making the decision to settle in the palm grove, I had undertook, for a website project, the inventory of all the guest houses existing at the time in the palm grove of Skoura. I visited 357 altogether and this is the experience that made me throw myself in. Leaving the city, I really wanted to have a place within the palm grove. I didn't see the point of being either in the village or on the side of the road. So it was a challenge because at the time there wasn't yet any guesthouse open within the palm grove.

Breakfast in the gardens

ST: Who took care of the construction and decoration of the house?
CL: Myself and 25 workers. I started by building my own apartment on one side of the garden so as to perfect my knowledge of local building techniques. I camped in the garden for 8 months because when I bought the house from the former owners, it was in ruins, with no electricity, toilets or running water. Then the workers have restored the old part which would then become the guest house. The decoration is made mostly with many items unearthed when I was living still in Marrakech medina between 1998-2003

ST: How many rooms and suites do you have ?
CL: Five rooms and three suites.

ST: Tell us about your garden, swimming pool and orchard.
CL: The one-acre garden is a little gem that we wanted to restore to the same condition as the one before, without compromising what was left. The banks of seguia (irrigation canals) were terraced and redesigned by theme: Secret Garden where the traveler can find privacy, Comfortable Garden to lie on the grass, Herbs Garden with plants for tea and herbal infusions, Vegetable Garden which heralds us during the various seasons some of the vegetables and fruits we use in the kitchen and finally, The Orchard, for one to stroll among the almond trees, pomegranates, figs, grapes and olives.

Haaneb suite

ST: What do you offer more compared to other guest houses in the area?
CL: A large garden and panoramic terraces where guests can find privacy. The training of my staff (from an incentive business angle)- I had access to many great hotels all over the world as my parents were in the hospitality business as well, so I had some experience of what the customer expects during their stay. Compliance with European hygiene, cozy welcoming and a fine cuisine. And me coming from a background of tourism and catering, which makes some difference. I did not become hotelier overnight.

ST: Guests seem to really appreciate your kitchen. Do you have a talented chef ?
CL: I have a very good chef who has worked previously at La Mamounia and knows very well how to play with spices without removing the taste of each ingredient.

Roof terrace

ST: From where do they come the ingredients?
CL: Vegetables from the garden and small local producers, homemade olive-oil, fig jam and apricot jam.

ST: Tell us about some special dishes at the Jardins de Skoura or those who are dear to you.
CL: Winter or summer, in the menu, there is always a velvety simple vegetable soup or gazpacho but also some with a twist: for instance beet gazpacho with citrus coriander and soy. The starters are Moroccan and Mediterranean recipes instilled with fresh flavors. Beef tagine with quince / lamb tagine with fennel are some of our signature main courses. Desserts are always French and homemade with fresh and natural ingredients: lemon meringue pie, apple clafoutis, apple pie, egg snow, chocolate mousse, etc. We try our best that our menus reflect a discovery of fine Moroccan cuisine.

ST: Which countries do your guests come from ?
CL: Mainly we have British guests with US coming second. And them some from Australia, France and some other European countries.

Suite Atlas

ST: Have you noticed any changes compared to previous years?
CL: During my first 5 years I used to get a lot of French people but in the last 5 years there has been a shift towards English speaking guests.

ST: What do customers value most here ?
CL: The garden, the service both around the house and at the table, professional, attentive yet not intruding. The decoration of the house which is in keeping with the country, mainly Berber and rustic.

Suite Saguia livingroom

ST: Your guests are here to make a brief stop as part of a private tour in Morocco or do you have also people who come and stay for several days ?
CL: Both. Some come to re- learn how to enjoy silence, take the time to discover the palm grove and locals' every day life. Some come to do absolutely nothing ( the true luxury if you ask me), disconnect from the city and work. Not having to pack one's luggage every day, take the time.

ST: What is there to do / see in the area for people who wish to spend several days ?
CL: There are both classical/ tourist spots and then there are my secret places .... Souk of Skoura on a Monday, trekking in the palm grove with or without donkeys / Sidi Fla and Ouled Merzoug/ Valley of almond trees and roses / Dades Gorge and Todra Gorge / Fint Oasis / Ait Ben Haddou / Draa Valley and waterfalls of Tizgui / Souk of Toundout on Thursday and its trail of Kasbahs and so on…

Panoramic view

ST: The community of Skoura is deeply rooted in tradition, it seems to me. How do they perceive the arrival of tourists?
CL: No worries, they understand that our guests are respectful of the culture here. And that it brings work to the locals: employees, traders, guides and craftsmen.

ST: What is the best part of the year to visit you?
CL: March - Apr - May, early June - September - October. End of the year for those that want to see the blue sky.

ST: What is it made you stay here all these years? Is it not difficult to live in the countryside, far from big cities?
CL: I love what I do. It's my choice. It comes with sacrifices but it is a choice that I respect.

Roof terrace by night

Jardins de Skoura is currently offered on our private tours of Morocco as part of our Privilege range of accommodation. 

© Sun Trails. All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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A desert luxury camp experience in the Moroccan Sahara.

{ There are currently no travel bans in Morocco to stop you from traveling to the Sahara desert }. You want to spend a night in the desert but don’t want to loose on the comfort ? Or perhaps you are considering renting a car and drive there yourself, but are afraid of getting lost, coping with the traffic of Africa or missing out on things to do/ see on the way ? Then this Morocco luxury desert camp experience is just what you need ! Our English fluent driver- guide and comfortable air- conditioned 4x4 will take you from Marrakech to the luxury desert camp in Erg Chigaga and bring you back to Marrakech over 3 nights and 4 days. We will book the luxury accommodation, the meals, camel rides and local guides. We will even take care of all entrance fees and stock your 4x4 with refreshing drinks so that all you have to focus on is laying back and enjoying the breath- taking landscapes. On this private tour you will have the 4x4 all for yourselves and your private driver will often stop for you to visit a local attraction, take a stunning photo or simply stretch your legs. This Morocco private tour is available any day of the year.

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This 4 day private tour leaves Marrakech over the Atlas Mountains and reaches Erg Chigaga's dunes by the second evening. The first and third nights are spent in a suite at the very elegant Azalai Desert Lodge set in the palm grove of Zagora ( it can also be arranged to describe a loop and return to Marrakech via a different route, maintaining the same duration). The second night is spent inside a 20 square meter ( 215 square feet) luxury desert tent with en-suite toilet and shower in the most remote dunes of Moroccan Sahara. On the way to the Sahara, you will cross the High Atlas at 2300 meters ( 7500 feet) high, visit UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou, the Kasbahs of the south, Biblical adobe villages, wind along mythical Draa Valley, stop by the oasis, walk through the palm groves, watch emerald- colored pottery being baked at Tamegroute, visit the Jewish ksour in Amezrou, uncover honey- combed ksours, ride a camel into the Sahara, sleep in the desert under the starriest sky, awe at the ruined Pasha's pasha’s palace - all highlights of a bespoke trip of Morocco.

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Best time to visit Morocco for a Sahara overnight ? 

February to April, if you can make it. Temperatures are cooler at night and very pleasant day- time. So is October to mid December, but photography- wise there is dust in the air. Mid December to February can be cold at night ( close to 0 Celsius, athough you will be quite warm cuddled up under the duvets), but so rewarding for those that wish to avoid the crowds ( outside of winter holidays).

Is Sahara one of the best places to visit in Morocco ?

You bet. I've stayed in a desert camp a dozen times since I've settled in Morocco back in 2006 and it never gets old. Sahara still stirs up my most intense emotions, sitting there on the top of the dunes, engrossed in the immensity of sand. If anything, it is even more compelling now, after the year we all had in 2020. It is possibly the most befitting location to forget all about virtual museum visits, mask wearing and social distancing. 

Should we include this on our honeymoon ?

Oh yes. If you can, try and spend two nights in a row. The particular dunes of Erg Chigaga offer a complete immersion into the desert setting, unlike the dunes of Erg Chebbi. Visit a nomad school, have tea with a nomad family, look for water wells, pluck out fossils, meander aimlessly around the dunes or try and hike the tallest one, you won't feel time passing you by. To not mention the Mily Way night...

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The rates for the 4 day private tour from Marrakech to the luxury desert camp and back are:

975 €/ 1160 US $/ 835 £ per person ( junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);

Our rates include:

- private use of the English fluent driver- guide & modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 2 nights at Azalai desert lodge, Zagora;
- Sahara camel trek and private luxury tent for 1 night at Azalai desert Camp, Erg Chigaga;
- 3 three- course- meal dinners and 3 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop- off;
- private guided visit of a palm grove or trek in the High Atlas with local guide;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- local English speaking guides;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hours travel assistance;
- gasoline and transport insurance;
- VAT and visitors tax.

WHY SHOULD YOU BOOK WITH US

# We are based in Morocco since 2006 and no, we don’t work from home :). We scout for the most unique sites & local experiences all year round. We present these on our blogFacebook and Instagram  pages. And only a travel agent based in Morocco can keep you up to date with latest travel restrictions within Morocco or how to get the fastest PCR test;

# We anonymously test, hand- pick and continuously update the best boutique and luxury hotels, Riads , eco lodges and Kasbahs across Morocco;

# We strive to bring you most authentic experiences. Some of them are unique: private flight to the Sahara; visit of a medina with a local university teacher; mechoui with a nomad family;

# 1 percent of our receipts go towards local projects, like help educate girls from rural Morocco or restoring the agadirs of southern Morocco;

# we accept payments by credit card, PayPal, bank transfer and, in the near future, alternative coins;

# we are on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, before and during your tour, by email, phone or Skype/ Zoom.

Ready to create your unique Morocco tour? Get in touch here with our on- the- ground team in Morocco.

 

Thursday, 23 October 2014 00:00

Private Morocco Tour- 8 Convincing Reasons

picnic in the sahara

Discovering Morocco on a private 4x4 tour has become very popular in the last few years. When one thinks of Morocco, endless saffron dunes and hard- to- bargain souks come to mind. Ultimately, a culture shock will happen. It is overwhelming – in ways both uplifting and unsettling. Naturally, you don’t have to book a boutique tour – you can simply join a group tour or rent a car – it is, after all, a less costly option. Is it worth the extra cost to get a spotless modern air conditioned 4x4 that can take on steep gorges and towering desert dunes ? And a driving guide to introduce, or rather initiate you in the ways of an exotic and impenetrable culture? We think it is. But we are biased - we’ve been organizing private tours of Morocco for quite a while now. So, we’ve decided to ask the opinion of personalities from the travel world with a common passion for traveling and other cultures:

Patricia Homison is a veteran traveler and owner of 'Me and He Travel' blog: www.meandhetravel.com/. Deborah Thompson is Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at New Jetsetters: www.newjetsetters.com/. Nellie Huang has traveled to more than 90 countries and contributed to CNN Go, National Geographic and Lonely Planet among others: www.wildjunket.com. Paul Goetz is general manager at Domaine de Malika, a boutique hotel in the Atlas Mountains: www.domaine-malika.com.

These are 8 good reasons why we ( and them) think you need to explore Morocco with a private tour:

dar ahlam pool

1. THE OFF- THE- BEATEN- TRACK EXPERIENCE

Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor may be good a good starting point to select the sites and activities while on a Morocco trip. The dunes by Zagora can be reached by bus or rent a car and there is where many a travel agency camp their clients. But the majestic dunes of Erg Chigaga, where the Sahara really starts, lie a two hour off- track drive away. Better still, before reaching the dunes, why not leave the tarmac and fall under the palm trees in the nearby palm grove ? Learn how the locals deviate water through century- old irrigation khetaras. Olives are pressed by hand through the oil press - dip the freshly- baked bread into it and sample a local's breakfast while sipping mint tea. And, at sunset, witness how the honey- comb citadel turns into a flaming wall that seems to defy the ages, its ruined mud houses slowly returning to the earth they had been moulded from. 

In a country where tarmac covers more and more routes, true immersion often commences where tarmac ends. How would you feel returning home having missed on all this ? As Patricia puts it: ‘A private tour gives you the advantage of an insider's perspective of the real Morocco and a exposure to people and places that would be difficult, if not impossible to find on your own. Our private tour totally accommodated our tastes, preferences and values and it was such a fabulous experience, we went back six months later to do even more.’

Fez - panoramic view

2. TAILOR MADE ALL THE WAY

Your Morocco journey will be private and customized based on your schedule, budget, and interests. After due exchange of emails, a day- to- day itinerary is provided with daily sites and activities included. But here is where the difference between good and excellent lies. Careful day to day planning is good but spontaneous on- the- go changes are even better. Suppose that one morning you’re too lazy for the Atlas Mountains trek you had planned and just want to reach the Sahara early so you can mooch about in the dunes the whole afternoon.

Or perhaps the eco lodge where you just spent the night has made such an impression on you with the previous evening’s dinner that you suddenly feel like booking an impromptu Moroccan cooking class. Deborah agrees: ‘We love being able to change the itinerary at a moment's notice - a spectacular temple needs more time for appreciation? No problem, because there is no group agenda written in stone to adhere to. Want to linger another hour at the incredible waterfall? That's fine!

La Mamounia indoors pool


3. LOCAL BOUTIQUE ACCOMMODATION...

What makes Morocco great with the intrepid traveler is the number of hip, yet authentic, family- run, cozy accommodations. The riads of Marrakech, the refurbished kasbahs of the Draa valley and the eco lodges on the fringes of the Sahara are but a few examples. Most of them offer great cuisine with ingredients sourced from their own organic back yard. The owners will often join you for coffee over breakfast and share insider tips on what there is to do and see in the area. Woke up too late to have breakfast? Arrived too late to have dinner? Nonsense.

Paul concurs: ‘When my guests arrive for the first time, we already know them a bit from our previous correspondence and I love to see them display a wide smile when I call them by their first names. Very often our guests leave saying they found the perfect ambience because they felt a bit like home, while surrounded by a caring staff that cater to their each and every need, without ever being intrusive’. So then, why have a buffet dinner or stay at a Sofitel ? What tour operator will offer this intimate, cozy kind of accommodation? Only a luxury Morocco- based travel agency, with staff anonymously testing new out- of- ordinary properties all year round, can go the extra mile.

kasbah tamnougalt

…THAT YOU HAVE TIME TO ENJOY.

But there is no point in carefully selecting the best hotels available in Morocco if you won’t have the time to enjoy them. A good agency will carefully plan and arrange and balance the time spent inside the vehicle, visiting sites and enjoying the properties’ facilities. Why stay at the arresting Azalai Desert Lodge set on the edge of Zagora’s palm grove, if you arrive late at night just in time for dinner or leave next morning right after breakfast? It would be a pity not to laze around and browse their exquisite library packed with livres des voyages. Plunge in the inviting pool whether it is February or June. Or take a bicycle ride in the surrounding palm grove. Stands of dark- green reeds grow beside chuckling water. Succulent trees ripple in a breeze as the palm grove is softly hushed, the only sound the bleating of far- off goats. When was the last time you lost track of time ?...

Palais Khum Suite Hamra

4. A DRIVER AND MORE

Traffic is mad in the big cities of Morocco – everyone knows that. And that alone could be reason enough to have someone drive you. But your driving guide should be also an expert in the culture and traditions of the areas you will cover. He carefully selects the local guides, the best spots for stunning photos or the pace of the day. He can explain the defense of a ksar or the different kaftans worn by a Moroccan bride during her wedding. He will also know when to talk and when to keep quiet, creating a comfortable ambiance during the tour.

Throughout your Moroccan itinerary, you may even be invited to have lunch with his family, an epitome of hospitality in Morocco. Or elsewhere. Nellie Huang says: ‘For instance, in my recent trip to Iran, we were invited to our guide's house for a dinner with his family and it turned out to be the highlight of my trip. His family was extremely welcoming and genuine and they showed us the Iranian hospitality that we'd long heard about.’ Deborah agrees: ‘We consider it a privilege to get to know our guide and sometimes his or her family, creating a bond that can last forever. ‘

jemaa el fna square marrakech

5. INTERACTING WITH THE LOCALS

Moroccans are Morocco’s greatest asset. Humble, joyful and hospitable, often needy, they will always share the little they have with their guests. Patricia comments: ‘The best of Morocco, the jewel in the crown of this country is it's people’. Nellie agrees: ‘I'd say the biggest benefit to doing a private tour is gaining in-depth personal insights of a country through a local. If you've got a good guide, you can really get to know every aspect of a country's culture and tradition and at the same time understand the mentality of locals’.

This is also where traveling across Morocco on a private trip makes a difference – it makes possible such encounters while keeping away overacted receptions and convenience smiles. Sometimes these encounters happen spontaneously – as with the family lunch mentioned earlier. Other times, moving stories are to be heard – such as the guide in Skoura, whose passion for his homeland made him open a small scale museum to document the century old garments and tools of the local Berber, Arab and Jewish communities.

kasbah tamadot berber luxury tent

6. PEACE OF MIND

A reliable Morocco tour agency should offer 24 hour assistance during your travel. Whether this means booking last minute the most exquisite French restaurant in Marrakech or finding a babysitter for your children, it all comes down to your peace of mind. A luxury Morocco tour means not only staying in the best available hotels at each location and paying top dollar for it, but also have a backup 4x4 available to be delivered timely in the unlikely event that your designated 4x4 breaks down. Or your driving guide welcoming you at the airport even if your flight is x hours late. Similarly, if you're put off by the possibility of spending too much time at the passport control, the agency will arrange for a small fee a VIP airport arrival bypassing immigration queues and making sure you start on the right note your holidays in Morocco.

erg chigaga luxury tent

7. IT SAVES YOU TIME

Imagine renting a car and driving down the Draa Valley looking for the most spectacular kasbah or a good place to picnic. Getting lost and asking locals for direction in a language they don’t understand. Or joining a group tour and having to put up with pressure- sale speech while on a visit to the local argan oil cooperative before moving on to the next attraction. A site you were not interested in visiting in the first place. You get the picture. None of these ordeals happen when you book a customized Morocco tour. Deborah says: ‘Perceptions and memories of a place can be impacted greatly by how and when you see them. Over-crowding, a hurried pace, and often the inability to see and touch the treasures you have come so far to see can result in such disappointment’.

ksour in Morocco

8. THE SURPRISE

Many book a private trip through Morocco as a celebration of a special event. But it takes more than the occasional flower bouquet or birthday cake to impress nowadays. With a little bit of imagination, there is an endless list of ways to surprise your guests by offering them a special occasion present to match their taste. It may be a signature home perfume to remind them of the almond trees blossoming in February in Dades Gorge. An exquisite album with photos of the dreamiest places in Morocco that will likely inspire one day the next generation to come and visit. Or perhaps a leather- bound notebook where they could keep the journal of a journey that would have transformed them.

Zagora palmgrove

Sun Trails has been offering bespoke private tours of Morocco since 2009. For a preview of our sample itineraries click here. Rates for a 8 day bespoke private tour start at 940 €/ 1275 $ per person on a basis of 2 persons sharing.

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