Along The Ancient Trans-Sahara Caravan Route:
From Desert Odyssey To Mysterious Fes

Trip Highlights

. 3-day immersion in the most beautiful sand dunes of the Sahara, Erg Chebbi

. desert settlements of nomads and ancestors of black African slaves, Neolithic stone etchings

. ruins of 8th-14th century Sijilmassa, and the old Trans-Sahara trading town of Rissani, known for its lively souks

. Alpine-like river valleys and painted gorges

. archaic walled town of Sefrou with its old Jewish quarter and Roman hamlet with homes built into grottoes

. labyrinthine, medieval city of Fes, one of the wonders of the world: its souks, palaces, holy sites and learning centers, and workshops


Trip Details

. 10-day trip, begins in Ouarzazate and ends in Fes

. 5 nights in maison d'hotes/auberges; 3 nights in the field; Land Rover transport with 3 days of camels

. all meals included

. moderate (dune ascents are challenging and optional): average 5 hours of trekking


Itinerary

Days 1-2 Transfer in Casablanca to Ouarazazate. Riding east along the route of One Thousand Kasbahs where rises of earth-baked crenallated towers and palm groves herald ancient oasis settlements, we stop at a nearly-forgotten kasbah along the banks of the M'Goun where we picnic amidst fields of almond trees. Night is spent at one of our favorite auberges, an updated family-run kasbah with all the contemporary comforts.

Day 3 Further east, entering the portal of the Sahara , we notice dry river beds, sun-cracked terrain, drifting camels and palms dotting the roadsides. Arriving at the souks of Rissani, the most African of southern towns, our senses go into overdrive as we are reminded of what a market would be like centuries ago (this is the place to buy dates, aromatic spices and perfumed oils). Meandering through the ruins of Sijilmassa (8th -14 th centuries), once the most important fortified town of the trans-Saharan caravans, we find an advanced system of irrigation, a network of walled ksours, grand gateways leading into impressive kasbahs, one of which we visit, built by one of the ancestors of the present royal family. By late afternoon we arrive at exquisite Erg Chebbi, great crescents of sand turning golden orange against an azure sky: serene, august, sublime ... where we pick up our camels and make our way to camp in time to watch the spell-binding sunset.

Days 4-5 Before dawn we rise to climb the dunes and later, trace the tracks creatures engraved during the night. Following the routes made long ago by caravans carrying gold, ivory, ebony, and slaves, we might encounter the Tuaregs (Blue Men of the desert) and settlements of former slaves. If we are lucky, there will be home visits and a musical gathering around the campfire. An unforgettable display of shooting stars in the night sky is our wish. The third night, we will spend in an outpost auberge owned by a French couple who promise a perfect omelette to accompany a perfect morning in the Sahara.

Day 6 As we move north past Er Rachidia, the scenery dramatically changes, from desert to green river valleys and grazing grounds where we pause to explore the region of Cirque de Jaffar, an awesome limestone gorge. We set camp here for a different episode in our journey.

Day 7 At the end of the trans-Saharan route lies the treasures of Fes, a multi-layered city of religious, intellectual, and gastronomic importance (it is called the "Soul of Morocco"). As a preamble, we stop at Sefrou, a jewel of a town reminiscent of traditional Fes with its mellah (Jewish quarter), narrow passages, and walled medina as well as Bhalil, a village constructed by the ancient Romans out of caves and grottoes still inhabited to the present day. Fes is unveiled the first night with our stay at the 18th century palace of a prominent Fassi family situated in the heart of the medina.

Days 8-9 Guided into the mysterious maze of the Fes medina, this living medieval city offers the closest we come to what everyday life might have been like seven hundred years ago in mercantile North Africa or Southern Europe where the spiritual is the center of everything . We will visit great palaces, ancient centers of learning, espy holy sites (since non-Muslims are forbidden into mosques), artisan workshops, architectural wonders ... off the usual tourist circuit. And we will sneak in a hands-on tour of one of its great potteries. Two nights in a newly-renovated, very glamorous riad. Last night is celebrated by a Fassi feast never-to-be forgotten.

Day 10 Fes/Casablanca/ US







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