Meknes, Fes, Madrid, Toledo, Avila, Segovia, Leon, Burgos, Pamplona, Zaragoza, Barcelona, El Jadida, Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Merzouga
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Take a journey into the past, where the medinas whisper of ancient secrets and the old cities impose a creative legacy. Spain and Morocco are where World Heritage Sites arouse all the senses. They aren’t museum pieces but destinations that feel like an exotic time and space. This handcrafted itinerary will visit almost all of Morocco’s sites, before going off-trail in Spain to discover those that see few tourists. It will be 17 sites in three weeks with some wonderful experiences in between.
Rabat – The Old and the New: A Timeless Moroccan Introduction
Rabat will be your introduction to Morocco and this three-week journey. It is perhaps the most unusual of all the World Heritage Sites on your trip since it is not listed for its old quarter, nor a particular building or style. It is the harmony of centuries that makes the quaint Moroccan capital so enchanting, as the old and the new blend seamlessly in their show of architectural unity. This is also a relaxed city that defies its status as the capital. You’ll be greeted at the airport in Casablanca and transferred to Rabat, where a local guide takes you on a walking tour of the city. For a soft introduction to the country, there’s nowhere quite as enchanting.
El Jadida – Hassan II Mosque and a Portuguese Legacy
Drive back through Casablanca this morning and stop at the monumental Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest Islamic buildings ever constructed. Tranquil and euphonic, the mosque is an insightful look into a much-maligned religion. Then, you’ll continue a little further south to El Jadida, the hypnotic old city that the Portuguese called Mazagan. Sand sweeps in along the whitewashed lanes and ruins to make it feel like the 16th century, and there’s a European flair that contrasts what you found in Rabat. The sunsets are exquisite from here and your hotel has the ultimate view.
Day 3 - 4
Marrakech – Surreal Beauty of the Ancient Medina
Then, you’ll travel to Marrakech, where camels still populate the edge of the medina and donkey carts rumble across the cobbles. Scents from the souks arouse your nose, including spices, leather, and the cool fragrant air beneath the domes. With every turn you can initially feel more lost, until you realize that every lane travels somewhere and most lanes pass something exquisite. You’ll discover a mosque, an adorned wooden door, a stall spilling its goods, and the surreal beauty of what hides around corners. You’ll also go on a walking tour of the city, ending on Djemaa El-Fna to listen to the storytellers before you spend a day at your leisure discovering the city.
Marrakech – Day Trip to the Coast and Fortified Essaouira
Out on the coast, the medina is more spacious, protected by cannons and towering walls that repel the waves. Olives provide a new scent and great barrels of them are found in the souk. Artisanal workshops dot the backstreets and there’s the laid-back rhythm that only the coast can create. The whole medina is a World Heritage Site and there’s something extra special about the lanes. Essaouira is also a major world hub for Sufi music and you’ll spend the afternoon with local mystics to learn the basic drumming and chanting of a style that has evolved over many centuries.
Ouarzazate – A Mud-Brick Medieval Town and the Famous Movie Sets
Today, you’ll leave Marrakech and travel deep in the mountains to gaze across at sun-scorched valleys and tiny Berber villages. The journey across the pass is sublime, a visual feast that allows you to compare two opposing climates. To the west will be a sea of green and to the east, the land will be brutally dry and ochre-toned. You’re now in the desert and the sandstone castle-village (kasr) of Ait Ben Haddou is a wonderful insight into history. The structure is constructed from mud brick and more than one thousand years old, making it the most evocative of all the Atlas villages. Take tea and lunch on the rooftop of a local house, before you walk across the Gladiator movie arena and spend a relaxed afternoon and evening in Ouarzazate. Although it doesn’t have specific sights, Ouarzazate has an atmosphere that you will adore.
Merzouga – Through the Wilderness to a Night in the Saharan Sand Dunes
The journey to Merzouga isn’t short but it will offer a true immersion in the colors and charms of the Sahara. Dusty landscapes extend beyond the horizon, and it can feel like you’re traveling across a lost frontier. The sand dunes rise and rove more than a hundred feet high, glistening with orange and red hues unique to the desert. From Merzouga, you travel by camel and cross the ridges to an isolated luxury camp sheltered within the dunes. Berber hospitality meets contemporary flair as the desert stars shine above. While it feels like an adventure, the silence of the desert creates a serenity that no other landscape can rival.
Meknes – Across the Atlas Mountains to the Artisanal City
Travel west through the Middle Atlas Mountains today, with the chance to stop at Berber villages and old desert towns on route. While most tourists flock to Fes, nearby Meknes is also a World Heritage Site. It’s quieter and calmer, small enough to get to know yet large enough for you to always be discovering. This is Morocco’s most artisanal city and the dedication to creativity manifests itself through the doors, lanterns, vernacular homes, alleyway art, and roof terraces exquisitely adorned in green tiles and carved wood. It’s Morocco’s most beautiful city, and you’ll spend half the day discovering why it is so unique.
Meknes – Volubilis Day Trip and Relaxing in Meknes
Nearby Volubilis isn’t just a set of fabulous Roman ruins. This is the site where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were introduced to northwestern Africa. The city is a spiritual heartbeat that remains a pilgrimage site to this day. You can almost hear the stories from the columns and carvings, the secrets whispered from 2000-year-old stone. After a morning in Volubilis, you have a free afternoon in Meknes, which will be a chance to relax on the rooftop and take a walk through the labyrinth. Unlike some Moroccan cities, you won’t be hassled by traders in Meknes as this is the city where the Moroccans go to buy their artisanal goods and there are only a small handful of stalls catered to tourists.
Fes – Another Fabulous Medina to Discover
The medinas of Meknes and Fes are both World Heritage Sites but they couldn’t be more different. Fes is on a monumental scale since the maze can twist and turn for days if you don’t know where to go. While one city is serene the other defines colorful chaos, a concoction of sights and smells and sounds. The energy will compel you and there is far too much to possibly experience. Fes has an effervescence that you have never witnessed, which will be the ultimate highlight of the city. A knowledgeable local guide is essential and you’ll have an experienced insider show you around to ensure you don’t get lost amid the colorful chaos.
Madrid – Relaxed Day in the Spanish Capital
Today, the second part of your journey will begin. You land in Madrid in the early afternoon and the day will be at your leisure, an opportunity to absorb the change of rhythm and get a flavor for the second country on your trip. Your hotel will be located in the heart of the city, within walking distance of the Plaza Mayor and the quaint pedestrianized lanes. Traveling from Fes to Madrid can be quite a change, so there’s no need to rush into anything. Relax, take your time, try out the Spanish cuisine, and spend a quiet evening on an open-air terrace.
Madrid – Day Trip to Aranjuez and Toledo
To the south of Madrid, you find World Heritage Sites that narrate Spain’s Golden Age. A royal palace dominates the landscape of Aranjuez, and a single glance will instill an image of regal excess in your memory. When you try to imagine a lavish European palace it looks very similar to Aranjuez, with porticoes lining the façade and interiors that push the boundaries of pomp and grandeur. Nearby Toledo is completely different, even though it dates back to a similar time. While the royals moved to Aranjuez it was the people that built Toledo, a medieval city of twisting spires and cobbled lanes. Spend the whole afternoon here, admiring the mosaics of El Greco and the stories that forever tied religions together.
Segovia – Two Exquisite Cities From the Past
Spain’s World Heritage cities are living monuments, where the glory of history continues to influence the present, and Avila and Segovia are two sublime examples of this. Travel to Avila by train and you’ll enter the city through thick white city walls. An abundance of churches fills the streets, as their Romanesque and early Gothic styles are effortlessly preserved. Avila feels like the 16th century, while nearby Segovia still has the fragrances of a Roman era. After you collect your luggage you continue by train to this fabulous place of Roman grandeur where the roving aqueduct is just one site preserved from a civilization that has long since past.
Leon – World Heritage Often Overlooked by Tourists
Most visitors travel west across Castilla y Leon, to World Heritage cities like Salamanca. This morning, you’ll travel north, going further back in history to cities and structures that receive far fewer tourists, which creates a more authentic experience. In Leon, the city’s cathedral provides a seductive introduction. A legacy of Baroque and neoclassical styles, it contrasts the rest of the historic center, where Gothic churches and a Romanesque pantheon of frescoes point to different eras. Leon crosses all the centuries and on the walking tour, you’ll also find the architecture of Gaudi. Travel here on a private tour and spend the night in a superbly restored monastery.
Burgos – Fabulous Architectural Legacies
The next day, you’ll travel east to stop in Burgos, a city defined by its cathedral. One of the most spectacular cathedrals in Spain, it took more than 300 years to build and is an epic masterpiece of Gothic design that influenced architecture across France and Iberia. There’s a fervent atmosphere in the afternoons when lines of pilgrims arrive to give their blessing to the Virgin Mary, and eyes seem to watch you from the sculpture-filled cloisters. Burgos is also a great city to get a real taste of Spain, and there will be a superb local restaurant to try the food of the plains tonight.
Pamplona – Language, Vineyards and Medieval Flair
Spain is a rural country and the journeys will be sublime, as you weave across empty landscapes, and pass the remains of villages that now appears abandoned. Today’s route takes you across La Rioja, where the vineyards dominate and a mostly unknown heritage is found in two serene monasteries. It was here that the Spanish language originated and the story is inspiring since a remote place in the hills pioneered the second most spoken language on the planet. There will be plenty of time to stop at a vineyard for lunch and wine tasting before you continue across the open valleys to Pamplona, a city that surprises almost every visitor.
Pamplona – Free Day in Pamplona
Pamplona is on the television every year when hundreds of thousands come to participate in San Fermin or the Running of the Bulls festival. It’s an old city protected by castle walls that emanates a sense of local pride and a determination to be unique. It’s full of corners and niche experiences, from coffee with a view to marching bands and the Basque specialty of pintxos, which are similar to tapas. After a few days of fast travel, this day will be free for you to easily explore Pamplona without a map or a guide.
Zaragoza – Stunning Mudejar Art and a Cathedral to Inspire
The following day, you will take the train to Zaragoza into the rarely visited region of Aragon. Back in the middle ages, Aragon provided refuge to the Moors, who were persecuted across most of Iberia. The Islamic immigrants brought their distinctive style of art and design to this old-world region, covering archways and windows with superb ornamentation. Another of Spain’s vastly underrated cities, Zaragoza holds further architectural legacies, such as a Visigoth memoir that matches those you found in Burgos and Toledo. The Mudejar art of Zaragoza is a World Heritage Site and the cathedral brings a day of exploration to an inspiring conclusion.
Barcelona – The Works of Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner
End your vacation in the flamboyant capital of Catalonia and embrace a city that has a little of everything including art, architecture, museums, beaches, restaurants, castles, local style, and more than 2000 years of history. The most famous attractions are the UNESCO-recognized masterpieces of the Modernistas. Lluis Domenech I Montaner was the first and his hospital building is unlike anything anywhere in the world. Gaudi was his pupil who forged the art nouveau legacy, found in the superb casas (houses) of Eixample and the cathedral still under construction. After an early train into the city, a guide will accompany you to all the mind-boggling works.
Barcelona – Free Day in Barcelona
In a city with a little of everything, your last full day in Spain could travel in many directions. Perhaps you have a drink on one of the terraces and recall the last three weeks. Alternatively, you could spend a day at the beach, take a tapas crawl, visit one of the outstanding art galleries in the city, or sit back and soak up the Catalan style.
Barcelona – Departure
Enjoy a morning at leisure before a private transfer to the airport.
- Immersive yourself in the exotic medinas of Morocco with full days of discovery in Marrakech, Fes, Meknes and Essaouira
- Explore the inspiring architecture of the Spanish Middle Ages such as Burgos and Leon, superb destinations with a local and authentic atmosphere
- Experience the traditions of Morocco with a journey through the Atlas Mountains and a stop at the mud-brick ksar of Ait Ben Haddou
- Discover the Roman heritage of Spain and Morocco, such as the spiritual Volubilis and the aqueduct of Segovia
- Wander the lanes of the great Spanish cities as the landscape of Rabat and the white walls of Avila complement a day in Toledo
- Spend a night beneath the stars in the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, riding out to a luxury camp by camel
- Compare and contrast the wonderful works of art as Meknes and Fes are very different to the Mudejar design of Aragon and the art nouveau of Gaudi and Domenech I Montaner
The legacy of history lives on in the World Heritage Sites of Spain and Morocco. Labyrinthine medinas (old Arab quarters) are dotted with donkey carts and camel caravans while fabulous cathedrals whisper of pre-medieval folklore. Mud-brick ksars (castles) crumble elegantly amid rugged mountains and exquisite architecture continues to confound visitors. These are not museum pieces but living cities and atmospheric monuments, where the experience isn’t just about taking photos but soaking up the idiosyncratic style. Both these countries can take you on a journey and over these three weeks you’ll be immersed in 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites as the route is handcrafted to showcase the complete range of what the countries offer.
In Morocco you follow a classic route, visiting eight of the nine UNESCO Sites in the country. Old meets new in Rabat, and Portuguese heritage lives on in El Jadida, then the ancient medinas of Marrakech and Essaouira provide time to excite your curious soul. Take a journey through the mountains and stop at the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou on route to the sand dunes of the Sahara. Meknes is the artisanal capital of Morocco and will be your base before you journey on to spiritual Volubilis and mazy Fes complete your time in Morocco.
In Spain you head off the beaten track, visiting some of the most famous attractions but also admiring the lesser-known World Heritage Sites. From Madrid you’ll explore the medieval city of Toledo and the palaces of Aranjuez. Then, travel by high-speed train to marvel at the ancient realms of Avila and Segovia. Spend three days traveling through Leon, Burgos and La Rioja, where vastly under-appreciated sites reveal an artistic creativity that transcends the centuries. Take some time to relax in Pamplona before admiring the Mudejar art of Aragon on route to Barcelona, the Catalan capital and pioneer of an art nouveau.
$4,867 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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