Although the Spanish expelled the Muslim Moors (the English word comes from the Spanish moro, or “dark”) in 1492, they didn’t disappear. Their aesthetics, cuisine and culture are very much alive in Morocco, just across the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s easy to combine the best of southern Spain and Morocco into one unforgettable itinerary. Start in Marrakech, Morocco’s most alluring city; note the elaborate palaces and elegant towers. Indeed, by exploring Marrakech first, the many parallels between Morocco and southern Spain will be that much easier to identify and appreciate. Although one could certainly spend much longer, we recommend the following 13-day itinerary that encompasses the best of the Moorish cultural legacy.
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Although Marrakech now practically overflows with luxury hotels and resorts, the exotic soul of the city remains thoroughly and vibrantly intact. On a first visit, a guide is vital for illuminating the rich history of the city and navigating its labyrinthine lanes.
Arrive in Madrid, change planes and fly nonstop to Marrakech. Here, our editors recommend a range of hotels and resorts that include historic courtyard mansions in the heart of the medina and oases in the Palmeraie comprising an array of private villas. Some travelers try both, staying in downtown Marrakech for a few nights before switching to a Palmeraie resort for relaxation and day excursions.
Start at the Almoravid Koubba, the small size of which belies its importance. This two-story tower is the only Almoravid building (dating from A.D. 1062 to 1145) remaining in Morocco, and its style is at the very root of the country’s architecture as well as that of Moorish Spain. Across the square, the Marrakech Museum displays Moroccan art in a grand and beautifully restored 19th-century palace. The Ben Youssef Madrassa next door dates to the 14th century, but this Koranic school was rebuilt by the Saadians, who ornamented almost every surface. The exquisite stucco work and zellij (geometric tilework) found here resemble that in the Alhambra in Granada.
From the madrassa, walk with your guide through Marrakech’s souks, which present a profusion of tempting handicrafts. Offerings include leather, slippers, dyed wool, carpets, textiles, traditional cosmetics and herbal remedies and ingredients used for magic.
Pass into the incomparable Djemaa el-Fna, a sprawling, unspoiled square where locals come to enjoy street food, storytellers, musicians, acrobats, dancers, magicians and other entertainers.
Explore the mellah, the former Jewish quarter, and wander the evocative ruins of El Badi Palace. Farther into the kasbah (inner citadel), the Saadian Tombs have dazzlingly lavish mausoleums and shady gardens. In the afternoon, take a calèche (horse-drawn carriage) to Majorelle Gardens, 12 gorgeous acres created by painter Jacques Majorelle and owned by Yves Saint Laurent until his death.
Your options include a half-day excursion into the Ourika Valley, a cool, green ribbon lined with Berber villages. Also, you can take a Moroccan cooking class, explore Marrakech on your own or simply relax and take advantage of the amenities of your hotel, many of which have unusually splendid spas.
Fly from Marrakech to Casablanca, change planes and continue to Málaga, Spain. Rent a car or engage the services of a driver (the narrow roads of the region have some challenging twists and turns), and proceed along the coast to Finca Cortesin Hotel Golf & Spa, a relaxing resort near the village of Casares, about an hour’s drive. Take the rest of the day at leisure.
Play a round of golf on one of the adjacent world-class courses; wander hilly (and still relatively unspoiled) Casares; venture into glitzy Marbella; or simply lounge at your resort. Even quirky Gibraltar is only an hour away.
Sevilla is on the banks of the Guadalquivir River and is one of the largest historical centers in Europe. It has the bell tower La Giralda, a massive cathedral (one of the largest in Christendom) and the Alcázar Palace. Other attractions include Casa de Pilatos, Torre del Oro, the Town Hall, Archive of the Indies (where the historical records of the Americas are kept), the Fine Arts Museum, convents, parish churches and palaces.
Transfer to the city of Córdoba. For 300 years, it was the capital of the western Moorish empire, and before that it was Roman Spain’s largest city.
Granada is widely regarded as the epitome of Spanish culture, where traditions hold firm, flamenco echoes around the whitewashed streets and the people speak the most impenetrable form of Castilian. As far as visitors are concerned that has long been the charm of this Andalusian city, along with its scenic location at the foot of the Sierra Nevada and the Alpujarras mountains.
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