Ramblers intern Kate Mellor has been walking the path of ancient history across two continents. She was following the Moorish Trail on a cultural journey that began in the 8th century; starting in Marrakesh, it leads through Morocco, across to Andalucia in Spain, and all the way up to modern Madrid.
After a relaxed first dinner at the hotel in Marrakesh, the first proper day discovering the Moorish Trail was a bit of a culture shock! Most of the group had never been to Morocco before and so the guided tour of the city was a shock to the senses.
The day was filled with historic and cultural visits, including Bahia Palace, the Medersa Ben Youssef (14th century school annexe which housed 800 Koranic students), the Saadian tombs, the dye markets, the Mellah (Jewish quarter), and more. We even had lunch overlooking the famous Koutoubia mosque and had some time for exploring the souks at the end of the day!
The next day we headed out of the heat of the city to the beautiful Ourika valley. Our walk here from Setti Fatma was gentle, allowing us to fully appreciate the fantastic setting of mountains and Berber villages as we explored Moroccancountryside life.
On return to Marrakesh, we headed to the peaceful Jardin Majorelle, created by French artist Jacques Majorelle, who settled here in the 1920s.
Next day we took the morning train to Rabat for a coach tour of the city. The tour was fantastic, taking in the Chellah (an Arabic necropolis built on the remains of a Roman city), the tower of Hassan (12th century minaret), the mausoleum of Mohammed V, the Casbah des Oudaias and,of course, finishing off with some Moroccon mint tea in the Andalucian gardens.
The next leg took us on the train to Tangier, where you can see all the way over to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. This eclectic seaside city is well-known in modern times for inspiring the beat poets of the 1940s and 50s, its superb nightlife and its mixture of French, Spanish and Arabic culture. Our tour was conducted by our leader, Alison, and lunch was in a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Grand Socco. Fantastic!
Now at the end of the Moroccan part of the Trail, we changed continents and made the crossing to Spain by ferry to Tarifa, followed by a spectacular bus ride to Algeciras, and an equally spectacular train ride to our next stop, Ronda.
The train journey took us through wonderful rolling hills, farmland, and sherry country, passing many pueblos blancos (white buildings) which are arguably the best in Spain. Our day culminated in a sunset walk of the stunning town of Ronda. Set on two sides of an enormous gorge, Ronda was both an important Roman and Moorish stronghold. The hotel was also situated right next to the gorge, offering fabulous views, but peering out the window was not for the faint-hearted!
Our second day walk of the trip took us on a 6-mile circular route, first through the Moorish quarter of the city, then down past the gorge to offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Free time in the afternoon allowed everyone to experience the Arab baths or one of the many churches and museums. A short horse and carriage ride followed by a lovely meal in an old building all to ourselves, rounded the day off nicely!
After an early morning train ride to make the most of the day, we arrived in Granada. The city is steeped in Moorish history, and is especially important as it was the last Moorish stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, finally being defeated by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. The city is sprawling but beautiful, with its small white houses on the hilly streets of the Sacromonte district contrasting with its modern city centre, interspersed with outstanding works of Moorish and Renaissance architecture. From the Mirador de San Nicolas we got our first glimpse of our destination for tomorrow: the famed Alhambra!
The Alhambra is a magnificent palace and fortress complex. The palaces as we know them today were built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain, the Nasrids. A whole day is most definitely needed, as this colossal structure is unlike anything you will have seen before and also contains a summer palace and gardens, as well as several art and archaeological museums. This fantastic day was followed by an equally excellent evening getting to grips with Andalucian culture in the form of a flamenco show, which had he whole group mesmerised!
Reluctantly we left Granada, but we were on our way to another important Moorish stronghold, the city of Cordoba. We spent two days here exploring the Moorish as well as the Jewish, Roman, and Christian parts of this historic and beautiful city. The Mezquita (cathedral and mosque) is the most famous building here, and it's not hard to see why. It is unique in that the Christians who built the cathedral chose to preserve the remains of a mosque and build their cathedral around it, and it is quite an astounding feat.
Our final stop on the Moorish Trail was the capital city of Spain, Madrid, where we visited the incredible art galleries and museums and enjoyed the wonderful culinary delights the city has to offer. All in all, this is a fabulous trip that gives you a real insight into the Moors and a very different history of Spain.