Othello – Marrakesh to Porto

OTHELLO - MARRAKESH TO PORTO CYCLING TOUR OVERVIEW

From the exotic to the exceptional through Morocco, Spain and Portugal. This unique Odyssey is a cultural exploration from history's East to West.

Cycling out of the souks of Marrakesh we head through the Oasis of Ouirgane Valley before climbing over the Atlas Mountains to the Tizi-n-Test pass. Then towards spectacular UNESCO listed Ait Benhaddou, the spectacular setting for many blockbusters including this Odyssey! We then hit the old caravan route between Marrakesh and the unforgettable Draa Valley and roll over with amazing views back towards the snow covered Atlas mountains before descending to Agdz. On to Zagora and then Merzouga where we swap bikes for pacing camels (camels don't trot) and head into the Sahara! We spend a night out in the desert, in a luxurious camp befitting this journey. Then we pedal north through the Dades Valley and the Todra Gorge, encountering palm groves, rocky villages and spectacular settings - riding which is hard to beat. Our Moroccan Stage finishes with a road not less travelled, but never travelled as we take a unique pass out of the Atlas and head to the 1000 year old palmeraie - an oasis of a several hundred thousand palm trees on the outskirts of Marrakesh.

To continue our Odyssey into Spain on Stage 2 we cross (by plane for comfort!) over the Mediterranean, just as the Moorish invaders did just over 1300 years ago into - then - Iberia. We land in Andalucia - the very best region in Spain for history, atmosphere and passion! From Almeria we ride the Sierra Nevada - visiting Las Alpujarras - the white washed villages which dot the lower southern slopes, before taking on (optional of course!) the Pico Veleta - Europe’s highest road! After hitting the hills we roll to Granada then Cordoba for exceptional history and Moorish architecture in the Alhambra and La Mezquita. Then we head North West into Extremadura, the Spaniard's Spain where we roll through olive and orange groves into quiet beautiful ancient villages - ideal cycling! The Portuguese border comes all too soon but more fantastic terrain is still to come...

Our Portuguese journey starts in Alentejo, a region full of castles, monasteries, palaces, Roman and medieval ruins. With its rolling topography and views, every rise is a cyclist's delight. Our first destination in Portugal was one of its first defenses against Spain in medieval times - Monsaraz, a charming hilltop fortress now surrounded by vines which make some of Portugal's best wine! Then we roll to UNESCO listed Evora, the capital of the region with a wealth of history from the stunning Roman Temple of Diana to the Igreja de São Francisco, its splendid Gothic cathedral. Heading north into the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede where the beauty of medieval Marvao greets us, and where one of the challenges of the tour awaits - Torre, Portugal's highest road and a beautiful 19km climb (@ 6%). Our finale is the Duoro Valley and we roll all the way down it marvelling at the views, wineries and climbs! It is refined beauty at its best which contrasts perfectly with the Atlas Mountains and desert where we started our Odyssey 4 weeks ago!

Outside Magazine Trips of the Year 2020

Othello makes Outside Magazine's Epic Trips of 2021

We are hugely proud to feature not 1 but 2 of our Odysseys in Outside Magazines Epic Trips of 2021. Othello - Marrakesh to Porto and Allies made it into this very exclusive list a year early!

OTHELLO

MARRAKESH TO PORTO

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Leader and Designer - Bruno Ramain

One of our most popular guides, Frenchman Bruno is a veteran of the cycle touring industry. He has created and run tours in Morocco and Europe for the last 20 years and has a wealth of knowledge and love with all things cycling, food and wine. Touring with Bruno, guests know they will be well taken care of, both on and off the bike. His attention to detail and appreciation of wines (not only a guide but sommelier too) makes the tours he leads adventures both on the road and culinary!

OTHELLO BIKE TOUR HIGHLIGHTS
The Journey
Stage 1- Morocco

  • Mesmerising Marrakesh! A royal city of Morocco with so much to experience
  • Spectacular UNESCO gem Ait Benhaddou which rises out of the desert!
  • The Berber villages and stunning Atlas Mountains - perfect riding and exploration
  • Unspoilt Ouirgane Valley, a plateau surrounded by striking red earth foothills, planted with olive, almond and fruit trees - a true Oasis
  • The Tizi-n-Test (2092m) - an awe-inspiring switchback-filled pass into the High Atlas
  • Erg Chebbi in the Sahara desert, a luxury desert camp in the unforgettable dunes of Merzouga
  • The souks (markets) in every town and village including Jemaa el-Fnaa - the heart of Marrakesh
  • The amazing architecture from the arches of the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh to the Great Mosque of Tinmal
  • Both the Dades Valley and the Todra Gorge. Very few are lucky enough to ride one of these - we ride both in two genuinely unforgettable days on the bike. This is adventure road riding at its very best.
  • The exceptional cuisine! Subtle spices and intriguing flavour combinations make Moroccan food one of the best cuisines in the world
  • The exceptional Riads we stay in throughout our Moroccan journey - exotic, luxurious and historic!
Stage 2
Spain

  • The best of Andalusia - from Granada to Cordoba and the Sierra Nevada, as well as one of the regions most intriguing attractions is the notion of duende, the elusive spirit that douses much of Spanish art, especially Flamenco. It translates as a moment of heightened emotion that takes you out of yourself, and we will find this on and off the bike in this special region
  • Moorish Heritage in Spain - including the spectacular hilltop fortress of the Alhambra in Granada with its beautiful backdrop of the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the Great Mosque of Córdoba -  built in 784! We will also experience the heritage at the Andalusian Arab Baths in Granada, where you will have earned and will enjoy the Water Journey with massages and historical rituals - a fantastic experience especially after riding in the Sierra Nevada
  • Spectacular cycling in the Sierra Nevada (also Cadel Evan's training grounds) and its monster the Pico Veleta! At 3,398m (11,148 ft), it is Europe's highest paved road combined with the beautiful white washed villages of the Alpujarras - Capileira, Bubión, Pampaneira and more.
  • As we head east, breathtaking castle-topped villages as we cruise the rolling olive groves - Montefrio, Moclin, Zuheros, Almodovar....
  • Spain’s best kept secret - Extramadura - mysterious medieval villages, beautiful mountains, orange groves, lakes and cork forests - ideal cycling
  • Tapas Bars and live Flamenco...after all Andalusia is where Flamenco was born!
Portugal

Cycling in Portugal bike tour

  • The Alentejo region - rolling vine-clad hills, white washed villages, magnificent medieval and Roman villages. The best cycling territory in the country
  • Beautiful Evora, a UNESCO Heritage site and one of Portugal’s best preserved medieval towns which also contains some of the country's best Roman ruins, notably the spectacular Temple of Diana
  • The magnificent M's! Monsaraz, Marvao and Marialva - stunning medieval hilltop villages - some of the most beautiful in Europe
  • UNESCO listed Douro Valley for Wine tasting and beautiful vistas over the "socalcos" terraced vineyards, olive and orange groves
  • Climbing 'Torre' - The Serra da Estrela is a beautiful region and the 1993m climb aptly named 'tower' is magnificent
  • The food and wine of Alentejo! It produces half the countries wine and serves its most renowned dishes.  We will visit its most authentic restaurants – places which celebrate age-old recipes
  • The Pousadas of Portugal - the term ‘Pousada’ has become synonymous with luxury hotel accommodation in beautifully restored historical buildings - perfect for our tours!
  • Porto - A magic place to finish the odyssey, this historic city has beautiful friendly people, amazing food and that x-factor which makes its visitors fall in love with it
2024 Tour Dates and Prices
2025 Tour Dates and Prices
Tour Essentials
  • Grading - Stage 1 in Morocco has a higher Tour Grading than its numbers suggest due to the environment - it can be hot. It is also a little more challenging as a developing nation. Stage 1 averages 90km and 1200m, Stage 2 averages 100km and 1600m of elevation.
  • From Marrakesh, after completing Stage 1, we fly to Spain for Stage 2.
  • Rates are based on twin share. Single supplement = €75 EUR per night.
  • For bike rental options please click here.
Tour Accommodation

Fittingly on this exotic and historic Odyssey, we stay in riads, castles, paradores, pousadas and historic abodes. Here are some places you will stay at on the tour:

Riad Kniza, Marrakesh
riad-kniza-bike-tour-marrakesh
5 star historic riad accommodation in the heart of the Marrakesh Medina! A relaxed oasis!
Hotel Alhambra Palace, Granada
The oldest 5* hotel in Spain! With spectacular views across Granada, it is a fantastic location for our rest day and assault on Pico Veleta.
Pousada Convento de Évora
Our first Pousada! A 15th century convent -  now luxury hotel and spa. What a place to spend our rest day in Portugal!
Do you fancy a massage?
What could be better at the end of a day on the bike than a professional sports massage? When our groups reach 18 one of our Soigneurs joins the team!
Food and Wine

From the intensely rich and exquisite tagines of Morocco to the hearty paellas and seafood of Spain and onto the world renowned custard tarts of Portugal, this trip offers your taste buds a trip of a lifetime. There is no limit to the gastronomical pleasures you will encounter along the way.

Tagine, Morocco
Tagine Bike Tour
This slow cooked Maghrebi dish is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. They are seen bubbling away on the street and in the top restaurants of the country - either way they are delicious!
Tapas, Spain
Tapas are more than just snacks in Andalucia. The word means literally a lid, and originates from being just a snack, but now it is an institution and not to be missed.
Douro Valley, Portugal
Wine Tasting Bike Tour Douro Valley
It doesn't get much more sophisticated than wine tasting at Quinta da Pacheca in the Douro Valley. It is spectacular and the wine isn't bad either!

Read more about the Food and Wine of the regions we ride through

Morocco 

They say that the longer a meal takes to prepare, the better it tastes. If this is true, Moroccan food is the best in the world. Each meal takes hours to prepare and it's worth it, giving so many flavours and layers to each dish. The end result are tagines, the famous slow-cooked Moroccan stew which takes its name from the traditional clay or ceramic dish it's traditionally cooked in. Whether it be meat - usually beef or chicken - or vegetable, the tastes are exquisite. Often sweetened with prunes or apricots and always spices, they are a treat every time. There is no limit to their tagines and will just dissolve in your mouth in utter gastronomical bliss! One of the great cuisines of the world, Moroccan cooking abounds with subtle spices and intriguing flavour combinations. Think tart green olives paired with chopped preserved lemon rind stirred into a tagine of tender chicken, the surprise of rich pigeon meat pie dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar, or sardines coated with a flavourful combination of coriander, parsley, cumin and a hint of chilli. You don't have to sit down at a restaurant to get this though - some of the cheapest eats on the streets are still delightful, so be sure to go to the market or enjoy a kebab or a freshly smashed sugar cane drink at a street-side stall. Moroccan cuisine is considered one of the best in the world and you won't be disappointed. Remember to start your day with a mint tea - you will be growing herb gardens full of it when back home!

Spain 

Spain's Andalusian region has dishes which include pescaito frito (fried fish), gazpacho, Cordoban salmorejo, pringá, oxtail, jamón ibérico (Iberian ham), prepared olives, alboronía, poleá and anise. Gastronomy in Andalusia is very location specific.  Locals know that the best strawberries and jamon come from Huelva; sardines from Malaga; tuna from Barbate; mangoes from Granada; cucumbers and tomatoes from Almeria. Wine is produced all over Andalusia, though the most famous tipples are sherry from Jerez and Malaga sweet wine. The poverty of the great majority of people is also a significant element of Andalusian cuisine. The rich soups, stews and paellas found all over Spain today began as the staple diet of peasant communities, surviving on homegrown vegetables and meat bones stewed for hours to eke out every ounce of flavour. The distinctiveness of its cuisine is the result of a combination of the superb quality of its raw materials and great economy, resourcefulness and inventiveness in their use. The Moors designed and built the irrigation systems – the ‘huertas’ of Andalucía, creating great irrigated farms and cash crop systems that are still evident today. They introduced an array of foodstuffs and spices, making a huge impact on the Spanish diet. For example, they successfully introduced and cultivated rice and durum wheat (the basis of pasta) later exported to Italy. Oranges, lemons, aubergine, almonds, dates, peaches, apricots, quinces and, of huge significance, coffee, were all introduced by the Moors. Their impact on the culinary traditions of the region can also be seen in the number of Spanish dishes flavoured with black pepper, cumin, saffron and other exotic spices.

Extremadura is known for its different ways of preparing the Iberian pork and mutton. The main characteristics of the traditional dishes are its simplicity, but beautifully reflecting a generous spirit, for many of its preparations used to be cooked in large pots to share with visitors, friends and neighbours. The resulting dishes are eaten with lovely local bread. Their cuisine is an exotic blend of Muslim, Jewish and Christian traditions that are famed for producing a certain rustic style of cooking full of authentic Spanish flavours.

Portugal 

The cooking of the Alentejo isn’t fussy, nor is it particularly lowbrow. It’s simply a showcase of the rich ingredients from a region with centuries-old culinary traditions. Freshly baked bread, olives, wild mushrooms, asparagus, salted cod, wild boar and olive oil are the building blocks of timeless recipes.
Bread here is yummy and accompanies every single meal, but you will not get tired of it I guarantee! As for desserts, many towns and villages in the Alentejo prepare delightful pastries and desserts, including versions you won’t find elsewhere. According to tradition, nuns in convents were the first to make desserts, beginning in the 15th century. Recipes were passed down from generation to generation, kept as closely guarded secrets in each nunnery. Today some of the best pastries are still made by nuns – and known far and wide as doces conventuais (convent sweets). A must try! And if you stay on in Porto afterward, please try their famous sandwich, the Francesinha. It means little French woman or simply Frenchie in Portuguese. You may ask why their most iconic sandwich is named after another country.....this dish was created by Portuguese emigrants to France who encountered the French snack, the croque monsieur, and decided to take it to a whole new level, making it bigger, better and seriously more delicious! It is often served with an egg on top, chips and a sauce to dip in that takes this "sandwich" to another level!

The History

The histories of Morocco, Spain and Portugal have been intertwined for as long as modern man has occupied these fascinating countries. The Hannibalic wars of the 3rd century BCE launched our relatively modern historical knowledge of these regions. The Barca family from modern day Tunisia with their North African allies (from modern day Morocco) battled Rome, using Spain as a launchpad (just like our Hannibal Odyssey!) to the consequent Roman occupation of all of Hispania (roughly Spain and Portugal). Two of ancient Rome's greatest emperors, Hadrian and Trajan (1st and 2nd century AD) were actually born in Andalusia!

As the Roman Empire declined and the Visigoths of Eastern Europe conquered so much of Europe, Islam rose in North Africa. In 711, King Roderick of the Visigoths was defeated by the advancing Moor army. Islamic caliphates were established through most of Spain. Consequently Islamic Moorish culture blossomed across Iberia for the next 800 years (200 years longer than the Roman's lasted). Christians from the north battled to slowly but surely push back the Moors in a process known as the "Reconquest" and in 1492 the Moors were driven out of Granada, their last European stronghold.

Medieval Spain, rooted in Islamic and Christian culture, is fascinating and so different from the rest of Europe.

From here Spain quickly unified, and in the 16th and 17th centuries the Spanish Empire was at its height and the dominant force of Europe. However, the rise of the Ottoman Empire and Protestant powers in Northern Europe started Spain's decline. In the early 19th century, when Napoleon occupied France and Spain, Spain struggled to recover for the rest of the century. The early 20th century brought war... WWI and WWII but Spain's focus was its own Civil War which Nationalist General Francisco Franco, lead to victory. More than 350,000 Spaniards died in the fighting, and Franco purged all remaining Republicans. Spain is left behind by the rest of Europe but in 1975 Franco dies and Spain joins Europe as we know it today.

Meanwhile in Morocco, almost at the same time as Granada was falling, the Arab dynasties begin after centuries of Berber rule. Morocco was a strong centralised Arab state for 300 years but in 1912 it became a French protectorate and 22 years of internal war followed.. Post WWII Moroccan independence was gained and since then a monarchy has ruled.

Roughly (very roughly!) Portugal followed Spain's historical journey but by the 15th century it was independent and fast becoming a dominant maritime power conquering much of the African coastline (including parts of Morocco) and beyond. Portugal then focused on the spice trade and a horrible claim to fame is that The Inquisition was formed in Portugal in 1536. For a quick century Spain ran Portugal under a single monarch. Independence was regained in 1640. From here a typical Euro maritime history path - trade, plunder wherever possible from Africa to South America, internal conflict between Monarch and Liberals and the poor generally being downtrodden and manipulated! For the last 50 years Portugal has been relatively stable but it was as recent as the 1960s that they were fighting guerrilla warfare in their African colonies..

 

Othello....

the protagonist of the Shakespearean play of the same name is a general in the army of Venice.  He is a Moor, a dark-skinned man born in Africa, and has risen through the ranks of the Venetian army through hard work and success in battle.  A respected general, but less respected as a person because of his dark skin and foreign roots.  Honest and passionate he deeply loves Desdemona, even when he kills her.  Iago uses Othello's trust in him to manipulate him, and Othello stops trusting in Desdemona, and begins to rely exclusively on Iago's advice. Desdemona was Othello's passion, and when she dies, he must die soon after, especially after he learns that she was innocent.

A desperate story and a magnificent tale of the best known Moor in western history. This tour will give you an insight into so much more!

Testimonials

Cycling in Morocco was a culturally immersive experience so incredibly different to the classic Europe scene.  Challenging mountain climbs, stunning views, long descents; Morocco exceeded all expectations. The roads were surprisingly good, and we always felt safe. Bike Odyssey took such amazing care of us. Though the cycling was fantastic, it was the connection with the Moroccan country and its beautiful people that made this cycling trip so special.  They were so open and welcoming. Morocco is a cycling destination we will be talking about forever.

Peter Swensen, Othello 2023

A great trip. Challenging, but great rides with fantastic rest days. And the best, the last rest day in the mountain.

 

Ivan Holyman, Othello 2024

I had the time of my life!  The trip exceeded my expectations! The hotels were exceptional and unique, from the simple rural hotels to the 4/5 star hotels.  Each hosted dinner was special and drinking as much wine as you wanted was a plus. The routes were challenging and breathtaking in their beauty.  Most importantly, everyone: guides and fellow riders, made me feel at home.

Seth Washinsky, Othello 2024

Nothing was too much trouble. Wonderful accommodation and dining experiences throughout in both Morocco and Spain. It’s clearly evident that Bike Odyssey does their research thoroughly to seek out and deliver the best experience.

Bruce Williams, Othello 2023

I doubt there is a cycling trip for avid cyclists that is equal to Bike Odyssey for organization, routes, accommodation and meals. From big plans to small details, quality and service are unsurpassed. … the support and creature comforts leave nothing to be desired.

Bruce Libin, Othello 2024

Our ride in Morocco was so excellent, when we returned home I immediately booked another trip with Bike Odyssey. Everything was perfect, from the office staff and administrative arrangements to the quality of the bikes to the accommodations to the guides. Nothing was left unattended.

Marina Marra, Othello 2024
See all our testimonials
Some Light Reading
Hamilton
This book explores Morocco's ancient storytelling tradition and the great age old tales.
Wharton
In Morocco by Edith Wharton
In the 1920's novelist Wharton travelled to Morocco post World War I. An historic travel book in more ways than one.
Tremlett
Ghosts-of-Spain-Giles Tremlett-bike tour
A fantastic read.  If you have time to read just one book on Spain, this is it.
Drayson
A great factual tale of Boabdil, the last Muslim king of Granada.
Saraiva
A best seller in Portugal, yet a factual history of Portugal - it must be good!