Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Fez and Meknès are, respectively, the Arab and Berber capitals of Morocco, ancient centers of learning, culture, and craftsmanship.
Recognized as Morocco's intellectual and spiritual center, Fez has one of the world's oldest universities as well as the largest intact medieval quarters. It is the country's second-largest city (after Casablanca) with a population of approximately 1 million. Meknès, with nearly 850,000 inhabitants, offers a chance to experience all the sights, sounds, and smells of Fez on a slightly smaller, more manageable scale. Both Fez and Meknès still remain two of Morocco's most authentic and fascinating cities, outstanding for their history and culture, and Fez rivals Marrakesh as a top tourist destination and host of international events and festivals.
In between Fez and Marrakesh, the Middle Atlas is a North African arcadia, where rivers, woodlands, and valley grasslands show off Morocco’s inland beauty. Snowy cedar forests, ski slopes, and trout streams are not images normally associated with the country, yet the Middle Atlas unfolds like an ersatz alpine fantasy less than an hour from medieval Fez. To remind you that this is still North Africa, Barbary apes scurry around the roadsides, and the traditional djellaba (hooded gown) and hijab appear in ski areas.
Most travelers to Morocco can get a glance of the Middle Atlas as they whiz between Fez and Marrakesh, or between Meknès and points south. The central highland's Berber villages, secret valleys, scenic woods, dramatically barren landscapes, and hilly plains blanketed with olive groves lie in stark contrast to the exotic imperial cities. For this reason alone, the region is rewarding to discover for its integrity and authenticity.