Marvel at the size of the Mosque of Hassan II, which dominates the Casablanca skyline – this massive edifice is the largest in Africa and second only in the world to the great mosque at Mecca. Take part in the World Sacred Music festival in Fes. Festival that helped to maintain dialogue with the sacred through its legendary forum and the highlighting of arts and music.. Uncover one of the most remote parts of the Roman Empire, and the most impressive Roman ruins in Morocco, at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Volubilis. Learn about the past from the knowledgeable local experts.. Explore Morocco’s first imperial city, Meknes, and discover the charming streets of the old medina that lead to the lovely Bou Inania Medresse (religious school)
The location of Fes was chosen by Moulay Idriss based on the abundance of springs, which serves as the perfect metaphor for the river of culture that has since flowed from Morocco’s first capital. This culture now pools into a single event, the UNESCO recognised Fes Festival of World Sacred Music which serves as the heartbeat to Morocco’s artistic body. From Casablanca through to Marrakech with a stop at this world class festival, experience a rare insight into both Moroccan and world culture on this enlightening adventure.
Welcome to Morocco! On arrival at Casablanca Airport, you will be met by a Peregrine representative and transferred to your hotel. While this is an arrival day and you may arrive at any time, please note that hotel rooms are generally only available after midday, and that there will be an important welcome meeting with your leader tonight. If you arrive with time to spare, then a great option for your limited time in Casablanca is to visit the art deco Villa des Arts. This gorgeous gallery dates back to 1930s and holds numerous exhibitions of contemporary Moroccan and international art. If you are looking for a different type of cultural experience, then you can discover a unique and fascinating part of Moroccan history at the Museum of Judaism.
This morning you will visit one of the most impressive sites in Casablanca – the massive edifice of the Mosque of Hassan II. Opened in 1993, and second only in size to the great mosque at Mecca, the huge building is part on land and part on sea, and in one area water can be seen through a glass floor. It can accommodate 25,000 worshippers and the main roof is retractable to create an open courtyard. It is one of the only religious sites open to non-Muslims. Later, you will leave Casablanca and drive north along the coast to Rabat (approximately 1.5 hours), the elegant capital of Morocco and its first Imperial city. It contains numerous fine Arab monuments, some dating from the 10th to 15th century Almohad and Merenid dynasties, and others that are far older. The earliest known settlement is Sala. Start your visit with the walk through Medina and Souks, then explore the lovely walled quarter known as the Kasbah des Oudaias and enjoy an included local drink. Afterwards, continue the walk to visit Mohamed the 5th Mausoleum the vast minaret of the Hassan Mosque. In the late afternoon, continue on to Meknes (approximately 2 hours), the sixth largest city in the kingdom, and former capital of Morocco.
This morning you will discover the charming streets of Meknes’ medina – the old walled section of the city. Enter via the northern gate, Bab Berdaine, and walk to the shrine of Moulay Ismail who, in the 17th century, turned Meknes from a provincial town to a spectacular Imperial city. Visit Moulay Ismail Mausoleum. This peaceful and spiritual resting place of Sultan Moulay Ismail is one of the few sacred sites in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Constructed during his lifetime, Ismail chose this location as it had once housed Meknes's Palais de Justice (courthouse), and he hoped in death to be judged in his own court by his own people Take some time to soak up the atmosphere of this place before driving out of the city to the ruins of Volubilis (approximately 45 minutes). Volubilis was once a provincial Roman capital, a distant outpost of the empire, and the remains make an undeniably impressive sight. Volubilis is the foremost Roman site in Morocco and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997. Upon arrival you will take a tour around the ruins with a local guide. Please remember to pack drinking water, hat, sunglasses and sun cream for this tour as it may get hot and you will be exposed to the sun. And, of course, don’t forget to take your camera as the town is filled with fantastic mosaics along the Decumanus Maximus, many of which remain intact. After time spent imagining Volubulis as the bustling city it once was, continue on to the living museum of Fes for the night (approximately 1.5 hours). Check in to your hotel in late afternoon, and perhaps spend the evening relaxing in this calming oasis, away from the buzz of streets of Fes.
Set against a wide valley and nestled between two peaks in the stunning Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen may take you by surprise. Its medina has been lovingly cared for with striking blue and whitewashed houses, red-tiled roofs and artistic doorways. Much of Chefchaouen was recreated by Andalusian refugees escaping the Reconquistia, so you might feel like you're in the hills of Spain while exploring its streets. Ease into the relaxed pace of life in this rural retreat. Take an orientation walk through the ancient medina and shop for handicrafts, or simply sit at a cafe and enjoy the pleasure of time passing by. If you're feeling peckish, the goats cheese on offer is a popular treat enjoyed by many visitors. Regroup for included home cooked dinner this evening.
Arrive at Fes, the spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco. This vibrant, fascinating and near overwhelming city is a feast for the senses. While most of your time here will be spent exploring the sights and sounds of the World Sacred Music Festival, there may be some time to explore the city before the events. You may want to explore the well-preserved medieval old city, known locally as Fes el Bali – the mother of all Medinas. Medieval Fes was one of the world's great centres of education and culture, both Islamic and Jewish. Its religious institutions and libraries are legendary, its mosques of great renown. The twisting streets and alleyways are full of passing donkeys piled high with goods, hiding specialty sections that divide the souk. Medresse el Attarine, the local tanneries and the splendid Funduk Nejjarine, a beautiful 18th-century inn, are all worth inspecting as well.
Running since 1994, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music has long served as a forum that emphasises the importance of the musical arts. Each year the event adopts a different theme to which the performances adhere to – no two festivals are the same. The festival has described by UNESCO in 2001 as a major cultural event on the world stage and remains crucial in pushing forward the ideas of liberty, openness and curiosity.
The performances often showcase the talents of an incredible range of international talent, ensuring a taste of cultures and styles as far ranging as Chinese opera performances all the way through to American expatriate blues musicians. Parades of ancient rites from rural Italy with ghostly costumes, excerpts from acclaimed novelists at readings, moon rituals and films dedicated to the lives of unique townships have all featured in the past, contributing to a collage the festival paints as one of the most culturally influential gatherings in the world. There’s little to no doubt that you’ll come away from the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music with a greater understanding of the art, culture and society that lives in the world around you.
Concerts are held in the afternoon in the tree-lined Jnan Sbil Gardens, and larger more spectacular events take place in the open-air parade grounds of Bab al Makina, sitting at the foot of the iconic fortifications of the Royal Palace. These locations offer a place for light and sound to flow freely, a crucial part of a festival where projections and sprawling soundscapes are so often employed to produce a feeling between awe and poignancy.
There are certain considerations to take in while exploring the festival - read the special information section below for more details.
Today, leave the intensity of the city behind for the simplicity of the High Atlas Mountains. Drive south, inland through a variety of spectacular scenery – fertile valleys, cedar and pine forests and barren, rocky landscapes – to the small town of Midelt (approximately 3.5 hours). Midelt is a market town, originally built as a base for mining in the area, and is nestled in the high plains surrounding the Moulouya River, between the Middle and High Atlas mountain ranges at an elevation of just over 1500 metres. It's a perfect spot to break up the journey to the Sahara, and is a great base for some easy walks. Many of the locals are Berber, and the town can offer an insight into their way of life. After lunch, stretch your legs for a few hours on an easy hike in the nearby hills. Be prepared for some astonishing views of the Atlas Mountains, with snowy peaks almost touching the sky. Wander through plantations of apple trees on the way back to your accommodation for a relaxing evening, resting up before the Sahara tomorrow.
This morning there's time to haggle for carpets (mainly Kilims), take another refreshing walk, or visit a nearby Franciscan convent where local girls and women learn weaving, tapestry and embroidery. Drive through changing scenery, from barren mountainsides to fertile valleys, on the journey to Merzouga. With a backdrop of the orange-coloured Erg Chebbi sand dunes, the charming Saharan village of Merzouga feels wonderfully isolated, like the modern world has left it behind. The Erg Chebbi dunes are the most stunning in the country and an essential part of any visit to Morocco. An erg is a vast sea of shifting wind-swept sand that's formed into picturesque, undulating crests and valleys. The Erg Chebbi is one of the world's iconic landscapes, with towering dunes up to 150 metres in height. Located at the end of a sealed road and just 20 kilometres from the Algerian border this really feels like frontier country. You will leave your gear at a simple auberge and then ride camels into the edge of the Sahara Desert, enjoying a spectacular sunset along the way. The dunes are stunning, especially as the evening light plays across them and sets off the colours. Tonight you will camp out in traditional style, with the chance to try some fantastic local cuisine while you sit around an open fire. Stay late after the dinner, enjoying lively music, drumming, Bedouin stories and dancing under the stars.
Enjoy a real Lawrence of Arabia moment this morning with a sunrise camel ride across the desert on the return journey to the auberge. Then drive to Todra Gorge (approximately 3.5 hours), a massive trench that rises over 250 metres to form one of the most dramatic and spectacular natural sights in Morocco. The limestone stacks make a perfect area for trekking, and so today you will take a short walk through the sheer cliffs. Then continue on to the beautiful Dades Valley (approximately 1 hour). Enjoy some time to take in the remarkable scenery – sprawling green valleys and rocks sculpted into stunning formations by the wind.
Today set out for an included hike around this beautiful surroundings. Enjoy included picnic lunch on the way. Rest of the day is free to delve in the atmosphere of Moroccan countryside.
Leaving the Dades Valley today, set off on the fabled ‘Road of 1,000 Kasbahs’. The first stop is at Skoura Oasis (after approximately 1 hour), home to several privately owned kasbahs. Visit the Kasbah Ameridhl, with its extravagant decorations and mud-brick fortifications. Continue on your journey to Ait Benhaddou (approximately 1 hour). Perched on a hilltop and almost unchanged since the 11th century, Ait Benhaddou is one of Morocco's most iconic sites. Its grand Kasbah is one of the most beautiful in Morocco and the fortified village is a fine example of clay architecture. If you think you recognise the place, you probably do as the town has a long list of film and TV credits including Lawrence of Arabia, Game of Thrones and Gladiator. Enjoy a walk through the winding streets of old town, making your way to the top of the hill where you can enjoy the views across the surrounding plains. After heading to the nearby hotel for the night, maybe sit back on the roof top terrace and watch the sun setting over the magical Kasbah.
After breakfast, depart for Essaouira – a city where the medina brushes up against the Atlantic Ocean. The narrow streets of Essaouira are ideal for casual exploration. Their size discourages cars and walks through the town feels as though little has changed since the days of sea pirates. Sandstone walkways contrast with the whitewashed houses, bright blue skies and the sand of the surrounding beaches and dunes. It is one of North Africa's most attractive places, and you will soon find yourself slipping into its easy-going rhythm of this Moroccan town with a European seaside twist. The fishing port is a serious commercial operation and there’s much fun to be had observing the daily catch and its subsequent auction. Elsewhere there are numerous shops and several fine art galleries to distract a visitor, along with a wide variety of restaurants. Your tour leader will help guide you through the maze of options. In the afternoon enjoy cultural tour if Gnawa music. Essaouira is well known for its Gnawa heritage and hosts on of the biggest festivals of that kind. This evening you might like to indulge in a luxuriating massage and hammam in a spa.