Endless rooftops, intricate mosaics, rich flavours and perfumes – Fez was everything I ever dreamt of and more. It was a complete cultural immersion and a lesson to celebrate life through music, food and beauty.
I hadn’t left Europe before this trip so I was out of my comfort zone and that left plenty of room for Morocco to impress me.
It was only across the Mediterranean…
Still counts! As I was saying, I did not expect much of Fez but boy was I in for a treat.
We landed late at night in this magical place and we instantly knew we were somewhere much different than anywhere we’ve ever been.
Staying in a riad is a fairy tale experience in itself; with their mesmerising tiles in opulent colours, luxurious fabrics and precious metals they cast a spell on your senses.
We stayed in Dar Anebar, inside the medina.
Perhaps my favourite part of staying in this riad was the roof top where I would go and spend as much time as I could, sipping on mint tea and taking in the views.
I warmly recommend staying in a riad on the edge of the medina as the old town is laid in a valley so any accommodation near the city walls would give you amazing views. As a bonus, if you’ll travel outside of Fez, staying near one of the gates will make your life easier.
You can go and explore other riads, they all have their own unique patterns and colours of tiles, a wonder to admire.
The Medina: Fez el Bali
The medina of Fez is a UNESCO heritage site; it’s an extremely well preserved piece of history. It is home to the oldest functioning university in the world, Al Quaraouiyine, and allegedly one of the largest urban car-free areas. Don’t be surprised by the number of mules you’ll see inside the medina as they are used by the local government, businesses and even individuals for any strenuous activity. The poor mules did look pretty sad – and for good reason.
Once you pass through one of the colourful gates, you enter a life size maze with beautiful distractions at every corner. The most impressive, imposing, well preserved and famous gate in Fez is Bab Boujloud.
We took a guided tour on the first day and I highly recommend it if you want to explore all the nooks and crannies of the medina. Fez has countless narrow streets and alleyways enclosed by tall buildings so you won’t be able to rely on your GPS. For that I recommend MAPS.ME; it allows you to download offline maps but unlike Google Maps the app actually works once you’re no longer connected to internet. I also suggest dropping a pin on your hotel and saving it as there are very few offline POIs.
Alternatively you can pay a local to take you back to your hotel – which is what we did one late evening when we inevitably got lost.
Inside the medina you will find the old madrasas (schools), mosques and of course many souks (markets). There are different areas for each craftsmanship like the metal souk (Place Seffarine) where coppersmiths work away in the rhythm of the medina, the wooden arts and crafts with the Nejjarine Museum or the perfume and spices area. The contrast between each made it feel like I was travelling back in time.
Be prepared to be paraded into shops from time to time, all presented as the best of their trade and selling unique things you have to have! It seems like each tour guide has their own business arrangements but if you are out for shopping it’s likely you will find some truly amazing pieces.
We saw the Chaouwara tanneries as part of our tour so we were taken on the rooftop of one of the shops we visited. We didn’t have to pay a fee but I did notice there’s an official entrance that has a charge. People will try and sell you a bouquet of mint but I doubt it has any power in the face of that dreadful smell so I didn’t buy one.
You’ll need to venture out of the medina to see the beautiful gates of the Royal Palace.
The golden gates were being meticulously scrubbed when we visited, no wonder they’re so shiny.
Close by, you will find the Jnan Sbil Gardens.
Day trip – Ifrane and Cedar Forest
On our second day of the trip the souks were closed and there wasn’t much to do so we decided to book a day trip close by. We could choose between going to see the Roman Ruins of Volubilis or a trip to Ifrane and the Cedar Forest where wild monkeys live. Having just came back from Crete where we saw the Knossos ruins, we decided that was enough history for the end of the year and instead went for the monkey park.
Ifrane, known as the Switzerland of Morocco is surrounded by mountains which make it a well loved ski resort.
The highlight of the day trip of course was the stopping through the cedar forest where we saw the endangered Barbary Ape. I instantly fell in love with these mischievous creatures and it was beautiful to see them in their habitat and to observe how they adapted to having humans around; they either use their cuteness and expect food in exchange or blatantly come and steal it from you.
Take extra care where you step, whilst feeding a family of monkeys I managed to submerge myself ankle deep in a massive heap of horse manure.
Talking about food, I found Fez to be accommodating even though there isn’t much variety for vegetarian dishes. A lot of restaurants and riads will prepare vegetarian options if you call and let them know in advance though.
The breakfast was a daily feast with different types of pastries and pancakes like Msemen (square pan fried dough) Beghrir (Moroccan Pancakes) and Meloui (round pancakes) fruit jams and freshly squeezed orange or pomegranate juice.
For lunch, I usually filled up on the many starters which are all luckily vegetarian -a mix of cold salads and dips made with seasonal vegetables. You get more than your 5 a day before even touching the main course. Oh and the freshly baked bread is divine! I probably had the best kebab of my life from a butcher shop inside the medina. If that was in London it wouldn’t have passed the Food Standards Agency requirements; however we were in Fez which made me uncharacteristically adventurous and went for it. It was just a kebab.
Make sure you try the Harira, a comforting savoury lentil and tomato soup served with dried figs. The main dish I was often offered was vegetable tagine with couscous which is delicious but each restaurant will tell you theirs is nothing like the one you just had a few hours earlier. If you want a break from the tagine ask for the traditional Pastilla (pie) to be made vegetarian. There’s pictures and descriptions of Moroccan food in this article.
We snacked on dried fruits, honey soaked pastries like Almond Briouats, Moroccan Sellou and Chebakia and finished everything with the obligatory mint tea. Check out this article for a list of Moroccan desserts.
Fez was one the most incredible place I visited last year and I want to go back soon and spend more time travelling around Morocco. If you’re still not convinced, here‘s more amazing pictures of this magical place. Another item to be added on the ever growing bucket list is exploring the country and camping in the desert. Have you ever been to Morocco or is it on your bucket list?