How I was looking forward to my visit to Fez, for, as you may know, I’m extremely fond of Morocco – nothing compares to the smells/sounds and diversity of this country. And once again, I wasn’t disappointed, for Fez’s ancient city centre is one of a kind and is sure to offer you a wonderful experience; it’s like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to the Arabian Middle Ages.
Let’s start off with some facts: Fez is the third largest city in Morocco (after Casablanca and Marrakech) and is one of the four King Cities (the others being Marrakech, Rabat and Meknes). It is located in the north of Morocco and can be reached easily from Europe: many (low-cost) airlines offer flights to Fez from various destination in Europe. This makes Fez a popular destination for alternative city trips or for longer visits, allowing you to discover the new and modern part of the city and take trips to the Middle Atlas Mountains, Meknes or the lovely blue town of Chefchaouen. The old city of Fez – the medina – dating from the ninth Century and the largest medina in Morocco, is home to the oldest university in the world, and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
When I visited Fez, the weather gods weren’t on my side, which was a bit of a disappointment because the weather is generally very nice around here (albeit a bit colder and wetter during the winter months) and in the summer it can get very hot. Spring and fall are the best times to visit.
I decided to explore the city with a professional guide on my first day. This proved to be an excellent idea, because it gives you a very good idea of how large the medina really is; a true maze. An enormous myriad of small streets and alleyways that, apart from the outer ring, is car-free and where mules are the local means of transportation.
My guide knows it like the back of his hand and, after having shown me the two main streets, takes me to other parts of the city, where he points out the stunning hidden urban gardens (he explains to me that a house with an interior garden is called a riad – whereas houses with only a courtyard are called ‘dar’) and he shows the me the most beautifully decorated Koran schools (Madrasa) and hidden market places (Fondouks). We visit the local pharmacist with a large array of natural products, the perfect place to stock up on some original Moroccan beauty products: small amber scented blocks (put them in your closet and they will make your clothes smell lovely), sandalwood oil (a personal favourite of mine) and cosmetic argan oil (which will leave your skin as soft as a baby’s).
Fez is a city of craftsmen, Fassi (from Fez) plaster work and ceramics are sold all over the world, and consequently, these proud craftspeople dominate the scene here. Everywhere in the medina, they are hard at work: carpenters, lamp makers, coppersmiths and tanners.
A visit to the tannery is an absolute must, so don’t let the awful smell (a sprig of mint will help in that department) hold you back. Go and let this spectacle amaze you, a genuine tableau vivant! After a late lunch and several miles of walking, I say goodbye to my guide and am free to explore the city by myself for next 1,5 days. And I can’t wait, for by now the city has enchanted me! I witness a new spectacle on every corner – negotiations for the price of dates; a mule cart blocking the way, a call for prayer that makes everyone hasten to the nearest mosque; the friendly salesman inviting you in for a cup of mint tea and showing you his wonderful collection of rugs…..I’m enjoying every second of it.
In this century old medina, a ‘new wave’ is also discernible, as contemporary businesses (mainly started by foreigners) are established in the old city and offer a nice variety between ‘old’ and ‘new’. Take ‘Cafe Clock’, for instance, a modern ‘hangout’ where you can enjoy lovely food and drinks but also attend cultural get-togethers or cooking lessons. Or ‘The Ruined Garden’, which is a beautiful oasis in this hectic city – you can hear the chirping birds here and sit among the most wonderful and exotic plants and flowers. They prepare delicious meals here and it is the perfect place to take in all that you have seen.
And, last but not least, there is the restaurant Numero 7, where a different renowned foreign chef is in residence every other few months, to cook a creative menu with ingredients from the local market… an experience not to be missed!
In short, I think fascinating Fez is a definite must and I sincerely hope that this city’s special identity and authenticity will be preserved and cherished, so that it doesn’t become a ‘tourist trap’!
Are you eager to visit fascinating Fez yourself now?
Psst, don’t spread the word… I have found you four different Local Hideaways….I’m sure there’s one among them that you will like! 🙂
Esther van Onna – Founder Local Hideaways. April 2015
Local Hideaways Fez: www.localhideaways.com