In September 2018, my boyfriend and I took an 8 day trip to Morocco. Our flights were to Rabat, and we chose to use trains to visit other cities. The cities we visited were Rabat, Meknes and Fes. We stayed in some gorgeous airbnbs, meeting very kind owners who made us food, shared stories, and arranged transport.
This is the third post in the series of cities in Morocco. I highlight travel costs and timings, cultural places to visit, and recommend food.
Languages spoken: Moroccan Arabic, Berber, French
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Fes is a stunning, intoxicating city in Morocco. Compared to the far more chill Meknes and Rabat, I found it at times rather overwhelming. When people talk about the hectic atmosphere of Moroccan cities, I found this to be true in Fes.
It was a bit of a shock compared to the nature of the other cities. Wandering through the city was like stepping back in time, the high walls of the rhaids and the medina gave a sense of mystery, and the streets and walls have rarely changed in the last 1000 or so years. Like with Meknes, we were planning on walking from the station to the city. However, the walk, said to take 45 minutes by maps app, was quite gruelling in the hot September sun, especially as it was along a lot of busy roads. We ended up reaching a western style, air conditioned shopping centre (complete with Burger King). This was quite the change from the tagine selling markets we had last been shopping in. Getting a cold drink and some cool air, we eventually decided to just take a cab the rest of the way. Although we had the address for our airbnb, a rhiad in the old town medina, the old town, Fes El Bali, has a zero car policy.
We got off at the nearest entrance gate (ornate, like we found most gates to the city) and walked. Again, comparing Fes to the other cities, the medina was a lot noiser, as it is much more of a tourist-oriented city.
Fes is 100% worth visiting if you are in Morocco and I am glad we made the journey to it, but I was also glad that we could finish our trip in the more chilled out Rabat. I think, as a woman, Fes was where I felt the least comfortable. I was safe and secure during the whole trip, though I was accompanied by my 6′ boyfriend.
Our airbnb host arranged a guide for us around the city. City guides are everywhere, but it seems like the more reputable one the better. Ours was arranged by our host and, at 10am the day after we arrived, Ahkmed had arrived at the rhiad.
We paid 300 DH (with the option of adding a tip)
Ahkmed was a man in his 50s and had been born and bred in Fes. He took us around the city and seemed to know just about everyone who we walked by. Having a guide with us meant that the people running the stalls did not come up to us and try to sell us things anywhere near as much as when we had been briefly walking around the previous day. I would recommend knowing where you’re going if you do want to venture out alone, and advise against going out at night. There was also some minor pressure to go into shops and support locally, co-operative run shops over the tourist markets.
Our guide had a great knowledge of the city, and pointed out the many historical features to the buildings we were passing. He was an expert at navigating the tiny, winding roads- without him we definately would have got lost. During this 8 hour walking tour, our guide also took us to the “other” medina of Fes. Less seen by tourists, where the main UNESCO town has many commercial properties, the citizens of Fes largely live in this other medina. It too contained a mosque, built in 847 AD.
Our guide took us to a lot of shops, though I was more interested in seeing the historic areas. Upon arriving to our rhiad, we got in a cab for 12 DH to the Jewish area, known as Mellah.
Of the many places we visited, some of the highlights include:
The Mellah of Fes is the “new” area of the old town, established in 1438 and was the first of many mellahs in Morocco. These were specific areas for the Jewish population of Moroccan cities, often located near the royal buildings. The architure was different to what we had seen in the medina, with grand wooden balconies overlooking the street. Our guide encouraged us to eat the market food from the locals in this area.
With the Jewish quarter, we also visited the Royal Palace, which is still in use by the King of Morocco and thus not open for the public. The beautiful gates to the Royal Palace can be approached and is a common photo spot. The grand doors and stunning colours evoke films set in ancient times. The palace, originally built in the 13th century, it fell into disrepair and was done up in the 17th century to the style we see today.
The tannery is a remarkable place and a must- see in Fes. Whilst the smell is overwhelming at times, you are given a mint to take around with you to counter it. The colours of the dyes are remarkable. The guides explain the history of the Tannery. Originally built in 11th century. it has been largely unchanged. The dyes use natural colourants. The tannery also sells a large selection of products made there, and I picked up a pair of leather slippers. As you weave through the tiny streets, you must look up and observe all the stunning minarets and other gorgeous pieces of ancient architecture still functioning after a thousand years
The Madrasa of al-Qarawiyyin
Established in 859, this ancient university is the oldest in the world to still be continuing as an educational building. Entry is not allowed to most due to it being a mosque, but it can be seen from outside and it gorgeous.
The Blue gate is another picturesque spot in Fes, we also stopped here for coffee and a chill. The day was long but coffee certainly gave me the boost I needed to walk.
Outside of the medina, atop a hill, are the Marinid tombs. These tombs, dating from the 14th century, are large ruins. If you wish to visit them, a cab will be willing to take either to te base of the hill for you to walk up, or all the way to the tombs. We were advised to not go after dusk.
Our time in Fes was relatively short, and there were lots of lovely traditional restaurants recommended to us. For the busy day we were having, I enjoyed:
We went to La Tarbouche It had a quick turn over of food, and sold traditional as well as Mexican themed food. Great prices, big portions.
Possible day trips from Fes:
After the first day of 8 hours of walking, we wanted a chiller 2nd day. We did research day trips if we had longer time.
Azrou– This town enticed us with its waterfalls, and, missing wildlife whilst we stuck to cities, seeing the monkeys sounded neat. We were keen to visit on a Tuesday, as the market is on that day. Accessible via bus from Fes.
Ifrane-This town is in the mountains, which we did not have a chance to visit. It took contains beautiful waterfalls, and I was interested in visiting based on its central European style architecture.