Fez (or as the locals call it: Fes) was the second city we decided to visit in Morocco. Read about our drive to Fes from Ouzoud Falls in our post here.
Although we spent barely 24 hours here, we learnt some valuable life lessons that we hope will help future travelers to Fes, freak out a little less!
1. The alleys of the old town are scary, dark and narrow, but people seem to be basically honest.
We got in to Fes fairly late so had to wander about after 10pm, looking for a place to eat. While the walk to the first open restaurant we found, was uneventful, we did get lost getting there so it felt like it took forever. When it was time to head back, we were all already on edge, and the dark made the unfamiliar streets look even more sinister. On the narrow unlit alley leading to the palace complex, we were followed by two young men, who looked like they were up to no good (in hindsight- they were probably regular looking guys, but at the time…). They barely spoke, but the fact that we were being followed into a dark, blind alley did nothing to ease our anxiety. While our friends battled with the door (we had 12 keys to try to find the one that fit, in the dark, with hands that shook), the two of us figured we’d find out what they wanted. After a few heart-pounding moments, in which we asked them what they wanted and one of them just smiled (i was convinced this was the end…) it turned out that all they wanted was a private spot, since they had a couple of girls in the car parked at the end of the lane. Perhaps in a different, more familiar place, we would’ve shrugged off the entire incident, our inherent dread heightened the drama of the whole situation to epic proportions! So the bottomline is – try not to be afraid and believe in the basic honesty of people, before assuming the worst. While I’m not saying don’t be careful- thats definitely top priority, perhaps don’t exaggerate the danger of the place, just because it is new.
2. When looking for a guide for the city, do NOT choose the first local who offers his services.
Most guide books recommended engaging a guide for a few hours, to walk around the medina, they can be a great source of local stories and valuable tips. We’d also seen this in Marrakesh, so figured we’d maximize our time in Fes with a local guide. Unfortunately all the contacts of our host were busy for the day, so we decided to walk out on our own. We were stopped a few feet from the Riad by a man offering his services as a guide- promising to show us the sites. While he was hard to understand, we thought we would manage and were lucky to find him. 15 minutes into our walk with him, it slowly dawned on us that we were being led around by a local, who probably knew nothing about the history of the place, but knew the streets and figured it was a good chance to make a quick buck. While he probably would’ve taken us to the market eventually, we didn’t wait to find out. Thanking him halfway we let him go and found our own way to the main street. There, we tagged along with a legitimate guide from the Dream Sahara Group , after we politely told him our sob story, and it was very gratifying! We learnt all about the market and city, and the kind tour group leader (Ismail Ingrioui) and guide didn’t accept a single dirham in the end. Moral of the story: find a real guide and make your visit to Fes really worth it!
That being said, we had a great time and here are a few things we did, and one could do, with just one day in Fes.
1. Drive through Atlas mountains
While the drive from Ozoud Falls to Fez is long (~6 hours) it provides some spectacular views of the high Atlas mountains.
2. Stay in a palace
Airbnb offers some very interesting options- including the opportunity to stay in a palace on its way to being completed restored and opened to the public. We stayed at the Mokri Palace, which is on its way to being completely restored by Yousef, the current heir. Definitely a highlight of our trip!
3. Walk the medina and get lost
Walking in Fez medina is an experience, not to be missed, but not for the faint hearted. As with most medinas in Morocco, it is narrow and busy, but the wares on display are fascinating and it is a real effort to keep from buying anything. Food, clothes, brass wares, leather goods, they have it all! It begins at the Blue gate and keeps going..
4. Oldest library in world
While not yet open to the general public, it is quite awesome to be in the proximity of the oldest library in the world, carrying books from the early 9th century! Read more about it here. We were a few months too early so couldn’t go in, but even standing outside and peaking through the bars was very exciting!
5. Take a break at Cafe Clock
After a long and hot trek through the madina, Cafe Clock sits right by the old water clock and offers a haven in which one can sit, eat and look upon the skyline of the city (and they have free Wifi!). Their iced mint lemonade is perfect for parched throats and their food is delicious!
Fes is a fascinating city, make the most of it!
How often do you find a city with both, Berber and Arabic signs!