Fez, Morocco bleg

by on December 15, 2017 at 10:13 am in Food and Drink, History, Religion, The Arts, Travel, Travels | Permalink

I’ve been to Morocco before, but never Fez.  What do you all recommend?

1 Chip December 15, 2017 at 10:15 am

Foooohhh!!

2 Will Compernolle December 15, 2017 at 10:31 am

I recommend just getting lost in the souks. The old part of the city is a total maze (in a good way) that is impossible to navigate compared to Marrakesh. Get whatever the food is called where they put honey on a pancake – they’re all over the place in the souks, very cheap, and so delicious.

3 Ray Lopez December 15, 2017 at 11:35 am

Don’t know much about Morocco, but getting lost in the souks sounds in these times like an invitation to get kidnapped or worse. At the very least, to have your pocket picked.

4 Ray Lopez December 15, 2017 at 11:41 am

One minute reading the CIA World Factbook refreshes my memory about Western Sahara, and then this: “In November 2011, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) – a moderate Islamist party – won the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections, becoming the first Islamist party to lead the Moroccan Government. In September 2015, Morocco held its first ever direct elections for regional councils, one of the reforms included in the 2011 constitution. The PJD again won the largest number of seats in nationwide parliamentary elections in October 2016.” – so there you have it: Morocco is doing the Egypt thing, and predictably it will end badly. If I was with a group I might try getting lost in the souks but by myself, I’d just as soon travel to the remote regions of south Philippines alone, with predictable consequences.

5 Lizzie December 15, 2017 at 12:03 pm

The plural of anecdote is not data, but when I visited Fez with a women’s tour last year we had zero problems in the medina. Four white women wandering around for hours would face more harassment in some US cities. That said, it was a different story after dark.

+1 to all other recommendations–tanneries, Roman ruins, etc.

6 Pshrnk December 15, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Getting lost in the souk is not dangerous. Not being careful is always an invitation to pick pockets, but pick pockets are of less concern in Fez than in places like Barcelona.

If you have time, a quick trip to Meknes to see the stables, is worth the 40 mile or so trip. Just a bit further to see the Roman ruins at Volubilis.

7 Hoosier December 15, 2017 at 10:33 am

Lucky you, looking forward to hearing your impressions once you’re back.

8 Philip December 15, 2017 at 10:40 am

Volubilis the Roman ruins outside the city were worth while. Guides at the site have limited English. I ended up speaking Spanish with Hasan, who was very knowledgeable.

I would definitely get a guide for the Medina. Fes Medina has something like 3000 streets. Not a chance you can find your way around.

By contrast We were able to walk around the mellah on our own. When the Moors and Jews are thrown out of Spain many came to Fes, where they lived for hundreds of years. So the Jewish history in Fes is deep. The Jewish cemetery covers acres of white washed Tombs. And the architecture of the Mellah is as much Spanish as Moroccan.

9 C December 15, 2017 at 10:41 am

I still dream about Fez as a miraculous place. For someone who has a penchant for reading and would like to get a doctorate in Classics, Fez is the most incredible place I have ever been. (Have not yet done an African Safari.) Take a guide.

10 Peter M December 15, 2017 at 10:42 am

You might buy a fez. I have one and wear it at appropriate moments, like if I am making an official pronouncement to my children.

11 Steely Dan December 15, 2017 at 2:13 pm

No I’m never gonna do it, without the fez on! Oh no…

12 Salim December 15, 2017 at 10:54 am

+1 on the souks. You’ll notice Google maps barely attempts to map the routes inside Fes al-Bali.

Moroccans talk about Fes as their religious capital. Morocco is vastly more sensual than other Arabic-speaking countries I’ve spent time in, but Fes is the well-behaved city. Not sure how much of that spirit you can pick up visiting Al Quaraouiyine, but at least it’s beautiful. The Moulay Idriss shrine is important, too.

The leather-tanneries are a must. So are the zaouias; stay in one if you have the choice.

Eat (drink) harira; standard Moroccan soup. Very hearty and costs almost nothing.

Also, don’t neglect the new city. There’s some good colonial-era architecture, but more importantly much better chances for conversation, especially if your French is better than mine.

Best Morocco book I’ve read lately, though not Fessi, is “The Honored Dead”.

13 Salim December 15, 2017 at 10:58 am

Oh, and +1 on the Mellah as well! Stars of David everywhere. Inhabitants are all Muslims now, but they take a docent’s attitude toward the heritage.

14 AnonLawyer December 15, 2017 at 10:56 am

It’s been a few years, but there was a high-end hotel overlooking the city (Fez sits in a bowl). It had an outdoor patio area with couches, live music, and a small bar. Very pleasant place to enjoy the sunset.

Many of the very best hotels and restaurants are in unmarked houses in the old city.

15 Baphomet December 15, 2017 at 11:02 am

Read Paul Bowles, in particular “A Distant Episode.”

16 Lanigram December 15, 2017 at 11:08 am

What does “fooohh” mean?

17 Jayar La Fontaine December 15, 2017 at 11:12 am

The medina of Fes is a wonder. My wife and I were demoralized from our experience in the medina of Marrakech (especially jemaa el fna, which should be avoided at all costs) and Fes completely restored us. I second the recommendation to wander the souks, especially the coppersmithing and tannery districts. A guide is definitely helpful – we found ours congenial and deeply informed. Of course, he is incented to take you into specific shops in order to see the wares and barter with the proprietors, who are forceful but again quite friendly compared to those in Marrakech. Definitely see the University of Al Qarawiyyin.

18 Pshrnk December 15, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Compared to Fez, Marrakech has an Epcot Medina.

19 Tone Loc December 15, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Well I got a Funky Cold Medina!

20 Aretino December 15, 2017 at 11:14 am

Try to see the recently restored library of the University of al-Qarawiyyin, one of the oldest universities in the world. They supposedly have Ibn Khaldun’s most famous work, Muqadimmah, in his original handwriting. There is also an ancient water-clock near the Cafe Clock.

We found a tiny but very good restaurant on the Rue Talaa Sghira, near the Rue de la Poste, next to all the tourist restaurants, but far better.

It’s a shame you aren’t going to Fes during the Festival of Sacred Music.

21 Witek December 15, 2017 at 11:17 am

I was there a week ago:

* n-thing the souks; they really are a different beast to Marrakech and best part of the city; much easier to get lost than in Marrakech (!), but also less pestering by would-be guides etc. So it’s both more and less safe at the same time compared to Marrakech.
* Offline maps (like MAPS.me) work well even though none of them have souks – I had very good GPS signal with no phone signal. Crucial to get your bearings
* It was colder than usually it’s supposed to be in December.
* If you just start your wander at a random point, there’s a lot of signs to follow, with a couple of walking routes taking you through the medina souks between all the main attractions. Easily long enough to take the entire afternoon
* Al-Qarawiyyin library has reopened last year and I read that it was open to visitors. I think the medrasa is open to tourists too. I didn’t have time to visit.
* Give Ville Nouvelle a pass.

Volubilis is a good excursion from Fez. A bit of a drive, but through a very interesting area.

22 Jonathan December 15, 2017 at 11:18 am

Make sure you go up to the Marinid tombs up above the city. If you have time and energy, a walk up Jebel Zalagh- the big mountain to the north of the city- is wonderful, and really straight-forward, since you can just thread your way up hill from the Marinid tombs, working towards a saddle on the east end of the mountain. The views from the summit are spectacular.

Within the city, it’s a bit touristy but Cafe Clock- at 7 Derb el Magana, near the medieval water clock, catty-corned to the house Maimonides is said to have lived in while in Fes- is well worth a visit, if only for the marvelous roof-top terrace. I spent many an afternoon up there during my several month sojourn in Fes, nearly a decade ago.

Touring a madrasa or two or three is a must. I particularly love Madrasa al-Sahrij, though it’s a bit off the beaten path up in the Andalusian Quarter, but worth the walk up. You also absolutely must walk through the sacred precinct of Moulay Idris and peek into the shrine. You’ll know you’re entering the saint’s haram when you see the wooden barriers in passageways and start noticing lots of religious paraphernalia- incense, candles, rosaries, Qur’an inscriptions, and the like- for sale.

If you’ve time to venture beyond Fes, and the roads in the Middle Atlas aren’t blocked by snow, Sefrou is a charming little town to the south, worth a stroll through it’s little old medina and a walk up to the waterfall. Within walking distance from Sefrou is a real hidden gem, Bhalil, maybe the prettiest village in Morocco, and home to lots of cave dwellings. If you walk up the main street you will probably be invited to visit one of the cave houses and have some mint tea. I don’t know about how things are now but I visited Sefrou and Bhalil several times in the course of my stay in Fes and never saw any other tourists.

23 Jean DesRosiers December 15, 2017 at 11:30 am

Hi, I lived two years in Morrocco (based in Casablanca) but Fez was definitely our favourite city. I won’t add much to the comments above other than to say that touts and guides can easily be avoided. You just need to know some of the conversational cues. This problem is more prevalent in Marrakech, but one trick is to simply indicate to the persistent tout that he is showing you a lack of respect. (Even better in French or, better yet, Arabic.)

Also, better not to shake hands with touts or overly insistent sellers. They play on the fact that this gesture is more significant to Western tourists than it is for them.

Hope I didn’t give the impression that the problem is severe. It is not, and the governement has been cracking down on abusive touts. (A few years ago, anyways.) Fez is wonderful , and the best encounters were in the off-the-beaten-track Riads in the souk, or nearby. Enjoy!

24 TMC December 15, 2017 at 11:34 am

It’s always cool to see all the new names that pop up when Tyler asks a specific question like this. There must be many people who never/rarely comment here but read daily.

25 David Pernas December 15, 2017 at 11:43 am

Tyler, a don’t miss site is perfectly preserved Roman city Volubilis, featured in a famous “Patton” scene where George C. Scott describes a Roman battle and quotes poetry. In Fez itself, a visit to the oldest “continuously operated” university in the world, the Qaraouyine, and also an espresso at sunset on the terrace of the Merinides Hotel overlooking the city are also memorable.

Best,

Dave

26 Baphomet December 15, 2017 at 11:53 am

“Perfectly preserved”? It consists of partially restored ruins.

27 Jimmy December 15, 2017 at 11:44 am

Great recs here. Work with your hotel to hire a guide for the Medina. One day we tried to wander and “get lost” as others have recommended, but the further you get from the main drags the more intense the pestering of the children paid to direct you to the tanneries becomes. Borderline threatening.

The library was still being renovated when I was there, but a little bribe will usually get you into places your guide says are closed.

There is a little plaque on the wall next to the house Maimonides supposedly resided in. This humble marker struck me as somehow more fitting than the noble statue in Cordoba.

28 Rob Moore December 15, 2017 at 11:58 am

Like several people have said, Fez is really quite magical and it’s quite a contrast to Marrakesh (after we left there we met some locals in the desert who called it Anarkesh, which is an appropriate nickname). Definitely wander the souks – it’s really shocking how vast they seem from within compared to how small the whole area is when seen from a bird’s eye view.

DesRosier’s comments above about avoiding the guides are good. You need to get into a local frame of mind when it comes to social mores – once you master the right tone of confidence in public, you’re much less of a target.

29 David Pernas December 15, 2017 at 12:00 pm

OK Tyler, I see a lot of “instant experts” on this thread, well, I lived in nearby Meknes for 2 years and my wife is a Moroccan gal (whom I married almost 4 decades ago), so let me just say that Morocco is the most tourist friendly Arab country in the Arab world. The UAE and Oman are also up there, but neither have as much to show as Morocco, Marrakech is truly a wonder, and so is Fez. Enjoy. For extra credit play night golf in the ruined palace in nearby Meknes! They have a nine hole golf course fully lit at night (King Hassan II, RIP, was a golf enthusiast). To be fair, pickpockets and touts in the souks can be a problem, so if anybody pesters you, say ‘Baraka!” 🙂

Best,

Dave

30 Nathan December 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm

I would recommend staying in a riad within the medina. Some of them have been restored and are incredibly beautiful. They are hidden behind the dilapidated facade of the medina walls.

If not, you could dine at Dar Roumana. They will provide a guide to fetch you and lead you through the medina. You would never manage to make it to your reservation otherwise.

As others have mentioned getting hopelessly lost in the medina among the souks is a vital and unforgettable experience.

Go to the Chouara Tannery in the morning. There will be numerous young touts competing to show you the way. Somebody will provide you a sprig of mint to help mask the smell. There is a ‘markets in everything’ or something along those lines waiting for you there.

31 mg December 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm

I highly recommend trying to stay at Dar Seffarine. It’s like nowhere I’ve ever stayed – incredibly warm, welcoming staff and an absolutely stunning old house in a great location in the medina just a little bit away from the busiest of the action.

32 Nathan December 15, 2017 at 1:44 pm

I stayed at Dar Seffarine as well and found it to be a remarkable place.

33 Warren December 15, 2017 at 12:56 pm
34 Stephen December 15, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Was there in July w/ family (including 5yo and 8yo). Absolutely loved wandering the souks, and never felt unsafe.

Had one of our best meals of the trip at Restaurant Dar Tajine Fes. Beware of guides, even “licensed” ones who will do the fairly typical lightweight history lesson then take you to their friend’s shops.

We stayed at Petite Palais XVII which was beautiful and run by a wonderful family.

Agree w/ Warren that Chefchaouen is a remarkable place, but a good 3.5 hour drive (roads are well maintained).

35 Cyrus Roedel December 15, 2017 at 1:31 pm

I am surprised that no one has mentioned it yet, but Madrasa Bou Inania is one of the few religious buildings that non-Muslims can visit in Morocco, and has stunning tile, plaster and wood work.

At night near the Madrasa, in some of the smaller streets and alleyways, you can find vendors selling a spicy snail soup. It is delicious, but also one of those culinary experiences that you cannot recreate elsewhere.

36 Brad December 15, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Was just living in Fes, one of the most impressive cities I’ve been to. Madrasa Bou Inania was a good recommendation by others. Skip the tannery, that’s where you’ll be ripped off or find your pockets a little lighter than you started—also not interesting. The university of alquarouine in the old city is one of the world’s great academic treasures. Read up on it and see if you can get a tour. Moulay idriss is a pretty shrine and mosque in the city also. Hammams are a must in Morocco as some tea and msemen for breakfast. Fes also has a great music scene for indigenous music like gnawa or some classical Andalusian music.

37 Michael Grossman December 15, 2017 at 1:59 pm

One of the world’s truly special places. I lived in Morocco for several years and continue to visit frequently.

Fes is the center of the Moroccan soul.

Ryad Laroussa is a beautiful place to stay. Cathy Bellafronto, the owner, used to run the USG Millennium Challenge grant program in Morocco and is very well connected with the team at ADER that runs the maintenance of the old city…reach out to her. Also, guide Habib who is available through her hotel is very good.

I am so very jealous!

38 JV December 15, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Support the souks, Volubilis, tannery, etc.

Best thing I’ve done in Fes was a street food tour – organized by Plan-It Fez (http://www.plan-it-fez.com/). Do NOT skip the lamb’s head cooked in steam and eaten with cumin and salt.

I’m told Plan It Fes can also get you into the al-Qarawine University (recently restored and not entirely open for business).

39 Brian Hollar December 15, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Visited there for my first time this summer. Would echo the recommendations of others to get lost wandering the souk, visit the tombs, and go to Cafe Clock when they have live music playing (the camel burger is quite good). Stay in a riad for sure. It is a wonderful city to randomly wander. Many people will try to sell you carpets, but this can make for delightful conversation with a local over tea.

I ate at a local restaurant run by a husband and wife. I can’t remember the name but can find out if you’re interested. They took me to kitchen to sample several dishes so I could pick out my favorite. Delicious meal with a human connection.

Drink lots of mint tea. Don’t be afraid to get lost. Take some photos even if you normally don’t. The contrast of colors and textures throughout the souk is truly amazing.

The leather tanneries were okay, but I thought slightly overrated. If you go there, go earlier in the day (I arrived in the afternoon and they were less busy).

If you have time, make a side trip to Chefchaouen. Well worth a visit.

40 Efim Polenov December 15, 2017 at 9:37 pm

As a fan of Shakespeare, you ought to visit the site where the grandson of John of Guant (Blessed Ferdinand the Holy Prince), a helpless captive, was murdered for opposing the wickedness of the Fezians of the day. “El Principe Constante y Martir de Portugal” by Calderon, a classic play about this grandson of Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt, is self-recommendingly (sorry for the borrowing) worth reading. Christabel Coleridge wrote a novel on the subject, but it is likely that the novel in question has not been read by more than a dozen or so people born after 1900, and although I am sure there are a few good lines in the novel, I – born after 1900 – have not read it. If you have read it please let me know what you think.

41 Efim Polenov December 15, 2017 at 9:39 pm

slight revision: If you have read it (and I would not be all that surprised if you have) please let me know what you think.

42 Lisa George December 15, 2017 at 10:03 pm

I recommend asking a female companion to take a walk in jeans and a t-shirt through the Medina alone and ask her to tell you about the experience.

My spouse and sons have less intestinal fortitude than I, so I wandered Fez Medina alone upon arrival in summer 2017. The level of aggression — begging, hustling, explicit sexual remarks and solicitations from dozens upon dozens of youth astonished me. I was never quite afraid, but I realized it was just not possible for a western female to enjoy the city as a passive observer.

There is a thick market for guides in Medina. After returning from my afternoon walk, the owner of my Riad insisted I hire one to escort me to dinner across the Medina. Reluctantly agreeing, I quickly realized that the guides are not so much for directions as for free passage. In the company of a guide, hustlers and hawkers steer clear.

As they say, solve for the equilibrium.

Overall, I was frustrated by Morocco in general and Fez especially. It is very difficult to make real connections with anyone. It was a mistake perhaps to stay in the Medina, full of extremely poor migrants from the countryside. A wilderness guide I met later in the trip told me that the professionals in Fez hate the aggressive culture of the Medina and avoid it whenever they can. I was glad to hear that, but regret that I was not in the city long enough to find the neighborhood spots to converse with locals.

43 anonymous December 15, 2017 at 10:22 pm

Sorry about your experience.
My favorite US state is probably Indiana, and even Indianans are not all that nice to outsiders.

44 Alex December 16, 2017 at 12:11 am

We took a cooking class at Cafe Clock, which we really enjoyed. Also, seeing the pottery and mosaics made at Art Naji was well worth the taxi ride.

45 Jean December 16, 2017 at 2:41 am

I went to Fez with my family – we had a guide for the whole day, with whom we visited the medina but also a few other placed close by (a pottery, borj nord castle).

A guide is very useful in the Medina, in Fez even more than in Marrakech. According to my Moroccan friends, nowadays Fez is a poor city, mostly living off tourism in the Medina.

The Medina is a must see – make sure the tanneries are open, with the stone vessels filled with dye – they were empty when we came… Of course, a guide will take you to shops – I think high end guides will on average take you to better ones, with decently polite shopkeepers.
Also, some shops are in beautifully restored caravanserails.

46 byomtov December 16, 2017 at 12:49 pm

I’ve never been there, but I would definitely buy a fez, with a nice tassel. Put on some weight and get a white suit and you can pretend to be Sidney Greenstreet.

47 Paul Seabright December 16, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Dar Roumana (http://www.darroumana.com) is a great place to stay in the medina, or to eat if you don’t stay there.

Ibn Khaldun lived in Fez where he was a minister of the sultan Abu Salem. His book the Muqadimmah is great reading still today.

Fez also has the great distinction of hosting the world’s oldest university, founded by a woman Fatima al-Fihri.

48 George December 16, 2017 at 3:07 pm

– get a guide (mainly to keep the throngs of would-be guides away from you, plus “getting lost” loses it’s romanticism after 10 min)
– visit the tanneries
– stay in a riad in the medina
– try to see Chefchaouen on the way
– figure out your negotiating strategy for retail purchases before you get there

49 Christiana Stoddard December 19, 2017 at 2:52 pm

My family and I lived in Fes for about 4 months while my husband did a language program at ALIF, which was highly recommended. (might go by and look for concert announcements) I never had any hassle as a woman ever, though mostly I was out and about shopping for groceries and not rugs. I did not love Marrakesh by the way, but loved Fes. My kids made friends easily with local kids in spite of our mishmash of bad french, worse arabic, and google translating. Soccer is the universal language, and everyone loves 4 color pens and playing cards. I recommend bringing your kids if that is an option–they open doors.

I recommend the hammams in the old city and to go on Thursday in preparation for Friday when they are super busy (if you like busy). Of course, times for women and men differ. I recommend walking through the old city on a different day and again on Friday to feel the difference. I’d go to the honey souk over the tanneries any day, which are touristy and gross though make for good photos. I’d also watch for little food places, especially in the morning and evening, that are serving one or two items and try to ask the women or whoever how to cook it.

I’d hang out in the souk in R’cif Square, especially in the evening when everyone is kind of hanging around and kids are everywhere. Super low key way to people watch ordinary life in the city. Good street food. Still miss the orange juice and the roasted nuts and the variety of breads and the yogurt. Cafe Clock is kind of touristy, but also a good place to arrange hammam tours/cooking classes etc if you are nervous to go alone (I used a guide for my first hammam visit but my husband never did and Moroccans and very hospitable and quick to help you out.) I’d also walk up the main drag in the new French built city to see how it feel different.

I’d recommend a side trip to Moulay Idriss, which is one of the most sacred cities in Morocco and has a beautiful climb to the top. Again, it’s the kind of thing that Moroccans appreciate from a visitor who is respectful of their places of pride.

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