Three Days Traveling In Fez

As an 8th century settlement, Fez is a charming old town that combines old traditions with a growing appeal as a tourist destination.

As a former imperial city, Fez has long been known as the handicraft, cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco, with outstanding Moorish architecture and what some historians consider the oldest university in the world. Today, its medina (Old Town) is a 540-acre UNESCO site where crafts and customs have changed little since the Middle Ages, and a new wave of inns and restaurants showcase Moroccan hospitality.

Medina

Bab Bou Jeloud is the main gateway to Fes el-Bali, the original walled town. Once inside, the first encounter with the labyrinthine network of alleys is immersive and enthralling.

The main alleyway is lined with shops, workshops and food stalls displaying a dazzling array of products that awaken the senses with smells, sounds, colors, textures and patterns. The occasional shout came, reminding the crowd of impending wagons or pack-asses, the only means of transportation on this car-free median. Narrow paths and irregularly shaped squares constantly encourage people to stop or take a detour, while local passers-by will give you a hint of guidance with just a hint (which often means you’ll be rewarded with the expected tip or Baksheesh).

Some may feel a little overwhelmed at first, but it doesn’t take long to get used to the hustle and bustle of the medina and follow its flow to find the main attractions. These attractions include bazaars, tanneries, religious buildings, neglected Funduqs (caravanserais) and courtyards decorated with zellige mosaics and plasterwork.

Many cafes, rooftop terraces and secluded gardens are scattered around when a break is needed, providing a quiet and relaxing hideaway.

Hot spots

The Chaouwara Tannery is a popular attraction in Fez, giving visitors a glimpse of ancient leather dyeing techniques that can still be seen here today as they were centuries ago. A pungent smell permeated the air, water trucks creaked, leathers hung out to dry, and workers bustled through the multicolored dye tanks. Visits usually take place on the terraces surrounding the site, but with any luck, there are also close up views. In both cases, visitors are accompanied by locals who ask for a tip at the end of the tour. For an up-close visit, a trip to the smaller, less-visited Fez tannery might be a better option.

Built in 859, Kerouin is one of the largest mosques in Africa and is said to be the oldest university in the world (although this is historically controversial). Entry is only open to Muslims, so visitors can take a look at the courtyard from the door of Deb Boutouil, or find a vantage point in the surrounding streets. The old library has been restored, but is currently only open to local students. Another popular religious site is the mausoleum of Moulay Idris II of Fez, which was established for the second time in 810. Again, entry is forbidden, but the view out the door is worth a visit.

The one that can be fully visited is the medersas (religious academy), whose courtyard has fine plaster, woodwork, fine mosaics and impressive copper gates.Bou Inania is one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in town, while Al Attarine and Sahij are also popular with visitors.

Nejjarine is a restored funduq, a museum of wooden crafts; the building alone is worth a visit, but it also houses a fine collection of traditional objects and a panoramic rooftop café. Another interesting building is the Palais Glaoui, an 18th-century palace that displays architectural grandeur and Andalusian design under a decaying exterior.

Just outside the city walls, the Borj Nord and Merinid mausoleums offer two of the best panoramic views of the Medina. The former is the northern fortress of Fez (today the Arms Museum) and the latter is the remains of a 14th century funeral.

Outside the old town.

If walking is the only way to get around the medina, then taking a taxi outside the city walls is the best option. The red “cabs” are for short distances, while the white ones are for long distances (like to and from the airport).

Jnan Sbil Gardens is located 500 metres east of Bab Bou Jeloud. Originally part of the palace, these gardens have recently been restored with new paths and fountains, giving a refreshing sense of turning away from the crowded atrium.

The main entrance to the palace is located on the north side of the Place des Alaouites. Unfortunately, the 80 hectares of the palace is not open to visitors, but the beautifully decorated gates are imposing.

Mela is the oldest Jewish ghetto in Morocco, located between the island of Fespas and the new city, built in the 15th century during the Merlins dynasty. If the Jewish community that once lived here left decades ago, the architecture still shows a distinctive character not found elsewhere in Fez.The Ibn Danan synagogue, the Jewish cemetery and the Rue de Mérinides are the main attractions in the area.

Newtown is a relic of the French Protectorate from 1912 to 1955. Most tourists avoid this area, but the modern cityscape provides an interesting contrast to the old town. Architecture lovers can look for Art Deco buildings such as the Renaissance Café, Grand Hotel, Cinéma Bijou and Rex Cinema, while modern restaurants, hotels and shopping centres (Borj Fez) are also among the area’s attractions.

Accommodation

Dar Seffarine (14 Derb Sbaa Louyate, Fez 30020) is a medieval palace that has recently been restored to its former glory. The light-filled courtyard, soaring columns, cedar doors, carved plaster walls and mosaic decorations bring the Moorish architecture to life, striking the perfect balance between ornate decor and laid-back modern minimalism. All seven rooms are spacious and a true reflection of the architectural style (don’t expect locks or panes). In the rooftop restaurant, guests can sit around a large dining table and share communal dinners and breakfasts, and the Dar Seffarine offers the feel of an authentic local inn, just a few turns from the most bustling corner of the medina.

The Riad Laaroussa Hotel (3 Derb Bechara, Fez) strives to provide you with a tranquil stay in an elegant and relaxing environment, amidst the Moroccan hospitality. The spacious rooms and suites still retain the original decor of this 17th-century palace, while the hotel’s amenities include a panoramic terrace, orange-tree shaded courtyard, heated swimming pool and large salon with fireplace. Traditional cuisine is served for lunch and dinner, and informal cooking classes explore the secrets of Farsi cuisine. The hotel also offers an authentic Moroccan spa experience, and Riad Laaroussa, located in the middle of the Medina, is committed to responsible tourism, sustainability and community-driven initiatives.

Riad Anata (Derb El-Hamia, Fez Boulemane 30200) combines an Andalusian townhouse with a traditional Moroccan B&B. Casual and stylish décor, a touch of modernity and an intimate setting create a youthful and comfortable atmosphere. Each of the five rooms has its own style and mood, and breakfast and dinner can be enjoyed on the rooftop terrace or on the central patio. The chef’s cooking classes include shopping at the Medina Market.

Riad Idrissy (13 Derb Idrissy, Fez 30110), named after the descendants of Fez’s founder, combines the traditional feel of a 400-year-old palace with modern comforts and friendly service. The hotel’s interior reflects the evolution of the Riad Idrissy over the years, with each room individually furnished and decorated, offering guests five different settings to choose from. The largest room is located at the top of the house and overlooks the communal terrace and the entire medina. The other public areas are the salon and courtyard, while the garden is one of Fez’s most famous new restaurants.

Restaurants and cafes

The Ruined Garden (15 Derb Idrissy Sidi Ahmed Chaoui, Fez 30110) is a restoration project from an old merchant house turned into a rubble dump. Today, it is the beautiful garden and restaurant of Riad Idrissy, open to the public from lunch to dinner. The menu features modern Moroccan dishes, tapas, street food, desserts and daily specials. Some elaborate Fez specialties require an advance order, such as the seven-hour lamb “Mechwi”, Saffad’s saffron chicken and pigeon B’stella (a typical Philo pastry). The cooking class focuses on bread making and burritos, and also includes a visit to a local community oven.

The Café Clock (7 Derb El Magana, Fez 30000) is a multi-layered, eclectic space, ideal for relaxing with a mint tea and meeting travelers to share stories. It’s also popular with local youth and foreigners alike, perhaps attracted by the signature camel burger. The rest of the menu offers a tempting but not fussy selection of breakfasts, snacks, Moroccan dishes and desserts for any time of day. What’s more, a variety of cultural events and activities are on the agenda here, including movie nights, gnawing music at sunset, workshops and storytelling. It stands out as the young, innovative face of the Medina.

At Nur (7 Zkak Rouah, Fez 30110), chef Najat Kaanache brings a modern and sophisticated upgrade to Moroccan cuisine. After growing up in northern Spain and gaining experience in prestigious restaurants in Europe and the United States, she returned to Morocco to translate her ancestral recipes into the creation of haute cuisine. She offers an impromptu tasting menu (at least two hours) that revolves around products found daily in the medina market, served in a modern and chic setting. Prices are higher than local standards, but there’s every reason to make your dining experience more rewarding.


Another high-end restaurant is La Maison Bleue (2 Place Batha, Fez 30206), which features a menu that has been handed down by the El Abbadi family for centuries. The palace was built in 1915 by Sidi Mohammed El Abbadi, a renowned judge and astronomer, and was later opened to the public by his grandchildren. Today, guests can enjoy exquisite Moroccan cuisine along with a wide range of wines and cocktails at La Maison Bleue, a luxurious and friendly hideaway on the axis of Fez, as well as a hotel and traditional spa.

Shop

The Medina’s colorful soup kitchens offer plenty of shopping temptations. Many temples are still categorized by product, as they have been for centuries: the henna market is at the bottom of Rue Talaa Kebira, leather goods are concentrated around the Chaouwara tannery, wood products are all over the streets around Nejjarine Square, and the pounding of metalworking factories rings around Place Seffarine. Other typical products are carpets, spices, musical instruments, perfumes, silverware and pottery.

Quality doesn’t always live up to the reputation of Fez’s craft heritage, so it’s advisable to take the time to examine and compare them and not rush into a purchase. Also, remember that haggling is part of the local culture and is often the only way to haggle. However, the market isn’t the only option for shopping in Fez.

Fashion and Thai cuisine are undoubtedly an unprecedented combination in the Medina. Designer and chef Moi Anan launched his concept store, Maison Moi Anan (30 Zkak Lma Hay Ben Safi Kebira, Fez 30000), in Bangkok a few years ago, in 2014. His collections, which can be found in international boutiques and on famous catwalks, are inspired by all aspects of Thai culture and are based on a formal Western style tone. After moving to Fitz, his outfits also show a hint of Moroccan influence, as does his sophisticated Thai cuisine.

A 5-minute drive from Bab Ftouh, the southeast gate of the Medina, Art Naji (20 Quartier Industriel Ain Nokbi, Fez 30120) is a pottery factory open to the public. Here, you can see local master craftsmen modeling on clay, painting on pottery, or chiseling mosaic tiles into intricate Zellige patterns. At the end of the free tour, there is a display room with an assortment of plates, dishes, vases, vases, bowls, cups and other items. Prices are higher than in the medina, but bargaining is acceptable. Shipping can be arranged for larger items.

This shop is only part of Le Jardin des Biehn (13 Akbat Sbaa, Fez 30100), but it’s also not to be ignored. The store’s collection of antique textiles includes embroideries from Fez and Rabat, Uzbek Chapans, nomadic robes and Touareg djellabas, reflecting the expertise of renowned collector Michel Biehn. Le Jardin des Biehn is a jewel on the central axis of Fez and is also a hotel, restaurant and spa.

Borj Fez (Av. Allal Al Fassi, Fez 30000) is a modern shopping center in Nouvelle Ville. With a range of international and local brands, it offers a safe shopping option when you can’t find it anywhere else. The fun park is probably the kids’ favorite attraction, and the cafes and restaurants in the mall stay open until midnight in the summer.

Spa

The Moroccan baths are a typical local experience. Most hotels and motels offer this ritual as part of their wellness care, and public baths are scattered throughout the median. Scrubbing the skin is at the heart of this ritual, and the care before and after this is one that relaxes and revitalizes the whole body and mind.

Les Bains Amani (12 Derb El Miter, Fez 30000) has a luxurious candle-lit bathroom with a separate exfoliation room, shower and relaxation area where you can fully experience the benefits of this traditional ritual. The various treatments range from 30 minutes to over an hour, the longest of which include a sea salt crystal bath, a gentle and powerful body scrub, and an optional clay hair mask. This spa is part of the Palais Amani, a hotel offering exclusive rooms, fine Moroccan cuisine and a rooftop bar.

The four hundred square meters of Palais Faraj (Bab Ziat, Fez 30000) is dedicated to wellness, as the Oriental Spa offers an elegant setting for relaxation and unwind. This includes a traditional fumigation room, black soap, body scrub, massage, hair and beauty salon and a tea room around the patio. All come with natural cosmetics like orange blossom water, argan oil and black soap. This five-star hotel on the outskirts of the Medina also offers suites, a bar and a fine restaurant.

Stitched Panorama

The four hundred square meters of Palais Faraj (Bab Ziat, Fez 30000) is dedicated to wellness, as the Oriental Spa offers an elegant setting for relaxation and unwind. This includes a traditional fumigation room, black soap, body scrub, massage, hair and beauty salon and a tea room around the patio. All come with natural cosmetics like orange blossom water, argan oil and black soap. This five-star hotel on the outskirts of the Medina also offers suites, a bar and a fine restaurant.

A public massage parlor may not be as chic as the one presented above, but sharing the ritual with locals is certainly a more authentic experience. Among the many other options, two popular massage parlors located on the central axis are A?n Azleten (Rue Talaa Kebira, opposite the car park) and Hammam Mernissi (Rue Talaa Shira, near Bab Bou Jeloud).

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