Fez: A Place We Were Meant to Be
There are some places in the world that from the moment you step foot onto their streets, you know you were meant to be there. Fez was one of those cities for Claire and I. After a 10 hour bus ride out of the desert and over the mountains, we had arrived in Fez at 4 am. Even in my early morning grogginess, I was excited about our newest destination. Nothing around was special as our surroundings looked like any city in Morocco. It was just a gut feeling that would have to wait to be proven until after our long overdue nap on the floor of the train station.
Around 6:30 in the morning, we were woken up by a security guard who instructed us to get off the floor as the train station had become a bustling morning scene. With daylight upon us, we put on our bags and grabbed a taxi (20 dirham) to our hostel. Our hostel was set up in traditional Riad fashion and to our luck had really comfy cushions for us to crash on until our room was ready. To our surprise, the hostel gave us our room at 8:30 to which we responded happily with a nap that went on into the late afternoon.
Finally feeling refreshed, we set off into the ancient medina in order to satisfy our empty stomachs. With over 70,000 people still residing in this walled in section of the city, it is very much a living piece of history. The narrow, winding streets still follow the same paths that they did almost 1,000 years ago. Although the people have changed, the way of life inside the medina has stayed in the past. Rather than cars and bikes, donkeys carry the loads from shop to shop. Rather than supermarkets and convenience stores, Souqs (outdoor markets) take over the streets. And to our great relief, tourism had yet to overshadow this fantastic city.
If you read our review of Marrakech, you would know we didn’t enjoy much of our time there. The constant pestering from scammers and the excessive sprawl of tourism throughout its many lanes did not leave us wanting more of one of Morocco’s most famed cities. Fez felt just the opposite. Rather than feeling like the medina was being preserved for the sake of tourism, the medina in Fez felt like a way of life for the people who lived there. There was no one trying to scam us down every street we turned. There were tourist shops but they didn’t take over the place and make you feel like you were in Disney World. Fez’s Souqs felt authentic, its alleyways were somewhere you could venture carefree, and it was somewhere where we felt like we belonged.
Planning a Visit to Fez
While Fez can be done easily within two days, this is one place where an immersive experience can be much more rewarding.
Most people who come to Fez head straight to its medina, and rightfully so. With its seemingly endless alleyways, and sea of locals moving every which way, the medina is truly the epicenter of Fez. You could easily spend two days, exploring its streets, shopping for famed Berber carpets, and seeking out the best of the many restaurants and cafes that line its pathways. Our recommendation is to find a riad within the medina but toward the upper half of the walled city near Batha district. This allows you to be just few minutes walk from all the action, but not so close that you can’t get a good nights sleep due to the noise that echoes about along the medina walls.
Another point of interest in this ancient capital is the old Jewish quarter. While you would be luckier to win the lottery than to find a person of Jewish faith in this community today, those who did live here left their mark. A stroll down its streets show differences in architecture, and you can even check out the 17th century synagogue that has been preserved and watched over by a local family. The 1.5 km walk to here makes for a nice change, away from the bustling and rumbling of the medina.
Another must see in Fez is the old tombs of one of Morocco’s many kings. While not much is left of the tombs, the location is the reason to come out here. Perched on top of a hill above the city, the tombs offer you with an entire view of the city of Fez. One truly can’t appreciate the size of the medina until you see it from above, as it forms a large bowl in the center of the city. Stay here long enough and you’ll catch the minarets echoing among each other, calling the faithful to prayer. It’s a short 20 minute walk from the famed blue gate that leads to the medina.
Where to Eat and Stay
Our favorite restaurant in Fez was Cafe Clock. While pricey, it was worth a visit for the atmosphere and food. The Camel burger was excellent when complimented with milkshakes (try the Dates one) and finished off with a spiced coffee. In total, we spent 250 dirham ($27) which was by far our most expensive meal in Morocco but worth every penny. For lodging, we stayed at Riad Lalamoune. Dorm rooms are clean and cheap ($6) but we opted for the double private room for $20 per night. The Riad was kept very clean, the staff was very helpful and knew a variety of languages, and breakfast was buffet style with free flowing coffee. Located on the edges of the Medina, it has a perfect location for exploring the city. The only problem (as in many places in Morocco) was super slow internet connections.
Fez or Marrakech?
In our opinion, Fez is a must go to in Morocco and if you had to choose between here and Marrakech due to time, hit up this ancient city over Marrakech. It has all that makes Marrakech great without all the hassle. Fez allows you to kick back, relax (try some of the spiced coffee!), and enjoy the maze that the medina continues to be to this day.
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