How to Spend a Long Weekend in Fez, Morocco
Known as the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco, ancient Fez is a breeding ground for scholars and artisans and is a place of constant pandemonium and endless charm. It's somewhere raw and ruinous, filled with endless alleyways leading to workshops, exquisite tiled fountains and shops round every corner.
Located only a 3.5-hour flight from the UK and now easily accessible via the brand-new airport, it's just a short journey to a place which feels worlds away from everyday British life.
The jewelin Fez's crown is its Old Town, the UNESCO-listed Fes el Bali, a medina founded in the 9th century. It was brought back from the brink of disrepair thanks to government investment, but it still retains its exotic authenticity. It’s totally bewitching, incredibly intense and is a wholly medieval experience; nothing can quite prepare you for the impact of it. And, once you enter the walled city, you’ll wonder if you will ever navigate your way out of it. But therein lies in the appeal...
Fresh off a trip here, below is my guide for how to spend a long weekend in Fez:
Lose yourself in Fez
The alleyways in Fez cover more than 800 acres. The area is enormous and totally pedestrianised, a web of over 10,000 alleyways and passages, dense enough to make the most skilled map reader nervous. There are parts of the medina that are so thick it feels like you will never be able to find a way out… but you will. The people here are very friendly, and will point you in the right direction. Wander about taking in the sensory overload of all the sights and smells, from the bakeries to the butchers, carpet makers and leather workshops.
TOP TIP: Walk with purpose and you won’t get bothered by touts.
Get immersed in the culture
There is one thing Fez is not short of, and that's culture. It is home to the oldest university in the world and Islamic culture at its most splendid – the Attarine Medersa of 1325, the Kairaouine Mosque and the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss should not be missed.
The Blue Gate (Bab Bou Jeloud) is the most famous of entrances into the medina and is close to the Jnan Sbil gardens. These gardens offer peace and tranquillity from the city’s dark and busy alleys and the intense heat.
TOP TIP: Hire a good guide, they will take you to all the noteworthy places.
Have a go at haggling
I have never been a natural haggler, prior to going to Fez I had read various different articles saying you could get the price down by a third or a half… That said, I still to this day don’t really knowwhat the norm is. However expect to haggle, and haggle hard. Street vendors will act affronted when you suggest a lower price, however they will come down, it’s a task, and takes some practise, but don’t pay full price.
TOP TIP: if you think it’s still too expensive, it probably is, turn to walk away, they will soon call you back and offer a much lower price, and probably a cup of mint tea too!
Buy authentic Moroccan goods
Search hard and you will find some real gems in Fez. Pottery in particular is in huge supply – if you know your ceramics then there is no shortage of beautiful vases, plates, bowls, cups to choose from, and most places will ship back to the UK.
Every other shop sells bags, and Fez has long been a specialist in leather goods. Shop about and you can find a real bargain.
Scarves – there are of course mass-produced factory made scarves here, but be savvy and you'll find workshops where the weavers make them from cactus silk, cotton and other materials. They aren’t cheap, and some of the weavers are real tourist traps, but there are some really lovely pieces to pick up.
TOP TIP: If you like it, buy it. Chances are you won’t find anything like it in the UK.
Explore the Tannery Quarter
The Tannery Quarter is one of the most famous of sights in Fez. Here, they still produce leather goods in the same way they did over a 1,000 years ago. It’s an intense but memorable experience watching as they cure animal skins in pigeon droppings and quicklime in an enormous honeycomb of vats. However don’t buy from there. It is overpriced compared to other places, and expensive, even in English terms.
The best way to to explore the Tannery under your own steam or led by a guide recommended by your riad.
TOP TIP: Take some mints, the smell is overpowering and something you will need a distraction from!
Sleep in a riad
Stay in the medina, but choose a good riad to stay in as the medina itself is total madness – you will appreciate having a calm sanctuary to return to.
Some of the riads have pools, rooftop terraces and spas where you can spend your afternoons drinking endless cups of mint tea. Explore other riads, there are plenty of trendy and chic ones scattered within the medina that offer fantastic food and drink and a place to rest your weary feet.
TOP TIP: Pay a little bit more to get a riad with a good roof terrace, it’s a nice place to escape the hustle and bustle.
Eat Moroccan food
Moroccan food is well known for its flavours and spices. Use the opportunity to taste everything. If it looks a little ‘local’ but it’s busy, it's busy for a reason. Get stuck in. There are also some really great eateries, cafés and restaurants within the medina walls, a couple of my favourites are Café Clock and The Ruined Garden.