We decided to include Fes in our Moroccan itinerary because I had heard that the city offered a different view of Morocco – quieter and more authentic – which Marrakech couldn’t quite manage due to the sheer number of tourists that flock there every day. As we were in Morocco in early November, it was not the height of the tourist season and we were able to move around quite comfortably. The Old Town didn’t feel too crowded and hectic, and we didn’t have to wait to be seated in restaurants.
We knew we would be arriving into Fes around 11pm, so asked our riad (a traditional Moroccan guest house) to organize a driver to take us from the airport directly to the riad. The transfer cost €25, which is definitely more than we would have paid for a local taxi, but we certainly would have got lost trying to find our way from the entrance of the Old Town/Medina to our accommodation. The driver was very friendly, telling us all about Fes and pointed out different buildings to us. We stayed in this riad for two nights in Fes. The bedrooms in a traditional riad don’t have windows to the outside world, but instead have windows facing onto the inner courtyard. There is a glass or open roof, which floods sunshine into the courtyard and bedrooms. Of course in the evening (or on an overcast day), the bedrooms can be rather dim and musty from the lack of fresh air. Most raids offer breakfast: ours provided a generous helping of omelettes, crepes, pancakes, hard-boiled eggs, bread, fig jam, apricot jam, mint tea and coffee, all included in the price of the room.
Two days and two nights in Fes seemed like the right amount of time. We enjoyed exploring the Old Town, browsing the market stalls and appreciating the stunning architecture, arches and tile detail around the city. The stalls in the Medina sold a wide variety of goods from jewellery to carpets, shoes to spices, crockery to clothing. The intricate detail of the archways, tile doors and walls were absolutely stunning.
The Medina was nothing short of a labyrinth; hundreds of narrow paths snaking left and right. I downloaded an offline map of Fes before arrival, but even Google couldn’t handle Fes. The map would tell us to take the next left…but there would be no left, only right turns, or we would walk into a dead end. We didn’t stress about it and embraced getting lost, again and again. Luckily there was some eye-catching street art a few metres from our riad, which helped with navigation. There were lots of teenage boys (and younger) hanging around street corners, offering to help tourists find their way. We found our way without them (which would have involved a €2-3 tip), but I am sure other tourists found them useful, especially after dark when the Medina is even harder to navigate.
One of our favourite parts of Fes was the Jewish ghetto. It was much quieter and calmer than the Old Town, and had lovely, colourful walls. Annoyingly, we almost didn’t make it into the Ghetto because locals kept advising us to turn around and go back. “There’s nothing there!” they’d tell us, “Where are you heading? Let me help you!”. We said thanks for the offer but we were happy to just wander around.
We were given the same ‘advice’ when walking to Dar al-Makhzen (the Royal Palace). If we had listened to the locals telling us there was nothing to see in the direction we were heading, we would have missed out on this!
On our first evening in Fes, we walked up a steep hill on which the Tombs Of Merinids sit. From the hill, we had a fantastic panoramic view of Fes and the mountains that surround it. It was a cool, local hangout with lots of families sitting on the hill, chatting, laughing and enjoying the sunset. We also saw herds of sheep and goats bleating their way around a cemetery, which was built into the hill.
We visited Bab Boujeloud (the Blue Gate), the ornate city gate built in 1913. The blue side welcomes new visitors, the colour representing Fes and the ceramic pottery it is famous for. The other side is green, to represent Islam.
There were some tourist attractions we didn’t do during our stay. The first was out of our control – non-Muslims are not allowed to enter any of the mosques, which was disappointing. The University Karaouiyne looked particularly beautiful when we peaked through the entrance.
We chose not to visit the tanneries. The thought of being surrounded by hundred of hanging animal skins really didn’t appeal, especially as the tanneries apparently stink! Also I’d heard reports of tourists being pressurized into buying leather goods or being duped into taking an overly long, expensive walking tours.
Our first lunch was at Chez Rachid. There was a meal deal – 70MAD/€7 for soup or salad, any main dish on their menu and some traditional sweets. We ordered starters, chicken skewers and lamb tagine. Both mains were fine but the vegetables on the sides were really overcooked. Luckily the skewers also came with chips!
On our first evening, we ate dinner at Café Clock, a restaurant very popular with expats and tourists (with English-speaking staff). Normally we would avoid somewhere like this but the reviews were all very positive and we thought ‘Why not?’. I had falafel and hummus, whereas my boyfriend had a vegetarian pastilla (typical Moroccan pastry). We ended up being charged extra because there was live music that night. The musicians were good but so loud, we could barely talk to each other! Our bill came to 200 MAD/€20 for food, two drinks and the extra charge for the music, making it one of the pricier places we ate during our holiday.
Our favourite food was at The Ruined Garden, which we didn’t discover until our second day (It was unfortunately fully-booked for dinner that night). The café was a beautiful, quiet oasis, with outdoor tables surrounded by flowers and plants. We found our way there mid-afternoon and fancied something sweet. We ordered a rich chocolate and espresso mousse, spiced with Ras El Hanout, and a glass of milk flavoured with orange blossom and dates. I can’t even describe how tasty that milk was!
We enjoyed our final dinner at Yalla Yalla, a café near the Blue Gate. We both had meatballs, cous cous, salad, coffee and orange juice. I can’t remember the cost but it was definitely less than Café Clock!
After dinner at Yalla Yalla, we took a short taxi ride to the CTM bus station where we caught our night bus to Marrakech. The CTM ticket office was just outside the Old Town, so we went there on our first day to pre-book our bus tickets. This was lucky that we did – we managed to get the last two seats on the bus we wanted! There were some different price options and times, but we opted for the premiere service (quicker, with fewer stops) which left Fes at 21.30 and arrived in Marrakech at 4.30am. It cost €25.50 per person, including a small luggage fee.
All in all, we enjoyed our visit to Fes and would recommend visiting for 1.5 or 2 days. If you are Muslim, maybe an extra day to have time to visit the mosques and other tourist attractions. We used Airbnb to book our accommodation in Fes. You can get €29 off your first stay with Airbnb by using this referral code
Now, before I finish, here are some more of my favourite photos from Fes!
Ciao for now!