Fez: The Authentic Heart of Morocco

tannery vats

Fez… Even writing the name brings back so many sights, smells, and emotions. After doing a lot of research online I almost scratched Fez from our Morocco itinerary. Thankfully Ryan Air had other plans and offered a ridiculously cheap round-trip flight from Sevilla, Spain to Fez, Morocco. Looking back over our entire Morocco trip, I can confidently say that Fez is my favorite city by a long shot. I am not sure how to accurately put into words the experience of wandering through the Fez Medina but I will give it a shot. As for the smells, you will just have to trust me.

fez morroco

As fate would have it, we arrived into Fez on the third day of the weeklong Mid al-Adha celebration. We did not know this prior to landing at the Fez airport. And we were still not sure of what it meant until we made it to our riad (Moroccan hotel) and did some googling. I’ll save you the potentially graphic search results and try to explain it the best I can here. Basically, Muslims all over the world celebrate Mid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) in recognition of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his favorite son Isaac. (God ended up allowing him to sacrifice a ram instead).

How this plays out in 2018 Fez is with the sacrifice of hundreds of goats in the city streets! As we wandered toward our riad on our first day in Morocco we saw goats hanging from what seemed like every entryway. Their skins and furs were laid out to dry and were stacked in piles around town. And so our great Moroccan adventure had begun!

Read about out entire Morocco trip here.

What to do in Fez, Morocco

Get Lost in the Medina

I cringe even writing this as I know it has been said on every blog post and travel book ever written about Morocco. That being said, aimlessly wandering around the inner city of Fez is by far the best way to get a feel for Morocco. Unlike other touristy towns, it is super obvious that Moroccans live in Fez and the city exists to serve them. Yes, there are souks (shops) and a couple of tourist attractions, but the heart of the city is the locals that live there every day.

We had read that it was smart to hire a guide because they could potentially take you to hidden shops to get better deals and keep away unwanted attention. We did not get a guide and we felt perfectly safe the entire week we were there. (aside from one set of machete-wielding men running through the alleys! No worries it appeared to be a domestic dispute not an attack on tourists. Phew!) As far as being heckled by shop owners I do not think any guide could haggle better than Rachel, so we were happy with our decision to skip on the guide.

I will say that the holiday meant that many shops were closed during the majority of our stay. Even if they had been open I would highly recommend just exploring on your own rather than getting a guide. One exception to this would be the local kids. On a few occasions, there would be a group of local kids sitting outside of the restaurant after we had dinner and they would offer to walk us home “no tips required”. We enjoyed walking with these kids and learning more about Fez though there eyes even though it cost us a few dirham.

fes medina

Visit the Tannery

The tanneries are Fez’s most popular tourist attraction (it feels weird to even say that). As you wander through the Medina you will be asked many, many times if you are heading to the Tannery. I recommend saying you have already been or just saying no. If you say yes you will instantly have a “guide” and your aimless exploring will come to an end. Eventually, you will find shops that offer views of the tannery. We were able to go up and see the tannery from above for free with the promise that we would look around the guy’s shop afterward. We were even supplied a little piece of mint to help with the smell (we weirdly didn’t find the smell to be that bad).

tannery vats

While on the rooftop looking down at the tannery I plotted a course to what I assumed was the actual tannery entrance. (Every shop claims to be the tannery, but they really just have views of it). Eventually, we came to a man with an “official tannery badge” and for around 50dh ($5.00) he took us through the tannery on foot. He even let us stand on the tannery tubs. We were the only tourists down there and we got some pretty funny looks from the workers. It was super cool to see how they transform the pelts into actual leather goods. The leather they produce is actually really nice. They have lots of jackets and bags. We wished we had a bigger suitcase!

Visit a Hammam

There are two ways to go about a visit to the Hammam. You can go super fancy or you can go super local. We ended up doing both so we could compare and I actually think I enjoyed the less fancy one more.

Local Hammam

For a truly local Hammam, you would purchase a scrubber at one of the local shops, go into the bathing room (separated by sex) and give yourself a bath.

Low-End Hammam Spa

We decided to go one step up and choose a Hammam that offered to do the scrubbing for us, Hammam Mernissi & Spa. (and we even upgraded to have a massage). The total cost was around $60 and it included a 1-hour bath followed by a 1-hour massage. For the bath, you change into provided underwear and then lay on a stone slab in a very hot and muggy room. A lady scoops water out of a basin and then rubs your skin with an exfoliating scrubbing glove. As she scrubs, you can see all of the dead skin being peeled off your body (it is about as comfortable as it sounds).

After that, you get a quick rinse and are then taken to a relaxation room before the massage. Weirdly she skipped scrubbing both mine and Rachel’s feet which I thought would be the main event. It could be that our feet were too gross but I think it must just be customary because we later had the same thing happen at the fancy hammam.

High-End Hammam Spa

We also tried out the fancy spa version of the hammam in Marrakesh, but there are several nice ones in Fez too. We walked in Riad Laaroussa and were very impressed. The one we went to was more or less the same as the first one, but it included a nice robe, more time in the relaxation areas, and a nice pool and changing area. We also upgraded to a new treatment they offered which was to get wrapped up in gold tinfoil and bake with mud for 45 minutes. The whole experience lasted about 4 hours and we paid around $160 total but the actual hammam part was more or less the same as the local one.

Watch Sunset from the Tombs on the Hill

We were staying inside of the Medina so we did not leave very often. One of the few times we did was to watch the sunset from the tombs on the hill. It is walkable from the center of town but we decided to pay a few bucks for a cab (did I mention Morocco is super hot in the summer?). Although the sun actually sets behind you, watching the sky change over the ancient city is absolutely worth checking out.

sunset fes medina

Go Shopping

Given that we were backpacking, Rachel and I did not have a ton of room for shopping. That being said we still ended up doing it, every day, with no regrets. Fez has to be one of the most fun places to shop in the world. Yes you have to haggle, and yes people will be calling you from every corner of the Medina, but everyone is super friendly and the quality of the products is outstanding. This is not Mexico trinket shopping. After promising Rachel that we would come back and furnish our whole house with Moroccan throws, pillows, rugs, and lamps whenever we stopped traveling we eventually settled for buying all of Morocco’s amazing health and beauty products. From Argan oil to amazing tea you cannot go wrong. And it is all so cheap!

Check out the Blue Gate, Mosque, and University

I would not turn this into a whole special trip but as you are wandering around the Medina keep your eyes peeled for the oldest university in the world. Also, it is worth peeking into the mosque even though you will not be allowed inside. And the blue gate is an iconic symbol of Fez.

Where to Stay in Fez, Morocco

We booked a raid (traditional Moroccan hotel), Riad Tayrana, on Hotels.com. We liked it so much that we ended up staying there again at the end of our trip. There are a bunch of super fancy hotels both inside and outside of the Medina, but I recommend staying at a traditional raid in medina. Ours included a traditional breakfast, mint tea, and passable wifi. Plus the owner is super nice and helpful. If you are going to stay in the Medina and you have a bunch of bags you might want to book an airport transfer that will show you how to get to your hotel. I don’t think it would be dangerous to walk with your stuff, but it would be annoying to get super lost and be lugging your bags around.

fes riad

Where to Eat in Fez, Morroco

Anywhere… it is all amazing, just walk around, talk to people, and sit down with a bunch of locals. We did eat at a few places that are worth an extra trip if you want to try something a little more upscale.

Cafe Clock

This place had more of an Americanized menu with great salads but skip the milkshakes (not as good as they look).

cafe clock

The Ruined Garden

This place had a romantic vibe and the lamb tajine was bomb.

the ruined garden

Bouanania

Great couscous! This was located on one of our favorite streets to walk down. It was always chaotic and entertaining.

fes restaurant red

Where to Drink in Fez

Although we did find a few spots that sell beer and wine, I would not recommend them. It honestly felt like we were doing something dirty all crammed on the top floor of a bar on the outskirts of town. I would, however, recommend going out for tea in the evening. We had so much fun just watching people hustle around town while we sipped on the local mint tea. (I started calling them hot mojitos given the amount of sugar!).

fez morocco mosque

Overall I cannot think of a more perfect spot to start a Morocco trip. Yes, it is a busy, crowded, smelly (both good and bad) city but we loved every second of it!

Want more information to plan your trip to Fez? Check out the Morocco Lonely Planet here.

Shukran,

-Grant

Ps. Check out our Morocco video below! 

 

 

 

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