Reading online before coming to Morocco, it seemed that Fes is the marmite of Morocco, which despite it having a ring to it, I wouldn’t recommend it as the title of a marketing campaign for the city. Love it or hate it, Fes deserves better.
The medina is the old city and is considered the biggest pedestrianised zone in the world, without a bike or car to disrupt the serenity. Did I say serenity? I meant mayhem. When we were in Fes for the first time the medina was teeming with life. The narrow streets are a maze. The faces of many lost tourists was to become a staple sight in the medina, and their looks of uncertain terror brought me a sick sense of satisfaction by the end of my stay. We were the lucky few to find our way through, learning the routes, however getting lost is to be encouraged, just from experience maybe not at night. The narrow streets often lead to dead ends but there’s always something interesting to see as you wander from place to place. The medina has different areas specialising in certain crafts or products and therefore in each you get to see different examples of local people’s lives. One of our favourite things to do was to sit eating street meat, which will be mentioned later, and people-watching. Now I know that people watching is a valued pastime all over the world, however Fes takes it to another level. You’re not even just watching people, there’s donkeys carrying stuff, rams being pulled through the street by the horns and chickens tied to boxes, just to mention just a few of the members of this menagerie. In the buzz of city life I felt a strange sense of calm it was new to me and I think shows how much I liked Fes.
What else to see
Despite our love for the medina we decided that we needed a break and wanted to get some views. It turned out the two things we had planned were next to each other which was strangely convenient.
Borj Nord is a large castle on the hill looking over the medina and beyond. It’s now an arms museum and only a 10/15-minute walk outside of the medina. Now, after flittering around London museums this year, I’ve realised that I enjoy looking at antiquated methods people used for committing homicide. Killing other people isn’t a nice thing as I hope the majority of people will agree. However, since people have been wanting to kill other people for a while, there’s quite a variety of ways to go about it, and of all the ways, the old ways are always best. By best I mean of course that they’re the least efficient but have pretty patterns on them which is the only important thing. Let’s be honest a missile has its positives (and negatives) but they don’t quite have the finesse of swords, tomahawks and even a trident. Yes, a trident. Ollie and I very much enjoyed staring at the weapons and we could express our love for them without judgement because the whole museum was totally empty.
After enjoying the views that the roof had to offer we headed for the nearby Merenid tombs. These are 13th-15th century tombs and despite being in ruined they’re impressive and give amazing views over medina. These were apparently best at sunset however being impatient people we didn’t get to see that, also sunset is when hunger becomes the only driving force in my life. No tombs, only food.
Food and drink
As a disclaimer, food in Morocco is very tasty. However, there is one slight issue, the issue of lack of variety. If you’re a fan of tagine then get ready for the best time of your life. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a tagine, but after a while, my brain and stomach were thinking tagine for 2 meals almost every day was pushing what a person can deal with, both mentally and physically. There is variety within the realm of the tagine: Beef, lamb, chicken, kefta, all of these are great but how many times do you really want to see that tagine pot on your table in a week never mind a day? Even writing tagine that many times has brought back feelings I had buried deep deep down.
There are other options in the form of kebabs, couscous and if you’re lucky pastilla. However, the kebabs are just meat and chips, the couscous to Ollie’s, what can only be described as unmatched disgust and horror, was served in a tagine pot and the pastilla as it turns out is rare to find and unlikely to be nice.
In terms of specific places to eat in Fes, my main recommendation would be the meat of the street served in a large sandwich or one of the cheap sandwich places that offer various meaty things and fries from 10-30DHR which is a bargain.
If a street-side sandwich place isn’t meeting your somewhat fancy standards then, for the best food we found, in an amazing setting, go to Ruined Garden. As well as being ruined, it is also very hard to find, so look out for the signs on the main thoroughfare. It’s very pricey for Morocco but the food is very tasty and has some variety.
If you’re looking for some pastilla, which to be honest I’m not sure why you wouldn’t be, then one of the restaurants overlooking the blue gate is the best. For those that are unfamiliar with this food it’s a filo pastry pie filled with chicken and almonds and other beautiful things. Most of the places made dry un-layered pastillas but at this place, it has egg and layers of pastry and chicken and sweet stuff all moist and amazing, topped with icing sugar and cinnamon. I apologise for the use of the word “moist” but it was a necessary evil. This dish may sound like it belongs on the dessert menu but it was just what I needed at pretty much every occasion.
In terms of drink there’s only one place that really has the chilled atmosphere suitable for a long period of relaxing with a smoothie or milkshake when you fancy a break from madness of the medina, that place is Café Clock. They also do good food but it’s a lot more expensive than the rest of the city.
Where to stay
There seems to be a choice of accommodation in Fes however the main place that everyone will recommend is Funky Fes. This is a hostel at the bottom end of the medina and as with many hostels it’s in a riad style with an indoor courtyard with rooms on various levels around the central courtyard. Funky Fes was a very nice looking hostel with nice rooms and a great roof terrace.
Backhome Fez was where we stayed on our return to Fes at the end of our three weeks, it is much cheaper than Funky Fes (almost half the price). It’s not the easiest place to find but the small hostel has a nice friendly atmosphere, the people there seemed more chatty but the staff at both hostels were very helpful and friendly.
Fez is a buzzing and vibrant city which is up there with my favourite cities in the world so far. It felt like if you stripped away the tourists it wouldn’t feel much different. The authenticity of its maze-like streets, steeped in history and filled with life made for a brilliant time.