A couple of weeks ago I was sat with a friend, reminiscing over our fond memories of previous travels and dreaming of all the worldly places we were yet to visit when we suddenly found ourselves scouring the internet for cheap flights.
Morocco has long been on my list of places to check out and it just so happened that the cheapest airline I have ever seen in my life- Easyjet- where offering flights for a measly £50 return! Too good an offer to miss out on, we booked our tickets without a seconds thought! One week later and we were both on the plane (more of a large tin with wings when you fly with Easyjet) to Morcco’s third largest city and former capital, Fes.
The beautiful and vibrant city of Fes was founded in the 8th century and currently holds a population of more than 1.1 million people. Yet it is surprisingly lacking in tourists, most of whom prefer to frequent the hustle and bustle of Marrakech instead. So if you’re thinking of heading to this alluring North African country anytime soon and would prefer to see a quieter, more rustic and untouched side of the culture, I would definitely recommend you visit Fez.
Here are 5 of my favourite things to do:
Shopping at the local souk’s should become a recognised olympic sport! Throughout the narrow and winding uphill and downhill labyrinth of Talaa Kebira in Bab Boujeloud you’ll find hundreds of shops and stalls selling everything from typical arabic snacks, spices, cosmetics, souvenirs, clothes, leather bags and shoes… The list goes on. It’s also here that you’ll find some of the worlds most natural oils, like argon oil, in abundance. I would suggest that you buy a boat load of this stuff as it is impossible to track down in the UK and it’s bloody amazing for your hair, skin and nails. If you’re visiting the souk, be sure that you come prepared with a bucket load of patience and a good clear set of lungs to haggle your way to a bargain price for any goods you pick up. Act confident and have a set price in mind or those sneaky buggers will see right through it and you’ll end up paying double your money. Oh and be sure to remember how you actually got into the Talaa Kebira souk in the first place or you’ll end up getting completely lost like I did.
Hidden away amongst the ancient buildings and narrow, crooked passageways of the city’s old Medina you’ll find a vibrant cluster of stone wells each filled with a brightly coloured liquid. Chouara, the 11th century tannery, still operates in exactly the same manner as it did over a thousand years ago, producing everything from leather handbags to jackets which are typically sold in the nearby souks. Look to the sides of the stone wells and you’ll see the skins of cows, sheep, goats and camels hanging up, ready to be soaked in the a mixture of cow urine, salt, water and errrrm pigeon poo. For obvious reasons, this place was rather….potent, so much so in fact that on numerous occasions I had to stop myself from projectile vomiting. The workers though, clearly accustomed to tourists holding their noses and their stomachs in despair, kindly handed me and others a small sprig of mint to mask the smell. Standing from a balcony just above the tannery, admiring the spectacular ancient ritual was a once in a lifetime moment and I would highly recommend anyone going to Morocco to take a look at the nearest tannery.
Tea and Tagine
If you visit Morocco without trying the local tagine then you’re not doing it right! This typical dish is traditionally made in a clay pot which has been placed on hot charcoal and left to cook slowly for a good few hours. The pot is usually filled with vegetables, dried fruit and meat of some kind, (generally chicken or lamb as pork is not consumed in most arabic countries). A small amount of liquid is added to the mixture which in turn produces the most tender, melt in your mouth meat you’ve ever tasted in your life. Unashamedly, I ate tagine pretty much everyday and although I tried a few variants including chicken and almonds and meatballs with potatoes, you can’t beat a good old lamb and vegetable tagine. It’s also surprisingly healthy and you’ll find that most places serve it up with thick, fresh bread or a side plate of light and fluffy couscous. You can find a mouthwateringly-cooked and fragrant tagine at pretty much every restaurant for around £5-10 for two and believe you me, they are big portions. Two of the best Tagine’s I ate were at Chez Rachid which has also been awarded a certificate of excellence and Cafe Laglali which was highly recommended on Tripadvisor. I must admit, I never really knew what all the fuss was about surrounding the whole mint tea shebang until I got to Morocco and tasted the real deal for myself. Turns out that s**t is out of this world!!! This highly addictive green tea is prepared with fresh mint leaves and sugar and you aint never tasted anything so sweet! You’ll find mint tea in almost every cafe and restaurant in Morocco and all at a ridiculously low price, averaging around 75p to £1 for a full pot for two. After a long day of walking around and negotiating deals with souk merchants there is no better way to unwind then with a warm glass of this stuff!
View from the top
If you can find the perfect spot, there are some absolutely breathtaking views of the city to be had, especially during the early hours of the evening when the sun is just beginning to set and the Islamic call for prayer begins. We stayed at Riad dar guennoun, a lovely, family-run Riad which provides a magnificent view of the city from the terrace roof and is open to guests (and possibly non-guests if you ask nicely) from morning till night. The owner, Juliet was also more than happy to make us some fresh mint tea to accompany our incredible sun set views. On a side note I would highly recommend this particular Riad to anyone, the staff were both friendly and accommodating to all our needs and they cooked us up the most amazing breakfasts! If you fancy a more top-notch view with an equally top-notch meal to accompany it then book yourself a table at either L’Amandier or La Terrace at palais faraj. With both being some of the most famous and in demand restaurants in the city of Fez (with both tourists and locals alike), you’ll likely need to book in advance to nab yourself a table at this exquisite fine-dining restaurant. As you can imagine, prices far exceed what that which you would pay at a local Moroccan restaurant but for this one-off experience, its well worth the price.
A ‘Hammam’, also known as a steam bath or sauna, is an ancient and integral part of Moroccan and middle eastern culture and has since become popularised in Turkey as well as numerous other European countries. As physical purification and cleanliness is one of the essential rituals of Islam, you’ll often find Moroccans visiting their local Hammam at least once a week for a few hours and having a good old catch up. Inside the Hammam you’ll find a steam room, a bathing room and a ‘cold’ room as well as a massage room, should you choose to use it. Upon your visit you’ll be asked to strip off (to your basics) so I would advise that you bring your swimwear if you don’t want to rock the disposable underwear provided. There are typically 2 types of Hammam experiences, the DIY option where you’ll bathe and clean yourself or the errrr ‘assisted’ option where someone will do it all for you. Be warned, if you choose the second option then you may be in for a bit of a rough ride as they take the whole ‘good old scrub’ thing very seriously. To the point you may even begin to shed a bit of skin during the whole exfoliation process! With more than 250 Hammam’s dotted around Fes, you’re sure to find one on almost every street corner and all at a relatively low price, ranging from £5-£30 depending on where you go. As a side note I would advise that you bring along some essentials such as soap, shampoo and a towel unless you want to pay for them upon entering the Hammam. Oh, and when available, I would suggest buying ‘sabon beldi’- a gooey black olive oil soap that usually comes in bulk, rubbing this stuff into your skin will leave it feeling softer than a baby’s bottom