Till now, I visited several medinas and souks, in different towns and countries, but no one repeated the strong impression of my first visit to Fes, in 1982. The strong impression of the narrow roads and small houses made me forget the whole town and its beauty with the white houses, descending the sunny slopes of town.
I had to come back, and my second impression was totally different, more acquainted to the size and conception of the medina, and more attentive to the town itself. But one thing remains – Fes is my favorite town in Morocco.
The Medina, of course
In Fes I felt, for the first time, out of scale (it happened again, in opposite direction, 10 years later in Florida.
The Medina may seem so small as some medieval places we know in Europe, but plenty of life, in a seemingly impossible way. A maze that I can’t describe – only seen and felt.
The fire consumed, some years ago, the central area of the Medina, which has been rebuilt respecting the proportions but not the look.
It’s a pity. However, everything around looks the same, and the visit (always with a local guide) will justify your day. The modern part of town is also interesting, but the Medina is unique.
I’ve been in Fes twice, with almost 20 years separating the trips.
The visits to the medina were accompanied by different guides, obviously, but, curiously, when entering the leather tinting area, they both used the same joke: “Chanel n.5 perfume”.
It’s not a beautiful show, and it is a really awful smell, but it is real, and should be seen. There is progress: in our second visit the guide distributed each one a mint branchlet, that, placed under our noses, disguised a little the strong Chanel.
The royal palace
Squeezed in the narrow streets of the medina, these Islamic schools risk to pass unnoticed.
Fortunately you ARE with a local guide that will call your attention. The negative point is that you are not allowed to enter in most of them, becoming restricted to a quick external look.
A pity, but we have to respect their religious rules.
Walking along the medina, you may pass without noticing by some historical buildings and places, hidden behind the displays of the sellers, or in the dark of the narrow streets.
Fountains, palaces, and medersas worth a look.
The sad thing is that non-Muslims must stay out of the religious buildings and only peeping from the doors you may have an idea of the interiors.
Royal Mirage – Excellent option
This hotel was, long ago, my best experience in Morocco. I know that its property and management have changed, but the construction and location must still be there.
I have no idea about the actual service and prices, but it would be my first choice if returning to Fes.
Address: Avenue des F. A. R., B. P. 2489, Fes, 30000, Morocco
Phone: 212 055930909
Warnings in Fes
Beware of false guides
There are some young boys displaced in motorbikes that approach tourists offering services as guide. Always demand the presentation of the official guide’s card.
I had none of the related bad experiences, but the guy that led me to the hotel in Fes and wanted to lead me in the Medina the next day didn’t come because… he was arrested during the night.
The hotel booked me an official guide, and we felt absolutely safe with him.
The narrow streets in the Medina are tricky for a tourist.
Hidden by the displayed paraphernalia and the moving crowds, some jewels of the city’s history may pass unnoticed without a warning. I think that no tourist risks too enter without a local guide, so the risk is minimum, but if you are in a big group, even a small distance to the guide may betray you.
Memories of Fes
No, I don’t like it, but “In Rome be a Roman”… so, I tried my best, bargaining everywhere, mainly in Fes. I don’t know (nor care) if I did good or bad deals!
I just found amusing that, for them, it seems more important to discuss the articles than… selling them.
That’s why sometimes I gave up and left, and… bought cheaper at the shop doors.
Remember: Bargaining is a cultural reference, and if you don’t do it you will be spending your money and… shocking them.
Shopping in Fes – the medina
This fabulous medieval shopping mall has… everything. You just have to stop and… bargain. Believe me, with more or less tea, with more or less money, you are going to buy tons of unexpected crafts, clothes, spices and… no idea, but you’ll find out.
The medina of Fes is the strongest experience in Morocco.
From my first to my second visit, the centre of the medina was burnt and rebuilt. The image changed a lot, but not the commerce. Maybe, in that point of view, things are even easier.
There are two types of taxis in Fes – the “petits taxis”, small and red transporting up to 3 people, and the larger ones, supposedly to 4, but… well… we can always squeeze a dozen more. They tend to be metered and are not too expensive. Both types of taxis are usually shared and drivers often wait until the taxi is full before departing.
Verify carefully if the meter is turned on, otherwise you may find yourself bargaining the price of the trip at the end of it.
Being with a local guide, as we were, there is no problem: he just asked us for some coins, delivered them to the driver, and, with a couple of strangers we were taken to our hotel.
However, sharing places and fares with strangers, speaking only Arab, in a desolate area of the city, is not very comfortable.