With so many destinations in the WHL Group‘s ever-expanding network, we have an incredible wealth of local travel information at our fingertips. Through the Inside Word, our local partners – past and present, all travel experts – share their top tips on what to do, what to eat, where to party and where to shop in their neck of the woods. This month, we wander the ancient byways of Fes, Morocco.
Fes, Morocco, is considered one of the holiest cities in the Islamic world. Parts of it barely changed since it was founded at the beginning of the 9th century by Moulay Idriss II, this enchanting city has been a seat of government, philosophy, medicine, music and religion for more than a millennium. In fact, Fes is considered one of the best surviving examples of an ancient Arab city. It comprises the ‘new’ city, established in the 12th century, and the much more ancient medina, a market where goods-laden donkeys and mules still amble alongside buyers.
Visitors enjoying this amazing car-free zone will encounter a fascinating maze of lanes, blind alleys and bustling souks (markets) assaulting the senses with spices and exotic delicacies. With so much on display, it is the perfect place to sharpen your bargaining skills while buying souvenirs, brightly coloured hand-loomed carpets or fine-crafted artisanal goods. Also not to be missed are the famous leather tanneries – a honeycomb of vats erupting in an explosion of brilliant colour – and the venerated Merenid Tombs, where the spectacular panoramic views of Fes defy words.
An exciting day trip from Fes begins at Meknes, one of Morocco’s ‘Imperial Cities’ and a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site complete with lush rolling hills studded with ancient olive groves and vineyards. After a pleasant lunch in this holy city of Moulay Idriss, you can explore the spectacular arched gateways of Bab El Mansour and Bab El Khamis. Then it’s off to the ancient Roman ruins of Volubulis, where the remains of palaces, baths, soaring arches and magnificent mosaics await discovery on a wildflower-dotted hillside.
Another compelling day trip could explore the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where a hidden, fragrant cedar forest is filled with chatty Barbary macaques and the mountainsides are home to many rustic Berber villages. Here is where to make a wish by a rushing waterfall or stroll the banks of a placid lake in one of many pleasant parks. At the weekly market in Azrou, you’ll discover fine wooden handicrafts and handmade Berber rugs.
Shopping in Fes can be a high-intensity experience. In Morocco, bargaining is a way of life, so always remember that the price you are initially offered will be highly inflated and that it’s up to you to ask for lower. When negotiating with vendors, surrounded by the noise and confusion of the market, you may at first find it difficult to gain confidence and stand your ground, but with a little bit of practice, the haggling process becomes a captivating part of the Moroccan experience.
Striking a good deal is well worth your while, though, as Fes is world-renowned for its handcrafted Moroccan decorative items, such as textiles, rugs, antiques, hand-woven and embroidered shawls, Berber cushions, handmade garments, leather, wood and much more.
It would take ages to visit all the good places to enjoy the amazing traditional Moroccan cuisine in Fes. To narrow it down: some of the best restaurants are Yacout, Medina and La Maison Arabe. If you wish to try local food while rubbing shoulders with the people of Fes, eat your fill at the small shops of the souk in the ancient city.
Fes is known for the strong presence of Sufism. We still have Sufis who get together every once in a while at someone’s house for a special musical event. Ask a local about attending one of these events.
Locals can also help you to experience the Moroccan culinary scene by advising which market to go to to do your own shopping for all the ingredients needed for a cooking class at one of our Moroccan guesthouses. Learn how to make couscous, chicken with lemon, lamb with prune or chicken pastilla.
The best place to relax during the daytime is a local café at the souk. Watch the people wander by, each with his own story, as you sip a cup of coffee or tea with the locals. As Fes is a sacred town, the evenings are best spent dining on some of the best food in the country at a local restaurant or on the rooftop of a guesthouse. You just won’t find the kind of nightlife for which places like Agadir, Casablanca or Marrakech are known.