Our trip to Fes was definitely worthwhile. My ordinary plan was to visit Marrakech, but looking at the flight, Fes has a better schedule which ideal for us. Departing on a Friday evening from Brussels and return on Monday morning. Morocco has been on my list for a while, but my plan to spend a long weekend for the first time, as it is only a two-hours fly from Belgium. If I like it, I could always go back anytime.
We have precisely two full days to get to know the Moroccan culture. The plan is to explore Fes for one day and the other day, a trip to Meknes. To get the most of it, I book the riad Casa Aya Medina in the old town, a walking distance to everything.
Fes Morocco has a beautiful and well-preserved old center. Also, impressive souks and mosque and the people are not pushy. Unlike other North African cities, in Fes, they leave you alone. As one of the four royal cities, Fez is part of most touristic tours of Morocco. A must-see during your trip to Morocco.
Criss-crossing the medina
On our first day, it was a long day; we wanted to see everything. Walking is the best thing you can do. The old town of Fes comprises with narrow streets and a car-free zone which is easy for everyone to wander. There are only 9400 alleys; it is like a labyrinth. Some say you need a guide, but we did it on our own, and we’re just fine without getting lost, with our walking app partner maps.me
During your walk, you pass through different parts and essential sights of the city. It is also interesting to see how people lived and worked in such a small area and so close together, which made it more authentic than other cities. The scents and colors within the Medina will stay as memory during your visit to Fes.
Go up one of the rooftops for a city view
Besides walking through Medina, you can always go up one of the rooftops for a city view — most of the restaurants and riad (traditional Moroccan house or palace) provide with roof terrace. The one we had in our riad, the outlook is not so beautiful as we were facing a slum. Many of the restaurants in the old town have the best spots for viewing the entire city. The best time to go up is in the afternoon because you also see the sunset.
Visit one of the mosque
There are several impressive mosques in Fes; unfortunately, a non-Muslim is not allowed to enter the mosque. I’m a bit disappointed, as non-muslim, we’re able to visit the biggest mosque in the world in Abu Dhabi. But in Fes, you can only take a look into the courtyards of the mosque.
As we didn’t have a chance to see the interior of a mosque, we ended up going to the University of al-Karaouine. You pay a small amount of 20 dirhams by going inside. The oldest existing, continually operating higher educational institution in the world according to Guinness World Records and is one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world. During the visit around, you’ll able to see the rooms of students, you can think of how it is like living in a tiny block room.
Visit one of the local craft
The city is known for its typical crafts, such as the leather, carpet, mosaic and ceramics. Fes produced in large numbers using traditional methods, and it is interesting to see how things process from here. Such as visiting a tannery, you have to know how the leather processing in Fez. It is a defying spot to see, but you must be able to withstand the smelly odor.
The skins soak for two to three days in numerous stone vessels filled in with corrosive mixture that helps remove excess fat, meat, and hair that remain sturdy. Afterward, preparing the leather for paints. The leather soaks for another set of barrels that contains ammonia mixture of water, pigeon stern, and cow urine. It also acts as a softening agent that allows the skins to become malleable so that they can absorb the dye. The tanner’s kneaded the surface three hours to reach the desired softness with their bare feet.
Tips: A guide is required because it is not easy to find on your own. You see the sign, but this brings you to nowhere — the tannery situated in between buildings. And if you have no idea where to go, it is nowhere to find.
Sometimes children were approaching asking if you want to see a tannery, and they will take you there with a little payment. Some of this tannery, you’ll have to go through inside a leather shop. Is not obligated to purchase anything, if you say, you only want to see a tannery and without any obligation, you will able to visit one.
Moroccans and their eating habits
Ever wondered what food might serve in the table during your trip to Morocco? I am a picky traveler when it comes to food, but I always try the local cuisine. I don’t like lamb and beef, I know visiting a country like Morocco, pork is nowhere to find. But fortunately, chicken served everywhere. Couscous is the national dish of Morocco which I’m not fun of it. Tajine is a meat stew cooked in a rounded clay pot with different vegetables. Another tasty dish is a stewed chicken with lemon olives and potato.
Morocco is a tidbit country. During your walk, you’ll be passing through food stalls where people are preparing the food. The smells give you a watering mouth. In the Medina, you barely find international cuisine; there are a few Chinese restaurants if you want for a change from tajine.
Getting from the Airport to the old town in Fes
As we arrive at night, we contact our hotel host to arrange a taxi — is a fixed price of 15 euro. Going back to the airport, they charged the same price even in the daytime. The cheapest way to the old town is by bus if you arrive during the day and with less luggage.
Although Morocco is a very cheap destination, I find the cab is expensive. The driver accepts euros or local dirhams.
Getting around the ancient city, especially at the medina walking, is best. But if you want to visit the new town of Fes, a taxi cost 10 euro which is only a three-kilometer walk, but the heat is unbearable.
A Day Trip to Meknes
Meknes is monumental under the royal cities and has been placed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO. Definitely not to miss during your visit to Morocco. There are around 20 gates in 40 kilometers of city walls with four entrance gates. But the magnificent Bab Mansour is a massive and most beautiful city gate of Meknes. From the central square, this gate is almost unmissable. Also, Meknes has an authentic medina, accessible through ancient city gates, Bab el-Bourdain and the Bab Mansour.
Visit the covered market and the medina
The covered market is tantalizing. You find a range of tasty sweets and various other local treats. You will notice that the quality of the fruits and vegetables are better than in Fes. The stalls that display pyramid trays of olives, the colorful ground herbs, are such interesting sights. Vendors are friendlier than in Fes.
The medina is relatively small, with a small number of streets. You won’t’ get worried about getting lost and more pleasant to wander around as it is less touristy than in Fez. The shops are clean and varied, and if you look around, they have better quality merchandise compared to Fez. I bought some of the souvenirs from here, and even cheaper than in Fez.
Getting To Meknes and return
Meknes is more than one hour from Fes. The quickest way to Meknes is taking a shared taxi for 25 dirhams. You find the cab at the bus station in Fes, which is a walking distance from the Medina, depends on your location. We’re centric it takes10 minutes walking.
These types of taxi are grand (big) mainly Dacia brand cars. The cab doesn’t leave if not full; Meknes seems a popular destination, so the waiting time is approximately ten minutes. The vehicle can carry up to six passengers, two at the backside three in the middle and one frontside.
Once arrived in Meknes, you can always ask the driver to drop you off at the main square. From there you are close to the medina.
Going back to Fes, you will have options; bus, train, or taxi. We took a cab going back; it seems the easy way. The setting of public transport in Meknes is confusing as there are two taxi stands in the city. But the actual taxi that goes to Fes situated in the station Gare Routiere Sidi Said which is about a one-kilometer walk from the main square. If you ask someone, they’re pointing you in the right direction.