For years, Morocco has held this weird allure for me. And Fez, Morocco even more so.
There’s something about the North African country with its middle-eastern vibe, French influences, mix of Muslim traditions and Spanish music that’s really captivating. And I’m obsessed with places that are beautifully blended with contrasting cultures — like Fez.
That, and the Ryanair flights to Fez were £55 return. (I kid you not, they had the sale to end all sales in May 2015 and if you’re UK based, you should check the site regularly for cheap deals).
But if you’re looking for a cheap city break with a difference, Fez is full of surprises. Situated 240 miles north of its big-sister-city, Marrakech, Fez is a medieval and magical place where you can live like a Queen and still come back with change.
Here’s everything you should know before you make Fez, Morocco your next city break…
CUSTOMS, MONEY, RAMADAN
Once you’ve navigated Ryanair’s sneaky website, after a very basic, frills-free, three-hour flight from London Stanstead, you’ll find yourself transported to the most ~melted~ of cultural pots.
Bear in mind though, that the Moroccan dirham is a ‘closed’ currency meaning you can’t get it changed anywhere before you arrive. You’ll find a decent rate at the airport, but bring some widely-accepted Euros with you for a cab/emergency.
The first thing that hits you when leaving the aeroplane will be the thick blanket of heat; it’s dry, but completely engulfing. And when I was there, it reached highs of 47 degrees.
If you’re visiting in Ramadan like we did, remember that *some* locals will still expect you to dress conservatively no matter how blisteringly hot Fez is. We packed some long skirts and shawls but it was difficult to stay covered up because…sweat.
Fez, Morocco is a fairly liberal Muslim place and plenty of tourists were walking around in shorts and skirts. But if you want to minimise the comments and the side-eye, I’d recommend trying to be respectful in the day.
When people break their fast after sunset, things get a bit more relaxed and locals told me it’s not as bad to wear less in the evenings.
Walking around unaccompanied, you’ll also attract a lot of locals who will offer to show you around. This is completely normal and actually recommended when entering the maze of the medina (the walled, central part of Fez) because you WILL get lost. Agree a price before they offer their assistance, though.
The medina of Fez is the city’s main attraction. An assault on the senses, walking around the labyrinth of little streets soaking up the smells, sounds and tastes of the souks (markets) is well worth the average price tag of 200 dirhams (£35) for two people, if you want a local guide.
We arranged a guide through our hostel and we were literally shopping, taking photos and sampling local foods for around six hours. Our guide helped us haggle (even getting angry on our behalf when market sellers tried to take advantage of us) and took us to the small local factories where we learned how the famous Moroccan prints are made by hand.
My mate actually ended up parting with four days’ worth of money in exchange for some killer cushions and a Moroccan throw in the first shop (a life-investment, I told her). I purchased three 75ml bottles of real Moroccan Argan oil for around 125 Dirhams (£10) and we haggled our hats off to get the prices down.
Beware also that most guides in Fez, Morocco will receive a commission if you purchase something in these shops; we spoke to other tourists and realised we’d all been taken to the same spots; a tailors, a tannery, a cushion-making factory etc.
WALK THE ROYAL GARDENS AND BLUE GATE
Once you’ve recovered from all the haggling and shopping in the 47-degree heat, you’ll want to stroll to the public gardens, Jardin Jnan Sbil. Gifted to the public by the Moroccan King, you can relax, unwind and take some pretty pictures near the flowers and lakes – just what you need after the frenetic circus of the medina in Fez, Morocco.
Then if you haven’t already, get a photo outside the iconic Bab Bou Jeloud gate that connects the city and the medina.
Now I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a seasoned backpacker (do I sound like a dick?), but I was blown away by the stunning décor in hostels and guest-houses in Fez.
I first stayed at Riad Verus, a backpacker hostel with a difference – the main one being that you don’t actually feel like a backpacker when you stay here, which is a huge plus.
We were told to treat the place like our second home when we arrived and stayed up smoking shisha with the owner on the first night. There’s a rooftop terrace and shared dorm rooms which start at £10 a night.
The guys here also arranged for us to have a tour of the medina, sorted us out with taxis, and took us out to coffee bars to meet locals during our stay.
Located within the walls of the medina, it’s perfect if you want to fully immerse yourself in all that Fez has to offer.
EAT LOCAL, EAT MOROCCAN
When you want to check out of the madness of the medina, you should check into Dar Anabar – a spectacularly palatial, family-run guest house with a roof-top terrace and rooms spacious enough to make you feel like royalty.
After one night here, I was ready to move in – such was the comfort of my mattress and the level of Moroccan hospitality I received. There was sweet-mint tea on tap here and the staff gave me a tour of the whole house.
Everyone was so accommodating and the amazing restaurant served some real Moroccan delicacies, including sweet-quail pastry, lamb and date tagine and sweet cous-cous (below). Take me back, please.
When you feel like going a bit Western again, check out ‘La Mezzanine‘ – an unexpected three-storey roof-top bar just opposite the gardens ,which serves banging mojitos and appetisers in a loungy atmosphere with chilled house music. One of the owners, Pippa, originally from Norwich, is a mine of information on Morocco having lived in Fez for years.
I can’t wait to get back to this amazing country and explore some more.
Have you been to Fez, Morocco? Where else could you recommend? Let me know please!