February 4, 2017

Travel Guide: Fes

Fes el-Bali, or old Fes, is the oldest walled city in Morocco and the largest car-free zone in the world according to UNESCO. With an estimated 9,000+ tiny, maze like streets, getting lost (like really lost) is inevitable. The high ocher colored walls that once protected the city, now serve as a sort of time-warp barrier between daily life in the souks, which continues in its rhythms much as it always has, from the rest of the city and the 21st century.

As Fes is somewhat off the typical tourist track there are fewer large hotels to choose from, but plenty of small riads within Fes el-Bali. We stayed at Riad Dar Seffarine which is an incredible 600+ year old home (riad) that has been lovingly restored and converted to a guest house. The owners have created a fun communal atmosphere where guests share stories over breakfast upstairs on the roof terrace and dinner in the courtyard or main area of the house downstairs.

If you are looking for a more traditional hotel with more amenities, the Palais Faraj on the other side of the medina from Dar Seffarine is a great option.
As with everywhere we visited in Morocco we found the food to be really wonderful. Yes, I would recommend staying away from street stalls and avoiding uncooked vegetables but on the whole we found we the food to be fresh and very flavorful!
Cafe Clock
Dar Roumana
Fez Cafe
Ruined Garden Cafe
Dar Seffarine
Riad Fez
{See & Do}
Fes is fairly compact so none of the have-to-see spots are any great distance, finding them on the other hand can be a little more tricky!

Al-Attarine Madrasa Bou Inanaia Madrassa Zaouia de Moulay Idriss Dar el-Makhzen Kairaouine Mosque Qarawiyyin Library
Bab Boujeloud (Blue Gate)
Chaouwara Tanneries
Place Seffarine
Andalous Mosque

Fes is the arts center of Morocco and many of the hand crafts that are sold throughout the country are actually made in Fes and in the surrounding areas. In particular the area is known for blue and white pottery, brass metal work, and leather goods. 
The medina (Fes el-Bali) is completely car free, so if you are staying at a Riad in the medina, a taxi or car can take you to the nearest gate but then you will have to continue to the hotel on foot. I'd suggest calling ahead so someone from the hotel can come meet you and help with your luggage.

In general Fes is less touristy than Marrakech, but there are still some of the same things to deal with. Shopkeepers are less pushy, but the teenagers on the streets make up for it with incessant commentary, offering directions and trying to persuade you to visit a shop or site. Most will give up quickly if you simply ignore them but some are quite persistent and will follow you for quite some time. Just stay calm and try and stick to the busier streets.

In winter Fes can get very chilly at night and most buildings do not have central heat, so expect to bundle up (pack accordingly!) and huddle around space heaters at night. There are also restrictions on the electricity grid in Fes, so hairdryers are scarce and don't be alarmed if just turning on the lights trips the fuse. We also found hot water for showers to be somewhat limited.

We hired a guide on our first day and despite being upfront about the historical sites we wanted to see found ourselves left alone in several carpet and leather shops of the guide's choosing. Just a tip to be firm with the agenda for the day if shopping isn't what you hired a guide for. You can also hire a 'shopping guide' to direct you to the best places for whatever you're looking for. Given how difficult it is to get around, I would highly recommend this if you have a lot to purchase.

For more Morocco tips, see this post.

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