Fez has become quite popular in recent years, although direct flights from the UK have come and gone, its accommodation has improved and we at Rediscover are proud to offer a good selection of personally chosen hotels and riads. Fez certainly has a different atmosphere and topography to Marrakech and, in our opinion, is an ideal city to visit and base yourselves in when touring the other sights and places of interest of Northern Morocco. As part of any longer holiday it is a not-to-be-missed destination in combination with Marrakech to contrast the two premier historic cities of Morocco.
Fez is large and staying in the new town would require visitors to use taxis to get back and forth the medina, although the new town does offer some nice cafes and restaurants without the overtly traditional Moroccan flavour. The Medina is huge and a guide is essential for your first visit; guides, which can be pre-booked, will take you around the various souks, including a view over the tanneries, visit the Karouine Mosque, formerly the biggest in Morocco, and offer advice if you wish to purchase a carpet, leather goods, lamps, nougat, olives - all common purchases from Fez.
Historically, the first of the Imperial Cities and made up of three centres, Fez deserves a couple of days of any visitor's time in Morocco, described as "The most perfectly preserved and working Mediaeval city in the world". Fez conjures up the same mysterious visions of an ancient world as that of Marrakech but in our opinion truly offers the visitor a culture shock beyond anything its southern counterpart could surpass. The oldest part is Fes el Bali and boasts within the Karaouine Mosque the world's oldest existing university. The newer part, Fes el Jadid, dates from the late Middle Ages and contains the Royal Palce and the Mellah (Jewish quarter). Why not choose Fes as a base for exploring nearby Meknes, the Roman ruins at Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and the spa towns of Moulay Yacoub and Sidi Harazem.
The medina: traditionally any exploration of the medina should start at the Bab Boujlloud Gate. The first monument to visit is the vast Bou Inania medersa, with its cedar woodwork, its sculptured stucco and its marble and onyx decoration. As you continue along Talaa Kebira Street (big climb), you will particularly admire the Tijani zaouïa (zaouïa, sanctuary of a religious brotherhood) and the instrument makers' souk. Once you have passed the babouche vendors, you arrive in En-Nejjarine Square and the cabinetmakers' souk. The magnificent carved foundouk (caravanserai) on the square houses the Museum of Wooden Arts and Crafts. The kissaria (covered market), where jewellery and fine fabrics are on sale, is nearby. Next to it, you can admire the most visited and revered attraction in Fès: the zaouïa of Moulay Idriss, founder of the town. Many palaces from this period remain; some, such as the Jamaï Palace, have been converted into luxury hotels. The mellah, the old Jewish quarter with its Danan synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery with its white tombs just below it, is situated in El Jedid.
Your walk continues on to Es-Seffarine Square, the coppersmith square, and then to the tanners' quarter situated just before the Andalusian quarter with its mosque and the Es-Sahrij medersa. Your walk ends at the old Dar Batha Palace whose Arabo-Andalusian style makes it a museum to visit. As it is specialised in the arts and traditions of Fès, it gives an excellent overview of all the local products of the town reputed for its craftsmen's skills. This lively museum also hosts some of the concerts of the Festival of World Scared Music which takes place every June. The Moqri Palace, hidden nearby behind high white walls, houses treasures of a rare architectural refinement.
The imperial city is the capital of traditional Moroccan culture. Cradle of knowledge, for which its superb medersas are a flamboyant symbol. A medersa is a school where the Koran is taught along with all the classic subjects: mathematics, grammar, history, astronomy, medicine… In Morocco, and especially in Fès, medersas have the important role of integrating students from other regions. Generally they are built around a central courtyard with a fountain. Classes are held under the sumptuous arcades bordering it. The Karaouiyine Mosque is one of the most imposing in Morocco. It houses a university which is thought to be the oldest in the world and which was founded in the middle of the 9th century; the El-Attarine Medersa, situated opposite, is considered to be the most beautiful in the medina and the Bou Inania Medersa is the biggest in Fès.
The Dar Batha Museum specialises in the arts and crafts of Fès; the Wooden Arts and Crafts Museum is situated in one of the most beautiful buildings in Fès, the En-Nejjarine foundouk. Collections of different objects are exhibited in the old cells of this caravanserai. Moucharaby and wooden furniture can easily be purchased in the neighbourhood and you can find chiselled copperware articles near Es-Seffarine Place.
Fes cuisine is derived from 13th century Arabo-Andalusian cooking, its unique flavour is the association of sweet and salty through the use of fruit as vegetables. Spices, such as caraway, coriander, pepper, paprika, cinnamon are also used skilfully. You will find these ingredients in the pastilla, a local dish: a light flaky pastry filled with minced pigeon mixed with almonds and sugar. Also, don't miss the delicious bread just out of the public oven. Fès has adapted to modern life without losing its traditions. Its habitants have almost the same way of life as they had in the 13th century. Its cooking has such a fine reputation that several hotels and companies now organize courses of Fès cooking. During these participants visit markets, buy food and put what they have learnt in to practice. You can, also, enrol in pottery, calligraphy, Arabo-Andalusian music courses.
No matter what type of transportation you favour (horse riding, walking, car...), numerous tours, starting from the main locations in Fès, exist. Don't miss Sefrou and the Sebou Gorge, a spectacular canyon which are just 33km south-east of Fès. Another pleasant trip takes you to the waterfalls of the Aggaï oued. Volubilis, situated 73km west of Fès, is the most important antique site in Morocco. It is a large Roman town with superb mosaics and many buildings (triumphal arch, press-house, capitol...) which has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage of Humanity Site.
Where to stay
The Palais Jamai has an excellent location just above the Medina walls. Originally a 19th Century palace of the Grand Vizir to the Sultan of Morocco, the hotel was a 1930's conversion
The Barcelo is a peaceful refuge in the heart of the medina. A perfect combination of location, comfort & functionality.
The Ryad Mabrouka is a very personal little property and its tranquil, well-tended garden, swimming pool and panoramic views of Fez's medina make it a winner with our guests.
The Riad Norma has the tradition of Fez given a little French influence; the garden and plunge pool all add to its attraction for the visitor.
The Riad Maison Bleue is the excellent and stylish sister hotel to La Maison Bleue and is the perfect place to enjoy Fez.
Riad el Yacout is a traditional riad where guests are welcomed in a warm and refined ambiance. Restored to reflect the traditional architecture and craftsmanship of Fez.
Inspired by Andalousian architects and craftsman, Riad Myra dates from the 19th Century; newly renovated.
Located on the edge of the Medina with parking and easy access. A great value property, lots of plants make it a very homely riad.
Things to do
Guided Historical Visit of Fez Souks and Sights with transport, entry fees and lunch all included.
Guided Historical Visit of Fez Souks and Sights - Half day version.
"Thanks for arranging all the logistics of our holiday and for the stunning Riads which you booked us into in Marrakech and Fez. Everything went well and we had a great holiday with good food and excellent weather."
A Caspersz, October 2013
"We are just receovering from our trip to Morocco, we had a great time. Thanks to you and your company everything went according to plan. The riads were luxurious, the receptionist very helpful, the drivers excellent & the guides extremely informative & friendly. Well done."
J & P Legge, June, 2015
"Just to confirm we're back from Fez with no major hiccups! Many thanks for putting the arrangements together for us - we had a perfect holiday. Riad Myra in Fez was absolutely stunning - both in terms of the building and the service. A real gem! We had no problems in the medina and the visit to Volubilis was well worthwhile. Erfoud and Kasbah Tizimi haven't changed much since we were last there (although some big new hotels) and the Tizimi arrangements were fine. We encountered our first sandstorm while in town! The drive back to Azrou was interesting - hit by a blizzard on the mountains and had to wait for snowplough convoy across. Slight delay, bit of an adventure but run efficiently by Moroccan police. The Palais des Cerisiers was fine - a bit 'French' after all the Moroccan accommodation but clean and smoothly run. There were no hassles at the airport - increased security very much evident though. I suspect we may be calling on your services again at the same time next year! Once again, many thanks."
P Greaves, March 2016