After boarding the train in Casablanca, we had a little over three hours of watching the country flash by our compartment window. We arrived in Fez (or Fes, depending on your preferred spelling) and overpaid for a 40 dirham taxi to our hotel. (It was only about $4 USD so we didn’t bother arguing.) But we arrived ready for what Fez had to offer.
We chose to upgrade from our four-star accommodations in Casablanca and ended up at the Fes Marriott Hotel Jnan Palace, a previously local hotel that had recently been acquired by Marriott. In the new part of town, it was farther outside the medina than I realized, but this turned out to be fine. I chose the hotel partially because I had hotel points, but it was nice to stay in a higher-end hotel that offered some comforts from home. (A fellow tourist told us we “cheated” by not staying in the medina. I admit, I felt I was cheating a bit too.)
There was a gorgeous pool (which we didn’t have time to use) and two restaurants and a bar, all of which were very good and gave us a small reprieve from the tagine we would be eating for the whole trip. It was also right across the street from some decent restaurants (such as MB Restaurant) which was an easy walk just outside the hotel gates. The hotel staff was friendly, and even had some macaroons and treats waiting for us when we arrived. Overall, I highly recommend this hotel if you don’t care about being in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the medina. It’s a relaxing resort-like retreat, so will separate you a bit from the “true” essence of Fez – something that can be seen as both an advantage or disadvantage depending on your travel style.
What to See
I had read a bit about what to expect in Fez. The medina (the old quarter) is one of the craziest in the world with over 9,000 small streets (which are more like alleyways) which makes it inevitable that you will get lost. But it is the heart of Fez (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) so it’s a must-see when you are in Morocco. Some people will say wandering and getting lost is half the fun, but it’s a bit intimidating for a first-timer, so we opted to get a guide. Our hotel recommended a guide who took us on a private tour, but in truth I wished that I booked a group tour ahead of time. It’s an open secret that guides will take you to shops where they get a commission if you buy something, but this was fine by us since we wanted to see all of the hot spots of the city anyway. Shopkeepers will give you mini tours and cultural background and in return there is a bit of pressure to buy something (a big part of why going with a group is better).
But these tours are also necessary to see the highlights like the tanneries which are famous in the Fez medina – they will take you to the upper floors that overlook the tannery and give you mint to ward off the smell (which wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated) and it’s the perfect spot for pictures.
Our guide also took us to the ceramic factory where we saw how the pottery is baked and watched incredible mosaic tile work being done. (I bought a mini tagine as a momento.)
We also went to a shop that sells clothing and traditional scarves. The workers showed us how to tie the scarves around our heads in a traditional way. I bought a beautiful scarf which was needed for my camel ride in the desert. (More on that later!)
Al Attarine Madrasa is the educational institution with beautiful architecture which is open to the public. Along with the local mosques, you’ll see some of the most beautiful buildings and architecture that Moroccos is famous for.
We also stopped at the Royal Palace of Fez which is a beautiful place for a photo op by the palace doors. The detail of the buildings are incredible throughout the country of Morocco and the palace is no exception.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the twists and turns and small alleyways where every shop owner is asking you to come in, so I was happy to have a local showing us around (despite him asking us for more money at the end of the tour – lesson learned). But it is also amazing to experience all the sites and smells and rush of culture that you get from exploring the medina. It really is a bucket list experience not to be missed.
From Fez, we pre-booked a day trip to Chefchaouen (“The Blue Pearl”) and that was so amazing that I think it is worthy of its own post. So, more on that later.
We also began our Sahara Desert tour from Fez, with the two-night trip picking us up right at our hotel for a small group tour. There are several of these overnight desert treks from many cities, but the commute from Fez was shorter than from other cities and the tour ended by dropping us off in Marrakech, so it was a prefect way to see the country en route to our final destination. This was the true highlight of our trip, so I am excited to share more about this incredible adventure.