When you think of Morocco few people would think of Fes. Marrakech outruns the popularity of any other city with its luxurious retreats, picture perfect décor and heavy exotic vibes.
I didn’t some research and I realized that that was not what we were looking for so we decided to book a long weekend in Fes instead, surprising almost everybody we told to.
We were looking for a relaxing holiday and an authentic place where we would not be overwhelmed by the things to see so this felt like the perfect fit. And it was.
As I always do, I read plenty about the city and decided to make a list of my own about what to expect, what to do and how to do it.
Like in all the countries with different approach to clothing, Fes and Morocco are definitely a place where to pack smart to fit in the context and be respectful of the local costums. Whoever in shorts and tank tops immediately stood out of the crowd and I don’t see why you would want to attract that kind of attention.
Loose clothes, natural light fabrics that cover at least the knees and shoulders are a good start.
The local currency is Moroccan Drihams (MAD) and rounding it up very roughtly 1euro or 1dollar converts into 10MAD.
I haven’t seen many exchange offices but ATMs are almost everywhere, not always easy to spot, but surely not difficult to pass some on the way.
At the airport is best to exchange money (before passing security control at lower fees) instead of withdrawing from an ATM since a higher fee applies than in the city and you will need anyway some cash to find your way
- Stay out of the Medina
There is an uncountable amount of boutique hotels and riads inside the Medina, hidden away in the narrow alleys or in the busy streets of the market. While very charming it can be very exhausting to find your way back or constantly have the feeling of having to cut the crowd.
We stayed at the Palais Faraj and it was perfect. A fancy option but completely worth it, especially for the location. Nestled in the city wall, right outside one of the gates is at the perfect distance from the attractions and at the same time completely secluded from the buzzing noise of the Medina. Plus is exactly on the south of the Medina and that makes it very easy to orient yourself towards the right direction when exploring the meandering alleys.
Cats are everywhere. The tiniest cats you will ever see.
They are street cats and not all of them in the best shape and even thought you are not a cat person by the end of the trip you will start feeling for them a little.
On the animal subject but completely unrelated and still worth mentioning, we saw a kid carrying a pigeon in a plastic bag.
- Wrong directions
A very fascinating characteristic of Fes is the constant supply of help. It’s just a trap, but still, it sounds nice.
The city is known for its maze of streets and alleys and one common assumption is that you will get lost (and that that is a negative thing). For this reason at any corner, in any street that is someone offering help to reach your destination. Of course they will charge money at the end.
We could easily spot the game and denied any need for help or to follow someone to reach a suggested attraction nearby, politely thanked and moved on claiming that getting lost was what we looking forward to do (which was indeed true).
The advanced level of this game though was more difficult to spot, the same guys, at any corner, in any street, instead of offering help, would just say that the way we were going was closed. The trick is to create confusion and go to the basic level of the “let me help you” game. We didn’t fall for this either and can mention one guy among at least dozens who actually was telling the truth about a street being closed.
All in all the best strategy is to say that you don’t want to go anywhere or to ask them where they want to go and confuse them in reverse (note: it works best with kids).
- Slow service
No service runs at an efficient speed. Any kind of service is simply relaxed; effective and precise, but relaxed and there is not use pushing it.
- Room service
One of the strangest things we experienced was the room service, at least for our standards that are based on one room cleaning a day if requested. Here in Fes you can expect people coming to your room at any moment of the day, multiple times, for many different reasons and they generally don’t knock on the door.
We had just settled in and, while in underwear, a staff member came to bring fruit. Later on that day, we figured out that someone had come to close the curtains and prepared the bed for the night. At that point we decided to have the “do not disturb” sign at all time on the door, but that didn’t stop people coming and going as an iron plus ironing board magically appeared (after I asked if I could borrow any and was told that they didn’t lend iron but offered laundry services).
Long story short, when in the room naked lock yourself in.
Morocco is a dusty, desertic country; even so once you pass the doorway of a building everything is perfectly clean on the inside. I had the feeling that everything is constantly dusted, polished, tided up and it felt over all very good.
The fortified Medina, an area of approximately 2km by 2km with over 9000 streets of which only half are mapped, is not accessible by anything but foot.
This makes it an extremely unique experience, but also a quite tiring one. Just be aware of it, plan taxi rides on the outside of the city wall to get to the easiest gate or simply go with the slow flow of the city up and down the hill.