Upon hearing the word ‘Morocco’, many people think of the heady markets of Marrakech. However, having visited the country just last month, BIANCA O’NEILL would assert that the humming streets of Fez are really where it’s at.
Click through the below gallery to find out why.
Fez, unlike Marrakech, is a working city of craftspeople first, and a tourist destination second.
Visiting the leather dying pits in the old medina, Fes El Bali, is one of the most interesting, colourful and – at times – stomach-turning experiences in Morocco. Most leather shop owners will let you pop out the back to see what colour they are dyeing leather that week – if you’re lucky, it could be vibrant shades of red, pink and blue filling the picturesque pits. Accept a small token of mint from the shop owner to keep under your nostrils – you’re going to need it.
All those leather bags and copper pots and silver platters you see at the Jamaa el Fna market in Marrakech? They're most likely made in Fez. As you wander the car-free medina – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – you’ll see the makers themselves whittling away at gorgeous woodwork, and banging on copper pots to strengthen the metal.
Think it all sounds like a fake for the tourists? Think again – this is how they make their living, and they barely blink as locals and tourists alike bustle about their business around them. Personally, I loved grabbing mint tea on a balcony and watching the shared space of the square become a workshop for copper cookware.
If the market is where your head is at, never fear – the endless shops in the old medina are filled with leather bags, gorgeous homewares, colourful clothing woven from wool, instruments, silver trinkets and more. Most of the goods tend to be both cheaper and of a better quality than those found in Marrakech – because it’s all made down the street!
People watching is unparalleled in Fez – and with a lot less tourists in the traditional medina, it’s easy to perch yourself somewhere quiet and watch the world go by – as it has for hundreds of years.
The food in Fez is some of the tastiest that you’ll get in Morocco: you won’t find too many Western-sympathetic menus here. From tasty tagines and tomato-rich baked eggs, to vibrant street food and uber-fresh produce, it’s certainly the most diverse cuisine we found throughout the country. Try the little cups of soupy snails and the freshly fried halos of donut batter. Yum.
Wander out of the old medina through the blue gate and follow the fortress walls up to the top of the hill where you’ll find a local market filled with fruit and vegetables, second hand clothing, and all manners of random goods. It’s the best place to feel the real Fez bubbling up from the picturesque veneer of ancient mosaic and decoration.
OK, we’ve covered the people watching and the markets – but what about amazing architecture? Don’t worry – Fez has that too. From the famous blue gate that leads into Fez el Bali, to the gorgeous Al-Qarawiyyin University (pictured), there’s plenty to see. Everywhere you look in the old medina is snap-worthy.
Finally, we have to talk about the mandarins. Even if, like me, you’re not usually a fan of the citrus fruit, you need to grab a bag to understand what a real mandarin actually tastes like. Syrupy sweet and full of juice, these little orange fruits are prized in Fez. Moroccan flavours are basically centred around three things: tagine, more tagine, and the amazing fresh fruit.