Fes: The allure of ancient North Africa


The memorable Blue Gate of Fes

If you’ve ever been to a market in an Arabic country, or have read about it you know that it’s not your supermarket style of shopping. Efficiency, lines, carts and fixed prices have no place amidst the overflowing stalls, the chatting shopkeepers and the bargaining buyers. Going into the commercial district is an experience that involves all one’s senses, and the sellers know that, which is why everything seems to jump out at you. I’ve always enjoyed open air markets, but my best experience so far; a sensory overload so to speak, has been in the markets of Fez.

Fez is an ancient city in central Morocco. It is quite large, consisting of three towns in one really. There is the ancient Medina district, with winding, covered streets that you must wander to get the full experience. There is the uptown district which features wider streets and more monuments and public parks. Finally the new town is an even greater outer circle where beautiful houses, malls and lots of modern development is going on.  The city is served by a small but modern airport with many flights from Europe on both regular and low-cost airlines.  There are a variety of local busses and taxes to the city.  Most people understand basic English and if you know any French that will help greatly as French is Morocco’s second language.

The busy markets

Here the local form of lodging is a bit more personal. While there are some larger hotels on the outskirts of the city, the Moroccan tradition is more of a small bed and breakfast style. These are small hotels commonly known as Riads. They usually hold up to thirty people and are very boutique. The artwork and décor reminds one of an Arabic palace with colored wood, mosaics and an inner courtyard with an ornate fountain. Breakfast is usually included and you will find places ranging from 20 to 70 Euros per person, per night. The city has some hostels for budget travelers, but I recommend the Riad to immerse yourself in the atmosphere and to sample a savory Moroccan breakfast. My stay took me to: la Perle de la Medina (16 Derb Bennis Douh). The staff was welcoming and friendly. The Riad was spotlessly clean and very unique, adorned with all kinds of tiles and gold leaf. The breakfast was abundant, a mix of French and Arabic influences.

The unique and ancient wares of the Medina

The jewel of the city is definitely the time spent in the Medina. Many of the Riads are just on the edge of the Medina, so one can reach the center in just a ten minute walk. Some tourists are daunted at first by the labyrinth they see before them. Maps may help somewhat, but believe me you will find yourself frustrated and tired of pulling one out every five minutes. The best way to enjoy the winding streets and markets is to simply take everything in. Don’t worry, no matter what every street eventually leads to another and then another which opens to a wider boulevard outside the Medina walls, then you can get your bearings. Focus on why you are there, take in the simplicity of the shopping and the allure of the senses which the market offers. I found my nose constantly catching the smell of a new spice around every corner. Your eyes will dazzle with the variations of color in glasses, dresses and fabrics. There is a steady display of gold, silver and other metals.You will find yourself hassled by shopkeepers and friendly kids, don’t freak out, it’s all part of the experience. Don’t kill yourself acknowledging every one. They will not be offended if you ignore their advertizing, it is simply just to attract you to their goods. Be sure and bargain, you should at least get something for half the quoted price if not more. Most of all enjoy some of the grilled meats and baked breads sold everywhere. And don’t forget my favorite Moroccan experience: sipping real Moroccan mint tea at any of the cafes and taking up the local sport of people watching.

The leather shops where famous colored Fes leather is made

I really recommend Morocco as a country that is tourist friendly. It has a wealth of cultural experience waiting and it is a very open country with friendly people. Here you not only get an experience of Arabic culture, but North African culture which has Berber, Spanish and French influences. This is a great starting point for tourism in Africa and for tourism into Arabic countries for experienced travelers and beginners alike.


This is the Editorial Board of The Joys of Traveling. We are passionate travel writers who seek to provide objective and accurate accounts of travel experiences by means of written articles, photos and videos.

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This entry was posted in Fez and tagged Arabic, Berber, Fes, French, Medina, Morocco, North Africa, riad. Bookmark the permalink.

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