The first time I visited Fez I was mesmerised. Fezmerised.
I was Googling somewhere to escape to one February morning (as you do). Summer loomed tentatively like a slightly optimistic dot on the horizon. Months away, and I needed to get away. I was tired of the permanent grey painted backdrop outside the bedroom window. Where could I go that wasn’t too far away, yet worlds away from the UK?
Here’s something interesting. For the price of a train ticket to London, I can fly to Fez on a Michael O’Leary special. For £16.00 I can take the train into Liverpool Street. Or for £14.99 I can fly to Fez.
For two nights I went to bed with the exotic images of riads in Fez medina swirling in my head – sanctuaries of intricately-patterned courtyards with fountains, bowls of brilliant oranges, the smell of spicy soups. Riad after riad that promised coolness behind mysterious doors, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the world’s largest easy-to-get-lost-in medieval medina, all apparently owned by British expats and Moroccan-English couples.
But I wanted to visit the medina, not sleep in it. I was dreaming of blue skies, breathing space, waking up to garden views or open countryside. Medina, medina, medina… I still couldn’t find what I was looking for. My imaginary place less than ten minutes from Fez airport. Maybe somewhere more rural, where neon orange and yellow flowers were brave enough to bloom in February while Britain battened down the hatches during the winter with no end. Somewhere in Fez but not really in Fez, with cool white sheets and heating, in case the temperature dipped too low under Morocco’s midnight stars. Agro-tourism, Fez style.
Sometimes the place you’re looking for finds you first. There it was, manifesting itself as if by magic on an lesser-known travel website Riad le Ksar de Fes. Booked!
Michael O’Leary’s paying guests and I landed at Fez Saiss airport just after 7pm in the blackness of a Moroccan February evening. We crossed the runway, drawn by the lights of the tiny airport, just like the airports on small Greek islands.
Minutes later, I was taxi-bound to Riad Ksar de Fes, heading away from Fez medina towards Fez ’s Royal Golf Club in the countryside about ten minutes from the airport. We turn right down a gravelly private driveway. Hearing the car pull up, Mohammed steps out to greet me in French, and takes my bag, welcoming me in to the riad-style hotel’s warm orange glow.
A quick change before dinner. In the bedroom, the dark raspberry walls and wooden shutters felt cosy. A little old lute balanced in a recess on one side of the room, with a thick, silver-framed mirror on another. And, joy of joys, heating (and a bath) and little lavender soaps in hand-painted ceramic dishes in the pomegranate coloured bathroom.
Passing the rest of the rooms along the corridor, all with exotic flower names engraved on gold plates on each door, I wandered down for dinner by the fireside. A real fire, a real tagine – a perfect winter warmer.
When you arrive somewhere at night where you’ve never been before, there’s always a surprise the next morning. Unlatching the shutters, looking out, the Moroccan sun had already taken its place in the mid blue sky. Tap, tap, tap at 8am, an elderly gardener was already at work, digging the earth with a sickle near a pretty but empty pool. After a long, lazy breakfast of sweet freshly-squeezed orange juice, bread, jams and msemen (crispy square-shaped pancakes) it was time to explore the gardens.
There they were. The wild flowers. Red, orange, yellow, all with honey pollen centres, in varying shades of the colour of the sun when it rises and sets. Spring was in full fling in Fez. Back home, even the snowdrops hadn’t dared make an appearance.
Why Fez is a good choice for the mature traveller
For wonderful places to visit and amazing things to do, go to www.visitmorocco.com