For a weekend break away from the life you are used to, a two-and-a-half-hour flight will take you to a different world, a different culture and with some of the best hospitality and food that a traveler can find.
The Moroccan city of Fez – dating back to the eighth century combines an ancient part as well as a modern cosmopolitan area with many palm tree lined boulevards and wide highways circling the new urbanisation embracing the jewel of Medina.
Most visitors will want to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Fez Medina which consists of two quarters, the Fes el Bali and Fes Jdid. There are many Riads (old houses and palaces) converted to modern guesthouses in the Medina. You can choose to explore the old city by staying in a Riad in the heart of Medina or, if you prefer, you can stay in a hotel in the more modern neighborhood of the city.
I stayed in the Fes Marriott Hotel Jnan Palace which is set in a quiet and secluded neighbourhood, only a ten-minute drive from the old Medina. The hotel, built to resemble a large villa, is set in beautiful gardens, and as the name implies, resembles a palace.
Just twenty minutes-drive from the airport, we were welcomed with typical Moroccan hospitality when we arrived. Two ladies standing by the entrance greeted us and a man dressed in traditional Moroccan costume poured us a glass of Moroccan mint tea from a silver pot, all of which was accompanied by a musician playing in the lobby.
The old town – Medina – and the souk is where most visitors will head to and we were no different. The taxi driver dropped us by the Bab Rcif gate where a large square lead us to another smaller gate (Bab Sid El Aoud). This was our entrance into the maze of the souk.
A hilly and winding path took us in and we passed several small shops selling textiles, clothing, groceries, shoes and household materials. The path narrowed, and we often had to walk shoulder-to-shoulder occasionally giving way when a donkey laden with items for one of the shops came towards us.
It appeared that the souk and commercial part of Medina went on for ever. In one part there was a market dedicated to a variety of spices, herbals and raw materials; another selling vegetables and fish and another concentrating on leather bags, jackets and shoes.
It is easy to get lost in the Medina but if you do, ask a shopkeeper for directions rather than a passer-by. They will tend to follow you in the hope of persuading you to pay them for ‘guiding’ you!
For a good view of the old town, head to the Al Andalous Mosque from where you can get a panorama set against the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.
My guide, Yassim, invited us to his home, which was near the ruins of the fourteenth century, Merinid tombs. Here, as sunset fell, the shining lights of mosques and minarets provided an entirely different vista of Fez.
We were welcomed by Yassim’s parents who displayed that Moroccan hospitality to which I was becoming accustomed. We were offered tea and dates and before we left a bowl of Harira Soup was provided.
Back at the hotel, we opted for Moroccan cuisine which was served in a traditionally decorated restaurant where the air was also filled with classic Moroccan songs and instruments. Selecting as a starter, chicken Pastilla and Harira soup, our main course consisted of vegetable couscous, fish curry and roasted lamb shoulder. It was a shame that we could not finish everything, but we managed to take away half of our chicken pastille in case we got hungry during the night!
On Fridays, the souk is closed so only a few shops are open. Relaxing by our hotel pool, we passed a leisurely morning before we resisted the urge to stay there all day and set off for pastures new.
This time we headed for a tannery as leather goods are one of the main tourist purchases that are made. Up a narrow set of stairs above a shop, we climbed in order to see the skin processing and colouring. Leather making in Fez goes back to the middle ages, the artisans’ skills are exceptional, and the products are soft yet long-lasting.
After this tour what was there to do but enjoy more Moroccan cuisine and hospitality?
Staying in the Medina, we dined on lamb tagine and couscous at Riad Fez’s restaurant until the small hours.
Forty-eight hours in Morocco is enough to sample the food, the sights and – above all – experience Moroccan hospitality. Now knowing what to expect will allow me to enjoy it even more next time.
Reza flew to Morocco on a direct Air Arabia Airlines flight from London Gatwick Airport to Fez.
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Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amirinia
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