As the glum shock of the Brexit vote sunk in last June and the UK felt a gloomy and strange place I decided I was in urgent need of a swift re-charge and a bit of adventure.
Having worked in Morocco as a tour leader in my late 20s / early 30s it was a simple no-brainer for me. Where’s relatively near yet completely other, conveniently connected with direct flights and puts the biggest smile on my face and a spring in my step? Where else but Fes…..
So in the space of a few days the kids were farmed out (obviously lovingly cared for by a rigorously vetted friend) and flights (direct from Stansted with Ryan Air twice a week – and Ryan Air are ABSOLUTELY FINE before you say anything) were booked.
In my mind Fes is without question Morocco’s finest Imperial City with an incredible charm, unique charisma and fascinating history – in fact it’s one of my favourite cities that I’ve visited. Ever. And I’ve been to a lot of cities round the world.
Labyrinthine is an adjective that’s probably overused regarding Morocco but in Fes it is absolutely true of Fes el Bali, the old medina. Life goes on seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years and to wander around the souks – often completely lost – is an enchanting experience. You can easily while away a full day or more and preferably with a good local guide for insider knowledge – the Water Clock (Dar al-Magana), the tanneries, the world’s oldest learning centre – The Kairaouine Mosque and University, the Palais Royal, the fabulous brass quarter, woodworkers, potteries, the Jewish Mellah and the ramparts are just the tip of what’s to explore. And when it’s time for some peace and tranquillity then lunch at the Ruined Garden – a veritable haven deep in the heart of the medina – can’t be beaten. (The Ruined Garden)
Excellent restaurant options for the evening abound, both within the old and new town, whether a simple local café, street vendor or in more luxurious settings. An absolute must is Dar Roumana; a delightful and exclusive venue which offers seasonal menus “beyond tagine and couscous” of delicious and exquisite cuisine in the most beautiful surroundings. A reservation is a necessity as is a pre-dinner aperitif on their fabulous rooftop terrace. (Dar Roumana)
One of the best Thai meals I have ever had was at the unobtrusive Moi Anan (Maison Moi Anan). Dinner is served on the roof terrace at gingham covered tables and rather than a menu there are flash cards of each of the dishes. Bit like culinary top trumps yet every one’s a winner. (Though remember your credit card as the boutique on the ground floor may tempt you…..)
Fes is so much more than just the UNESCO World Heritage Centre Medina. A plethora of wonderful and surprising excursions into the surrounding area are available. A fantastic day out is a trip to the ancient Roman ruined city of Volubilis – one of Morocco’s most important archaeological sites – with its wonderfully preserved mosaics, baths and palaces.
Here you can either enjoy an authentic Roman picnic in the shadows of the ruins or a local lunch in a traditional farm before heading to the nearby sacred town of Moulay Idriss where you can visit the local olive press and taste the different grades of olive oil and – should you still be peckish – indulge in a camel burger. With palettes whetted then a tour of a local boutique vineyard and a tasting session of some of their award winning wines is the perfect end to the day.
As I am under strict instructions to keep this brief I have time to only mention in passing souk tasting trails, Islamic Garden tours, couscous rolling, drum making, cookery classes, carpet auctions in the Middle Atlas, frommagerie visits and traditional storytelling at the cultural centre that is Café Clock. All of which and so much more are available from our marvellous friends at Plan-It Fez.
But where to stay you cry? Well for me there’s really only one place and that’s Karawan Riad – a newly opened boutique property on the south east side of the medina. Elegantly designed, charming, luxurious and welcoming each of the seven suites offers a diverse and unique feel combining traditional beauty with modern comforts. To tempt World Odyssey guests further (if that was at all necessary) the team at the riad would be delighted to provide a complimentary hammam treatment as well as a traditional Moroccan afternoon tea experience.
Fes is fantastic – enchanting, magical, captivating and just a little bit bonkers. And whether experiencing this most wonderful of cities as a stand alone visit or as part of a wider Moroccan exploration I hope you will leave with the same inane grin on your face that always imprints on mine.
Helena will be running a small escorted group trip to Fes in October 2017 to experience all the above and more – please contact the office for further information