Experiencing Fes (Fez) for the First Time
Arriving at Fes (also known as Fez) airport, passing through customs and passport control is time consuming – you need to allow at least 45 minutes once you have landed before you will even see the luggage belt.
Top Tip: Make sure you have the address of where you will be staying with you and complete your immigration card whilst on the plane – this I guarantee will save you precious time.
Once through customs you then need to decide whether to utilise the currency exchange or wait until you have hit the city. If you can, wait, the exchange rate is far better in Fes itself. Also make sure you get small denomination notes – they will try to give you as many 200 dirham notes as possible but very few places will accept these. If you simply ask they will change these for you but to the unsuspecting tourist this could be a problem.
Driving into the city I didn’t really know what to expect; we had just one afternoon to appreciate the sights and therefore I didn’t do too much research into places I would like to visit, knowing that I would have the longest list and no time.
The new town looks just like any European city with its token McDonalds and Pizza Hut plus numerous well known clothes shops. This completely through me, definitely not what I had envisaged. However, as soon as you hit the Medina of Old Fes, the images you have conjured up are in front of you. Small alley ways, the souks selling absolutely anything and the locals willing you to ask them for directions so they can make some money out of your misfortune of getting lost. Don’t be fooled by their helpful expressions, knowledge is power and power in the instance costs!
Once you have adjusted to the scene around you take the time to truly explore the souks. You can either take a guided walking tour which lasts about half a day and any Riad can arrange this for you or pick up a map and walk at your leisure to take in the sights. In Fes there are 5 colour coded walks for you to choose from and are highlighted on most of the maps of the city – be warned some routes do cross over one another and therefore can cause confusion. Ultimately though this will provide you with a rough guide you need to explore.
As mentioned the souks have everything you can possibly imagine from clothes and shoes to fruit, veg, meat and seafood. Don’t be shocked when you see some of the things on offer – a camel’s head – too big for you? Then try a goats head, freshly chopped from its body this morning. For the less adventurous out there you always have the staple food of any country – chicken! Although on this occasion you have to choose the one you fancy, that will be running around your feet, and they will weight and then without flinching chop its head off for you.
Smells are strong in this area and can be rather off putting but if you can stomach the blast to your senses it is well worth a look around.
Dotted around the souks you also have many Mosques which always have people coming and going. Please remember that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter these places of worship but anyone is allowed to take pictures from afar.
The oldest in the Medina, The Karaouine Mosque (also known as Al-Qarawiyyin), dates back to 859 and was founded by Fatima Al-Fihri, the daughter of Mohammed Al-Fihri who was a wealthy merchant at the time. This Mosque also served as a home for the University of Al-Karaouine for several centuries, leading it to be awarded with the title of ‘oldest existing educational institution in the world’ by the Guinness Book of World Records. Make sure that any visit to Fes includes a visit here.
When visiting Fes you will see a part of true Morocco, and whilst tourism is evident in places, it is still relatively untouched. The simple way of life exposes the true nature of this country and if you want to find out how Moroccans live, spend time in this city.
Intrigued and want to know more about Fes? I suggest reading A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke for some insider tips and tales.
Have you visited the old town of Fes? Perhaps you have read a book about the city you would like to share with others.