Dec 10 21
One of Morocco’s four imperial cities, and home to a UNESCO World Heritage-listed medina that is considered to be one of the world’s best-preserved medieval cities, Fes is an enigmatic tangle of narrow alleyways leading to chaotic souks, artists’ workshops and beautiful mosques.
Despite being the second largest city in Morocco, many travellers find it easier to fly to Marrakech, explore there for a couple of days, and then travel on to Fes by train.
Marrakech conjures up exotic images of snake charmers, colourful markets and hidden palaces, but while it once attracted only the most hedonistic of travellers, today it has a far broader appeal. It’s an exciting city break destination in itself, but it also makes a good starting point for more adventurous trips, including visits to magical Fes. When you arrive, you can choose from a wide range of Marrakech hotels, from traditional riads in the old city to more contemporary Moroccan accommodation outside of the medina, catering for all pockets.
Once you’ve had chance to explore Marrakech, the train journey to Fes takes about eight hours, with frequent services between the two cities. Trains offer two classes, and second-class travel is reasonably comfortable – but in the peak summer months you may want the added luxury of air-conditioning, and the only way to guarantee that is by travelling first class.
On arrival you will again find a wide range of accommodation ranging from basic hostels to luxury hotels, but by far the most atmospheric part of the city to stay in is the old core, Fes el Bali.
This is just one of the city’s three main areas. Fes el Bali, the old, car-free, walled city, is the larger of the city’s two medinas. The city’s second adjoining area, Fes-Jdid, is ‘new Fes’, home of the Mellah, the thousand year-old Jewish quarter, and home to some of the country’s finest ironmongers. Finally, the Ville Nouvelle is the French-created, most contemporary part of Fes where you can find modern shops and cultural venues alongside impressive fountains and mosques.
It is in Fes el Bali, however, that most travellers spend the majority of their time. Expect to get wonderfully lost amongst the vibrant textiles, dried fruits and leather goods of the busy medina. Follow some of the themed, colour coded city trails, such as green for ‘Andalucian palaces and gardens’ and orange for ‘Walls and fortifications’. And track down the old tannery where you can glimpse leather being made in the same way as it has been since the Middle Ages.
Regarded as Morocco’s ‘cradle of knowledge’, the city is also world famous for its beautiful medersas – religious schools where the Koran is taught alongside other subjects. Look out for the 9th century Karaouiyine mosque, which houses what is believed to be the oldest university in the world, and the incricately decorated El-Attarine. And finally, uncover more about local arts and crafts at the Dar Batha Museum, and indulge in some unusual local delicacies such as pastilla, a flaky pastry filled with minced pigeon, almonds and sugar.
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