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The Lowdown | Fez

The Impressive City of Fez Words by Tara Stevens

Where Morocco

Quick Quote $500 per day including hotels

Best Season Spring and Autumn

Thinking of Souks, Architecture and Food

Best Portrayed in the rock bank U2’s music video for their hit number ‘Magnificent’, and in Tahir Shah’s magic-fuelled journey around Morocco, ‘In Arabian Nights’

A supremely self-confident city with a historical and cultural lineage that beguiles visitors. There is something intangibly raw about a place where 70,000 people still choose to live in the maelstrom of a medina so dark, dense and dilapidated that it remains the world’s largest car-free urban area. Donkeys carts bring goods down the warren of alleyways as they have done since medieval times, and ruinous pockets loom around every corner.

Where to Stay

Karawan Riad’s seven vast and opulent suites cleverly combines the riad’s original features with contemporary finishes. It has a clubby sunken lounge with twinkly chandelier the size of a small car winking overhead, a Turkish inspired hammam lined with pink marble and a very good restaurant serving a daily-changing menu of whatever Chef Othmane fancies rustling up that day.

“Take your time. Fez is not a city to charge through for it reveals its secrets slowly. Plan on one to two activities a day, and factor in plenty of downtime for making the most of riad life.”

Riad Laaroussa is more laid-back and has more whistles and bells including a good sized a pool surrounded by a perfectly manicured lawn and shady day beds, log fireplaces in many of the rooms, and a whimsical orange tree courtyard where guests gather for drinks of an evening. Dar Seffarine is essential on the list of architecture aficionados looking to stay in an authentic, centuries-old house brimming withexquisite Islamic design details like hand-cut zellije (mosaic tiles), painted wood and stucco plasterwork. Their convivial tradition of serving evening in the walled garden off the kitchen is a great way to get to know your hosts and fellow travelers. Five room Dar Roumana is stylish without being stuffy, and has the laid-back vibe of a family home on account of having been run by the same team for the last 10 years. It has a vast roof terrace, as well as a library stocked with design tomes and board games, a separate lounge with fireplace for hanging out in, andwhat is widely agreed to be the best restaurant in town. Finally, for visitors who prefer to dip in and out of the medina rather than being completely locked into it, Hotel Sahrai, is the city’s only truly contemporary option with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, an L-shaped infinity pool,Givenchy spa, elegantarcaded terrace and several eating and drinking options.

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Words by Tara Stevens Fez Editor

Tara Stevens is a writer who splits her time between the medieval medina of Fez and the cosmopolitan fabulousness of Barcelona. She loves fine dining and greasy spoons, prowling local markets and an afternoon Negroni in a sultry bar, hiking mountain trails and swimming in the Med. Most of all she loves a lazy morning with gallons cup of builder’s tea. 

Where to Eat

The concept of brunch has long been an anomaly in Fez, with the notable exception of Café Clock who serve breakfast all day long.You won’t get eggs benedict or smoked salmon, but you will get excellent Berber eggs – the local equivalent of the esteemed Turkish shakshuka – with the best coffee in town. You can catch up on what’s happening in terms of local cultural events here too.Cocktails are no less elusive, but you can get an expertly made, if overpriced Negroni at the glassed in Golden Bar at Palais Faraj. Swallow the price tag to take in sensational nighttime views over the medina, it’s well worth it. The bar at Riad Fez may not have the views, but it’s arranged around a pretty, art deco courtyard—get in early if you want to nab a seat in the firelit lounge on chillier evenings—and they mix an excellent martini. For dinner a courtyard table at Dar Roumana is one of the most coveted in town (book well ahead) for a Franco-Moroccan inspired menu that includes dishes like lamb kefta on smoky auberginezalouk (a national treasure of a cooked salad dish) and sea bream infused with gingery chermoula. The lush, green gardens of the Jardin des Biehn are simply glorious on a sunny day. Sit in the shade of an ancient olive tree, sip a glass of cool Moroccan rosé, and tuck into traditional Fassi dishes like chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine. There’s really only one fine dining restaurant in the whole of the country serving a truly modern take on Moroccan cuisine and that’s Nur (tasting menu only), which combines sleek, monochrome décor with artful dishes that taste as good as they look. Finally, when you tire of couscous and tagine, Maison Moi Anan grow much of their own produce and turn it into top-flight, unapologetically authentic Thai food that has made it a favorite among resident expats. 

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What to Do

Do sign up for an orientation tour of the medina on your first day, which will take in most of the key sights such as the tanneries, the madrasas (koranic schools) and other landmarks, but thereafter you’ll have a lot more fun ditching the guide and going it alone, or hanging out with local specialists who can fill you in on local art, architecture or culinary customs.

For the best shopping wend your way down either of the Ta’laas (the city’s two main arteries which run from Bab Boujloud to the Attarine Souks) into the principal souks. Prepare to get lost, but have in mind the goal is the Henna Souk (it’s well marked on local maps) which has several little shops selling Fez’s famous blue and white pottery, good quality traditional beauty products, and the piece de resistance—antique decorative items like ancient coins to beaded heads to Berber tent poles at Aziz’s tiny hole-in-the-wall which spills, out of control, onto the square.

Four recently restored Fondouks (the caravanserai where camels and traders would rest and ply their goods) are fabulous examples of local design and architecture that span several centuries. The best is probably the Chemaine and Sbteriyine Fondouk, which has awe-inspiring, moshrabia carved, cedar wood balconies and a cobblestoned courtyard. It’s slowly being embraced by local artisans—the wider aim of the project was to give them somewhere to better showcase their crafts—as a useful one stop shop for quality goods if you’re struggling to navigate the souks.

When the fray gets a little too much, and it pays to remember that the medina of Fez is intense, which is the time to taxi out to the relatively calmer climes of the Mellah (the Jewish quarter) where you can take in the 17th century Ibn Danan Synagogue (20 dirhams entrance) and adjacent cemetery, and then stroll back to the medina proper past the pretty, but now defunct nuriya (water wheel) and into the soothing balm of the Jnan Sbil gardens. Founded in the 18th century by the Sultan Moulay Abdellah as green lung for the people of the medina it boasts over 1000 different species, many of them from Andalucia, as well as gorgeous rose gardens and water features.

Side trip?

The trip that everybody does is to take in the Roman ruins of MoulayIdriss then stop for lunch in the holy city of MoulayIdriss. It’s easily organized. Less obviously for those looking to get off the beaten path is to book a driver to traverse the foothills of the Middle Atlas. With an almost Tuscan landscape it’s beautiful walking country offering formal parks that cover several hectares in Ifrane, to vast cedar forests filled with impish Barbary apes that go on, literally for days, in Azrou, to ramshackle ski stations at Michlifen. Start with a traditional Berber breakfast (bread baked in a clay oven, goats milk ricotta, farm fresh eggs, olive oil, homemade jams) at the Domaine de la Pommeraie, an apple orchard turned organic goats cheese farm, before driving on to Middle Atlas towns likeIfrane(best known for its university and the summer residence of the king) and Azrou (traditional countryside souk on Tuesdays) to take in the sheer majesty of the landscape. On the way home, stop for a late lunch or early supper at Le Truite, Imouzzer, a French-style bistro that’s been going strong since 1926 and is celebrated for its fresh Atlas river trout meuniere and apple pie. To turn it into a two day trip the Michlifen Suites and Spa (five star luxury) or Dar el Mandar (country boutique with dreamy views), are both lovely overnight options.

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