26 May 2019

First Time in Fes | Morocco in May.

This was my second time visiting Morocco having been and loved Marrakesh a few years ago, this time round it was to Fes, the inland region in Northern Morocco and being in serious need of some sun, finding cheap London flights to here came at the best time. I travelled with my two best friends in the middle of May via bittersweet Ryanair (admittedly it was relatively smooth sailing for once...); and for only a three hour flight to get almost forty degree heat, the promise of some traditional Moroccan cuisine (it had been years since I'd had tagine) and an escape that feels a million miles away from home, it was undoubtedly a good decision.

First impressions of Fes were pretty overwhelming. Boldy or perhaps naively, travelling to Morocco as a small group of girls was something we hadn't spent too much time thinking over before we went, and arriving there on our first night with no bearings and being approached by men trying to 'help' every other step took some getting used to. When I visited Marrakesh previously, I was part of a bigger group so the difference in experience was something that struck me. Also, navigating around the Medina and it's maze-like streets is not easy in daylight, let alone after sundown; without having google maps on hand I think we'd probably still be stuck in there somewhere. Needless to say, I would wholeheartedly recommend speaking with your hotel to organise someone to help you get around at least for the first couple of nights when you're going out for dinner or walking far from where you're staying in the day. People are happy to offer this service, for instance when you're out eating at a restaurant, you can ask the staff to organise a guide to come and pick you up to walk you back to your riad (it's essentially your walking talking Uber pool); you just have to tip them afterwards. We also travelled during Ramadan which meant some things were understandably slightly more limited, less menu options available and some places were closed, but on the whole it didn't affect us day to day. 

First-time Hammam.
One of my favourite experiences in Fes was in the middle of our trip. I've wanted to try a traditional Hammam (admittedly not really knowing what it was, just that it was the spa-like "thing" to do in Morocco) and given it was followed up by a massage, couldn't go far wrong. A lot of the hotels we visited had spas and hammams, but we opted for a traditional hammam spa in the Medina called Mernissi Spaprice wise it was 400MAD (about £32) for a 30min massage and hammamprobably the cheapest massage we'll ever have. It was definitely a no-frills spa; renowned for it's good reputation over insta-worthy or picturesque interiors, in fact a lot of it was a bit of a building site so don't expect to be snapping any pretty pictures in there (aside from the absolutely incredible ceiling) but do expect to be immersed in a traditional and unique experience. We opted for a public hammam which are always split between men and women but you can book private ones as well. Given you end up just in your bikini bottoms for most of it, we figured it might be less awkward in the communal ones. Without spoiling it too much, you're steamed, scrubbed and washed thoroughly; a process which locals have been practising for years, since ancient times and continue to do this ritual today so it is very immersive. FYI—it's definitely more vigorous than an exfoliation you'd do in your bathroom - that's for sure - and the communal washing situation isn't for everyone, but it's an amazing way of experiencing part of the cultural tradition and on top of that you'll have silky-soft skin the next day not to mention leaving ultra-relaxed. 

The Tanneries 
Probably one of the most recommended and famous thing to do in Fes is the Tanneries. They are huge stone vessels that have been used for centuries to dye leather; absolutely fascinating to watch and a spectacle to see. Pre-warning, they stink and if you're a vegetarian, you might think twice about going. The Chouara tannery is the one we visited and a short walk through the Medinayou view them from a terrace accessible from the Medina (maps or a guide hugely useful here). To lessen the stench, you'll be given a stem of mint to hold under your nose while you're there, and trust me, you'll be spoilt for choice with men offering to take you up their terrace to view them... but they're all the same and are fine once you're there. It's one of the rare times in life that seeing a huge group of tourists actually gives you reassurance over eye-rolling. Initially it does feel like you're being taken for a ride in accepting a hassle-y demand to go up to one of the viewing points with a 'guide' and allow them to be glued to your side until you tip them, but there's no real way round it (that we tried...!) and perhaps organising a guide before hand is an option. The guide will also take you through a series of leather showrooms on your way down, but expressing that you're not really interested in shopping the leather is ok (unless you are!); we learnt to say no very quickly.  We also spent a lot of time in rooftop bars, swimming in hotel pools and wandering through the souks in search of wicker, so although you're amidst a bustling city, there's still ways to escape and unwind as if you weren't. 

Other things to do.
A salvaged situation from a guide's mis-direction and a haphazard taxi journeywe ended up at Art Naji; a ceramics factory outside of the Old Town (you'd need a taxi to get there but they are incredibly cheap and everywhere you look). We were shown around the factory by a tour guide, walking through each step of the process that is involved in crafting the incredible ceramics that you see all over the medina. Although by then we were somewhat alert to the waffle you are fed about being given a 'special discount' and the tour guide doesn't expect - it's one of those things you end up sucking up and doing for the experience. Needless to say we came back from Fes with hand luggage full of terracotta pots that were bought justified in the belief they will be useful in storing 'bits' and looking pretty...

We found food to be quite hit and miss unless you researched the places you were going beforehand. Traditional moroccan food is on almost every menu and although delicious, if you're looking for more of a variety of cuisines, I've listed a couple below that we loved for both lunch and dinner...

Places we ate: 
L'Ambre Fez at Riad Fez - Grilled vegetable tart was delicious and the most beautiful location for a calm, ambient lunch by the fountains.
Cafe Clock - Well-known in Fes for it's relaxed and almost bohemian roof-terrace, it's got a good lunch menu and does events, workshops and even rooftop cinema.
Maison Moi Anan - Thai food for when you're wanting a break from Moroccan cuisine. I didn't go to this one myself due to illness but my friends said the food was good.
The Ruined Garden - Undoubtedly the most popular restaurant in the medina. Amazing garden, food and deserved of it's reputation. Would recommend going by during the day to book a table. Many people told us it was closed when we approached it as a ploy to take us to other restaurantspersevere and go in yourself; it is more than likely to be open!  
Fez Cafe  - Similar beautiful outdoor setting to the above with a slightly smaller menu. 
Dar Roumana - One of our favourite meals; incredible food and wine with a Moroccan and French hybrid menu. Idyllic for a special occasion or a 'last-night-meal' scenario. 
Mezzanine - If you're looking for a relaxed vibe, cocktails and some tapas, head here for sundown. Good prices and even better Campari Spritza rare find in the Old Town and one we went back to a couple of times. 

Surviving the heat and sourcing a pool.
Arriving in the middle of an almost forty degree heatwave was a body shock coming from the ever-drizzly London, even for a sun junkie, and with no beach plus a distinct lack of pool at our riad (accommodation with a pool was very hard to come across), we had to research to find some which were usually in the grander hotels. We found that most hotels will charge you for pool use (we paid up to 200MAD which is about £16 each at Riad Fes) but some hotels also offer pool access as part of a package given they're so in demand (at Riad Faraj we paid 450MAD for a three course lunch as well as the pool). Perhaps because of the time of year we travelled, we were essentially the only ones there at most of the hotels we visited which was an unexpected luxury. Riad Fes was our favourite hotel for all of the above; lounging in the sun on the roof terrace (on the comfiest of sofas with an ice-cold Casablanca beer), an incredible menu for when you're hungry and a tranquil pool situ complete with wicker hats on the sun beds all located in the Old Town Medina. There's also a spa which we didn't use but it looked incredible and made the entire hotel smell like heaven. Palais Faraj was a close second living up to it's name; slightly further out of the Medina but similar in style -- three course lunch on the sun-drenched roof terrace and an idyllic afternoon of reading by the pool. Most of the riads and hotels are built in a square shape so if you're a sunseeker then you'll want to get there early to make the most of it as shade approaches fast. Given the heat, shade quickly becomes your best friend after a while, anyway.

All photos taken by myself on iPhone 8 Plus. // @aestheticalblog



  1. Oh such a dreamy travel destination!

    x Lisa | lisaautumn.com

  2. These earliest settlers-now the Berbers-interrupted any attempt at taking over Morocco's interior. When the Romans came quite a few years later, the Moroccan Berbers astonishingly withstood this occupation.rent a car in casablanca morocco


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