Fes Travel Guide
Fes is best explored with a guide. With over 9,000 labyrinthine alleys, it is easy to get lost in the Medina. Most of the sites are public places, and no entry fees are collected. Brush up on a few Fassi words before roaming around and find your feet some comfortable walkers as the alley maze is as intricate as the cedar carvings and the zellij tile-work on most structures.
1) Gates of Fes
Officially enter Fes el-Bali through its most beautiful landmark gate, the first of many Fassi gates as you will later see. If Paris has its Arc de Triomphe, Fes has its Bab Boujloud. Built in 1913 by the French, it reflects stunning tile workmanship. From the outside, the tiles are blue. From the inside of the medina, the tiles used are green. Green is said to be the color of Islam, as green is the color of Fes. The grand gate is a hub of the locals where they meet in cafes and stalls set about the gate.
Address: Fes el-Bali
2) Fes el-Bali
Fes el-Bali, also called the old Fes. Discover the rambling Imperial City of Fes; explore this maze of ancient alleys and medieval streets that could have been there since 9 A.D. Walk, walk, and walk since this is a carless urban center, and find yourself in the midst of souks, tanneries, gardens, and royal palaces. In the old Fes, you can shop, dine, look at landmarks, and haggle at the souks. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the stark opposite of western urban sites – a treat for the culture and history enthusiasts.
If you have a guide, you can get around the over 9,000 alleyways faster and assure entry to restaurants’ backdoor. Fes el-Bali is chockfull of traditional houses, artisans at work in their workshops, specialty shops, carpet shops, fountains, apothecaries, mosques, jewelers, and all other possible items that can be bought or sold. Dress correctly, be alert at all times, and be prepared to engage in the game of haggling.
Address: Medina of Fes, Central Morocco
3) Moulay Hassan Square
This 19th century immense square is surrounded by imposing structures. Bab Makhzen, the northern gate that leads to the the royal palace is on one side. The Bab Sbaa, also known as Lion Gate or Bab Dkaken, is also here and serves as doorway to Bab al-Makina, the venue for the world-renowned Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. Proceed farther to find the Dar Makina, a 19th century building built by the Europeans as imperial arsenal. Another gateway, Bab Sagma, leads to the burial site of an 18th century revered religious woman. The building façade is intricately designed with the traditional zellij, or tile-patterned designs.
Address: Fes el-Jdid
4) Medersa es Seffarine
Built in 1285, the Medersa es Seffarine is the oldest religious school in Fes. It also follows the structure of traditional houses in Fes. The typical Fassi house has an inner courtyard that opens up to the sky, an elevated arched balcony, and an inner prayer hall. Today, it no longer holds theological classes but houses students of the Kairaouine College, claimed to be the world’s oldest learning center. Tourists can enter with a fee of USD1.20.
Address: Medina Seffarine Square, Fes el-Bali
5) Medersa Cherratine
This is one of the latter theological colleges established on Fezs in the 17th century. It was built in the time of Moulay Rachid, Alaouite dynasty patriarch. The architecture is simpler than the more intricate medersas at the time, and it also adopts a more practical layout which provides for multiple areas for the student quarters and their latrines. Entry is allowed with a fee of USD1.20.
Address: Derb Zaouia, Fes el-Bali
6) Bou Inania Medersa
This 13th century medersa is a splendid show of handcrafted sculpture and architecture. Cedar lacework carved intricately shows Bou Inania Medersa, not only a seat of theological learning, but as a monument of perfection. It was built under the Merenid Dynasty and bears the name of its first ruler, Sultan Abu Inane. The layout is similar to Fassi mansions – with lavishly decorated courtyards enjoying the skylight above and leading to an oratory. Every possible surface, including even the eaves, has ornate carved designs. An admission fee of USD1.20 is collected at the entry.
Address: Talaa, Kebira, Fes
7) Attarin Medersa
The building itself is a huge show of architecture and culture. Completed in 1325, it is very similar to Bou Inania Medersa, with a center fountain and student quarters on the side. The ceilings and tiles are traditional Fassi with complex 14th century patterns. There is a profusion of complex characters and geometric forms showing master craftsmanship. Enjoy this utter genius which appropriately fuses with the stillness of the place – quite unusual for Fes. Admission fee is USD1.20.
Address: Boutouil Kairaouine, Fes
8) Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts
With all the elaborate floral and geometric designs etched to the minutest detail shown all over the city, you would wonder how Fes could have so much artisans and craftsmen. This small museum will reinforce that concept in your mind with this art display. The building is a showcase in itself. Wood carvings dominate its structure. The exhibit contains artifacts from the 19th to the early 20th century and there are French descriptions which would be nice if you read French. Even if you don’t, the artworks don’t find language as a barrier and poignantly speak for themselves. Every room is filled with a particular theme or point of interest, such as a roomful of musical instruments from different epochs. The topmost floor has a relaxing and breezy café that allows for a great view of the Fes and quiet sip of tea. This place also has clean and free restrooms. Entry to the museum costs USD2.40.
Address: Pl. Nejjarine
9) The Tanneries
The tanneries of Fes are among the hallmark images of the medina that make it a colorful destination for every tourist. Two of these tanneries are the Moulay Abdellah Quarter and the Chouwara, where the guide can tell you a bit of history as he guides you to the top floor or terrace for a bird’s eye-view of the palette-like tannery where hundreds of people work on the colorful vats. Mint tea and fresh mint will help in the smell in the tannery. The tanneries are medieval and had been in use with very minor change being implemented from the 16th century process of leather production. Buy souvenir wallets or a pair of babushkas. Admission fee is USD1.20.
Address: Fes el-Bali
10) Jardin Jnan Sbil
This is a pleasant escape near the Bab Boujloud, when everything overwhelms you at Fes. The palm tree and the cool green carpet of plants inside will refresh your tired soul. There is café inside where you can order tea while the sore feet take a respite in this secluded shaded oasis.
Address: Avenue Moulay Hassan, Fes el-Bali
Where to Eat
Moroccan food is rich, and you can relish the play of saffron, ginger, and cinnamon on your taste buds. The list below introduces you where it is best to partake of the Moroccan gourmand’s pride. Some eclectic restaurants are inserted, though, to allow your palate some letup from the onslaught of spices and herbs when things get too thick.
1) L’Ambre at Riad Fes
Have a Moroccan dinner at a patio table near the pool. On a starry night an old man will serenade you with traditional Moroccan songs. You mustn’t miss their mezgaldi (or Moroccan legume soup), tagine (or slow-cooked stew), and ktefa (a kind of milk dessert). The price of food ranges from USD57 to USD102.
Address: 5 Derb Ben Slimane
2) L’Amandier Palais Faraj
Enjoy scenic view and palatable breakfast or brunch at L’Amandier. This is the place for the authentic Moroccan food and signature Fassi penchant for free-range fowl, and saffron and cinnamon. Take delight in the richness of Fassi recipes, such as Filled Cockerels and Mderbel Tajine. Price starts at USD33 to USD52.
Address: Palais Faraj, Bab Ziat
3) Riad Rcif
This restaurant offers outstanding choice of food. Vegetables are crisp, beautifully presented in fresh colors. Price rate starts from USD20 to USD39. You have to try something unusual, like the Berber traditional lamb dish. For a 5-star experience of Moroccan food, this restaurant is your best bet.
Address: Takharbicht Laayoune Rcif
4) Dar Roumana
This is a small restaurant which is housed in an ancient home of Fassi architecture. The food is a pleasant fusion of French, Mediterranean, and Moroccan cuisines. Customer service is very commendable. Make a call to make a reservation. More important than the reservation, the Dar Roumana will send an escort for you because it is a maze of alleyways to this magical place. The food is world class and the view is fantastic. Price starts from USD32 to USD41.
Address: 30 Derb el-Amer, Zqaq Roumane
5) Restaurant Numero 7
Awake you taste buds with eclectic food. The French chef prepares Mediterranean food distinctly inspired by the Moroccan palate – that should be eclectic enough to the international market. Price starts from USD13 to USD26.
Address: 7 Zkak Rouah