Fes. Morocco’s oldest city. Home of the first university, al-Qarrawiyyan. And known as the gastronomical capital of Morocco.
But a city I cannot say I love. For reasons that I just cannot explain.
You see I arrived there most recently for the Fes Festival of Sacred Music. I’d been to this imperial city few times before. In fact, it was while I was in Fes during my holiday that changed my life that I decided I would move back to Morocco. But it just didn’t have the energy like Essaouira or even nearby Moulay Idriss that had me longing to return.
Nevertheless during my week-long stay, I was willing to give it a chance. I visited many elegant riads complete with the finest zellig tilework and carved stucco. I ate extremely well in ruined gardens and funky cafes. I enjoyed unreal concerts in centuries-old palaces while imagining what it would’ve been like to live in such a stately manor back in the day. We headed off to the central market, a one-stop market that felt like it was centuries-old with the prices marked on a chalk-board upon entering. I wandered through the maze that is the one of the largest medinas in Africa.
But it just didn’t draw me in.
That is, until I decided to head out in to the countryside.
First stop, Sefrou
We took a grande taxi for twenty minutes where we met with Jess Stephens for a tea in a local, hole-in-the-wall cafe before wandering through the medina steeped in Jewish heritage, visiting artisanal workshops as part of her Culture Vultures program. We chatted wtih belt makers preparing the most colourful caftan belts in an unassuming workshop. We met with weavers who were preparing blankets to keep them warm during winter months. And even button-makers who sold the most colourful Turkish knots to decorate djellabas and womens’ fashion.
Sunset on Mount Zalagh
After wandering through a centuries-old caravanaserie, I enjoyed a picnic with new friends and arranged by Dar Finn while admiring the rolling hills as the sun set over this magical land.
(If you’ve noticed that I’ve mentioned centuries-old several times, it’s because Fes is just that old. In fact, it was founded 789.)
On another adventure out of town, we stopped off at nearby Meknes where I admired the art-deco architecture that filled the new city established during the French protectorate era before nipping of to Moulay Idriss in a grande taxi.
Here I visited Scorpion House where I admired the views of the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss and the eclectic decor. Then it was over to Dar Zerhoune for lunch on the terrace with views of Volubilis in the background and an afternoon bake your own afternoon tea patisserie class. After lots of laughs and learning many recipes and techniques, I think we concluded that I will never be a master patisserie chef and that if this is one of the requirements for getting married, well, I’ll be single for a long time! Along with owner Rose, a Kiwi engineer-turned-guesthouse-owner, we meandered through this holy city, admiring local life, eating nougat purchased in the central square before hopping in a grande taxi and enjoying the views of the magnificent countryside in the Middle Atlas.
And so when it was time to pack my bags and say good-bye to dear friends, I was neither sad nor happy to be leaving. But I knew I had a new appreciation for Fes. I just had to get out of town to realize it.