One of the aspects for which Spain is characterized is its proximity to Arab culture. Not only because it is part of its history, marked by a Muslim rule of more than 700 years, but also because it has an Arab country a stone’s throw away.
We are talking about Morocco, separated from the Iberian Peninsula only by the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea. Among its most visited cities is the solemn and mysterious Fez, a nearby and cheap destination that more and more tourists choose for a getaway.
Discovering the enigmatic Fez
Fez is a city with more than 1,500 years of history. It became part of the Idrisid dynasty shortly after its founding, and after the revolts in Córdoba and Tunis in the 1st century, its population grew with the arrival of the Almoravids and Almohads from Al Ándalus. Today it is considered the capital of Islam in Morocco, and the labyrinthine streets of its medina recall that past of sultans and conquests. This city is a veritable open-air museum bathed in the intense aromas of spices and leather.Fez is popular for its tanneries.
Fez is divided into zones or neighborhoods, of which we recommend two to stay. The first is the Fez el-Bali medina, to enjoy the experience of sleeping in a riad (traditional Moroccan house with an interior patio). But if you prefer hotels, Ville Nouvelle, the modern neighbourhood, is the most suitable option. The price per night for a double room usually starts at 50 euros in the cheapest accommodation, although for an average of 80 euros you can also find good quality riads.
The jewels of the Medina
To discover the essence of Fez, there is nothing better than getting lost in the medina and being surprised by places as spectacular as the royal palace and its seven magnificent access gates, closed to the public, or the Bab Bou Jeloud gate, which opens access to the part ancient. This is also one of the liveliest areas, with an incessant movement of people, carts and donkeys transporting products on their way to the souk. It is worth going up to the terrace of one of the closest restaurants or cafeterias to contemplate from above the bustling life of the surrounding streets.
The mosques of Fez are sacred places that do not allow access to people who do not profess the Muslim religion
We cannot forget the impressive madrasas, old Koranic schools with hand-carved walls, marble fountains and intricate tile designs. The Attarine madrasa and the Bou Inania stand out, the latter still in operation. These buildings represent the testimony of the wealth and majesty of the legendary city, something that does not go unnoticed as soon as you set foot in them. The elegance of its forms and the beauty of its mosaics of geometric figures manage to move the visitor from the first moment.
The mosques of Fez are sacred places that do not allow access to people who do not profess the Muslim religion, so tourists must settle for taking a look from the door. The best known is that of Al Karaoudine, which houses the oldest university in the world.The Al Karaoudine Mosque houses the oldest university in the world.
A mosaic of aromas and colors
If there is something that Fez is known for, it is for its tanneries, places where the skins are made and worked. The Chouwara tannery is the most famous of the four that are scattered throughout the medina, a grim spectacle of smells and colors created by the pits in which natural dyes are made. The strong stench given off by skins and used products are characteristic of this part of the city, but the truth is that a visit to the city is not complete without admiring the mosaic of colors of the tanneries.
It is also common to enter one of the adjoining shops to go up to their terrace and enjoy the singular image of Chouwara, where they also give you bouquets of mint to try to neutralize the intense smell. On the way out you will surely want to stop and browse its colorful objects made with leather, such as bags, slippers or vests. The vendors will try to get you to buy something, but tips are also welcome. And if you want to go shopping, you can find souks that sell all kinds of products such as cosmetics, spices, pieces of wood or food.
Following the trail of imperial Morocco
Moroccan gastronomy is a universe of spices and flavors. In Fez you can find, as in the rest of Moroccan cities, all the typical dishes, in a varied price range that goes from 10 dirhams to 300 (between 1 and 30 euros, approximately). In the most touristy restaurants, three-course menus are usually offered that range from 7 euros to 20 euros, depending on the level of each place. The most traditional and best valued restaurants are located inside the Fez el-Bali medina and around the Bab Bou Jeloud gate.
Among the most typical dishes are couscous and tajine, a stew cooked in the same clay dish where it is served and which is usually veal, chicken or turkey. The lamb skewers and the Moroccan salad, made up of typical Mediterranean vegetables such as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes, are also common.Couscous is one of the most popular dishes of Moroccan gastronomy.
Moroccan sweets, in which honey and nuts are usually very present, are a good option to sweeten the palate. And to end the meal, naturally, you cannot miss a coffee or a delicious mint tea.
Beyond the medina
Being quite small, it is easy to see the main attractions of Fez in a couple of days. For travelers staying in the medina, the most comfortable option is to get around on foot, but if you are in Villa Nouvelle, it is convenient to take a taxi or bus, as it is a more remote area.