We arrived in Fes on our second day of driving around Morocco. The first day took us from the capital, Rabat, via the northern Port of Tangiers on the Mediterranean coast and south to the Blue City of Chefchaouen (you can read that story here). Our next day of travel brought us further south through the Roman ruins of Volubilis, the town of Meknes before reaching Fes late in the afternoon.
Fes is made up of a number of districts and walled medinas – our destination was Fes El Bali, or the old city. This walled, pedestrian compound is the oldest walled part of the greater city, and is said to be the largest car-free urban space in the world. The medina was also one of the major reasons I wanted to travel to Morocco. The often touted, romantic idea of wandering through the labyrinthine alleyways of Fes, and Marrakesh has floated somewhere in my mind since childhood, and I was excited to finally put my expectations to the test.
We parked our hire car next to the walls in what appeared to be a less than savory outer suburb and, having secured the car with the nearest likely local, we hauled our packs up the narrow street towards the wall of Fes el Bali itself. As with Chefchaouen, we were ‘offered’ a guide as we wandered through a main gate. We insisted on finding our own way, but were nonetheless escorted by a young man who promised no charge, on the proviso he had first opportunity should we require a guide the next day. We didn’t, as travelling through the medina turned out to be much easier with the benefit of modern smart phone technology and a basic app. In fact, after a few hours, we started to recognize the main thoroughfares and abandoned our technology reliance as well.
We appeared to have organised accommodation in a less touristed corner of the medina, and were able to wander through a local market where the produce and wares were clearly targeted at local residents rather than voyaging visitors. There was no pressure, no bartering, and prices that were lower than any seasoned market denizen could hope for. We bought a box of 12 glass tea cups for less than the price of a bottle of water before retiring to our riad for the evening.
On the subject of accommodation, the riad we selected was grand, cavernous, and our first real taste of traditional guest house accommodation in Morocco. Having watched all manner of films depicting grand houses in the North African and Arabian world, I was thrilled to find myself in a central courtyard that could have been right out of The 1001 Arabian Nights!
As I stood on the rooftop, overlooking Fes El Bali, I felt Morocco sink in for the first time…
(To Be Continued next week!)