One of the countries I wanted to visit for a long time was Morocco in Northern Africa. I had heard so much about its medieval cities, dessert castles and famous leather tanning that I simply had to go. Considering its relatively large size, to fully explore Morocco you need much more than just a couple of days, so for my first visit I decided on its most important historical cities. Of course, the first place on my route was Fez, Morocco’s cultural and spiritual centre.
Our arrival wasn’t promising. As soon as we left the airport we were waiting for the local bus to carry us to the city when a taxi driver offered us a ride for the same price in his shared taxi. He didn’t mention though that he was waiting for the taxi to be completely full. So there we were, 7 of us in a small taxi on our way to ancient Fez. He tried to leave us at the train station, 20 minutes away, demanding a higher fare though we negotiated the price until the Medina Fez el Bali (Old Town). We had to argue and threaten to call the police until he finally gave up and drove us there.
You definitively feel a distinct air when entering the medieval Souk through its impressive Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate), like in some other planet. Our hotel Dar Warda was difficult to find, hidden somewhere in the Old Town. Luckily, the receptionist was waiting for us on the corner of a larger covered street; otherwise it would have been impossible to find it. The hotel was amazing: a small palace with a couple of rooms, a charming inner courtyard and a roof terrace with magnificent views. And the price a fraction of what you would pay in Europe for similar accommodation.
We spent most of our time exploring the Medina, the best preserved ancient city in the Arab world. The place is crowded with local merchants, craftsmen, occasional tourists, donkeys, mules and chicken. Unfortunately non-Muslims cannot enter the mosques in Morocco, but we were happy to enjoy the beauty of two 14th century madrasas: Madrasa Bou Inania and Madrasa Al-Attarine. We couldn’t miss Fez’s famous Tanneries. People dyeing leather manually is an outstanding sight, but the smell is so bad our local guide gave us a mint branch to camouflage it.
There are two other interesting parts in the city. Fez Jedid, another medina just across, is newer (from the 13th century) and much smaller, while Ville Nouvelle, built during the French period (from the 20th century), is a much larger area further away. We had a look inside that other medina, and went for a party in the French quarter, a semi-legal bar with live music and very expensive alcohol downstairs.
We were lucky to visit the area surrounding the cemetery near the Old Medina. It was loads of fun to climb the hill and be in a totally different place: lots of playgrounds, kids all around, and even horny horses walking freely. Life here was different, with no hordes of tourists, we felt privileged – the best views in town just for us!
I was enchanted by the intensity of the densely built Medina where life continues its slow pace. Just like elsewhere in the Arab world my favourites were its lively scents and colours. I love the ornamental decoration of its madrasas and mosques and incredible views from its numerous roof terraces. I couldn’t help but notice that locals were simply too pushy. I understand that selling a product might be a question of life or death to some of them, but I’ve been to poorer countries and people seem to have more dignity. I guess the strong dessert sun produces a tough mentality.
Happy Frog Travels recommends Hotel Dar Warda