After spending a few days and countless hours on buses traveling through the northern part of Morocco, I was so excited to reach Fes where I had a two-day pit stop before beginning my journey to the Sahara Desert. More on that kick-ass bucket list trip later.
Fes is Morocco’s second-largest city with a population at 1.1 million. I stayed within the walled medina, a medieval maze of narrow unmarked streets that shock and awe you at the same time with its constant clash of old versus new. The medina of Fes, or Fes el Bali, is a UNESCO world heritage site considered to be the largest car-free urban environment in the world. This is a place where the best way to discover the sights is to simply walk and get lost. And you will get lost, there is no way around it. Google Maps is worthless here, and I think that’s a good thing.
Don’t be surprised to see a man guiding his donkey through the narrow streets while talking on his cell phone. Old meets new here at every turn.
The outfitter I booked my Sahara Desert tour with also set me up with a guide and driver in Fes. Idris was born and raised in the medina and knew it inside and out. After picking me up from the bus terminal in the modern part of the city, Idris asked if I wanted to go on a short tour before he took me to the riad.
Jewish Cemetery and Habarim Synagogue
Our first stop was the Jewish Cemetery located on the edge of the Mellah, the Jewish Quarter, just outside King Mohammad IV’s palace. After leaving a small donation with the gatekeeper, I was left on my own. As the late afternoon sky cast light and shadow on the tombs, the calming silence in the midst of the bustling Mellah was a welcome respite.
After leaving the cemetery, Idris drove me to the top of the hill above Fes where the Tombe dei Merenidi is located. While the ruins of the tomb weren’t impressive in my opinion, the sunset views of the medina and newer part of Fes certainly were.
Riad in Fes
I stayed at Hotel & Spar Dar Bensouda, a traditional riad, or Moroccan guesthouse designed around an interior garden or courtyard. Located in the medina, Idris carried my backpack and took me on a journey of winding streets, down steps, and back up steps to reach the riad. This is why you never travel with wheeled suitcases in most parts of the world.
Stepping in Dar Bensouda is like stepping into a secret, luxurious world. A small sitting room adjacent to the hotel’s office disguises what awaits you. After Idriss dropped off my bag and said goodbye, the manager ushered me into the magnificent three-story courtyard where another employee brought me mint tea and a snack. After taking care of the paperwork, the manager gave me a tour of the riad showing me where the spa, restaurant, and pool were before escorting me to my room. I have stayed in a lot of hotels, but this guestroom was stunning. With only 11 guestrooms, I ended up booking the last room, a deluxe suite. Before my departure, I took advantage of the spa and enjoyed my first experience at a hammam.
My backpack was already in the room when we arrived, and the hotel had started a fire in the wood-burning fireplace for me. Pure heaven. The room was very spacious and had a small entry area as well. The bathroom was well-appointed with a soaking tub, shower with skylight, and separate toilet. I also had a TV (I don’t think every room had one), air conditioning unit, and decent Wi-Fi.
Breakfast was included in my room rate and featured juice, mint tea, fruit, crepes, and a variety of pastries. The one dinner I ate here wasn’t terrible but could have been better for the price I paid.
With panoramic views of the medina, the rooftop is the perfect oasis to unwind after a long day. In the mornings, you can sit hear the minaret at the nearby mosque call people to prayer.
This is the first part in a series of posts on my time in Fes. Check back for future posts.