Visting the marrocan city of Fes it’s a childhood dream that became reality in the most unexpected way. After a long flight from Abu dhabi to Casablanca (more than 10h duty) I came up with the crazy idea of traveling to the second largest city of the country by train, straight after landing.
In this blog post I am going to share my personal experience and give you all the useful informations about Fes, prices and how to get there from Casablanca.
A childhood dream that didn’t dissapoint
Fes was without a doubt one of the most beautiful travel experienced I had so far and believe me, after more than 50 countries visited it’s not easy to impress me.
The first time when I have ever heard about the city of Fes was around the year 2000 when a beautiful Brazilian production was captivating the entire world with it’s enigmatic love story between a marrocan woman raised by a conservative family and a man who grew up in a modern Brazil.
The soap opera Clone brought color to our life, showed us the desert, the camels, a prohibited love story unfolding on the crooked streets of an old Medina somewhere in Africa, introduced us to the beautiful arabic culture and the labyrinth streets of the old Medina.
I knew that one day I will be roaming the streets of Fes, with a long abaya and a beautiful veil covering my hair. I knew that one day I will be staying at a beautiful Riad and experiencing the unique marrocan baths, the delicious cuisine and the aromatic tea. I knew all those before I even knew where Fes was located on the map.
MAKTUB, a powerful arabic word that translates to “it is written, it’s destiny”, and that’s exactly what had brought me to Fes.
How to go to Fes
The best way to travel from Casablanca to Fes is by train. The trip takes 4 hours and the price of the ticket is approximately 12$ for each way. As advised by a marrocan colleague we have purchased first class tickets to avoid the crowds. While the price difference was really insignificant, the experience wouldn’t compare with a first class train in Italy where you will be served Prosecco and snacks but I would say it is worth it as you will have the chance to meet other tourists and exchange some useful travel information.
Transportation around the city of Fes
The most challenging part of traveling is to get safe to your hotel. Airports and train stations around the world are full of drivers who will try to convince you to get in their car for an overpriced ride. Once in Fes, we have headed to the taxi stand located right in front of the train station. Here you can find two types of taxi, white (big taxi) and red (petite taxi). I don’t know the difference between these two, however we chose a petite taxi (little car) and we paid 3$ to the hotel located in the heart of the old Medina (30 marrocan dirhams/3$ is the normal price that you will be charged for a taxi ride in Fes regardless of the destination). I was lucky to travel with a colleague who was speaking Arabic, otherwise communication with the taxi driver might have been difficult. Marrocans also speak French and it can be a great opportunity to practice your language skills.
The driver didn’t know exactly were the hotel was located and here is where my roaming came to rescue us from wasting the time driving around the city. Don’t forget one thing: arabic men will always say “I know” even when they dont have the slightest idea.
Staying at a Riad, an experience which shouldn’t be missed
The hotel that we have choose was a real surprise. Inspired by the movie “Inventing Anna” I wanted to live the experience of a traditional Riad. A marrocan Riad is a home with multiple stories that centers around an open courtyard that contains a fountain and a pool.
If you had the chance to visit the marrocan pavilion at Expo2020 then you have a pretty clear idea of how a Riad might look like.
Our hotel, Riad authentic palace & Spa is located in el-Bali neighborhood right in the old Medina, walking distance by all the important landmarks of the city. The hotel staff were really kind greeting us with traditional marrocan tea and upgrating our room to a beautiful suite with two floors. As the second day of our stay was a bit rainy we decided to spoil ourselves with a marrocan bath and a massage, ending our trip in the most traditional and relaxing way.
Hotel price for one night-38$
Marrocan bath and massage for 90 min-50$
1200 years old Medina, 9500 cobblestone alleys and traditional ways of living
The city of Fes revolves around its Medina and its labyrinthine bazaars, this place being essential in the lifestyle of the locals and one of the greatest attraction for the tourists. The time seemed to have stopped centuries ago, the tradions and customs being best preserved here than anywhere else in Marrocco.
The marrocans living in Fes are very strict when it comes to their privacy and don’t be surprised if they will shout at you “No photo” from blocks away or from the other side of the road whenever they will spot a phone or a photo camera. I found this a bit odd and frustrating in the beginning as I wasn’t able to take a video or a picture of the old streets without a man showing out of nowhere and shouting at me to stop recording.
The cars can’t possibly fit through the narrow streets of the 1200 years old Medina, reason why locals use handcarts and donkeys to carry stuff around.
Is very easy to get lost while exploring the 9500 cobblestone alleys and is best advised to have a tour guide with you, especially if you don’t have much time at your disposal. The hotel arranged a tour guide for us for only 25$. Our guide was knowledgeable and knew the crooked streets of Medina like the back of his hand as he grew up in the area. It takes years of roaming around those alleys in order not to get lost but in the end of the day getting lost is also part of the experience and you may discover some hidden spots that otherwise wont be included in your tour.
Chouara tannery, the highlight of my visit
The most popular touristic sights of the city and the reason why I was so interested in Fes, Chouara tannery is a place not to be skipped from your travel list. A tannery is basically a place where the animals are slaughter for their skin which is later on treated and colored in huge brick pots using ancient techniques and natural components such as pigeon poop and cow urine. If you ever thought your job sucks, think about that again.
The smell is unbearable and will guide you towards the tannery even without a local help. The best view over the tannery is from one of the leather’s shop terraces. The shop keepers will offer at the entrance branches of fresh mint as protection against the repulsive smell and you shouldn’t say NO to it as it can be very useful.
The visit is completely free, however at the end you will be invited to check out the leather shop where you can find different products such as jackets, bags, shoes as well as replicas of famous brands. As we didn’t purchase anything I tried to offer the shop keeper a small tip which was politely declined.
Other places to visit in Fes
-Visiting a spice shop it’s also a must. Here you will find the pure argan oil which is only produced in Morroco, different creams and ointments and of course the famous mix of ingredients for a delicious tajine. The only thing we couldn’t find here was the black magic potions, the country being infamous worldwide for its sorcery and witchcraft.
Argan oil price starts from 15$
-Visit a traditional carpet shop where the cactus is transformed in silk. As Morroco doesn’t have silk worms they found an innovative way of producing silk out of cacti plants, an interesting process explained in details by the manufacturers. They will try to sell you a wide collection of blankets, head covers and clothes but don’t forget to use your bargain skills before agreeing to the price.
Traditional marrocan dress price aprox 100$
-Visit the most ancient university in the world founded by a woman, that is still functioning today.
-Take few photos on the twisted streets of Medina. You will find plenty of picturesque alleys and beautiful decorated doors, especially if you choose to stay in el-Bali.
Delicious marrocan food was nowhere to be found
The only dissapointed part of the entire trip was surprisingly… the food. I have visted Morroco before and everytime I was looking forward for the delicious food as their cuisine is truly rich in flavors. However this time I was almost starving, living for two days mostly on nuts, dates and chips when in fact I was dreaming of Tajine and couscous. We didn’t came across to any restaurant and when we asked the tour guide to take us to a nice place to eat marrocan food we ended up eating dates, harrira soup and a variety of bread for a bill over 35$. This is definitely not the arabic hospitality I was hoping for.
After being awake for over 32 hours and traveling half of the Planet in order to arrive to Fes, all we wished for was ending the evening with a delicious dinner, regarless of the cost.
We were also looking forward for the breakfast in the hotel but again we were dissapointed to discover a basic meal: yogurt, pancake, butter and gem.
Currency exchange – 1$=10 marrocan dirhams