Fes, Morocco | Esquire Travels
Marrakech may have snaffled headlines and tourist dollars for the last decade or so, but Fes should be the go-to Moroccan city break of choice for discerning Esquire readers.
The former capital has existed for over 1,000 years, and is home to the world’s oldest extant library and university, as well as a car-free 860-acre medina (old town) that pretty much transports you to the medieval era. Into this time-warp town has dropped a crop of new riads and restaurants enabling visitors to enjoy an alluring blend of contemporary cool and timelessness. In short: it’s one of the world’s great urban experiences.
Who go now?
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music 2018 (June 22 to 30) is a great incentive to explore the city at the same time as enjoying concerts, a number of them free, in ethnic and spiritual folk music styles, including bagpipe bands, Chinese opera and artists from the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Bali, India and more.
Where to stay
Riad Fes is tucked away down a tiny alleyway deep in the medina, but a veritable Tardis lies behind its heavy wooden door. It has 26 rooms and suites, a lap pool fed by a fountain and a stylish roof terrace with views over the medina and out to the Atlas Mountains beyond.
What to do
Visit the tanneries for a photo opp, looking down over huge, colourful liquid-filled pots where leather is dyed in the way it has been for centuries. Beware, the stench will knock you out – even with a judiciously offered sprig of mint to sniff on.
Get lost in the medina. No need to make that a conscious decision, as with over 9,000 streets and alleyways to explore it’ll happen surely enough anyway, and regularly does to Fassis (Fes residents) too. As you gradually find your way back out of the labyrinth, make the most of the opportunity to absorb a way of life and a location in many ways more medieval than anywhere on Earth.
Wander into the El Achabine quarter and ask for directions to El Merktane second-hand clothing souq where you’ll find all manner of Moroccan ‘antiques’ and items including, of course, rugs. Haggle hard and take your time.
Further afield, and if you’ve got time, visit any or all of Volubilis, Moulay Idriss Zerhoun [left] and Meknes, a nearby excavated Roman city, holy town and walled former Moroccan capital respectively, which make for a fascinating educational day trip.
What not to do
Buy a Tagine, the Moroccan dish.
It’s wrong (mainly for putting apricots with meat) and because its ubiquity eclipses other Moroccan dishes that are actually decent. Fes is the place to try maakouda (fried potato with cumin, garlic and hot sauce) and briwat (sweet or savoury spring rolls). Be brave and buy street eats.
Where to eat
Nur restaurant, run by top chef Najat Kaanache, wins awards and rave reviews for its 10-course degustation menu, a modern take on traditional Moroccan food: eg. a deconstructed tagine is served on a meringue slice. The presentation and stylish setting also make it a winner.