Fez

The city of Fez

Fez (فاس) (French: "Fès") is a city in Morocco famous for being home to the world's oldest university, the Qarawiyyin University. It has an ancient World heritage listed walled city, which many compare to the walled city of Jerusalem.

Understand

Fez is the medieval capital of Morocco, and a great city of high Islamic civilization. Fez has the best-preserved old city in the Arab world, the sprawling, labyrinthine medina of Fes el-Bali, which is incidentally also the world's largest car-free urban zone. Transports of goods is provided by donkeys, carriages, and motorbikes.

Get in

Map of Fez (Overview)

By plane

The airport is located about 15 km from the city.

If you do not have too much luggage, you can take a bus. The No 16 local bus is now an "airport shuttle" that costs "€2/20 DH" for a single trip. It is no longer clearly marked as bus 16 but it is a new Volvo bus with a printout on the right side (Fez - Airport). It runs approximately every 30 minutes until 7:30PM - after that you'll need to take a taxi. It will take you to the train station and the ride is about 25–30 minutes. The ticket can be purchased on the bus.

If you go from Fez to the airport, the bus stop is on the left of the entrance to the train station. You can buy ticket in advance at the cash-desk at the bus stop. But allow plenty of time as departures can be erratic.

If you are up for a local challenge after your journey, choose a taxi. There is a fixed price for a taxi DH 120 from the airport to the city (including the medina and the train station). There is a taxi stand directly outside, an usher will help you to get one but make sure you confirm the price before you get in.

By train

The train station Fès-Ville is found at the northern end in the Ville-Nouvelle. There is regular train service along the Marrakech to Oujda and Tangier to Oujda train lines.

Eight arrivals daily from Marrakech. The train takes about seven hours and fifteen minutes (although delays are frequent) and costs exactly 295/195 dirhams. (First class / second class)

The trip from Casablanca takes about 3 hours 20 to 4 hours 20 and run hourly throughout the day. The cost 165/110 dirhams. (1st class/2nd class). High speed double decker trains are being phased in on this route in 2011.

There are five trains per day from Tangier arriving after 4.5 hours at a cost of 165/110 dirhams (1st class/2nd class).

From Rabat takes about two and a half to three hours, and costs 75-105 dirhams.

In summer, train compartments can be hot, with passengers standing everywhere when all seats are taken. While occasionally unreliable, first class compartments are generally well air-conditioned, with assigned and numbered seats.

Be aware that there are hustlers operating on trains into Fez. See the Stay Safe and Cope sections, below.

A petit taxi between the train station and Bab Boujeloud costs about 10Dh with taxi meter. Insist on using the meter, if necessary, say "khdm l-koontoor" (Work the counter) to the taxi driver.

By car

Fez is about 4 hours drive by car from Casablanca. The stretch of toll highway from Rabat to Fez is in superb condition.

By taxi

Traveling by grand taxi (inter-city taxi), though more expensive than trains, is viable for tourists. Seats in a taxi are sold individually, in order to travel in relative comfort, you may need to purchase more than one seat. A ride from Fez to Casablanca costs approximately 60-80 dirhams per seat. Note that grand taxi fares are regulated and it is worth checking the official rates with the tourist board, as some drivers or hotels will quote inflated prices.

There are a couple of grand taxi stations:

Within Fez, ride in the petits taxis (local taxis) rarely cost more that 15-20 dirhams. However, the medina of Fes el-Bali is only accessible from a few points by car. Bab Boujeloud and nearby Place Batha are popular drop-off points, as is Place R'cif; for parking there is spaces at Ain Zleten on the northeast edge of the medina. Another openair parking is situated near Hotel Batha (price 20 Dhs / day). If you stay longer than 1 day do not pay in advance.

By bus

The old bus terminal (Gare Routière) is just outside the old city on the north side, near the Ain Zleten entrance to the medina and Bab Boujloud place. Grands taxis (inter-city taxis) can also be obtained here.

The CTM terminal (gare CTM) is in place Allal el-Fassi in the Atlas neighborhood of the ville nouvelle, 7 km from the medina, but has taxi stands nearby.

While the gare routière covers more routes more cheaply, many travelers prefer CTM for its reliability and cleanliness. Most CTM buses leaving Fes, anyway, start from the gare routière and make a stop in the gare CTM after 30min in the town traffic. CTM bus coming into Fes, at the contrary, will leave you at the gare CTM.

Get around

Ignore the travel guides that tell you that you will get lost in the medina and that you must hire a guide. One of the easiest ways to get around is to use the red taxis to take you to the nearest gate (bab) and then walk from there until you get your bearings. Gates are all around the city and taxis are cheap. A rough map of where the sights are will help too. If you are particularly worried, be sure to arrange a licensed guide through your hotel or the tourism office - they will be able to give you an accurate history and will make fewer shopping stops. The faux-guides in particular will simply take you from shop to shop where you will be pressured to buy goods, which will cost you extra because the seller will be obliged to pay the guide a hidden commission.

narrow street in the Medina

There are some basic landmarks that you can use to get around, and there is a path network marked by signs perched on walls, although these can be hard to locate at times. These signs have a 8-point star shape which will guide you between the main places in the medina. If you are lost you only have to find one of these signs and follow it in any direction until you arrive to a map or a known place. You may also find it useful to carry a compass, as the narrow, built-up streets can block the view of landmarks and be disorienting. Alternatively, just keep heading downhill and you will eventually get to a gate. The main street is the Talaa Kbira, which runs from Bab Boujeloud to the Kairouine mosque in the heart of the medina. The Talaa Sghira also begins at Bab Boujeloud and eventually merges back into the Talaa Kbira. Once you get into the narrow, windy heart of the medina, you can also find your way out again by constantly heading downhill, which will eventually lead to the Place R'cif, a dropoff for buses and taxis, where you can get a petit taxi out of the medina.

For more detailed tours and directions, look for the book Fez from Bab to Bab (Hammad Berrada). It has a complete map of the medina and several well-described walking tours. It can be found in most bookshops, both on the Talaa Sghira or at the large bookstore on the Avenue Hassan II in the ville nouvelle. However, be discreet taking out your map or you will have many offers from false guides.

Bab Boujeloud, the upper and main entrance to the medina.

See

The medina (old town)
Leather-dyeing pits in Fes.

Just walking around, you will see a great deal!

Get a shave in the medina, nowhere is it cheaper than here, and they really pay attention, even trimming your hair.

In the midst of the maze-like medina are the colorful leather-dying pits. Any number of young boys will offer to guide you to them: just listen for "you want to see the tanneries?" The tour is free (though it is appropriate to offer 1-5 dirhams to your "guide"). There is no chance of getting to see the tanneries by yourself, instead, be prepared for physical abuse for even trying! However, just 10m left of the entrance is a leather shop that offers views to the tannery free of charge and you can see it all from the balcony. Expect to be pressured into buying goods from the shop in return.

It is possible to get into the tannery itself, hang around near the entrance until someone offers to take you in for 10 dirham. He will get you past the entrance and then you can wander in among the workers. A word of advice...wear closed shoes and maybe bring a mint leaf to sniff if you have a weak stomach.

Bou Inania madersa: a breathtaking 14th-century religious college. The best example of Islamic architecture a non-Muslim can see in Fez, with wooden walls elaborately carved with geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy, and a beautiful minaret. In the courtyard there is a portico with a still-functioning mosque, separated by the rest of the courtyard by a small moat.

The view from the hills surrounding the old city is spectacular- there are two fortresses overlooking the old city, the Borj Nord which contains an armaments museum, and the Borj Sud, which is being developed for tourism.

The Merenid Tombs next to the Merenid Hotel, provide excellent panoramic views over the medina and the wider city, as well as the olive tree lined hills surrounding the city, and sanctuary from the bustle of the rest of the city. Beware of the odd opportunistic tout.

The Sofitel Palais Jamai terrace has an incredible view over the medina if you are willing to pay 30 dirhams for a glass of tea in order to access it. This is particularly worthwhile if you can time your visit to coincide with the call to prayer, as you can hear multiple minarets from the terrace.

Entrance to the Moulay Idriss II shrine, the tomb of Fez's founder, is limited to Muslims, but the view from just outside its doors is still well-worth hunting down. The mosque is just off the Talaa Kbira near the Souk Attarine.

Similarly, the Qaraouyine library and mosque and the al-Tijani mosque have beautifully decorated exteriors and worth a visit even by those who cannot enter them, which includes all foreigners considered to be non-Muslim.

Nejjarine Museum

Do

Map of Fez medina

One of the most fascinating activities to do in Fez is a trip in the medina (Old City). The medina is so complex to navigate that sometimes it is easier to simply lose yourself in the hustle and bustle of the various markets, and find your way out once you have had enough of all the sights, sounds, and smells that will overwhelm your senses. You will eventually find your way out via lots of dried fruit, leather goods, ceramics, textiles and food stalls!

Make sure you find an opportunity to escape from the bustle of the streets and see the medina from one of its rooftops - some shops and restaurants have rooftop terraces (see the food section below for some useful tips). The views are particularly spectacular during sunset and after dark.

There are several well-marked trails through the city: follow the green (Andalusian palaces and gardens), orange (walls and fortifications), or blue signs and you will not get lost in all the narrow twisting streets.

Learn

Buy

Medina of Fez
Traditional Moroccan shoes called babouches on sale at a market in Fez

Some may consider Fez to be the handicraft capital of Morocco, but in reality the quality and value of its wares can be hit and miss. Leathergoods, copper and brassware are the bargains to be had, although you may also find good prices on drums and other musical instruments.

As a rough guide, you can expect to pay:

If you are interested in the cobalt-blue ceramic, you might go to the potteries where they make it. It is really cool to see how they model the clay into a tagine in 45 seconds. From Bab el-Ftouh, it is a 5 dirham taxi trip. Ask the driver to take you to "Les potteries de Fez". There are 2 big "factories" which both show you the whole process if you want or you could just see the exhibition (and buy). Bargain really hard, prices seem to be fixed, but they are not at all!

Eat

The markets near the 'main' gate of Bab Boujeloud (near to Hotel Cascades) are full of yummy food. It is worth just wandering through them, buying random bits of food. Street food is very cheap and is often safe. Restaurants, even cheap ones, will often be up to twice the cost of street food, and the quality can be the same. In the medina is difficult to find cheap food other than in the Bab Boujeloud area. There are only a very few tourist restaurants where you will get ripped off and some food stalls down in the food market near the R'cif place.

Budget

Ville Nouvelle

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Almost all drinking establishments in Fez are hotel bars. The rest are local bars that women and anyone without a good command of Arabic might be uncomfortable entering. In bars of either type, prostitutes are frequent but mostly ignore western travellers. Fes is a much more traditional town than Casablanca or Marrakesh, and it is technically illegal to drink in public. Purchasing alcohol or seeming intoxicated are sure to draw stern looks from passersby.

A stylish lounge area where stunning design is combined with a warm atmosphere exuding an oriental yet contemporary feel. The lounge bar and fumoir feature a vast choice of cocktails, malt, cognac, wines but also a selection of cigars.

Sleep

Map of Fez ville nouvelle

Most visitors to Fez will want to stay in the medina as the main tourist sights are located there, and the new town is quite a distance from the medina so you will be relying on taxis to take you in and out every day

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

There are a growing number of beautiful, comfortable guest-houses ("riads") in the medina of Fes el-Bali. They are expensive by Moroccan standards but offer luxury for about the price of a North American chain hotel. Some Moroccan proprietors prey on Westerners' culture-shock to direct business toward favored or overpriced services, so it is worth doing your research before going.

Stay safe

Fez is safe, but crowded. Take standard precautions regarding wallet, purse, etc. If you hear "Belek! Belek!" behind you, stand aside because a heavily-laden donkey is bearing down on you! Appear to know where you are going, even if you don't, or you will get offers from false guides. False guides are not dangerous but they can be exasperatingly tenacious. Best technique is to not even acknowledge their presence. That is rude and they won't be pleased, but it is better than to have them walk with you for half an hour. If you have to ask directions ask to someone that is obviously busy in his own business and try to appear as sure as you can of the way you are going ("This way to R'cif, right?"). Getting caught with a faux guide will cost you, but it will cost the faux guide more: they can receive up to 2 days imprisonment if they get caught. Cops are often in plain clothes, so be wary! A useful strategy with false guides is to say all the lines they have been taught before they have said them to show you know what you are doing; they all say the same thing so just learn it and repeat.

You should also beware of hustlers (aka con-artists); Fez has a far larger number of them than almost everywhere else and they use more sophisticated techniques. An example of a prominent scam occurs where you come into Fez by train and someone talks to you saying he is coming to visit his relatives, and is actually a respectable outsider (e.g. an owner of a hotel). He will then ask you to come eat with his relatives and when you get there they will spend most of the time trying to suggest accommodation, offering you tours where they gain commission from all the (especially Carpet) shops, and even organize expensive desert excursions that are actually just you driving in circles just outside the city for three days.

Beware of people at the train/bus station (even the bus driver) who introduce you to their "cousins" or "brothers," trying to involve you in some sort of carpet-selling scam, and especially refrain from handing over your credit card in such situations. There are many other scams and annoyances trying to get you into a shop/restaurant/hotel with various degrees of lying in the stories people make up. If in doubt, be independent and look for yourself e.g. whether the hotel you want to go to is indeed closed or under construction.

This is unfortunately one of the sad things about Morocco, that you get to distrust every one, even those people who are genuinely friendly and hospitable, because sometimes this is only a façade.

Cope

For a North American traveller, Fez requires a real change of outlook or it will be a very high-stress trip! Shopkeepers and guides are very assertive and you will have to get used to saying "no" a lot. On the other hand, they can be genuinely warm and friendly even while trying to sell you something, an idea that is pretty alien to North Americans where it is assumed that a business relationship is the opposite of sincerity!

Non-Muslims are not allowed to visit mosques, although they can visit the medersas (religious schools).

Bargaining is a way of life that has survived for centuries, and shows no sign of changing. Moroccans even bargain among each other for everything except perhaps their utilities. Don't believe anyone (and you will hear it all the time) who tells you prices are being "regulated". Every other souk claims to be a "Government Regulated Co-op".

There is a single, genuine government-regulated fixed price shop in the Ville Nouvelle where all prices are posted, the goods are of decent (if not amazing) quality, and the single bored cashier will just stare incredulously at you if you attempt to bargain with him. Ask any hotel manager or petit taxi driver to take you to the "Artisana." All products sold in Artisanas come directly from the artists who made the products.

Go next

The ancient Roman site of Volubilis.

A visit to the ancient Roman site of Volubilis is a must. This crumbling yet spectacular city has stunning mosaics on offer, and you can easily spend a couple of hours ambling through the ruins. There are organised coach tours running from Fes, however the more intrepid budget traveller can make this journey on their own by catching the train from Fes to Meknes (20 Dh October 2013) and then a couple of 'collective' taxis to the picturesque historic town of Moulay Idriss (they depart very frequently from the street opposite to the French Institute, 10 Dh October 2013) then on from there to Volubilis, by foot or by taxi (40 Dh). This is approx a 1/4 of the price of the organised tours and provides far more opportunity for adventure.

Alternatively, Meknes itself is worth a visit, if only due to its calmer and less crowded medina, which has ample shopping opportunities.

From the Gare Routière, you can leave By bus for almost any direction in North Morocco. Buses are usually crappy (old, rusty, and without lights), with the exception of CTM company, which offers European-quality service, for a double price then the Moroccan standard, but usually including the 5-10Dh required for transporting luggage (malletas), and not being overcrowded. People use to come to the station in the morning to book their ticket for the afternoon or the day after, and collecting stickers for luggage, so beware about showing up at the last minute and not finding place.

At the station, touts will try to sell you tickets for Chefchaouen if you look like a western tourist coming for smoke. Avoid them.

You can leave Fes by train in the direction of Tangier (~5 hrs; 97dh/145dh) or towards Marrakech (~7 hrs; 180dh/276dh; passing by Rabat and Casablanca).

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.