Experiences in and around Fez

IN FEZ:

*Guided tours: we have specialist guides available for a half or full day to show you the medina. They will take you to the historic monuments such as the Bouanania and Attarine medersas, the souks, squares and famous tanneries. The Jewish quarter and city ramparts can also be included. Our guides do not take you shopping.

*Artisanal Affairs Tour: spend the morning visiting some of the artisans of Fez, chat to them and learn how they produce their wares in their tiny workshops. This is a hands-on tour that gets rave reviews. Shopping is not allowed on this tour.

Jessica’s tour was a major highlight. It was good to meet her and we admire what she is doing. Having her look after us on our first day was a great way of getting confidence to walk around on our own and actually talk to people, and I would recommend it to anyone as an introductory trip. John & Victoria Hambley, UK.

Co-ordinator Jess and Fez guide Hakima talk to a cotton dyer

*Photography tour: make the most of your stay by learning how best to photograph the medieval architecture and the bustle of the medina. Join internationally-renowned Omar Chennafi for a walk-about practical tour. Please note this tour is not available during the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, as Omar is the official photographer for the Festival.

*Cooking class: start in the souks of the medina to shop, and then learn how to cook Moroccan-style, blending spices and producing a superb meal. Classes can be half a day or up to three days. Longer classes include olive oil and wine tastings.

*Tasting Trail: join a local for a half-day walk through the medina, visiting three different markets and tasting as you go: spices, argan oil, a wonderful array of honeys and lots of delicious street food.

*Jewish Quarter: Join renowned photographer and writer Catherine Bendayan for a specialist tour of the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter just outside the medina, known as Fes El Jdid. Catherine will explain the different architecture found here and take you to the Ibn Dayan Synagogue museum. The Jewish Cemetery is another highlight of this tour. Catherine is also available for photography tours.

*Architectural Insights: A half-day tour with Alaa Said, architect and house restorer of note. Unravel the composition and surface of his own house, Dar Seffarine, and then step out into the medina to visit some of the spectacular monuments to discover their architectural magnificence and the historical and social reasons for the decorative interior design. Have a look at the CNN video here to see some of the splendid architecture explained by Alaa, and some of the artisans of Fez.

Alaa Said should be on everyone’s agenda. We learned so much, and he has a keen, sophisticated way of relating traditional Islamic architecture, its roots and where it will go. He showed us his personal riad currently under construction.  Roger & Arnelle Kase, USA

Alaa explains the intricacies of a mosaic pattern at Dar Seffarine

Alaa explains the intricacies of a mosaic pattern at Dar Seffarine

*Craft Workshops

Now you’ve seen all those spectacular mosaics, learn to create your own designs at the Craft Draft Islamic Geometry course (about two hours). Also on offer at Craft Draft are courses on leather embossing, bookbinding and brass etching, ancient crafts of the Fez medina. Master craftsman and musician, Hamza Fasiki, maintains that ‘everyone is an artisan’.

 

*Moroccan Herbs and Traditional Healing

Miriam Hicklin of the Atlas Apothecary offers a delightful workshop at her home: distilling plants to make your own flower water. Orange flowers appear in April and rose petals in May and are sold loose in the souks. You can also use sage, geranium or lavender, all locally sourced from sustainable sources.

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Rose petals and freshly-made rosewater for sale in the Fez medina souk.

Miriam also offers lectures on Moroccan herbalism (the subject of her academic research). She takes a wide view, from indigenous Amazigh traditions through the arrival of Islam, the influence of Greek culture and the melding of practices found in Europe and North Africa since Andalusian times.

 

DAY TRIPS FROM FEZ INTO THE MIDDLE ATLAS MOUNTAINS:

*Meknes, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss Zerhoun:

Visit these three towns in a full day tour, or split them over a couple of days. Meknes is an Imperial City with a small medina, impressive architecture and interesting museums. Don’t miss the magnificent stables and granaries on the edge of town, Heri Es Souani.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Roman city Volubilis is definitely worth a visit. This was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire and the rolling wheatfields, olive groves and vineyards around Meknes lie at your feet.

In Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, climb up to the top of the village for fabulous views over this sacred pilgrimage site. At olive harvest (November-January) there are oil tastings at the local communal olive presses.

Explore the town from a woman’s perspective with Hajiba who will show you where she shops, the hammam where she bathes and the community oven where she takes her bread to be baked. Finish with mint tea on Hajiba’s roof terrace.

There are several options for lunch on this day trip: Walila Farm is a few minutes from Volubilis and serves excellent meals al fresco,  a simple pavement cafe in Moulay Idriss Zerhoun is good for the town’s famous kefta (meatballs) or spit-roast chicken served with bread and salad, the roof terrace at Dar Zerhoune, or at the exclusive Scorpion House, both with spectacular views of the town and surrounding mountains. You can also stay overnight in Meknes or Moulay Idriss.

 

*Azrou and the Ifrane National Park

Tuesday is market day in the Berber town of Azrou and is the perfect day to explore the town and its wonderful carpets.

Take a walk in the cedar forests of the Ifrane National Park and look out for Barbary macaques (monkeys). Learn about the monkeys from the local Community Scouts who look after them. Specialist guides are available for walks into the forest and surrounding mountains. You can stay over in hotels in Azrou or Ifrane, or in one of the newer rural retreats in the countryside.

If you’re serious about buying carpets, handiras (Berber wedding blankets) and cushion covers, we’ll arrange a visit to an expert dealer in Azrou or to the carpet auction in Khenifra.

The small mountain-side village of Ain Leuh is worth visiting for its Wednesday souk and to visit the women’s weaving co-operatives.

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A Beni Mrirt carpet in the making at Ain Leuh

A platter of fresh Atlas trout at Restaurant Les Truites in Immouzer Al Khandar makes a great lunch on the way back to Fez.

 

*Middle Atlas: Sefrou, Bhalil and Guigou

Take a day tour to the Middle Atlas town of Sefrou and the small village of Bhalil. Sefrou has an interesting medina with a rich Jewish heritage. An Artisanal Affairs Tour of Sefrou visits several fondouks (caravanserais) in the medina that have been restored and opened to craftsmen and women. The ingenuity and skill on display here are remarkable. You will also visit thread button makers, tailors and weavers as well as blacksmiths and ploughmakers. Finish off with a simple lunch on the square opposite the blacksmith. The new Sefrou Museum of Multiculturalism is housed in one of the fondouks.

In nearby Bhalil, explore the village on foot and visit the cave-dwelling population (troglodytes). Stop for tea with the locals. There is excellent hiking in the region, with a donkey to help with tired children if necessary. You can also stay overnight in Bhalil.

‘We especially enjoyed Bhalil. That was one of the complete highlights of all our travels for years.’   Watkin & Heller families, January 2019

New on our menu is a visit to the small town of Guigou, some 90km from Fez, 1500m up in the Middle Atlas. It has a souk on Sundays, when people come from all over the region to buy and sell their produce. At the sheep souk, farmers check out flocks of sheep, ponder over how virile that large ram will be, and test-drive donkeys. You’ll also see women down from the mountains to sell the carpets and textiles they’ve made. It’s definitely worth a trip to get a glimpse of local life.

Guigou souk

*Tazekka National Park is just over an hour’s drive north of Fez, heading into the foothills of the Rif Mountains. Fairly small at 137sq km, the park was established to protect the cedar trees of the region. There are densely forested rolling hills offering signposted walks that range from a couple of kilometres to a more strenuous 17km day hike. Guides are available. Barbary deer have been successfully reintroduced to the park, the bird life is prolific, waterfalls abound and if you’re interested in caves, the Gouffre Friouato is one of the most extensive cave systems in North Africa. If you’re not feeling athletic, simply driving through the park offers beautiful scenery with tiny rural communities. Inside the park is an excellent lodge if you want to stay overnight. Or just visit for the day, swim in the pool and have lunch.

*Sidi Harazem: This oasis just outside Fez has several large swimming pools fed by a spring. The water is an ambient temperature and doesn’t smell of sulphur like the one at Moulay Yacoub. The pools are not chlorinated as the water is constantly changed. Facilities are clean and mostly modern; updates are planned. The women-only pool is superb; there’s a larger mixed pool for couples and families, but no shade at this one. Surrounding gardens are full of flowers, trees and palms. There’s a wide range of Moroccan fast-food restaurants for lunch and they’ll deliver pool-side. If you’re a fan of brutalist architecture, you’ll love this construction by Zevaco dating from the 1960s. Avoid at weekends and in the height of summer when it’s uncomfortably packed.

The women’s pool at Sidi Harazen on a quiet Tuesday morning in October

– For a relaxing day round another pool, head to a country retreat near Immouzer al Khandar. There’s wonderful food and stupendous views, as well as classes in cooking and bread-baking. Walking into the hills is an option, too. If you can’t tear yourself away, there are three rooms to stay over.

dar el mandar

Vichy Thermalia Hotel & Spa, Moulay Yacoub

20km outside Fez in the foothills of the Rif Mountains lies the small village of Moulay Yacoub, blessed with hot springs. Just outside the village on its own private road is the newly renovated Vichy Thermalia Hotel & Spa. Spend a day in the hot pool, vaporium, beauty salon, hammam and massage rooms with various hydrotherapy treatments and massage.  Stay over in the elegant hotel if you’d like special treatments. It has luxurious modern rooms with balconies, a restaurant and bar, gym, exercise studio, unheated outdoor pool and children’s playroom.

The indoor pool at Moulay Yacoub Spa

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