Fabulous Fez shines as Morocco’s second city
Fez is Morocco’s second largest city but has for many years attracted far fewer visitors than smaller Moroccan cities such as Marrakech which everyone seems to have visited. But Fez, has finally stepped forward to claim its status as Morocco’s second city thanks to an updated airport and new flights from across Europe with Air Arabia Maroc. Many new destinations were added including a year-round twice weekly London Gatwick connection and an internal Marrakech – Fez route. Other new Euopean routes include Amsterdam, Brussels, Barcelona, Lyon and Rome.
Fez’s medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s Africa’s largest medina, is car free and as authentic as it was over 1200 years ago. Fez is the most imperial city in Morocco. Arriving in the medina is like stepping back in time and visitors may wish to reach for a map but there is no point, part of the fun here is actually getting lost. There are around 10,000 streets inside the medina.
Top tips when visiting Fez:
• Visit the tanners’ district and watch the tanneries ditches filled with a rainbow of colours processing skin in a traditional manner.
• Shop for fashion items including kaftans, slippers and leathers, homeware items including pottery, copper works including light fittings, trays, mirrors, tables and much more.
• Visit a medersa and discover more about the city’s intellectual and scientific past in unique buildings.
• Discover a museum including The Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts and enjoy Mint Tea on the terrace.
Located at one of the most significant entrances to the medina is Palais Amani, Fez’s leading independent hotel. Home to fifteen suites and bedrooms, this art deco building was partly rebuilt in the 1930s and is today one of the main destinations in Fez with its restaurant, roof top bar and basement hammam open to non-residents also. Palais Amani showcases the finest authentic and traditional Moroccan decoration. A large garden of 600m2 is at the centre of the palace filled with orange trees where birds, permanent residents here, provide the birdsong in this tranquil haven.
Palais Amani have just unveiled a new cookery rooftop school with unique views of the medina. Throughout a morning tour of the souks gathering ingredients with the head chef, guests will encounter some hidden foodie spots that tourists may not always find. With all the ingredients in a basket it is back to Palais Amani for a two hour cookery demonstration with the chef. Here guests will learn how best to use Moroccan ingredients including a vast selection of spices to create traditional dishes. Guests later sit down to enjoy their own lunch on the stunning terrace. All guests on the Cookery Break take home a Palais Amani apron, a mini basket of spices and detailed recipe sheets to recreate the new recipes back home. Cookery classes include both tajine and side dishes and Moroccan breads and pastries.
Jemima Mann-Baha, owner of Palais Amani, reveals her Fez discoveries:
– My favourite spot for a mint tea in the Fez medina… There is a small café on a square near the Chaabine that is on the first floor overlooking a newly restored Fondouk; the tea is brewed in a large copper urn with huge bunches of mint and alarming amounts of sugar, but the smell is wonderful like mint imperials spearmint and almost as vivid green when poured from a height into a large glass.
– My favourite shop in the Fez medina… Very close to the Palais Amani is a bazaar called: Ali’s Art gallery. It is like a Tardis in that once through the doors it goes from floor to floor and room to room each overflowing with the most incredible works of art, furniture, jewellery, mirrors, an absolute Aladdin’s cave of wonder! I never tire going there and rarely leave it empty handed.
– My favourite secret in Fez… The quill makers that you will sometimes see in the gardens at the top of the medina, called Jnan Sbil. The gardens are an oasis of calm with walkways and fountains lined with Mediterranean plants rose bushes and bamboo plantations. All are protected by low wooden fences and tended carefully. Guardians whistle if anyone steps over the fences or touches the plants. Anyone except the city’s calligraphers; these artists are allowed to walk amongst them, pull their branches down and cut at their will to make quills for their art to restore the mosques and monuments that the city is famous for.
– My favourite view of Fez… If you have a car when in Fez and drive out from the Oued Zhoune car park (just near the Palais Amani) up into the Zalagh hills, only 5 minutes, there is a ruined mausoleum, hidden in a mature olive grove and from there is the most incredible view of the medina and the plains beyond. A perfect lesser known spot.
Fez also hosts the World Festival of Sacred Music each year around June time. Various venues, squares and hotels across the city host music concerts including Palais Amani. This event has grown in popularity each year and booking ahead is advisable.
Fez is a melting pot where many cultures have merged. Its fascinating past and modern developments make this a hot destination for 2018 easier to reach than ever before.