Fez: A Tale of Old and New

For the past decade or so, Morocco has been a trendy travel destination thanks to the enticing city of Marrakech and beach resort of Agadir welcoming the majority of visitors. With so many boutique hotels, riads and larger hotels catering for long stay visitors, finding a comfortable place to stay is no problem.

But for a short break where you can indulge in market shopping, experience incredible gastronomy and uncover a fascinating culture, the former capital of Morocco, Fez has it all. Located in the foothills of at the Atlas Mountains, it’s regarded as one of the best preserved cities in Morocco.

Low cost airline, Air Arabia, operates a twice-weekly direct service from Gatwick to Fez and boasts a generous 32 inches of leg space, providing a comfortable journey to Morocco. We uncover some of Fez’s highlights as a new city break destination.

Medina

At the heart of Fez is the medina. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and believed to be one of the world’s largest urban pedestrian zones, it is a hub of activity and a feast for all the senses.

On ground level, visitors wander through a maze of little alleyways; full of market stalls serving fresh local produce and handicrafts. It is densely crowded and you will feel as if you are stepping back in time.

In the oldest quarter, Fez el Bali, you’ll find the Chouara Tannery. It’s the largest tannery in the city, packed with stone vessels used to dye garments. Fez is known for exporting leather goods around the world.

For a bird’s eye view of the medina, many rooftop cafes have opened, providing an escape from the hustle and bustle of the market. From here, visitors can spot the two castles that once protected the medina from intruders, one to the north and one to the south.

Architecture

Fez’s other world record is being home to the oldest, continually operating University of al-Qarawiyyin which was established in AD 859 and is recognised by UNESCO and Guinness World Records.  In it’s hey day, Fez attracted many scholars and researchers to the area and government responded by building plenty of houses, palaces and places to worship for guests.

In the medina, every so often, behind a corner or gap in the wall is a cultural gem or small oasis. These expansive spaces built for worship and reflection, are a stark contrast to busy marketplace outside and each one has been built with passion and you can see the detailed design on their walls and within their structures.

Food

Moroccan cuisine is all about the flavours. Whether it is spicy or sweet, it is difficult to find a bland dish.

One signature Moroccan meal is a tagine – a meat, spice and vegetable stew, slow cooked in a traditional cooking pot. On occasion, it is also served with dried fruits such as apricots, dates and plums, but regularly it is accompanied with fresh bread.

To quench your thirst, try Moroccan Mint Tea., which is green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and lots of sugar. On visiting shops and hotels, you will more than likely be offered this on arrival as is the local custom.

While the region isn’t famed for wine, local producers are trying to change this. With high temperatures cooled by the influence of the Atlantic Sea, the country has an ideal climate for producing high quality wines.

Luxury riad, Palais Amani, runs a cooking school which includes a shopping tour in the medina for ingredients. Visitors can learn how to cook traditional dishes such as tagine as well as bake Moroccan bread and pastries.

Mountains

Less than an hour’s drive out of the centre of Fez, you will find yourself at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. The landscape is dramatically different. Instead of flat roofs and delicately tiled ornate walls, the area is home to huge forests and chalet style houses with sloping roofs.

This area is where locals and visitors alike enjoy the great outdoors, go for walks or have a round of golf on the vast courses available.

A popular choice with celebrities, Hotel Michlifen is located within the forest and has a wealth of facilities on site. Golf course, luxury spa, indoor and outdoor pools, basketball courts and a farm, provide a truly unique stay.

Nightlife

If by day you are exploring Fez at ground level, by night you will be unwinding on the rooftops. New hotels in the area are ensuring nights in Fez end on a high, booking local and international DJs to perform.

The Jungle at Hotel Sahrai offers a memorable evening, in an elegant and unique surrounding. Breathtaking views over Fez add to the ambience, and for special occasions the VIP gold cage is available to hire.