If you fancy a magical trip, look no further than Fez.
Whether it’s dining on delicious street food or hunting for bargains in the vast, time-lost medina, Ali Pantony reveals the ultimate 48-hour guide to the ancient imperial city …
Bab Bou Jeloud, the impressive entrance to the old medina of Fez, decorated with tiles and geometric patterns
Morning: Wake up to the traditional and luxurious setting of Riad Fes in the heart of the Medina, with its imposing hand-carved plaster pillars, intricate tiles and jewel-colored velvet furniture. Stroll through the 18th-century hotel, through its palm-filled courtyards flanked by lemon trees and fountains, and climb its marble stairs to the rooftop bar with 180-degree views of the medina. After a buffet breakfast at the Ambre restaurant, step out into the old town of Fez where you are just a few steps from the medina, considered the largest in the world.
Afternoon: Most of the medina is closed on Fridays, so Thursday is a great day to explore. The dense maze of Fez’s medina is like stepping back in time – no cars, just donkeys and traders carrying their wares. You’ll want to spend a few hours getting lost in the colorful and chaotic jumble of more than 9,000 spice-scented lanes, full of shops and traders. Look for trendy rugs and rugs (prices depend on factors like whether they’re handcrafted or factory-made; uses natural or chemical dyes; and most importantly, your bargaining skills), ceramics, lanterns and leather goods. Book a tour of the medina if you don’t feel like getting lost (try plan-it-morocco.com). Ask to try some typical Fassi street food – especially the tiny stalls serving ‘bissara’, a creamy bean soup served with pieces of hot, oven-fresh bread and drizzle of olive oil – and see the Chouara tannery, where leather is produced using ancient processes. Make your purchases after the tour, however, you won’t have to pay the guide’s commission.
” The dense warren of Fez Medina [pictured] it’s like stepping back in time – no cars, just donkeys and traders carrying their goods, ”Ali writes
Holidaymakers can visit the Chouara tannery, pictured, where leather is produced using ancient processes
Evening: Return to Riad Fes and book a car to check in at its partner establishment, the Sahrai Hotel. This boutique hotel offers space, modernity and calm after the hustle and bustle of the old town. Perched on top of a hill above the New Town (in a city as old as Fez, ‘new’ is 700 years old), make your way to the stylish Jungle Bar, which offers stunning views of the city that extends to the Atlas Mountains, for an aperitif before dinner.
For dinner, choose between continental cuisine at the Relais de Paris restaurant (a starter of breaded goat cheese with sautéed spinach and Atlas mountain honey was a highlight), or typical Moroccan cuisine at the Amaraz restaurant – don’t miss out not the monkfish and prawns tagine, tagines rich in spices filled with shrimp and monkfish, tomatoes, olives and lemon.
Morning: After breakfast, where you should try ‘melawi’ and ‘baghrir’, Moroccan pancakes cooked in two ways, head to the hotel’s marble spa which is the only Givenchy spa in North Africa. . Try the traditional 60-minute hammam treatment, including a purifying full body scrub using Moroccan kessa gloves in a wet massage room, which is washed before your body is stretched and soaked in moisturizing balms and oils essential. Then, sip mint tea and relax by the palm-fringed L-shaped infinity pool. Try a centuries-old local hammam at Ain Azleten Hammam, Hammam Mernissi or Hammam Rihab in the old town. Check the opening hours, as many open early for men, later for women.
Afternoon: Pick up a map at the hotel and start the afternoon with a stroll through the Jnan Sbil Garden. These lush gardens just outside the medina were planted over a century ago, but a major renovation has restored this area to an oasis of greenery.
Green oasis: The verdant Jardin Jnan Sbil just outside the medina. The gardens were planted over 100 years ago
Ali recommends hurrying on a trip to Ibn-Danan synagogue, pictured, on a two-day getaway to Fez
Ali Pantony was a guest of Relais & Châteaux, where rooms at Riad Fes start at £ 190 (riadfes.com) and rooms at Hotel Sahrai start at £ 160 (hotelsahrai.com). Direct flights with Air Arabia land late – around 11 p.m. – on Wednesday evenings. Flights from Gatwick to Fes with Air Arabia cost from £ 30.
Stroll the lush green paths, rest on the benches shaded by towering palms and poplars, and snap photos of the impressive lake, fountains, and the ancient water wheel. For food, head to the Mezzanine Lounge overlooking Jnan Sbil for a cold local beer and Moroccan-inspired tapas.
From there you can walk to Bab Bou Jeloud, the huge entrance to the medina that you might have missed on the first day. The three-arched doorway is covered in beautiful tiles and geometric patterns, with its exterior facade a deep royal blue and interior predominantly bright green. The historic “mellah” – the Jewish Quarter – is also worth a visit, established in 1438 by Sultan Ar Rashid, when the new city of Fez became a refuge for some 250,000 Jews.
Don’t miss rue des Mérinides, the most architecturally diverse street, lined with old houses with ornate wrought-iron balconies. You can also visit the Ibn-Danan Synagogue, the Jewish cemetery or the nearby entrance to the royal palace.
Evening: On the last evening, dine at Dar Roumana, a five-bedroom riad where chef Younes Idrissi creates seasonal French-Moroccan dishes using local produce. The intimate dining room in the riad’s candlelit courtyard offers a romantic setting, bright with blue and white tiles, with a few tables around a central fountain. The menu is constantly changing but recent dishes include a salad of fresh beets, pears and local goat cheese and a seared fillet of ombrini (a delicate white fish) with a saffron sauce, shrimp and crayfish on a bed of greens.