Morocco was one of the Top Three Places we Visited in 2018 . Our journey to Fes was part of the reason why we loved Morocco so much. Christie and I were lucky enough to spend a full week in Morocco this spring. I flew over to Madrid for a few days and we took a flight through RyanAir straight to Fes. Previously, I had visited Marrakech and had dealt with some intense culture shock my first time around. I assumed we would have the same experience in Fes, but I felt like this time I was much better prepared. We did drag our feet about booking the trip and ended up paying a lot more on flights than we should have and could have stayed a little longer had we not. Flights round trip from Madrid to Fes had started at $45 but when all was said and done we waited too long and spend about $200 each on flights so keep that in mind when booking yours.
We spent a lot of time debating over riads to stay in while planning the trip. There are so many choices. Here are some of our deciding factors for us when booking: Location – we wanted to be inside or very close to the medina, we knew we wouldn’t have access to a car and we were really unsure of transportation around the city once we arrived, we are really big on walking around in a foreign city – to save money, sure, but you see so much more on foot while exploring, things you would never see zooming past store fronts and parks in a car; Another factor for us, which is a big one is price. In Fes, there are a great range of prices you can stay in luxury or really you can stay in a complete hole in the wall, but to keep it affordable we try to stay somewhere in between; This trip one of the important things for us was we had to stay in a riad. We had seen so many beautiful places on the internet while researching and we were just dying to stay in one. Another thing we looked for this trip was if they provide a taxi from the airport because it was just so much easier than trying to book one upon arrival.
We decided upon Riad Jamai, one of the riads I found on booking.com. It was located just outside of the medina but within walking distance and looked a lot like pictures we had seen of riads. Often we stay in hostels and other shared rooms but on our last trip to Frankfurt I had truly just had enough of sharing a room with total and complete weirdos – but we’ll talk about that adventure on another occasion. We booked a twin room, as well as airport transport and called it a day.
waiting to board during our delay to Fes
Flying out of Madrid that morning we were full of excitement and anxiousness to make it to Morocco. The last trip we attempted to take there, Christie had been held back because she didn’t have the proper paperwork showing that her visa was in fact not expired. Our flight was of course delayed because that’s truly just our luck but we didn’t lose much time in arriving there. We were stuck on a plane with unruly american exchange students who didn’t understand that it’s just not okay to scream across a plane at any given time, as we landed and deboarded we were followed to customs with a crew of students singing songs from the Lion King to welcome us to Africa, not my favorite moment, but thankfully they at least didn’t applaud as the plane landed.
waiting to take off in Madrid
in the air over Africa
After getting through customs we wanted to make sure we had some cash and we weren’t really sure of the cash machine situation, so we used currency exchange in the airport because miraculously the ATMs weren’t working. It was honestly way more complicated and confusing than it should have been, we were both given different exchange rate seeing that our banks were located in different countries and I wouldn’t recommend doing it again because even in the smallest towns throughout the country had ATMs readily available.
Finally, we were leaving the airport although, disgruntled from our encounter with currency exchange, we went in search our transport hoping we hadn’t left him waiting to terribly long after the flight delay and struggle over the currency. Thankful for my years of french once we were in Morocco realizing just how much it was going to come in handy. The long ride from the airport was like being on another planet. Alien landscapes, signs in Arabic, and shades of red and brown over took the scenery. Watching all the cars zooming around in sporadic fashion was intense, the closer we got to the medina the worse the traffic was. I joked with the driver about how bad it was in Miami compared to Fes as I watched people literally walking into traffic, little did I know what I was in for once we tried to drive closer to the riad. The streets were no longer meant for cars, much less huge passenger vans, they had traded horns for the shouts of people. The roads were full of people walking, people selling, people chatting, people everywhere. We finally made it to a parking spot down a hill near Riad Jamai, our driver walked us back and down the narrow alleyway to our Riad as children ran past us playing soccer, vendors shouted at us in many different languages, trying to place where we arrived from.
We were greeted at check in by the manager of Riad Jamai, ready with fresh Moroccan mint tea to relax us after our journey. Our bags were taken up to our room as we discussed some of the different things they had available for us if we chose to do so. They offered to have a guide come down from a restaurant in the Medina, Dar Tajine, and walk us back over since it was already around sunset and being our first time in the medina we would surely get lost. The manager also set us up with a tour guide for the city of Fes the following day. Mustafa was a local professor and would show us some of the great historical sites in the city. We found these things very helpful, being it was our first time to Fes, but be warned, everything comes with a price. By suggesting these things, the Riad manager gets commission off of them. Feeling a little fearful of getting sick we were okay with the extra expensive of commission on dinner and the transportation to and from but for cheaper and just as easily you could find a place on the street and wander in. The manager basically refused to suggest anywhere he wouldn’t get paid from so don’t expect free advise. He went as far as to suggest we would get sick if we ate anywhere he didn’t suggest. At the time it seemed like helpful advice but after we got the hang of things, we realized what was going on. We went to our room to freshen up and explore the riad a little bit, but first we headed up to the roof top hoping to catch a little bit of the sunset. We were thought we were prepared for what awaited us in our room but we were in no way prepared for the shower. Riad Jamai is a perfectly fine place for some one on a budget but later in the trip we learned for just 10-15 more euros we had a much nicer establishment with a better location.
the shower in our room, just to the left out of view was the toilet, no curtain no separation, nothing.
Per the managers suggestion we went to Dar Tajine for dinner. We waited for someone from the restaurant to come and guide us there because we wouldve never found it on our own. The medina is full of twists and turns and it was getting dark. we wouldve been lost forever. We climbed the tiny staircase to the dining room and were seated immediately at a great table in the corner, we browsed through the menu but we already knew what we came for, the tajine! The owner himself was our server and he was so kind and generous and helpful. The menu didn’t list it but upon request wine and beer was available – I think all in all I spent about 30 euros on the meal but it was a three course meal, we split a bottle of wine, had a few Moroccan beers each and bottled water. I know there is cheaper available but our dinner included the guide service and even a taxi back to the Riad. We chatted awhile with the owner after dinner as he offered us a few more beers as well. An array of dishes came out before the main course, many salad style things, roasted vegetables, and honestly a few things I’m not really sure of what they were but they were delicious.
from the rooftop of Riad Jamai
The following morning our tour guide, Mustafa took us around to see some amazing sites – Jardin Jnan Sbil, Bab Boujloud – the blue gate, University of Al-Karaouine – the oldest university in the world, and it was founded by a woman! Fatima al-Fihri founded the university in 859. I think this is especially cool considering we were in a muslim country and women don’t always have the right to be outspoken and take charge over education there but she did it anyway. We ventured on to the oldest clock in Fes, Tannery Sidi Moussa, and an argan oil co-op. We visited Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts, Al Attarine Madrasa, which was a college and truly beautiful, we visited the Henna souk where Christie got ripped off by a man swearing he had the cheapest price on a small camel made from scrap leather. And boy, did we come back a few days later to let him know as well as his customers know that they were getting ripped off and to move on to somewhere else.
inside the Medina
Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts
from the rooftop of the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts
Jardin Jnan Sbil
the view from the leather tannery – be thankful you can’t smell it.
We spent all day wandering around but also shopping way too much. Even though I spent way too much on the pillow covers, I loved the carpet shop we went into, Coin Berbere. It was featured in the New York Times! I appreciated the shop owner so much. He let me put a deposit down on my finds and was willing to come to Riad Jamai later in the week to retrieve me and take me back to the shop – which I would’ve never found on my own. He had even had a death in the family that day, which obviously caused them to close up shop, but he still came to get me so I could pick up my purchases.
some of the selection available at Coin Berbere
some of my finds from all the carpet shops we visited
We split up a lot of our trip -the following day we headed off to the Sahara – more on that magical road trip to Merzouga and camping in the freaking Sahara desert in the next post – and returned after a night back to Fes with the intention of leaving for Chefchaouen the following morning – which turned out to be a total fiasco that I can’t wait to tell you all about but alas we are talking about Fes and I will be sharing stories from both parts of these trips shortly in separate posts.
When we returned from the Sahara we spent one more night in Riad Jamai since we had previously booked it but due to complications with our trip to Chefchaouen we ended up booking a night in Riad dar Tafilalet. Let me tell you how much I fell in love with this place. From the moment we set foot in there and met Ahmed, who runs the place we knew we made the right choice. The property was beautiful, it was easily accessable from outside the medina. After the stress of the day we had basically waiting around and wasting our time trying to figure out rides we immiedately booked our first hammam experience and massages. Which we super maturely spent naked and giggling throughout the entire hammam. But honestly, it was amazing and the amount of dead skin that came off my body was unreal. Plus, the whole experience was about 40 euros, which is NOTHING compared to doing this in United States. Ahmed had dinner waiting for us and even came up with a special option for Christie who didnt eat lamb. We finished the evening super relaxed and joining the staff on the rooftop to enjoy hookah and chat for a bit. We had an early morning the next day where we would finally make it to Chefchaouen. We loved Riad dar Tafilalet so much we canceled our previous booking with Riad Jamai for our last night in Morocco and booked a room there instead.
Riad Dar Tafilalet
the amazing breakfast spread thats included in the price of your room
the rooftop view of Fes-el-Bali from Riad Dar Tafilalet
We really loved our time and Fes and spent the little spare time we had left wandering and losing ourselves in the Medina, shopping and trying to find our way back to Riad Dar Tafilalet. Our final morning the guys were nice enough to find us a last minute ride to the airport as we misunderstood which taxi we were able to take there. Future reference : red taxis only run within the city, you’ll have to hire a private car.
We’re ready to return to Morocco to explore the Atlantic coast and a bit more of the country we fell in love with.
Shown below you’ll see our tips on where to stay, where to visit, where to eat and more!
Where to Stay:
Riad Dar Tafilalet:
Riad Dar Tafilalet was hands down our favorite place we stayed the entire trip. Ahmed who runs the riad is helpful, friendly, and went out of his way to take care of us. There’s even a spa, hammam, and restaurant on propertyWe used booking.com to book this outstanding property and if you click here you can use my referal code for $25 off one of your bookings! There’s three different properties right there on the block so reach out to the Riad to see if they have anything else available, and tell Ahmed hello for us!
What to see:
Bab Boujloud – the famed blue gate! Its the most famous entrance to the medina.
The Leather Tanneries – head to Tannery Sidi Moussa and visit my friend Mr. Couscous and learn all about how the leather is made. If you have some extra spending money buy any leather product you want – from shoes, to poufs, to purses, to camels made from leather scraps and more.
Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts – head over to this museum to see beautiful craftsmanship dating back to 900AD. There’s also a beautiful rooftop view and a small cafe. Don’t have a lot of time or money? Don’t worry the museum is on the smaller side you can see it in under an hour and its only a few dirham to get in!
University of Al-Karaouine – the oldest university in the world! Like I said before, it was founded in 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri. The city of Fes was founded on the premise of education so of course the oldest university in the world is here. You had to be muslim and a man to attend university here however. The mosque housed inside the university is the largest in all of Africa to this day!
Jardin Jnan Sbil – beautiful gardens just outside the medina! Spend some time here wandering around taking in the exotic plant like – and if youre on a budget don’t worry! it’s free to enter!
Al Attarine Madrasa – another university, you do have to be muslim to enter but don’t worry, you can see in from the outside to admire the beauty.
University Karaouiyne– same as above, you can’t enter but just walking by and peeking in is worth it.
Where to Eat: