If we thought that Marrakech was a rabbit warren of alleys through the souk, or market, it was nothing compared to Fez! The second largest city in Morocco and a few centuries older than Marrakech, the old walled city transports you to another time. You forget that you live in the 21st century or even anything close to it. Our son Michael said he was glad we were going to Marrakech first because it would prepare us for the world of Fez, and he was right. We arrived at what appeared to be a huge parking lot at the end of a long drive from eastern Morocco. The central parking, it turned out, is a necessity. Porters were waiting to take us to our destination since the dirt alleys can't accommodate modern cars and no one could ever find anything within the walls anyway. We truly felt transported to another time.
This is the large parking lot with porters
waiting with their carts to transport you and you luggage to your dar or riad.
The alleyways in Fez are filled with local color.
And you don't know what you'll see at each turn.
Donkeys are a principal mode of transportation within the walls of Fez. As an animal lover, it was difficult to see them used as beasts of burden, but it's been done for thousands of years. Despite the mode of transportation, the Coke delivery was a reminder that we were living in the 21st century after all.
The dye pits are a must-see in Fez. You will be directed to a series of shops selling leather goods that surround a large courtyard. When you enter the shop you'll be given a sprig of mint to hold under your nose, but we didn't think the "aroma" was too bad. Walk up one flight of stairs and this is what you'll see. Hides are dyed in these vats which each contain a different color. Men stand in them all day, the dye reaching well above their knees. The yellow is saffron and is especially valuable. It's a fascinating world...
Coke you say? Guess again!
One day in Fez we stopped at a cafe for lunch and ordered red wine from the menu. This is what they served it in. It's a fairly common practice in Muslim countries so as not to offend those who don't drink alcohol.
And no trip to Morocco would be complete without a trip to the rug seller, right? The colors are so rich and every design is unique. We actually bought the one in the lower left-hand corner.
This is the view of Fez from the rooftop of our dar.
Two Days in the Atlas Mountains
We drove from Marrakech to Erg Chebbi then from the Sahara to Fez, for a total of two days through the Atlas Mountains. The Atlas range spans more than 1,500 miles through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert. The High Atlas spans part of central Morocco. The landscape was beautiful and the contrast was stunning, ranging from desert and barren to green and lush.
The route was dotted with kasbahs, or fortresses like the one below.
We drove east from Marrakech and stayed the night at the Riad des Vieilles Charrues, an oasis of sorts about halfway between Marrakech and our destination in the Sahara. The day had been windy and the sound of the wind whistling around the riad that night as we settled in under colorful quilts reminded us that we were truly in the middle of nowhere.
Although Arabic is the official language of Morocco, French is widely understood and spoken as evidenced by the name of our accommodation below and by many other signs throughout the country. The Treaty of Fes which was established in 1912 created a French Protectorate and essentially allowed France to govern most of Morocco until the dissolution of the treaty in 1956. Even many decades after the dissolution, the French language has survived in Morocco.
The Barbary Apes
A species of tailless monkeys, the Barbary Apes, or macques, live in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. We enjoyed seeing them as we drove from the Sahara to Fez.
A few more photos from our two-day drive.
The owner of Dar Roumana in Fez is American. She painstakingly restored every detail of it over a period of years and she hired a delightful young couple to manage it. Not only is Dar Roumana exquisite in every detail, it was an oasis for us after a very long drive from the Sahara desert.
That's our son Michael, below, enjoying a quiet break in the beautiful courtyard.
Dar Roumana was truly exquisite. They serve breakfast on the rooftop terrace and dinner in the courtyard for those who are staying at the dar as well as for the public. It was a delicious feast! We would stay at Dar Roumana again in a heartbeat.
Fez is not to be missed. If you are fortunate enough to visit Morocco, spend several days in Fez, be prepared to be transported back many centuries - and enjoy!
➜ Top Tips
As mentioned above, plan to spend at least two days in Fez in order to immerse yourself in centuries past.
Don't miss the dye pits!
There are many beautiful dars and riads in Fez, but I can't imagine any of them being better than Dar Roumana.
As in Marrakech, lose yourself in the souk.