Easy Escapes: Fes, Morocco

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  • Move over Marrakesh: if you want a Moroccan break with bags of atmosphere, this is the place to go

    Move over Marrakesh: if you want a Moroccan break with bags of atmosphere, this is the place to go

    Why go? Fes is famous for its huge medina, which dates from the 9th century and is a World Heritage site. It’s the largest car-free urban area in the world, with 270,000 residents living within its mighty sandstone walls. Intense and fascinating, this mini-city has 10,000 alleys crammed with mosques and medersas (religious schools), lively souks and gorgeous riads. You can eat well, shop your heart out, enjoy hammams and rooftop terraces, and when you fly home you’ll feel you’ve been somewhere extraordinary.

    When? Average temperatures are 18-20°C from November to February, while summers get very hot. January to March gets the most rain.

    Happy hour: watch the sunset from the roof terrace of Palais Amani

    You really must: Explore the medina. It’s easy to get lost, but after a while you’ll start to recognise the main streets and areas. It’s worth arranging a guided tour (ask at your hotel), which will show you key sights such as the Mellah (Jewish Quarter), the elaborately decorated Medersa Bou Inania, and the medieval-looking tanneries (hold your nose!). Musée Nejjaarine is a restored fondouk from 1711 that is now a well-displayed museum of woodwork and crafts (take a breather in the salon-de-thé on the top floor), while Palais Glaoui is a vast, abandoned palace worth seeking out. If you like Roman ruins, book a day trip to the once-mighty city of Volubilis, a 90 minute drive west of Fes. Tours normally also visit Moulay Idriss and Meknes. Historical walks, cookery classes, tasting trails and hammam experiences can be arranged through the locally-based English-run company Plan-It Fez (plan-it-fez.com).

    Spend a night on the tiles: one of the immaculate bedrooms at Palais Amani

    Stay at: Palais Amani (palaisamani.com) is a beautiful and spacious 14 suite riad on the northern edge of the medina. It is set on three floors with a tree-filled inner courtyard, restaurant, spa and large roof terrace with sun-beds. Half-day cookery classes, where you go shopping with the chef then cook and eat a lavish lunch, cost £88 per person including a gift pack of spices, recipes and an apron. Double rooms cost from £148 with breakfast.

    Dine at: You can eat very well in Fes, but note that alcohol is only served in hotels and riads. With stalls piled high with dates, fruit, baguettes and syrupy pastries, it’s easy to pick up a picnic to eat in a park or on the roof of your hotel. Café Clock (cafeclock.com), near Bab Boujeloud, is a good place to escape the relentlessly busy streets and serves refreshing juices, quiches, salads and camel burgers. When dining out at night most medina restaurants will happily send a guide (at no extra cost) to walk you there and back, which is just as well… For somewhere romantic, Dar Roumana (darroumana.com) is an enchanting riad with a handful of candlelit tables set inside a high-walled, tiled courtyard. The cuisine is Mediterranean – save some space for the Sephardic bitter orange and almond cake, and try the Moroccan rosé Le Petit Ferme. If you want go beyond the medina walls, take a petit-taxi to Hotel Sahria (hotelsahrai.com), a new contemporary hotel on a hillside with good cocktails and views over the city.

    Feast your eyes: the medina in Fes is packed with colourful shops and stalls © imagepalace.co.uk

    Bring home: Leather jackets and bags (be prepared to barter), brightly-painted pottery, rugs, slippers, silver teapots, jewellery, scarves made from agave silk, argan oil, dates, honey… Many shops are closed on Friday.

    Book now: Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies direct from London Stansted, from £40 return. Lawrence of Morocco (01672 500 555; lawrenceofmorocco.com) offers tailormade packages including longer tours flying via Casablanca or Marrakesh. Three nights at Palais Amani costs from £512 per person, based on two sharing, including flights, breakfast and transfers. A taxi to the medina walls takes 30 minutes and costs around £10, or book a transfer with your hotel, which means you won’t have to struggle to find it…

    Info: Morocco (Rough Guides; £16.99) includes information on Fes, and see visitmorocco.com.


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