I wanted to title this post, "What Makes Fes Fes" but that didn't sound right, so there you go.
Fes is by any measure an extraordinary city. For one, it is considered to be the largest car-free urban zone in the world. This may not sound like much, but when you realize that a hundred and fifty thousand people live in this specific area, it becomes clear just how big the area is.
|A view from the rooftop of our riad|
Fes is home to so many great doors, the simply amazing ones become commonplace.
There are all kinds of places to stay in Fes, at all kinds of price points. Even on the relatively budget end of accommodations, you can find yourself in a place like this.
|The common room at Riad Laayoun in Old Fes|
One of the many things I found fascinating about Fes was that half of it seems to exist underground. It's evolution over the centuries has given it an organic feel that is difficult to describe. Entry points from the outside take you through a time machine and down into a literal labyrinth of alleys and tunnels filled with all manner of shops. Crowds pack the spaces headed in every direction. Light from above makes an occasional appearance, and when you suddenly find yourself back on the outside, it's a bit like you can breath again even though you had no difficulty breathing to that point.
|Note the fellow on the right who is ready to encourage us to give his restaurant a try.|
There are several gates leading into (and out of, I guess) the city, all of them in the classic Moorish style, many with tile designs covering their surface.
Palais el Glaouis is a pretty spot to get away from the action on the streets and enjoy some of that intricate tile work.
Chouara Tannery was certainly unique for us. All the info tells you that it is the worst smelling place you will ever encounter and that the provided mint leaves are a critical antidote. This may be true if you've never left the city, are unfamiliar with farm life, and/or have never been to India.* The aroma was powerful, but was best enjoyed without the mint pressed over my nose.
And when you're done with all the actual sites, just roaming the streets is pure joy. It's a colourful, evocative city that will invigorate your senses and leave you with loads of fun memories.
Fes is easily reachable by train from Casablanca (and Rabat and Meknes), taking about three and a half hours. If you have some time, be sure to stop in Meknes along the way and take a trip out to Volubilis. We had originally planned to just stick around Meknes, but our riad owner Jean-Claude in Fes convinced us it would be enjoyable. We've seen tonnes of Roman ruins in the past, so it wasn't really a priority. Well, after a few days of close quarters in Fes, and then a little more in Meknes, we were glad to have this experience, completely different from the rest of our trip. Volubilis is in a nice setting on an open plain, with loads of extraordinary floor mosaics and some pleasant arches and pillars scattered about.
* Again, this is not meant to denigrate India; it's just that India is a country of extremes, for good or bad. If you've really experienced India, the tanneries of Fes will not take your breath away.