Five Go To Fez

Saturday, 29 March 2014

At the end of 2013, my family and I set off to Fez, Morocco. Not only did we set off, but make it there. I know, to most people, setting off goes hand in hand with making it there. But my family has something of a... track record... for travelling via rather roundabout routes. In April 2010, while that Icelandic volcano erupted and wreaked havoc all over Europe, we first attempted to get to Morocco. By train.

Yes, you heard me. By train. And believe it or not, we were rather smug about it too. Most flights from western Europe were within that week or so cancelled because of the ash clouds emitted by Eyjafjallajรถkull. Our journeying from London to Fez by train was surely a cunning, eco-friendly, and foolproof plan! Needless to say we didn't make it.

Fez is Morocco's ancient imperial capital and the large, sprawling medina (the old, walled town) is virtually untouched by modern civilisation. Most of our time was spent wandering the medina's alleyways, browsing the innumerable stalls, and fighting off the irresistible mildly aggressive salesmen's hard-sell: 'I get you good price'.

Fez medina
Winter sun on the roof
On the roof
Baboosh stall, Fez medina

Many people see Fez as only a several-day stop on a longer trip around Morocco. There is more than enough to do there to last you a few days, but on on our penultimate day we became slightly restless so made a trip out to the Moroccan countryside. We stopped at the stunning lake Volubilis, next to which were a couple of road-side stalls, selling the obvious combo of squashes and baskets. (Businessmen and -women, take note.)

Road-side stall, Lake Volubilis
Lake Volubilis

Another Fez must-do is visiting one of its many tanneries. On entering, you are handed a sprig of mint to mask the foul, putrid smell (note: it does little to mask the foul, putrid smell), then taken in single file up a very narrow staircase to a viewing-point high above the tannery itself. A friendly Moroccan guide gave us the brief history of the tannery and explained how the process of tanning works. It was slightly alarming seeing the tannery workers wade barefoot through pools of chemicals and dyes (photos here) And no, we didn't make it out without a good old bit of Moroccan hard sell: tour finished, we were swiftly whisked into a backroom to have mountains of overpriced leather bags thrust upon us. Yay!!!!

If you ever get the chance to visit Morocco, stop by Fez! Though often overlooked by Marrakesh, Fez has a hell of a lot to offer and need not be dismissed as its poorer cousin. It's busy, bustling, and in many ways rather medieval: don't expect to be swooping in and out of a supermarket, you'll be eating tagine and tagine only.

I also made a short film about our trip, if moving images are more your thing:

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