Updated August 22, 2020.
Ah, Fes. Home of leather work, tile work, a royal palace, and kind people. We had our best riad experience here at Riad Mazar Fes, and we took a 3-hour tour of the medina (or Old City) on foot. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen because it’s one of the great artisan capitols of the world, but there are a few things every traveler should know before they go!
Hire a Guide, Especially of the Medina
This is one place where we actually hired an official guide to show us around. Both a friend who had visited recently and our riad’s manager recommended hiring a guide, and after getting hopelessly lost in the Marrakech medina a few days earlier, we decided to do it! And we’re so glad we did!
Our 3-hour tour was only 250 dirham (dh; approximately $25 USD), and he was excellent. The price is set by the government for official guides, so we knew we weren’t getting scammed, and we knew we wouldn’t get lost! The Fes medina is the largest pedestrian zone in the world, so you will want someone to show you the way.
They’re Famous for Their Leather Tanneries
You can visit the tanneries for FREE, but you will most likely want a guide to help get you there (see the point above). Chouara Tannery is the largest in the city, and the most famous. When you arrive you’ll be given a sprig of mint to hold in front of your nose to help with the smell (tanning is a smelly process!), then you’ll be whisked up to the terrace to look down on the whole tannery operation. There are 6 stages:
- Soak the hides in pigeon poop and lyme.
- Wash all that off.
- Soak them in dye for one week to fully absorb the color, which comes from natural sources, as they always have: red comes from poppies, orange comes from henna, yellow comes from pomegranate (it’s true!), blue from indigo, and cedar wood makes brown.
- Leave the hides out to dry.
- Scrub to remove fur and hair.
- Send them off to make beautiful products!
Keep reading: How to Embrace Cultural Differences
Fes is Very Spread Out
The medina itself is large, but Fes and its iconic sites are quite far apart! We didn’t make it to everything we wanted to see (like the Royal Palace of Fes) because the places were simply too far apart, and we only had one day to explore. I’d recommend at least two days here, and I suggest getting really comfortable haggling with taxis if you don’t want to hire a guide for both days.
It’s Also Very Steep!
The medina is situated on a very steep hill, so be prepared and maybe skip the cute sandals in favor of more comfortable walking shoes!
Ask Your Riad for an Airport Transfer
The airport is about 30 minutes away from the medina, and our only option for arriving there from Ouarzazate was to arrive at almost midnight. We knew we wouldn’t want to try haggling with a taxi that late or potentially be stranded in a new city late at night, so we arranged for an airport transfer with our riad. It was only 15 Euro (150 dh, or approximately $15 USD), and it was the best choice! Hotels in other cities (with closer airports) were charging 600 dh ($60 USD) for an airport transfer, so we knew this was a great deal!
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