The Medina - is in reality the only medieval Arab city that remains entirely intact. It's listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been called the "Mecca of the West" and the "Athens of Africa'. It's a memorable place to get lost in and the Kairaouine Mosque is a friendly centrepoint. You can't go in, but you can hang around it's doors and look at what's going on in there at prayer times. The Medina is well known as being a place where travellers might expect to experience hassle. Lesser known, perhaps, is that there's a nasty, ruthless clique developing among the middle class, foreign business owners and guidebook writers who make their living from the old alleyways, that threatens to take the old-style, honest, polite businesses under if travellers don't become more discerning, quickly. A rule of thumb is, if it's mentioned in journals such as The Guardian, Conde Naste, Lonely Planet or The Independent too much, avoid.
Meknes - A pleasant city for a day trip and a decent staging post from which to visit...
Moulay Idriss and Volubilis - This religious hilltop town and Roman ruins are fascinating sites. If you ever wanted to experience an entire ruined city by yourself, this might be your chance.
Dar Hatim - First class traditional Moroccan food cooked and served by a friendly family in their visually splendid, local home.
Dar Attajali - Our favourite restaurant in Fez. Kleo is a marvellous host and her food is tasty, healthy and vegetarian and all the ingredients are fresh and organic where possible.
Palais Faraj - A five star Moroccan place with exceptional service and amazing views.
Le 44 - A central cafe serving western dishes that are a cut above regular cafe fare.
The Kebab Shop - An unamed place at the top end of Talaa Seghira, as you're heading downhill it's on the left, just after you go under the 1st arch. If you're a meat eater you'd struggle to buy cheaper, or better, street food in the old city and the locals who run the place are honest friendly. There's space to sit down and whenever we went there we always struck up good conversations with locals, making for a good experience.
Dar Roumana - French cuisine; you have to be a meat eater to get the most of out it.
The Ruined Garden - Interesting cuisine that's difficult to categorize served in a very English atmosphere.
Riad Dar Bensouda - Occupying a 17th century building, this is a comfy accommodation with much to tempt your camera. It's just a twenty minute walk from the bus station, or a taxi can drop you off fifteen minutes walk away. They'll send somebody to meet you at your drop off point and guide you to the door if you ask them to.
Riad Idrissy - A small riad attached to the Ruined Garden Restaurant. The place is very easy to find; the restaurant is signposted from the main alleyway (or it's a ten minute walk from where the taxi can drop you off) and once you arrive there you can just ask the waiting staff about check in.
The trendy European and North America media outlets have a fixation on Fez at the moment. Apparently the city is the 'next big thing' in hipster travel and they can't say enough good things about it. On the other hand, most travellers we met in Morocco who'd actually been to the city had mixed feelings about it. Sure, there is some amazing value, high quality food and accomodation on offer there and it's a fascinating place, a piece of living history where most of what you see hasn't changed much for hundreds of years. But on the other hand the hassle you get in the old part of town can on occasion be so intense and overwhelming that it's not so easy for a casual visitor to have a relaxed time there. The situation is changing for the better slowly but at the moment, as one savvy British guy who loves Morocco and has lived and worked in the country for the past six years explained to us,
"Would I allow my mother to walk the alleysways of Fez? Absolutely not, the hassle is too great, there's too much disrespect. It could be an amazing city destination and it will be one day but the truth is, at the moment there are far friendlier places to go in Morocco..."
We produced a little guide page for visitors to Marrakech, much of it will be relevant for those visiting Fez. Click Here to Read More.
As in Marrakech, you only have to be in Fez for more than a couple of hours before you’ll start to notice how every morning you’re meeting at least one person who considers it their job to suck the joy out of your day. It's a problem that goes away if you throw money at it by hiring an official guide but if you're just a normal traveller with an average budget and a wish to steer clear of the bullies then you need to consider how you're going to deal with having the posibility of hassle, hostility and negativity infect every single day. There's also the added issue of there being a very noticeable 'clique' among several of the Riad owners. They're the sort of middle class, English speaking, wealthy, insincere and reasonably souless group of people that we've come to despise (with good reason) in England so do yourself a favour and avoid these people. To be sure you don't get sucked in by them remember these names of the good places - Dar Attajjali, Dar Hatim, Le 44, Dar Bensouda. We've mentioned other places in Fez but, stay and eat at any of these four places and you'll be ok.
On the bright side, if you've been to Fez many years ago, you're going to find it much friendlier than it once was. A stall holder actually waved at me this time around and we manged to walk up to the Marinid tombs without getting stones thrown at us by schoolboys, which never would have happened twenty years ago, and the general signs are that locals are getting the message that they can't go on hassling tourists as they once did, not if they want to make a living out of us anyway.
During our ten day stay we tried to get creative with limited success. Apart from in the alleyways surrounding the Kairaouine Mosque (the old cities' main mosque) where we were allowed to take photos with no issues at all, there's a general hostility to cameras in the old city; if you're a photographer you should be prepared for locals scowling at you often.
Of course, there are no doubt countless excellent reasons why many of the Morrocan people you'll come across as a tourist will treat you in a way that you'll consider unkind but if you're in Fez for a few days and just want to enjoy your hard earnt holiday, none of these reasons will be of primary interest to you. Yes, there is very high unemployment there, and it must be hard for the market traders to earn a living and yes, it can't be easy having tourists sticking a camera in their face every day without even attempting a conversation and then there's the fact that some strands of Islam, the religion that most locals follow, doesn't look kindly on creating images of living things, whether that involves painting, sculpture or photography. But Fez has set itself up as a destination that wants to welcome even more tourists of all nationalities so what do the locals honestly think they could do; invite us in, take our money and also dictate every single term of engagement? There's got to be some give and take...
Our solution to this issue of constant hassle that infects much of touristy Morocco was, firstly, to stay in traditional Riads which would not only provide us with very comfortable accommodation but also plenty of good material for our cameras. That way we could make images in peace of very fine, authentic architecture. Secondly, we'd try to eat in photogenic locations now and again where we could get to know the staff and then make portraits of them if they were willing rather than resort to photographing candid-style in the street. Thirdly, we'd try to seek out alternatives to the regular tourist attractions, places where people welcomed us with a smile rather than overcharged or hassled us. We've got to say, though, that we had very limited success with this in Fez. The places we really wanted to visit, such as the American Animal Sanctuary, didn't bother to answer our many emails or calls, so what can you do in such a situation?
Apart from the locals objections, photography in the old city is challenging due to the very varied light conditions. Most alleyway scenes will be combinations of extremely bright shafts of light penetrating down through three or four stories of building into shadow. Trying to capture a laden brown donkey trotting along dark alleys at midday whilst keeping your ISO down to prevent too much grain/noise would challenge the best of us!
Based on our own experiences, our advice to you for a rewarding four days in Fez - if you don't have a guide and want to enjoy what the city actually has to offer rather than what the guidebooks tell you it offers - is to avoid the old city's many tanneries (you'll know when you near them as guide hassle becomes intense) and perhaps try this itinerary instead...
Day 1; Move into your room at Dar Bensouda or Dar Attajalli, both of which are comfy accommodations with amazing, authentic decor. Get lost in the medina for a while, the place repays you - if you're brave enough to wander - with many interesting scenes. Then go for dinner at Dar Hatim, where the surroundings are magnificent, the food traditionally Moroccan and exceptional quality and the local family who own the place very friendly and happy to pose for your camera.
Day 2; Follow one of the coloured tourist trails through the medina in the morning (the Green trail passes very near to Dar Bensouda). These trails take in all of the noteworthy sites of the old city but by following the trails rather than a guide you'll stumble upon them at your own pace rather than be taken to them quick-smart, and chances are you'll enjoy the in-between bits just as much as the destinations (another plus point is you won't have to endure the hard sell in your guides' cousin's carpet or pottery shop at the end of the tour). In the afternoon visit The Marinid Tombs as the view is best here from mid afternoon onwards. In the evening, eat at the fabulous Dar Attajalli.
Day 3; Take another coloured trail and get lost in the medina. If you manage to pick up the green trail and wind up at the Jnane Sbil Gardens all the better as they're a lovely place to spend the hot midday hours. Early evening in the Ruined Garden Restaurant is a magical time as the birds roost so arrive for a drink here before taking dinner back at Dar Attajjali.
Day 4; Perhaps take a day trip to Moulay Idriss and Volubilis. It's a rather long day from Fez and if you have more time do the trip by public taxi from Meknes, but if you've limited time it's worthwhile. Otherwise, get lost again! The city will never dissapoint you when it comes to offering interesting things to see. Have a late lunch at Palais Faraj for great views of the medina whilst you eat and since that's such a splurge, consider a light dinner at the hole in the wall kebab shop about 50 metres down the hill from Thami's restaurant (on the left hand side) on Talaa Seghira. It's less than a dollar for a tasty kebab, the guys running it are decent and it's always packed with locals which we consider a good sign.
There is a photographic gallery in town showing photos of Fez and Morocco in general made in 1915; it was always closed when we tried to visit but you might get lucky, email them on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 05 35 76 45 85
The Points to Note section on the Marrakech page is relevant to Fez. The only changes we'd make is regarding the 'people to trust', and to this we'd add Kleo from Dar Attajalli, Said from Dar Bensouda and the owners of Dar Hatim. Below are some of the digital images we created during our stay. Alternatively, there are some Pinhole Photographs we created during our stay Herei
Our home for a week whilst in Fez, Dar Bensouda is a 17th century former Imams' home in the old city that's been sensitively restored (that which needed fixing has been done but what could be left has been). The breakfast was substantial, the swimming pool cool and cleaned every day and our room was spacious, quiet and very comfortable. The male staff could be warmer whilst the female staff are full of smiles and Said the manager is always helpful and can sort out any issue or request you may have with a quiet professionalism.
It's not always easy in Fez to enjoy the interiors of it's many magnificent old buildings - the threat of hassle is nearly always present whether you pay an entrance fee or not - so staying in comfortable, classy surroundings such as Dar Bensouda, with it's authentic 17th century decor, allows you to relax whilst you create.
It's position on the edge of the old city means that you can walk to the Palais Amani easily from the bus station (thirty minutes) or get a taxi to drop you off less than five minutes walk away. The central courtyard is by far the largest we've ever experienced in a Moroccan accommodation, the spacious rooms match its grandeur and there's a feeling of tranquility, partly due to the fact that this huge building only has twelve guest rooms. We rarely saw other guests during our three night stay, other than at dinner.
Talking of dinner, our experience eating here wasn't great, neither was breakfast on three days out of three. Don't misunderstand us, it's not awful, in fact the setting is incredibly romantic and stylish, but if it's fine dining you're after then our advice is that there are better places to eat in Fez than the Palais Amani, although few places to stay that are quite as luxurious.
English speakers and Guardian readers alike will feel particularly at home at the Idrissy, as will those who expect a certain standard from their accommodation and food. Our room was spacious and beautifully decorated and breakfast, a multi course affair made with fresh, local ingredients and taken in the leafy and secluded Ruined Garden Restaurant, was magnificent. There's a terrific view of old Fez from the sheltered roof terrace and Robert, the Englishman who runs the place, is an experienced, attentive host.
Unlike many other Riads in Fez we found the Idrissy very easy to get to; just follow the green signs for The Ruined Garden from Talaa Seghira to the right of the alleyway and you will come to it after between five and ten minutes.
Dar Roumana isn't your average Moroccan Restaurant. In fact, it's probably fair to say it's more of a French restaurant operating in an environment that's best described as 'white orientalist, overly opulent view of Morocco'. It wouldn't be out of place in any new money suburb and if you're looking to eat traditional Moroccan food, this isn't the place to come.
But if you're sick of Moroccan food or you're one of those middle class Europeans who like to travel but at the same time stay within the company of 'their own' and you yearn to eat cute baby animals then consider Dar Roumana.
Not that we can guarantee what exactly will be on the menu because chef Vincent, who learnt his trade at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, creates a new menu every day, depending on what's been freshly killed in the market that morning.
Vegetarian options are non existent though so if you're after eating ethically, this place isn't for you. It's reasonably priced; around £28 or so for a 3 course meal.
Vegan Friendly? 0/5
Vegetarian Friendly? 0/5
To discover more please see www.darroumana.com
We made our reservation for an evening dinner at Dar Hatim by email (the married couple who own the house/restaurant speak great English and replied to our email promptly) and were told that somebody would be at our Riad (Dar Bensouda), which was the other side of the old city, by 8pm to escort us to the place. This was a comfort, the medina of Fez is a maze that looks very different by night than day and it’s not easy to find any address even if you think you know where you’re going.
Our guide arrived on time and led us for 15 minutes through the heart of the old city’s alleyways. If you’re staying in or around the Palais Amani, which we did after our time at Dar Bensouda, then Dar Hatim is only a 5 minute walk away.
Dar Hatim is a traditionally decorated private home where the cooking is handled by the lady of the house. She greeted us by name on arrival which I found very professional and very friendly. Usually in Fez women really don’t want to be photographed but there’s none of that reluctance on show here.
There was a very relaxed vibe. As I’ve said this is the owners’ family home and you definitely get that feeling thanks to the seating, which is basically comfy, deep sofas lining the walls with huge cushions to relax into. The wooden ceiling is a marvel to look at.
There’s a choice of menus, in theory, but we were just seated and told that we’d be eating b’stilla for main course (perhaps because it was low season and there was only going to be 5 guests in total that evening), which was ok by us as we like that and wanted to try it in Fez cooked by a local lady as we’d had it in restaurants in Marrakech before and really enjoyed it. If you’re a staunch vegan or vegetarian though, or don’t like eating chicken or pigeon, then let them know this when you reserve your table.
It’s worth reminding you that Dar Hatim is truly a local home serving local food in a traditional way to small groups of people and, going by our experience, since all the food is prepared in advance it’s probably best to inquire what you’ll be eating that evening when you reserve rather than expecting to order what you want when you arrive.
It’s common for today’s ‘travel writers’ to complain that ‘Moroccan food is ok, but after a few days, you kind of get sick of tagine, soup and b’stilla…’ And they say that because, basically, they’re eating at sub standard restaurants, on the cheap, and the dishes they’re trying are poor relations of the real thing. To make a real tagine, for instance, takes at least 2 hours, and a real b’stilla at least half that time so basically you’re not going to eat a tagine or b’stilla worthy of the name unless you eat it at a very special restaurant, like Kasbah Tebi in the town of Ait Ben Haddou, perhaps, or Dar Hatim in Fez.
We started with a still water and a fizzy water then snacked on warm bread, quartered, with a harissa dip and chillied olives.The food was served quickly. The starters arrived within 10 minutes of us sitting down and the main came 20 minutes after that. There was an extensive range of traditional Moroccan salads to begin with. None of the starters were over spiced so I enjoyed mixing the chilly harissa to different dishes to bring them up to the heat level that satisfies me.
There were small portions of potato with coriander, beetroot, carrots, green beans, lentils, rice, white beans, an eggplant mix and fried eggplant. The main was chicken b’stilla, which is, minced chicken encased in a fried pastry oval. Usually the b’stilla that we ate in Morocco was served with icing sugar already sprinkled over it but here the icing sugar came separate so we could sweeten the pastry as much or as little as we wanted.
The minced chicken was cooked superbly and very subtly spiced. There was no overpowering flavour, which is how it should be and how we like it, and the pastry was crispy but not too oily. Having eaten b’stilla throughout our long Moroccan journey we’d say this was an excellent example of the dish and an above average portion size (Lamia could only finish half of hers). A tip for those new to eating b’stilla; don’t feel you have to use a knife and fork, many Moroccans we’ve dined with swear it’s best to tuck in with the hands and we like to do it that way too as it allows you to feel the changing texture of the dish as you bite and adjust your mouthful accordingly (to get an equal mixture of sweet and savoury, soft and crispy, and also to stop it crumbling all over your shirt!).
To finish the meal off we had fruit - peach, grapes, banana, cherry, apple and melon – and a kind of soft shortcake in the middle of it, all drizzled with a sweet butterscotch sauce. We also had another traditional sweet made of flour, sugar and ground almonds that we ate alongside our mint tea in crumbly, nutty spoonfuls.
After our meal we were invited to view the upper rooms. They’d just converted another upstairs room to cater for more guests, the owners said, as they were getting very popular recently. The place looks incredible, as our images hopefully show. The ceiling is wooden and all hand painted. There can’t be many places in the world where you can eat an outstanding 3 course meal in such amazing surroundings for what amounts to £12 or £13 a head.
Let’s be honest; dining in Fez can be an unpleasant experience if you don’t do your research. Just look at Trip Advisor if you doubt us; the city has more than it’s fair share of con artists and extremely sub-standard restaurants. But Dar Hatim doesn’t disappoint on any level. The owners and staff are very friendly, the prices are great and clearly marked up and the service, decor and, most importantly, the food is superb.
No trip to Fez, in our opinion, is complete without a visit to Dar Hatim. It’s as much a cultural experience as any of the cities’ monuments and it’s the only place in Fez where we could take photos as we ate without the local staff making us feel like we were some sort of inferior lifeform. If you’re after a taste of traditional food served in a genuinely friendly, honest atmosphere, then this is the place for you.
Vegan Friendly? 0/5
Vegetarian Friendly? 1/5 (but let them know in advance what you food preferences are and we're certain they can accomodate).
Email Dar Hatim to make a reservation on Darhatim@gmail.com
If we had to choose a favourite place to eat in Fez, Dar Attajalli would be it. Kleo, the owner and hostess, is a unique lady and the care and attention she puts into creating healthy vegetarian meals is admirable and rare. The ingredients used here are organic as far as they can be but Kleo doesn't try to hide the fact that it's not always possible to be 100% sure. Small scale production in Morocco is pretty unregulated so you can't always tell what you're buying but a saving grace is that most farmers can't afford pesticides so as long as you buy locally, and the produce has all the signs of being organic (irregular size, short shelf life), you can be hopeful that you're eating well. And we certainly ate well at Dar Attajalli. Do reserve in advance and Naim will come to meet you at a pre-arranged point (your hotel if you wish), and do expect to eat an excellent vegetarian meal served within an authentic town house environment.
On our way to dinner at Dar Attajalli we walked past a truck loaded with water melon in an empty marketplace. It looked interesting so I raised my camera, preparing to take a photo. A shout stopped me. A man, I presume, the owner of the melons, rushed out of a nearby cafe, demanding money. Now, it was Ramadan, the most holy month in the Islamic calendar and the man had been busy breaking his fast. One of the central points of this fast is that the Muslim must aim to keep not only their bodies pure but also their minds. There must be no thoughts of cheating people, of avarice, nothing like that at all.
I tell you this to give you an insight into what it’s like to be in Fez. You walk the streets and even during the most holy month, when the locals are meant to be acting well, there’s always somebody waiting on a corner who considers it their job to give Muslims a bad name and spoil your day in the process. You might travel just 100 metres but you’ll have to fend off, or ignore, 5 or 6 people in that time, it’s a relentless struggle to stop getting taken advantage of but at the same time retain your faith in humanity.
That’s why it’s such a relief when you reach the sanctuary of the front door of a place like Dar Attajalli, and you know from the moment you enter that this isn’t like the world outside. Not in the way people act, speak or in the way they think about and create food.
Kleo owns the Attajalli and now we’ve left Fez and are safe back in England, when we reminisce on our 10 days in the city it’s always Kleo we think of first, with great fondness. We admired the way that she tries to focus on a wholesome and holistic way of living; she’s also a very charming, funny and entertaining hostess. Dar Attajjali has been sensitively restored. Kleo has allowed the character of the old building to blossom; her attitude is to fix when absolutely needed but leave alone as much as possible. As a result, Dar Attajalli has a similar ambience to that of Dar Bensouda (another decent accommodation in Fez) with it’s gently ornate rooms and alcoves clustered around a central well of tranquility that is the courtyard.
We were seated at a long table sprinkled with rose petals and shared by an American/Canadian couple. I liked this set up, it ensured we talked to them which we wouldn’t usually do if we were at separate tables. Kleo, standing at the head of the table, explained the ingredients of the several appetizer plates as they arrived. It was clear that she has an in-depth knowledge of ingredients and the concept of healthy, fresh food.
I tend to find that ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ are much overused words nowadays, generally by people who don’t completely understand them, but Kleo isn’t like that. She grows her own herbs on the rooftop of the Dar to make sure they’re organic, she buys her olive oil and a few other oils from a certified organic shop in Casablanca and the fruits and vegetables from the farmers themselves. She says. quite honestly, that she cannot be entirely certain that the farm produce is organic but she tries her best and there are ways of knowing, such as the produce being of irregular shape but with a strong taste and aroma and also a limited shelf life. Also, because most producers in Morocco are very small scale, if you buy from a tiny farm they’re most unlikely be able to afford the pesticides that harm our food so much.
“Everything served here at Dar Attajalli was brought fresh from the markets within the last 24 hours,” Kleo said, “because if we had left it longer than that, it would all go off.” Finally, she gets all her spices from France, Germany or Switzerland to ensure their organic pedigree.
For starters we had beetroot soup and a cucumber soup. I really enjoyed the beetroot soup. I don’t really eat cold soup much, just the odd Gazpacho now and again if I’m in a Spanish restaurant, so I’m no expert but the ingredients tasted fresh and the spices subtle.
Alongside them, in the middle of our table, were 4 Moroccan starters: carrot, smoked aubergine, zucchini and green beans. The collection was an intelligent take on a traditional Moroccan starter idea. The carrots were cooked, just, so they retained a lot of crunch, and were spiced with coriander and a slight heat that I enjoyed. The green beans had crunch without the squeaky bite – there was a hint of raw food about these starters – and tasted like there was a bit of paprika within. I liked the moist smoked aubergine the best, smearing it like a spread on the fresh Moroccan bread.
The main course was a vegetable tagine shared between the other couple at the table. Despite the lack of meat which people generally use in traditional tagine to add texture (and because it’s an easy way to flavour the dish), this tagine had everything.
“I don’t usually eat veggie in Morocco because most chefs don’t seem to know know how to cook it in a satisfying way”, says Lamia. “It’s almost like they take out the meat and serve you what’s left. I like to eat veggie dishes if I’m at home and my moms cooking it, or if it’s made with intelligence, and some tender love and care. But Kleo’s veggie tagine was indeed full of TLC. It was clear that she chooses only the freshest ingredients (and because we have confidence that she buys organic we felt like it was doubly good for us). It had all the texture, taste and temperatures that you’d want in a good dish in a restaurant, you didn’t miss the meat at all.”
A real tagine has to be cooked for at least 2 hours to get the full range of textures and tastes so the average restaurant won’t just give you a choice of ordering it off a menu (not unless they have a huge turnover and can afford to pre-make the tagines before any guests arrive). Usually at the better places in Morocco you’ll just reserve for a dinner table and be told what you’re eating when you arrive. So if they choose to serve you tagine, they’ll prepare it properly well in advance knowing that this is what you’re eating that evening.
Between the four of us, there was no leftover of this main course which is always a good thing. I probably would’ve liked a little more food as my daily routine means I don’t stop for lunch, but that’s my only criticism.
Kleo told us to expect a real dessert, not just a bit of fruit, which is the standard offering at many other Fez restaurants. The delight that followed was a slightly sweet, slightly sour, cool and crunchy range of textures, from the chopped dates on the surface to the soft custard and jelly layers underneath.
We’d say that of all the very good restaurants in Fez, such as Dar Hatim and Palais Faraj, our experience at Dar Attajalli was the most enjoyable. Don’t be put off by the fact that your guidebook might not mention the place. Dar Attajalli used to be the top choice in all of the major guidebooks but unfortunately, since around 2008, the guidebook writers have taken to promoting their friends, who have opened new accommodation and restaurants in the city, rather than promoting what’s best. If we were to stay again in Fez we’d try to stay with Kleo at Dar Attajalli, and there’s no doubt that we’ll be going back there for dinner if we ever have the chance.
Vegan Friendly? 3/5
Vegetarian Friendly? 5/5
We totally recommend you visit Dar Attajalli for dinner. Discover more at http://www.attajalli.com/
The Palais Faraj is a restaurant that ideally you’d drive to. It’s not that it’s far from town, it’s just tricky to find and there are no signs leading you to it. In saying that, you come out of Bab Ziyat and it’s on your left. If you happen to be staying at the Riad Norma it’s literally a one minute walk from where you are and from us at Dar Bensouda it would’ve been just 15 minutes walk if we’d have known where we were going. As you enter, the Palais has a manufactured American feel which is fine, maybe, in America but after we’ve experienced Dar Hatim and other homely, traditional eateries in Fez it does feel a touch new and, well, cold. But it’s a 5 star hotel and most of the people that I’ve met staying in such a place would enjoy distance between themselves and the immediate environment, I imagine. Plus, I’m being picky as the interior is what many would call luxurious, it’s just I do prefer something more authentic, if possible (and in Fez, it’s possible; there are hundreds if not thousands of authentic buildings and you’ll find yourself eating or staying in them all the time).
However, once into the restaurant the staff were friendly and we were quickly seated. We had a choice of a view over the old medina but although it was a fine sight, and would be equally or more so at lunchtime, it was a bit chilly so we chose a more sheltered, inner table. Our waiters name was Tarik. He spoke excellent English and French, was very knowledgeable and showed just the right level of friendliness. He took our order and recommend a Terra Rosé, chilled. An excellent choice. We started with a variety of salads native to Fez, 11 in all and presented delightfully.This was my favourite starter in all of Morocco; in particular, the eggplant with honey was superb.
One of the joys of eating a Moroccan starter is that you can create different tastes by mixing the starters up. Alongside the eggplant, the peppers and lemon also shone as did the candied carrot, which looked like candied orange and had a texture and taste unlike anything I’ve ever had before.
For main, I had the Gilt head sea bream presented the Fes way. The fish was brought to the table whole and then de-boned and beheaded before me. After the waiter had finished with the fish, there were hardly any bones. This was a very light and refreshing dish – definitely feels like a lunch – and I really enjoyed the tomato coulis accompaniment.
For dessert I had the Pastilla jouhara. This style of dessert b’stilla I’ve had in the past have always had orange but this one was peach and all the better for it as it’s a much better combination. Peach, cinnamon, icing sugar, cool milk and the crispy pastry, really excellent. It was so good I also tried the the mint tea, saffron and rose water ice cream. The mint tea sorbet tasted exactly like mint tea and was very creamy, far better than Lamia’s chocolate (a good ice cream should taste exactly like the main ingredient it’s meant to be made of, in my opinion). It’s rare in a meal to experience two things that I couldn’t ever imagine, but the candied carrots and the mint tea ice cream were complete, wonderful surprises. The saffron and rosewater ice cream is also a triumph.
Our opinion is that the Palais Faraj is good for a splurge, and a place to escape to if you fancy some fine dining in a tranquil setting. The view would be special at lunchtime and the staff are genuinely friendly and helpful.
Vegan Friendly? 0/5
Vegetarian Friendly? 3/5
To discover more, please visit www.palaisfaraj.com
Le 44 Restaurant in Fez is centrally located in the old city – very near Bou Inania – and pretty easy to find. The alleyway seems a little claustrophobic in parts and in Western cities you would feel unsafe in such places, but in Morocco you’ve no need to fear. True, all too often the locals of the Fez souks will hassle you verbally, and if you hung around in any alleyway very late at night you might see trouble (just google ‘dangers of Fez at night’ to find out more) but in the daytime and early evening when Le 44 is open it’s perfectly safe.
We were greeted by Zahra, the friendly and hospitable Algerian lady whose dream Le 44 is, and Josué, a young Portuguese waiter. The restaurant has been open for 2 years, she said, and took only 10 months to renovate. Two large seating areas on the ground floor lead off of the central courtyard which itself has three sets of tables and chairs. There are plenty of wooden Saharan tribal artifices, masks and clay showpieces that indicate part of Zahra’s personality. It reminded us partly of the very individually designed Riad Noga in Marrakech and is part art and Le Corbusier-inspired literary cafe, part fine dining restaurant and part family home ((not far from the truth as Zahra lives on the 2nd floor). Josué very much reminded me of those at Clock Cafe in Marrakech; young, English speaking, modern and relaxed.
e ordered a mineral water and 2 juices. A date juice and an almond juice. The date juice had an interesting taste; slightly sweet with a hint of chocolate. I liked the frothy-ness. When I read ‘date juice’ I thought it’d be quite pulpy but it’s actually very smooth and very thick. The white almond was equally smooth with almond bits and a subtle sweetness.
Warm and fresh bread was brought to the table along with our starters. Actually, on the menu it didn’t say ‘starters’, but we were hungry and we’d heard that the portions at Le 44 aren’t large, so we ordered 2 main courses each, which was a wise move as the portions maybe substantial enough for a light lunch but not for a dinner.
Lamia had the Quiche Eggplant with dried tomatoes, black olives and salad. It was Lamia’s first ever quiche.
“It’s warm, soft and comforting,” she said. “I can taste the egg but also the veggies. I like the crust, not soft or too hard and thick, just right.”
I thought the black olives subtle, the tomato even more so. The pastry was well cooked but still soft and for me it’s more of a flan than a traditional quiche due to it’s thinness. I love quiche and have been eating it for years and was even taught how to make a traditional quiche lorraine once by a French lady, and this was not like that, it wasn’t as light or as deep. Also, it’s worth mentioning that you get a slice rather than a whole quiche. The salad was fresh green leaves with a light dressing.
I had the grated carrot salad perfumed with a little orange flower water, cinnamon and boiled egg. The thinly grated carrot was moist, crunchy and subtly spiced and perfumed. The boiled eggs added a pleasant change of texture and temperature. All in all, a very fresh, florally scented, light starter.
For main I had pasta with eggplant and crushed almonds, tossed in oil. The pasta was linguine and the ingredients were shown on the outside rim of the plate. The main ingredients of eggplant and almond went well together and as for texture, the pasta was the hardest ingredient. There were no surprises here, it was a pretty good pasta. Perhaps not served as firm as I like it or that you’d expect in Italy but nice all the same.
Lamia had the pasta with pesto and sundried tomatoes – al dente. “It’s got a pleasant basil taste and isn’t too oily,” she said. ” The sundried tomatoes are nice little diced bits and they taste strong and pungent, and are a pleasant contrast to the subtle pesto.”
For dessert Lamia had the crepes x3 with Nutella or homemade jam, she chose Nutella. “These are the Nutella crepes of my dreams,” she said. “There is a perfect amount of Nutella in these soft warm crepes. It melts and produces heavenly bliss in my mouth. Excuse me while I eat and cry with joy.”
I had the lemon pie. It was light, moist and very lemony. The pastry was crisp; I thought it perfect.
We were still a little hungry so we ordered the chocolate cake to share. Whilst the lemon cake was excellent as it was, I could’ve done with a little bit of whipped cream on top of the chocolate to balance the dryness of the cake.
We finished our water as we watched the birds circle overhead at sunset. The call to prayer rang clear and a peacock called as we made ready to leave. We enjoyed our time at Le 44. The vibe is chill, we felt very relaxed and comfortable as we ate and the food was a step up from what you’d usually expect from a Fez cafe. The menu is mostly populated by veggie items which is very different to most restaurants in Morocco. If you’re looking for a break from meat, then, after Dar Attajali (which serves brilliant veggie and organic meals) this might just be the best place to come in Fez. The portions are on the small size and the prices are more than you’d pay at a local cafe but the chill vibe and high standards make up for that. A note for photographers; we asked if we could photograph both Zahra and Josué and they weren’t into the idea, so don’t come here expecting to create any portraits.
Vegan Friendly? 3/5
Vegetarian Friendly? 5/5
To discover more, please google ‘Le 44 Fez′ (they don’t have their own website yet).
The medina, or old city, of Fez is a maze of alleyways, and years ago you would've had little choice but to hire a guide (most of which were just as likely to drag you into a shop to get commission on sales as to show you anything worth seeing) or get lost and hassled by gangs of young lads at the same time. We usually encourage tourists to mix with locals but in Fez it often leads to dissapointment, unless you have a firm recommendation of a guide from somebody you trust completely. Thankfully the local authorities have created a series of walking routes with coloured signs placed high above your head so that locals can't tear them down. There are five coloured routes and following them all (each might take three or four hours) will show you most of the cities' sites and give you an in depth look at the numerous trades that flourish in the dark alleyways. Before we visited we asked around to see how Ramadan might effect our visit and the locals told us that a few shops might be closed but it would come to life at night. That wasn't true. The medina was largely quiet and at night it was even more so (see the photo below left to see how quiet).
The Marinid Tombs (or Merenid Tombs) are a few giant tombs on the hill above Fez old city, possibly housing royalty or people of some importance, dating back to the Marinid Dynasty (14th century). The tombs are in a high state of disrepair and are crumbling, but there is some script still to be seen in the stone. Below, the whole of the Fez Medina stretches out to the East in a patchwork of minarets, laundry lines, satellites, and the occasional rubbish fire. Carved into the hills are caves that serve as dwellings for the homeless. You used to get stoned by local kids if you walked the rough path up here but nowadays as long as you move away before dark, and you're not alone, you should be ok (any local will tell you the tombs are a well-known hunting ground for young Moroccans looking to mug tourists). Why bother if there's the threat of this much hassle? The afternoon view, and the chance to sit and enjoy the old city of Fez whilst the call to prayer rings about the valley below, is worth the risk. It's a twenty minute walk from the centre of the old city, and about ten minutes down the road from the bus station. You can find them easily on your own.
Meknes used to be the capital of Morocco in the 17th century and today it's a chilled out town with a few pieces of fine architecture and an interesting central market area. There's far less to see here than Fez, but then again there is also far less hassle. It's also a handy place from which to visit the religious town of Moulay Idriss (it's said that six pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss during the annual festival honoring the saint is equivalent to one Haj to Mecca), which is interesting enough although the central shrine is only open to Muslims (and, we must add, only open to Muslims who look like Muslims; if you're a Muslim dressed as a westerner you'll have to stay out). Not far from Moulay Idriss are the magnificent ruins of Roman Volubilis. Ever had a complete set of ruins to yourself? Arrive at Volubilis before 10am or so and that'll be the case here if you're lucky, as we were. There are some well preserved mosaic and awesome views. Catch a shared taxi from Meknes and it'll be a very cheap trip too (about £1 and 30 minutes one way) or splurge and hire a cab for the day for about £10, after bargaining of course.
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