Ten things to do in Fez

Sadly many tourists only schedule a couple of days in Fez. They leave knowing they could have spent at least a month exploring the Medina and taking trips to Volubilis and Meknes. So for those who have limited time, here is a quick check list. It is unashamedly touristic - but then - you are a tourist, right? There are, of course, a dozen other places that could be added, but this will do as a starting point.

  • Merinid Tombs.

  • This is a fascinating area north of the medina where the ruins of the once magnificent palace and necropolis dating back to the 16th century are perched on the hillside overlooking Fes, offering a good view of the city below. Once magnificently clad in marble they have been looted by thieves over the centuries, leaving only the bare shells behind.

    Below the tombs are the old remains of the city's wall dating back to the 12th century, built as a defence against marauding tribes and incorporating the leper quarters that were there at that time.

  • The Souks

  • Also known as the markets, a wonderful area with all kinds of wares and crafts on display, each in its own allocated area or street which probably has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Everything you need for a magical Aladin theme, from slippers and spices to carpets and genie lamps to be found here. The whole area is saturated with history and interesting stalls, nooks and crannies. Right in the centre of the Souks is the kissaria, where luxury items and export specialities of the area such as colourful, rich brocades and silks or intricate jewellery are sold. Take a taxi to Fez el-Bali near the Ech Cherabliyine Mosque and explored the area on foot.

  • Musee des Armes

  • This is a 16th century fortress was commissioned by the Saadian sultan Ahmed El -Mansour and stands on a raised area overlooking the city. The building houses an amazing collection of weapons (at least 8000 pieces) from all over the world and date back to prehistoric times. Intricately decorated silver daggers and other priceless pieces are on display in chronological order in 16 different rooms in the building. Many of these were donated by various Alaouite sultans, one of whom being the Moulay Hassan I.

  • Fondouk el-Nejjarine

  • This is probably the most well known building in Fes and was declared a national monument in 1916 and a World Heritage Site. Built as a stopover for trading caravans in the 18th century it currently holds a privately run Museum of Wood which has beautiful displays of the unique wood carving skills that the Moroccans are famous for. The elegant fountain and delicate arches on the interior are prime examples of the craftsmanship and love of beauty that is so typically Moroccan. The building is near to the Henna Souk area of Fes el-Bali.

  • Bou Inania Medersa

  • A medersa is an institute which serves as a blend of cultural, religious and eductional upliftment and those in Morocco were of top quality and held in high regard. This lovely building, built in 1350, has much worth admiring and has served as a combination of student residence, mosque and school. The central courtyard is paved with onyx and marble and is enclosed by a cloister on three sides. Beautiful friezes, stuccowork and stained glass windows in a Moorish architectural setting blend together forming the uniqueness and richness that is typical of Moroccan style and craftsmanship. This is one of the few Islamic religious buildings open to non muslims and is well worth the visit.

  • Sofitel Palais Jamai

  • Spoil yourself rotten! This 19th century hotel which is located above the medina (which is on UNESCO's World Heritage List). The hotel was originally built in 1879 for the Grand Vizir of Jama├»a and is surrounded by superb gardens and the architecture is truly gorgeous. So don your jellaba (loose traditional tunic) or silken kaftan robes and float around like royalty for a night. With the reputation of being the most beautiful hotel in the country, it would be easy to play the role of Berber princess or swashbuckling sultan in this 101 Arabian Nights setting.

    Sample Moroccan specialities and pots of mint tea or international and French cuisine at their 3 restaurants. Very pricey but worth it for those who are used to being treated like royalty.

  • Musee Dar el-Batha

  • This museum is a few minutes walk from Bab Boujeloud and is housed in a palace built in 1873 by Moulay el-Hassan. There is a impressive tiled courtyard with a fountain and a beautiful Andalusian garden encompassing the area. You may need some time to properly take in all the displays that are spread over 12 rooms in the building. 11th century gold embossed leatherbound books, Andalusian manuscripts dating back to the 8th and examples of illuminated calligraphy will be of interest to bookworms, historians and scholars.

    Fine old specimens of Moroccan craftsmanship such as Berber jewellery, ceramics, embroidery and calendabras and other everyday articles used hundreds of years ago can be seen in rooms 2 to 5 of the museum. Woodwork has always been a highly esteemed craft in Morocco with exotic woods such as cedar, thuya and citron used for beautifully designed chests and furniture examples of which are on display. Zellij tilework adorns most mosques and fine buildings in the country and the display of this colourful art is not to be missed.

  • Le Palais de Fes

  • 15 Rue Makhfia. Take in the stunning view of the medina of Fes from the terrace while enjoying authentic Moroccan cuisine at this restaurant. The building was an old residence and has been adapted to accommodate group bookings and even has a carpet shop on one floor. All you need to complete the picture is an obliging genie and you could be away on a magic carpet ride over the city.

  • Dar el- Makhzen

  • This is a palatial complex in the centre of Fes el-Jedid which still serves as residence to the King of Morocco when he is in the area. Surrounded by high walls and guarded by huge bronze doors set in an imposing Moorish gateway which remains permanently shut are palaces (yes, more than one) and official government buildings. Until 1912 Fes el-Jedid was the administrative centre of the country.

    The brass and bronzed doors are richly decorated with intricate engravings and are particularly impressive. Apart from the palaces and offices there are gardens, a zoo, mosque and medersa (Koranic school).

  • Sefrou - A side trip

  • Take a bus or grand taxi trip to the nearby town of Sefrou if you are in the area in June. This is when the locals celebrate the harvest of the cherries. Join in the festivities and the procession to the tomb of the prophet Daniel, which is in the Kef el-Moumen Caves up the river. The festival continues for several days and culminates in a colourful procession and the coronation of the Cherry Queen.

    Experience the folklore of the area through the folk dancing and singing. If you are lucky a fantasia may be held. This is a colourful display of horsemanship where the riders get to show off their riding skills, beautiful steeds and elaborate saddles.