It’s definitely a matter of when, not if, you get lost in Fes because you WILL get lost at some point (or at many points) while exploring the warren-like médina that is Fes’ central old town area. For the low price of 10 dirhams (or whatever change you have on hand, he’s not fussy), one of the young boys hanging out in the médina streets will happily point you in the right direction (or possibly to his family’s shop).
Distinctly different from its louder, brighter brother, Marrakech, Fes saves all of its craziness for inside the old town walls, so much so that you might be forgiven for thinking it a calmer and quieter place from the outset. But take a few steps through the iconic Bab Boujloud (blue gate) and you’ll immediately find yourself surrounded by waiters imploring you to sample their menus, workers impatiently pushing past (with their donkeys in tow) and the smells of the many delicious treats on offer along the narrow streets. Take a breath and dive in headfirst – there’s no point resisting the current that is the Fes médina, you just have to go with the flow or go mad from trying to change course.
I wish I could casually list off the things we did and sights we saw but to be honest, its hard to know what we set out to find and what we simply stumbled across. We saw the médina, mosques, madrassas (schools with ornate courtyards covered in traditional mosaics) and traditional Moroccan tanneries but in truth, we never set out with a plan for the day – and if we did it was quickly abandoned as Google Maps or our own sense of direction inevitably failed us. Aiming for anywhere specific within the old town of Fes was highly ambitious and not a little unrealistic.
Instead, our days unfolded in front of us with a stunning sight here, some lighthearted haggling (on their part – I still have yet to master this ancient shopping art) and many stops at the cafes and street food stalls dotted all the way up and down the medina streets. We ventured to Jardin Jnan Sbil for some serenity when the madness of Fes’ medina became too much and with some GPS luck we managed to track down one of the many golden palace gates that are impressive to say the least and stand in stark contrast to the beguiling, gritty market streets that lie only steps away.
In the end, I left with a love / hate relationship with Fes, it is just so alive – it really doesn’t care if you have the time of your life or if you leave a little worse for wear (and your wallet significantly lighter) after the streets and street vendors have had their fill. Fes is unapologetic and will make you work hard to enjoy the secrets hidden within its narrow, winding streets but sometimes the fact that you have to work for it makes the experience that much more enjoyable.