Spice souq, Fes
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Spice souq, Fes

© 123rf.com / Deborah Benbrook

Fes travel guide

Fes Local time

Bordered by the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and located on the crossroads of ancient caravan routes, Fès (also spelt Fez) is one of the world's best-preserved medieval cities. Over 1,000 years old, this hub of 1 million people is the most ancient and impressive of Morocco's four imperial cities.

While Fès has three distinct parts, most tourists stick to the walled-in medina of Fès el-Bali (Old Fès). This UNESCO World Heritage site is a labyrinth of narrow and twisty high walled alleys where getting lost is all part of the experience. Here, donkeys and bicycles jostle for space on cobblestone lanes where stall vendors beckon you to venture into their cupboard-sized shops.

Be sure to peruse some of the many markets full of dried fruit, leather goods, ceramics, textiles and pottery. Nearly everything is made by hand within yards of the shops – you'll see the one-room workshops crammed into the slender streets, with craftsmen toiling away inside them from morning until night.

South of the medina, Fès el-Jedid is the 13th-century 'new' town built by the Merenid rulers. Today, their Royal Palace is still occasionally used as a residence by the King of Morocco. The area is also home to the Jewish quarter of the Mellah, which has a distinct architectural style, with tall houses rimmed by ornamented balconies looking down onto the streets.

The Ville Nouvelle is the city's modern centre, where wide tree-lined boulevards speak to the early 20th century French presence. This is prime cafe territory and a good place to come if the tight weave of the medina's lanes are beginning to grind you down. When you've rejuvenated with a mint tea, the medina will draw you back into its folds—wander down skinny alleys where the scent of freshly cooked tagines wafts in the breeze and the beguiling call to prayer echoes out over the high walls.

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