LOST YET FOUND: A GUIDE TO FÈS, MOROCCO
BY LUCY LAUCHT
"Getting lost is the best way to discover and understand this utterly chaotic, beautiful and beguiling city." — Lucy Laucht
With over 30 passport stamps on the book, Lucy Laucht's curiosity for unseen lands is constantly being fueled. Lucy is a writer and photographer by day and globetrotter by...well, whenever she can step away from her desk in New York City. She celebrates the intangible and pursues a richer life through the discovery of hidden gems, beautiful places and new faces. Drawn in by the complex patterns and carved arches of Morocco's cultural capital, Lucy shares her don't-miss-highlights with us.
Before we talk of exotic souks, glittering riads and camels, let’s acknowledge the one experience that all travelers who visit Fes must discover. You are bound, unequivocally, to get lost. Like hopelessly lost, because Fes-el-Bali, or old Fès, has over 9,000 winding, narrow and rabbit warren-esque streets. You will spend hours walking past what appears to be the same fountain, staring hopelessly at Lonely Planet maps before reverting to tactics like trying to decipher which direction is south based on where the sun is in the sky (PSA: Google Maps is useless here). On the bright side: when you’ve truly had enough, from nowhere an entrepreneurial kid will magically appear and guide you to your riad in exchange for a few dirhams. But getting lost is the best way to discover and understand this utterly chaotic, beautiful and beguiling city. It’s overwhelming in the best possible way: the madness of the souks, the cry of the muezzin and the composition of soaring stone arches, carved cedar and intricate tiles.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Dar Seffarine. This place, a 600 year old, beautifully restored riad, is a photogenic gem. Owners Norwegian graphic designer Kate and her husband, Iraqi architect Alaa, have created a super friendly atmosphere with communal dining. Each night guests trade stories over amazing home cooked food (and wine, which can be hard to come by). If you take one thing away from this, it should be to stay here. The staff can also help organize guides and drivers.
Jardin Des Biehn. Lacks the spirit of Dar Seffarine but makes up for it with design aesthetic and photogenic qualities. Beautifully appointed rooms, jam packed with antique Moroccan and Uzbek textiles, surround an Andalusian style courtyard garden planted with scented flowers and aromatic citrus trees. It has an onsite hamman too.
WHAT TO DO
Hire a guide on day one. It will help orient you and a good guide will tell you about the history (of which there is rather a lot). If architecture and sights are your thing, then say it, else you’ll end up in a cousin's/ friend's carpet shop, mint tea in hand, haplessly shopping for carpets you never knew you needed. And if it’s your first day like it was for us, chances are you have no idea how to haggle yet.
In addition — a side trip to Chefchaouen is definitely in store. The village is a four hour drive from Fès and painted entirely in shades of blue and turquoise. It was unreal, one of those 'pinch me' places.
DON'T MISS LIST
1. Al-Attarine Madrasa — Located next to a spice & perfume market, this institution's impressive mosaics and carved doors are remarkable.
2. Bou Inania Madrasa — One of Fès' finest theological colleges with intricate carved plaster and giant brass doors.
3. Cherratin Medersa — The patterns and architecture of this school are beautifully understated, but equally as enchanting.
4. Zaouia de Moulay Idriss — An ancient staple to the city - this mausoleum is a must see.
5. The exquisite palace doors at Dar el-Makhzen — You could spend hours staring at the doors of this palace. The architecture is exquisite.
6. Chaouwara Tanneries — Take the time to stop at watch the leather-making process. Get to the tannery early in the morning to see the pits full with colored dye.
7. Kairaouine Mosque — The mosque is closed to non Muslims, but you can steal peeks through the doors.
WHERE TO EAT
Despite wanting to try a loooong list of recommendations, we ate at Dar Seffarine every night because the food was off-the-wall superb. Even if you don’t stay there, call the riad and see if they’ll let you join for dinner.
The food at Cafe Clock is amazing. Finding it is impossible. I still dream of the chicken & citrus salad. Sit on the rooftop terrace for incredible views across the medina and the copper green minaret of the Bou Inania madrasa. They also host music performances, dance and cookery classes and talks by writers and artists.
Fez Cafe at Jardin De Biehn. French/ Moroccan deliciousness served with great local wines.
The Ruined Garden at Riad Idrissy.
Dar Roumana. Vincent Bonnin serves based on what he finds in the market that day.
WHERE TO SHOP
Fès is famous for its cobalt-blue pottery, you’ll find it throughout the souks. Stock up on leather babouches, make sure you buy the ones with leather, not rubber soles. Outfit your kitchen with copper pans from Seffarine Square and don't miss Aux Merveilles du Tapis, next to Dar Seffarine, for beautiful carpets.
If you find haggling in the souks too exhausting, check out the boutique at Jardin Des Biehn. As it's a tightly edited and curated mix of souk discoveries and antiques collected from the caravansaries it’s more expensive but infinitely more relaxing.
THE ROAD KNOWS
At Artifact Uprising, we've always believed the road knows best – that winding roads and crooked paths teach and shape and stir up and inspire and unearth so much in our storied lives. In an ongoing series meant to share your adventures and inspire the same in others, we’re excited to profile your journeys here. Do you have a journey we’d love to follow along with? Tag your photos with #theroadknows on Instagram and your adventures in print– we can’t wait to follow along.