Fes Fervour


This medieval Moroccan city offers the charm of Marrakech without fuss
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Time seems to have stopped in Fès. Life plays out in the ancient medina – the "new" part of which dates back to the 13th century – much as it has since medieval times, barring a profusion of satellite dishes and mobile phones. And therein lies its charm. It seems unlikely, for now at least, that Fès will become saturated with ostentatious riads and see-and-be-seen night spots as has Marrakech.

Get your bearings
Fès sits in north-central Morocco. From this prime perch it became the first of the country's imperial cities, dating back to the 9th century. Today, the city is split into two main districts: the ancient medina (which itself is comprised of an old and newer section, El Bali and El Jedid), and the Ville Nouvelle, or modern city. This was built by the French in the 1920s, complete with broad, palm-shaded boulevards and roundabouts anchored by soaring fountains.

Within the medina, the only way to get around is on foot or by bike; to get between gates or beyond the old city, flag a "petit taxi" and insist on paying by the metre (a ride to many parts of the Ville Nouvelle from the medina should only cost about MAD10-20 (75p-£1.50).

Take a hike
With 9,000 distinct streets and innumerable dead ends, the medina seems built to confound the first-time visitor. Hiring a guide to help navigate the maze is your best bet – Blue Parallel (blueparallel.com) has a team of professors and intellectuals who double as expert guides (£375pp per day). Otherwise, start at the south-eastern Bab Ftouh entrance to explore the mostly residential Andalucian Quarter – dating back to the 9th century. Once you've taken in the vignettes of daily Fassi life, head north-west towards the covered Rcif Market, the more bustling part of the medina. Walk north to the tree-shaded Seffarine Square, which is home to copper artisans.

The library of the 9th-century Al Karaouine University – the oldest in the world – borders the square; follow the wood-panelled wall along the street on the plaza's north-west corner to the rest of the university. Veer right and follow your nose until you reach the 11th-century Chouara Tannery, where leather-making processes remain unchanged for a millennium, right down to the pigeon excrement used to soften the material.

Retrace your steps back past the elaborately tiled and intricately carved doors of the 18th-century mosque of Sidi Ahmed Tijani and turn right on Rue Tala'a Kbira, walking in the direction of the imposing, horseshoe-shaped Bab Boujloud arch.

Lunch on the run
A cluster of fez hats on one wall, a gargantuan chandelier crafted from brass horns and vintage clocks, are only a fraction of what gives Café Clock 7 Derb Magana, Tala'a Kbira (cafeclock.com), its quirky vibe. The eclectic menu features camel burgers and quinoa.

Window shopping
Even a short stroll in the medina yields visions of vendors hawking everything from argan oil to spools of colourful thread. For a calmer experience, visit the Centre de Formation et de Qualification dans les Métiers de l'Artisanat at 674 Avenue Allal el Fassi (forartisanat.ma). It trains apprentices in age-old crafts and has showrooms to buy their work.