Fez Adventures Part I • The Streets & The Riad
Stepping out of the plane into Fez (or in French, Fès), we entered a whole new experience.
The sights, the smells, the sounds… they were all starkly different from the world we knew. I could spend all day doing travel photography on the street, capturing every tiled floor, every passerby…
We had a crazy pre-flight fiasco from Barcelona to Fez thanks to Ryanair… but I think I’ll save that for a story some other time. Once we arrived in Fez at the airport, it was clear that we were in a new world. We took a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport to the edge of Fes el Bali, the old Fez medina. It was a bit of a harrowing drive, and it reminded me of being in a car in mainland China, since drivers in Fez had little regard for lane markings and signaling.
Well, some drivers also had a disregard for their cars’ weight limit…
We were taken through different parts of the city before arriving at Fes el Bali. But once we arrived, we had to be dropped off at the parking lot at the edge of the walled city, then walked from there. The streets are so narrow in Fes el Bali that the entire city of 156,000 people get around on foot, and they transport cargo on donkeys and on small carts.
>> Fun fact: Fes el Bali is the largest car-free urban area in the world!
The main street Tala’a Kebira was lined with street vendors with closet-sized shops. Vendors were selling all sorts of goods: shoes, sunglasses, old teapots, and you’ll see below, a vendor at his booth selling bottles of floral water. Strolling through the labyrinthine streets, we saw people in both traditional and modern clothing.
For our 2-night trip, we stayed at Dar El Menia, a restored luxury riad Tony found on airbnb. The riad was a 5-minute walk from where our taxi dropped us off. Our host Graham was very gracious and came out to the car park to lead us through the winding streets to Dar El Menia.
Our first time walking to the riad was pretty intimidating! We went down the main street Tala’a Kabira dragging our luggage on the brick-lined street, then turned down a tiny dark alley to reach the door to the riad. I thought we’d never find the dark wooden door to our riad again if we ventured out! Our luggage could barely fit through the narrow walkway to our guest house, and every house door seemed to look the same. The Google maps of Fes el Bali does no justice to the complicated little twisting streets of the medina!
>>The walls seemed to be held apart only by wooden slats! Here we have a demo by Bonnie and Tony.
See? I wasn’t exaggerating on the narrow alley leading to Dar El Menia. :)
>>The word riad comes from “ryad”, the Arabian term for garden.
The architecture of Dar El Menia was a fine example, with all of the rooms surrounding and opening into the courtyard, and not to the outer walls. I love the Moroccan lamps and wall details throughout the building!
At Dar El Menia, we stayed at Bedroom 4, which had 3 single beds, an ensuite bathroom containing a standup shower, and a separate salon lounging area. The riad was very affordable for our accommodation budget, yet we really felt like Moroccan royalty!
Gosh, this inspired me to want to decorate my place with Moroccan details… I love the decorative window frames, mosaic floors, and just beautiful shapes and colors everywhere! (Sorry Tony! I think we spent at least 45 minutes once settling into our accommodation just taking photos, and exclaiming how we could just live there.)
We got to soak in some sunshine on the roof terrace and take in the views around Dar El Menia. Each morning we were served breakfast up on the terrace by the in-house chef – more on that on the next post about food!
Here’s Bonnie on the terrace on our last day, in her Moroccan hooded robe (which we nicknamed the Jedi robe)…
…and Tony and I are here lounging in our room’s salon.
One last detail from our stay with Dar El Menia: the huge Hamsa / Hand of Fatima keychain. It was easy to check if we remembered our house keys with this symbol of protection the size of my palm!
Next up: Food adventures in Fez… coming up next Thursday!