Fes (or Fez) is one of those cities that you can either love or hate as a tourist, largely due to the hassle that you will get there.
Having left the much more relaxed south of Morocco behind, especially the desert oasis’s, I had headed up north.
Apart from Marrakech, a city that I did not particularly enjoy, Fes is the next city that you will get the most hassle from touts.
Why is that the case?
The trouble with touts in Fes
Well like many places, the more people visiting, the more people there will be too target them for sales and services.
Unfortunately Morocco is known for some of the most aggressive touts in the world, and their annoying behaviour can seriously tire you out.
In fact on the first day there I was ready to leave already, not really giving a damn if it was one of the oldest and best preserved medieval cities in the world.
But I knew better because I had only been down the two main tourist lanes inside the old medina and towards the tanneries, which are famous for the high quality leather they produce.
I figured I would get this part of the city over with first as it was where those bloody touts were at their worst.
It was great watching the tanneries up on a roof terrace and interesting to see the whole process of how they make the leather. It is definitely worth your time to go and check it out, but as far as Fes goes it’s just the main tourist attraction.
The real face of Fes was still to show itself.
Experiencing the real Fes
Anyway I knew better not to leave after just one day because the area where most of the locals go about their life had not yet been explored.
Leaving the tourists and touts behind I went of in search of local life, and it didn’t take long to find a busy, yet hassle free, lane full of food shops.
This is where the real people of Fes are.
Inside this long winding market lane situated in the south of the medina walls you can find groceries, meat, fish, spices, cakes, and all sorts of other food items, with barely a tourist in sight, and no-one trying to sell you something or offering their unwanted services.
Now I started to feel more relaxed, despite the busy atmosphere.
Women make some tasty sweets and allowed you to taste them. Men gathered in small cafes to take a break with a coffee and maybe a delicious meat kebab.
It was best to just go with the flow and join in. Sit back and take it all in yourself over a cup of mint tea or a coffee while watching it all unfold in front of you.
Leaving this shopping lane that you could easily spend an hour wandering around, I went up into the quieter alleys to discover where the people lived and went about their everyday lives.
Men pushed carts full of goods.
Women stood on corners chatting.
Children played football in the narrow alleys.
A group of children were playing and came up to me, with one smiling and speaking something I could not understand. After a while a lady passing by said she wanted her photo taken.
At that point I just automatically thought she wanted me to pay her for taking a picture, but she smiled a lot and just wanted a photo.
It was a nice relief to come across genuine friendliness.
You see the children that come up to you around the main tourist areas always want money from you. They are there for no other reason that to bother you into paying money for something you don’t want.
If I said yes, I would like some help, then I would be happy to pay. But I’m not going to pay them for being annoying little brats that wont leave tourists alone in peace!
And it’s not like they are impoverished or anything. They are dressed well and come from the neighbourhood.
It was after the market area and meeting some of the residents in the quiet alleys that I really started to enjoy Fes.
I ended up spending three nights in the city, but totally avoiding the main areas.
Sitting in cafes passing the time people watching and talking with locals, followed by energetic wanderings through the quiet lanes of the medina in search of tasty cheap food is what Fes is all about.
I didn’t get out to the modern city so I can’t comment on that part of the city as I as more interested in the old medina.
It really does pay to get away from the crowds wherever you go in the world. Not everyone in the busy tourist areas are annoying and wanting something from you.
There will always be genuinely friendly people just wanting to help, and there was in Fes as well.
It’s only the fact that the locals get used to so many tourists that they don’t need to care so much, as there will always be someone else coming along.
It’s in that kind of environment that you will come across more rude and disrespectful people.
Morocco does have a bad reputation with it’s aggressive touts, but they are a very small minority compared with the very hospitable people that you will come across.
Now I totally understand that the older touts want to make money for their living, but they could at least go about it in a respectful way.
When someone says no thank-you three times, then leave them alone FFS! Don’t follow and pester them for the next 5 minutes!
But don’t let the fast pace and some bad people put you off from enjoying your time there. Like I said, get away from the tourist crowds and find the peaceful areas to hang out in.
You will be glad you did.
Fes is a beautiful medieval city and full of history.
Have you visited Fez Morocco? How was your experience?