Fez or Fes is a busy city that is home to over a million people. The narrow streets are often only as wide as your shoulders and the roofs are all topped with dated satellite dishes all pointed in the same direction.
The medina (old city) in Fez has one of the largest pedestrian only zones in the world which consist of over 9,700 streets.
The best way to describe Fez is a giant beautiful maze. The car-free streets are not donkey free, one donkey with a wide load can create quite the traffic jam. The streets shoot off in all directions and you never fully know where you are. A big of part of coming here is just the experience of walking around in this maze, we were told that even the locals who have been here for 50 years still get turned around. Did we mention that those 9,700 streets don't have names, your phone doesn't work, and there are no maps...let the walking begin!
We stayed at Dar Seffarine which was reccomended by Ang's sister and Jeff's mom and was one of our favorite riads in all of Morocco. This old riad was restored to it's former splendor, by the amazing owners. They made us feel right at home. One of our favorite things about the riad was the rooftop terrace. The view from here was unlike anything we've ever seen before.
When the sun starts to set the call to prayer echos throughout the city. This was a breathtaking travel moment.
Fez is one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world and the old medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the city walls you can find over 100 mosques, unpaved streets, covered bazaars filled with shops, madras, tanneries and craftsman workshops.
The tanneries in Fez are almost 1,000 years old and the leather here is still dyed using traditional methods. The colored dye pits spread out like a tray of water colors. Its a beautiful sight to see but the smell is quite pungent. A good guide should give you a handful of mint that you can smell as you look out over tannery. We saw how they stripped the leather clean and then packed it onto donkeys which would carry the leather outside of the city where it would be laid out in the direct sunlight to dry. After drying it is carried back to the tannery where it is dyed and processed into workable leather.
Life inside the medina goes on as it always has. You will see men going to and from the mosques constantly. These mosques are spread throughout the city and can be tucked into unusually narrow areas, one small door often leads into a giant open area the size of a football field that is surrounded by beautiful tile. Although we were not allowed inside the mosques we were able to get a glimpse at some of the beautiful decorations.
One of our favorite parts of traveling is being privilaged enough to see how other people live.
One of our favorite stops inside the medina was the Al Attarine Madrasa. It is located near the perfume and spice bazaar, the intricate tile work and chiseled plaster is all done by hand. It is an absolutely stunning and peaceful place.
Fez is regarded as the pottery capital of Morocco and we were lucky enough to venture outside the city walls to where some of this famous pottery is handmade and painted.
The Blue Gate is one of the many elaborate entrances to the old city.
Getting lost in Fez is a guarantee. Maps are useless here because none of the streets have names and your iPhone map doesn't show all of the tiny alleyways you come across when wandering around. This can be a little overwhelming at first but getting lost is all part of the fun here. When you are ready to head back to your riad ask a local kid and they should point you in the right direction, sometimes for a small fee.
After a long day of wandering through the medina we made it back to our riad for sunset on the roof.
While gazing out over the city rooftops it is crazy to think that this city has barely changed for centuries. A visit to Fes is like taking a step back in time.
Chefchaouen is a far removed sleepy blue village located up in the Rif Mountains in Morocco. It's a maze of steep, narrow streets that meander up the hill side. Chefchaouen is car free, very quiet, full of lazy cats and really nice people. We love it here, its insanely beautiful and the views of the city and mountains are breathtaking. It was an adventure just to get here and we could have stayed here for weeks. We are not sure if all the blue entering our eyes was putting us in a relaxed haze but time here seemed to float on by without a worry in sight.
We really lucked out with all of our hotels in Morocco but this place was exceptionally special. We had Riad Rifandalus all to ourselves. We were the only guests staying here at the time so this entire living space, two giant balconies and some of the best views around were all ours.
If one picture could sum up how we feel about Morocco this would be it!
The blue hue of the city is inescapable, from the sky to the ground everything is various shades of calming blues. There are various theories on how this came to be but in the 1930s a influx of Jewish refugees believed blue to symbolize heaven. The color stuck and is also believed to act as a repellent for mosquito's, and maybe it works because we didn't see any!
As you will see from these photographs we kind of had this entire town to ourselves with the locals. Morocco being a Muslim country gets radically affected by issues like terrorism, with the recent attacks on Paris people don't travel to Muslim countries, they opt to go other places. This is a very unfortunate reaction that hurts incredible places like Chefchaouen. That being said our experiences here were different, we were the only tourists around, and we had many talks with the locals about these issues. This town is normally very calm in comparison to the busier areas of Morocco, but we really got to have some time with to connect with locals here which always makes for a richer travel experience.
The medina here is a beautiful mix of new and old. The square is lined with olive trees and all of the restaurants claim to sell "the best tagine in town." Certain travel moments will always be in our minds, and one of them is finding a rooftop to enjoy the sunset over Chefchaouen while the call to prayer could be heard echoing up the giant valleys into the Rif Mountains.
We loved all of the Berber rugs lining the medina walls.
Every moment of being here was pure pleasure. Imagine trying to remember how you got somewhere and retracing your steps when everything is blue! It isn't easy! Taking photographs here was a great experience due to the beauty and its uniqueness.
Sunsets, the smell of incense, the utter silence before the call to prayer and the feeling of being completely content.
One of the most colorful and magical places we've ever visited. See you again, Chefchaouen.
Essaouira is a port town located a few hours away from Marrakesh and right on the Atlantic Ocean. This was a very nice change for us and anyone coming from the craziness of Marrakesh and looking for a little slower pace of life. This laid back surf town was definitely one of our favorite stops on this trip. We explored the medina, walked on the beach, made some friends and even got the opportunity to take a private camel trek on a secluded beach. The days here just slipped away and sometimes after traveling for a few months that isn't such a bad thing.
We stayed at Riad Lunetoile which is the best boutique hotel inside the medina. The owner, Sue; was very welcoming and gave us some great recommendations. We loved this place and would recommend it to anyone visiting Essaouira. Morning breakfasts on the rooftop terrace were the best. Watching the early morning sun heat up the city with views that stretched from the ocean to the mountains was sublime. Breakfast consist of croissants with homemade jams, and fresh squeezed orange juice. A great way to slowly start the day.
Picking places to stay in Morocco is harder than normal because there are many choices and they all look pretty amazing, but I think we picked the perfect place in Essouira. Riad Lunetoile was funky and fun.
The shopping in Essaouira was more relaxing and fun than in Marrakesh. You could wander the streets freely and the shop keepers were much more friendly and funny than those in Marrakesh.
The beautiful beach has perfect waves for surfers. Wetsuits and boards can easily be rented along the beach.
The port here is about the only place that seems to have a little hustle and bustle. The fisherman are prepping chum or detangling nets, while others are bringing in their catch to sell at the nearby stalls.
A view of the whitewashed city from the port outside of the city walls.
Walking around the old town here was very pleasant. The people were nice, the town was easier to figure out, and we had plenty of time. It was nice to have a few days to enjoy the warmer weather and sit on the roof tops basking in the sun with the scent and noise of the ocean below.
Relaxed vibe in one of the town squares. People sitting in outdoor cafes sipping on mint tea.
The camel trek! Or at least the camel mini trek! Many people come to Morocco and head off to the Sahara desert and go on a 3-4 day camel trek. We were initially going to do this, but decided against it. The reason being it would have made the rest of the trip feel rushed; but we were lucky and got to enjoy a camel ride in perfect way. Our great riad owner has a friend who will take you out to a 25 kilometer long pristine beach and let you ride his camels! The sun was setting and as we dropped over the dune we saw a beautiful empty beach awaiting us. We cruised down the beach and it was an incredible time, it was 75 degrees, a perfect sunset, and the only things around were us and our camels.
The food in Essaouira was probably our favorite in all of Morocco. We found a few places that were expeptionally good and had no shame in going back to them everyday. Le Simon served up a $7 filet of beef and seafood pasta in a gorgeous setting with ocean views. We came here everyday.
View of the ocean from Le Simon
When coming to Essaouira you will undoubtedly find yourself at the rooftop bar called Taros. Decorated in blue and white with a funky terrace overlooking the ocean this place serves up oysters on the half shell and is one of the only places in town that serves alcohol.
We loved walking around the town and getting to meet some of the artisans.
This was our favorite street dog, he just cruised around with us and reaped the benefits of free food and unlimited head scratches.
Essaouira is so picturesque it is not hard to understand why this location is used as a set for movies. It was the location used as "Slavers Bay" in Game of Thrones. We walked along the wall by the canons exactly where Khalessi walked.
No trip to Morocco would be complete without visiting this beautiful seaside village. It is a different side of Morocco and we loved every second.
Our first stop in Morocco was Marrakesh. Our flight from Paris on RyanAir was only $45 and was probably the best $45 we have ever spent. Morocco is one of the brightest and liveliest countries around. Do us a favor and double check that Morocco is near the top of your travel destination list.
When planning our 16 days in Morocco we had the hardest time picking a hotel to stay at. Every place we considered looked so beautiful and decorated in the photos. We had 5 different hotels bookmarked for Marrakesh and after serious contemplation we finally decided to go with Palais Sebban. And we are so glad we did! Palais Sebban was like a dream. Every morning in the courtyard we started out our day with the best mint tea and fresh squeezed orange juice.
Our room was over the top opulent. It was such a completely different vibe than the tiny apartment in Paris we were staying the night before.
It's crazy that for the same price as a small studio in Paris we were able to afford this beautiful room here in Marrakesh. We loved the red tile work in the bathroom, the old fashioned lock on the door, the stone shower inside the wall.
Staying in a riad while visiting Morocco is an amazing experience. A riad is a traditional two+ story Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. Most of the riad's have a pool and because of their unique design most of the hotel is open air. The weather while we were here was perfect, about 70-80° F the whole time. We were off to a good start!
There were so many nooks and seating areas to relax in.
Every night for sunset we would head to the terrace. Being on the rooftop while the sun set over the Atlas mountains was an incredible experience. The Atlas mountains look like the Sierra Nevadas in the distance and while the sun began to disappear the city and its dozens of mosques began projecting the call to prayer. In Muslim countries this call to prayer is heard 5 times a day, at first it can be overwhelming but overtime it becomes almost soothing. As this all takes over your senses you are subtly reminded that you are very far from home.
Your first taste of Morocco will undoubtedly be mint tea. This sugary tea concoction is delicious and is served all day. The smell of fresh mint will now forever remind us of Morocco. Always remember to keep the kettle as high above the cup as you can while you pour the tea!
The old town or medina is the main attraction in Marrakesh. We recommend staying inside the medina so you always feel like you are part of the action. This area is home to the crazy souks and the famous snake charmer square.
Inside the maze of covered souks is a magnificent market. The shopping in Morocco is famous. In this one market you can buy anything from a handmade rug, to a live turtle.
Jemaa el Fnaa
Just us and a cobra! In the Jemma el Fnaa square snake charming has been a profession for hundreds of years. These men share the square with fortune tellers, monkey trainers, musicians, and performers. Be careful, if you snap a photo it will cost you. These guys mean business but it's all part of the fun.
At night the square comes alive as food stalls pop-up and vendors set up for business. This entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site to preserve the old traditions and to keep the Moroccan culture for future generations.
Our favorite thing in the square were the fresh orange juice stalls. 40 cents gets you a tall glass of fresh squeezed clementine or grapefruit juice. Here's Ang getting an insider peak.
Marrakesh Food Tour
Our first night in Marrakesh we went on Marrakesh Food Tour. We decided to do this food tour the first day to double as a tour of the medina. Being in a totally foreign place that is constantly being called a "maze" in our research we figured the food tour would show us the good food and how to get around. Turned out to be a great idea!
Above: The best olives and preserved lemons imaginable. This pungent aroma of olives could be smelled from 100 yards away.
Below: On our food tour we started with a sardine sandwich, this sounds gross; it was actually very good. We had a giant plate of couscous with vegetables and sweet caramelized onions with cinnamon on top. Yum! We also had some grilled corn dipped in salt water, various meats slow cooked underground and even some lambs head!
This place was exceptionally elegant. For those of you who are not on a tight budget we would highly recommend staying at La Sultana. Or if you are like us, go here for lunch and stay awhile.
Marrakesh is a mix of fast and slow, the medina and the city is crazy but inside these beautiful riads all you can hear is the birds chirping and the trickle of a fountain. The riads are contained by tall exterior walls, all of the beauty is inside, you could walk by these places for days and never know they exist, so do your research and find the city's secret oasis's.
This botanical garden is a Moroccan version of a park. The gardens are incredibly manicured and host over three hundred of plant species from five continents. In the 1920's a French painter cultivated this desert mirage, famous for its electric blue color now named "Majorelle Blue." His old art studio has now been turned into a Berber (North African nomadic people) museum.
Now that we are dressed to travel in the desert it is time to head onto our next destination, for now we leave the busy medina and are headed to the beaches!