One And A Half Day In Morocco

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Buoyed by a growing appreciation of its authenticity, Fez is rising. The proud Fassi have preserved their city’s traditional Moroccan atmosphere and appearance, refusing to peddle their town with heavy-handed promises of exoticism. That same pride and conservatism also explains why many residents don’t like hearing their city described as fashionable. Instead, the imperturbable self-esteem of this patchwork metropolis can be traced to the Al Qaraouyine (spelled various ways), which was founded here in 859 and is the oldest continuously operating degree-awarding university in the world. The grist for this ancient city’s new groove comes from a worldly, well-traveled band of entrepreneurial locals and its small but daring expat community. Together, they have given the town a gust of creative innovation, with new hotels, shops, cafes, cooking schools and tours that are as deeply nourished by local traditions as they are guided by a modernity that is intriguingly off-center in the eyes of many Fassi.

  1. 36 Hours in Fez, Morocco

    Friday

    1) 3 P.M. Spa Session

    Most of the souks and cafes in the Fez medina are closed on Friday. So use this downtime to shed some travel fatigue at the beautiful spa of the Palais Faraj hotel. Start with a hammam (steam room) scrub down with argan-oil, eucalyptus-scented soap (400 dirhams, or $40), and follow with a 30- or 50-minute massage with lemon verbena or orange-flower-scented oil (400 dirhams, 650 dirhams).

    2) 5 p.m. Street-Food Snacks

    Morocco officially became a French protectorate in 1912. Under the auspices of Maréchal Louis Hubert Lyautey, the first French resident-general, plans were drawn up to modernize the country’s major cities, and work began on the Ville Nouvelle, a new French-style neighborhood on the edge of Fez, beyond el Jdid (new Fez) and the Mellah (traditional Jewish quarter). Together with the recently opened and very popular air-conditioned Borj Fez mall — which features a huge branch of the French Carrefour supermarket chain, one of the rare places where you can buy wine or liquor here — the Ville Nouvelle is a good place to take the pulse of modern Fez and go on a Moroccan street-food crawl. Head for Cyrnoss to try some maakouda, deep-fried mashed-potato fritters served plain with hot sauce or in soft rolls with garnishes of hot sauce, egg and cheese. They’re as addictive as they are caloric. (Minimum order of four costs 4 dirhams). At Grillade Adil, find succulent skewers of charcoal-grilled meat, including kefta (ground lamb seasoned with chopped onion, tomato, cumin, paprika and coriander), served with huge piles of crispy frites. (Minimum order is five skewers for 14 dirhams; frites, 7 dirhams).

    image for The SahraiEntrance to the Sahrai hotel. Credit Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

    3) 7 p.m. Aperitifs

    Overlooking the medina, the 50-room Sahrai became Fez’s first real boutique hotel when it opened in 2014. Using rich local materials like biscuit-colored Taza stone and custom-made décor like copper-framed lanterns, the Parisian designer Christophe Pillet coined a new decorative idiom of contemporary Moroccan chic that has made this stylish establishment a favorite of the local beau monde. Join this cosmopolitan crowd for cocktails either in the curtained open-air gallery near the bar or in the rooftop bar overlooking the city. The cucumber-tini, which is made with gin, puréed cucumber, lemon juice and jasmine syrup, tastes especially good on a warm night (130 dirhams).

    4) 9 p.m. Dinner in the Medina

    Nur” means light in Arabic, and sharing the radiance of her very personal modern Moroccan cooking is the mission of the chef Najat Kaanache at her intimate new restaurant in the medina. Ms. Kaanache, who grew up in the Spanish Basque Country, discovered her love of cooking while working at a seafood restaurant in Rotterdam, then did stints at a series of modern haute-cuisine restaurants, including Alinea, the French Laundry, El Bulli and Noma. Now she is applying the avant-garde techniques she learned abroad to the cuisine of her ancestors. Her tasting menus change often, but run to dishes like a souk vegetable “menagerie” — a composition of pickled, roasted and raw vegetables — and roasted poultry with Moroccan mole, candied poultry stock and caramelized raisins. Three-course menu is 350 dirhams; five-course menu, 550 dirhams; eight-course tasting menu, 700 dirhams.

  2. Saturday

    5) 9 A.M. Hidden Medina

    The beehivelike medieval medina, a dense warren of riads (traditional Arabic houses built around courtyards), shops and ateliers that show off handicrafts, is the most compelling, confusing and fascinating part of the city. One of the most memorable lessons it teaches foreigners is to embrace the humility that comes from letting go of the fear of getting lost. Wander here, at least for a short while, on your own, equipped with just three Arabic words: marhaban (hello), shukran (thanks) and la (no). Then sign on to a savvy local tour: the four-hour “Hidden Fez” offered by Plan-it-Morocco, a travel company run by two women — English and Australian — who live here and know the city inside and out. The tours, usually led by Moroccans, visit the city’s exquisite private palaces, enchanting hidden gardens, spaces where weavers work hand looms, the odoriferous tannery quarter and other places you would probably never find or gain access to on your own. The tour requires a minimum of two visitors and costs 1,600 dirhams. More information is available at plan-it-morocco.com.

    6) 1 p.m. Lunch in an Arabic Garden

    The casual Café Fez, in a walled, lushly planted garden, is run by the renowned French antiques dealer Michel Biehn, who often strolls the pathways of this little Eden in a white djellaba with a walking stick. Reasonably priced, friendly and serving fresh, inventive Franco-Moroccan cooking, this place is especially popular with local expats. The menu runs to dishes like endive, goat cheese and beet salad and confit de canard pastilla (a flaky pastry filled with shredded preserved duck). Average three-course meal, 350 dirhams.

    image for medina gardenFountains outside of the old medina. Credit Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times

    7) 3 p.m. Old Town Shopping

    Handmade carpets, lanterns, leather goods and pottery are the most common objects of desire in the Fez medina. But the old town also has an intriguing variety of artisans and merchants. Two of the best stops include Hicham Nafis’s stall in the honey souk, which sells a superb variety of single-provenance wild honeys, including caper flower, said to ward off and cure colds and the flu, and the used-caftan souk, El Merktane, in the El Achabine quarter, which sells vintage treasures. For modern beauty, check out the superb handmade leather accessories of the Italian designer Carmelo Tedeschi (by appointment only, email carmelotedeschi@gmail.com).

    8) 8 p.m. Dinner at Dar Roumana

    The candlelit tiled courtyard of the five-room riad hotel Dar Roumana (House of the Pomegranate) offers a romantic setting in which to discover the excellent cooking of Younes Idrissi. The changing prix fixe menus are inspired by the French and Moroccan kitchens. Recent dishes have included grilled octopus with Moroccan spices and a salad of roasted pumpkin, chiles and baby peas with a yogurt and tahini dressing. Three courses, 350 dirhams.

  3.  
    Sunday

    9) 10 A.M. A Breath of Fresh Air

    Take a break from the crowds in the medina with a stroll in the dappled shade of the towering palms in the Jardin Jnan Sbil, one of the oldest gardens in Fez, just beyond the city walls. Originally part of the Royal Palace, it was donated to the city in the 19th century by Sultan Moulay Hassan; its fountains and pathways were renovated in 2011.

    10) Noon. Art of Moroccan Cooking

    Aside from learning to make some superb recipes, including maybe cinnamon-seasoned beef and orange tagine and gluten-free berry-and-almond cake, the pleasure of a “Courtyard Kitchen” cooking lesson by the British food writer and cookbook author Tara Stevens is the chance to pick the brains of a warm, savvy food-loving Fez part-time resident (among her latest recommendations is Maison Mo Anan, an unexpectedly good Thai restaurant in the medina). Ms. Stevens came to Fez seven years ago, ended up writing a cookbook with Mike Richardson, the owner of the Café Clock in Fez (with another in Marrakesh), and ultimately bought and restored a riad, Dar Namir (House of the Tiger, which is named after her cat, Tiger). After explaining the menu to her students, Ms. Stevens takes them food shopping in the medina. Students can rent rooms in her riad, and she also organizes fascinating expeditions and alfresco cooking lessons at several organic farms in the countryside surrounding Fez (cooking lesson and lunch or dinner, 350 euros, or about $370, for two; 450 euros for four to six people).

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Litsa says:

    Very interesting!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much!!

      Liked by 1 person

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