Morocco Travel Guide – part II
Fez is the medieval capital of Morocco, and a great city of high Islamic civilization. It also has the best-preserved old city in the Arab world, the sprawling, labyrinthine medina of Fes el-Bali, which is incidentally also the world’s largest car-free urban zone.
It is famous for the hats of the same name, which originated here, and also for its ancient walled city, which many compare to the walled city of Jerusalem.
Ignore the travel guides that tell you that you’ll get lost in the medina and that you must hire a guide. Most guides will simply take you from shop to shop where you will be pressured to buy. There are some basic landmarks that you can use to get around, and there is an increasing amount of signage. The main drag is the Talaa Kbira, which runs from the Bab Boujloud area to the Karaouiyne mosque in the heart of the medina. Once you get into the narrow, windy heart of the medina, you can find your way out again by constantly heading downhill. That way you will eventually come out onto the Place R’cif, a dropoff for buses and taxis, where you can get a petit taxi out of the medina.
One of the most fascinating activities to do in Fez is a trip in the medina (Old City Market). The medina is so complex to navigate that sometimes it’s easier to simply lose yourself in the hustle and bustle of the market, and find your way out once you have had enough of all the sights, sounds, and smells that will overwhelm your senses.
Make sure you find an opportunity to escape from the bustle of the streets and see the medina from one of its rooftops – some shops and restaurants have rooftop terraces. The view is particularly spectacular after dark.
The Berber pharmacy in the Medina has hundreds of jars of twisted root and twig neatly lined up along the walls. Don’t eat the seed-pod like things the proprietor offers you. Although he’s eating them also, they are very high in oestrogen and can cause a man’s nipples to be sore for several days afterwards.
Just walking around, you will see a great deal! Bou Inania medersa, a breathtaking 14th-century religious college, is the best example of Islamic architecture a non-Muslim can see in Fez, with wooden walls elaborately carved with geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy, and a beautiful minaret. In the courtyard there is a portico with a still-functioning mosque, separated by the rest of the courtyard by a small moat.
The view from the hills surrounding the old city is spectacular- there are two fortresses overlooking the old city, the Borj Nord which contains an armaments museum, and the Borj Sud, which is being developed for tourism.
Fez is safe, but crowded. Take standard precautions regarding wallet, purse, etc. Appear to know where you are going, even if you don’t, or you will get offers from false guides. False guides are not dangerous but they can be exasperatingly tenacious.
It’s no wonder that tourists flock to Chefchaouen: this humble town is the embodiment of almost every Moroccan cliché. The picturesque medina, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains, is filled with white-washed homes with distinctive, powder-blue accents.
Walking around the town with its whitewashed walls, originally decorated in this style by Jewish immigrants, can be a nice change to the hustle and bustle of the cities of Marrakech, Rabat, and Fes.
The medina is the focal point of interest for most visitors to Chefchaouen. The waterfall to the east of the medina is a meeting point for local residents who come to cool off, chat and do their laundry. The café nearby is rather expensive, however. The ruins of an old mosque, on a hill behind the waterfall, overlook the medina and its crumbling tower offers great views of the town.
As Chefchaouen is located on the edge of Morocco’s marijuana growing region, touts desperate to extract money from travellers can be a serious problem. Desperate for their next fix and refusing to accept a polite refusal, they can become threatening in their efforts to sell you hashish or act as unofficial guides.
Agadir is mainly a touristic resort intended to be crowded with european tourists that go there in cheap packages. The city itself is quite ugly and not very clean or ordered. Anyway, it’s cheap, and for being Morocco is a comfortable place.
Agadir is very interesting for it’s location. Around Agadir you can find very nice and empty beaches, and the region of the Antiatlas, the Sahara desert, some natural parks are very close and accessible for a low fare if you flight from some parts of Europe.
You will find here part of the original fortress which is at the top of the hill beside the city, over the huge painting. It’s possible to arrive there by taxi, bus or even small mopeds that are for rent at the surroundings of the Hotel Kenzi (expensive,more than 100 Dh an hour).
There is a small zoo, called “Vallée des Oiseaux”. The entrance is very cheap, 5 Dh adults and 3 Dh for the children. There is a very nice cage you can walk inside, many birds from all the world, some goat-like animals from the Atlas, even exotic mammals. The Agadir children goes there also to play in a small and crowded game zone. To arrive, go to the Uniprix, and the main gate is at the other side of the street at the right (Av. Hassan II).
Agadir is touristically prepared for Europeans, so you can find night clubs in the touristic zones, where you can find more tourists beside the usual locals looking for tourists. Alcohol is found in all the touristic places.
At 40km south from Agadir, there is the Souss-Massa river national park, and at about 80km east there is the city of Taroudannt, which really worths the visit if you don’t plan to visit Marrakech or other big historical cities.
The coast northern to Agadir has very nice and accessible beaches, like Taghazout at 15 km. You can get to these towns using the Zetrap bus lines that leave from the center of Agadir.
Asni is a small town, in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains. It is about a two hour drive from Marrakech. This village has little to see. The smaller residential part has small old mud-brick houses which seem amazing the first time you seem them, but you’ll see more, higher up in the mountains, without all the touts and conmen.
For many people there’s little to do here beyond buying food and water, and leaving. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Asni has many hammam (bath houses), which would have been nice after long walks in the day.
And as a note, the alcohol is illegal. This is rural Morocco…