The i-escape blog / How to spend a £250 i-escape voucher / Ben Reed

By Ben Reed, Bookings Consultant

It’s been 10 years since I last visited Fes, and it was heartwarming to see that it’s blissfully unchanged, the modern world still unable to penetrate those medina walls (quite a rarity these days). We took in some of i-escape’s under-the-radar gems here, each packed with character and prioritising hospitality and warmth over style and image – catnip for those looking to scratch beneath the surface. For me, these places leave a much deeper cut than some of our high-end options. The bonds are deep, and I truly loved them all.


Why Fes?

The main joy of Fes is simply wandering the maze-like alleys, unchanged in centuries. We just followed our instincts most of the time, aiming toward the busiest-looking streets – and it always paid off. We stumbled upon ancient squares, workshop districts and vibrant food markets, refuelling with sticky almond pastries and juices from the stalls as we went. The Mellah (old Jewish) area outside of the Medina has been spruced up recently but is ultimately an extension of the souk, with slightly wider shopping areas and wooden balconies. For a break after exploring, cool off from the heat at the Jnan Sbil Gardens. Of course, there are the famous tanneries, which are interesting to visit if it’s your first time in the city, but they are touristy and it’s easy to get ripped off in the leather shops at the end. Remember that haggling here is normal and totally expected – just play nicely.

Stop 1: Riad Tizwa

Verdict: Affordable & easy to find

Our holiday began at Riad Tizwa, which is an incredibly affordable, low-key hotel in Fes. Packed with all the Moroccan character you would expect, rooms provide that sense of history, plus there’s a great roof terrace and the food is amazing. What’s not to like? It felt very “Fes” in that wonderfully unpretentious way. It’s also in an easy-to-reach part of the Medina (do not underestimate this!). They’ve recently tidied the place up and given it a fresh lick of paint, so it’s looking in good shape.This is a decent, good-value option in a great location.

Merieme, the manager, was also a star, utterly charming and a gold mine of knowledge, just as comfortable offering advice on local £2 hammams and buses as high-end spas and private drivers. The rooms come in all shapes and sizes, but we had the private roof terrace room with bathtub and fireplace – lucky us! They treated us to a lamb, prune and almond tagine on the roof terrace, which was outstanding; melt-in-the-mouth, fall-off-the-bone stuff in rich, sweet, sticky juices.

Stop 2: Dar Seffarine

Verdict: Stunning & sociable

Dar Seffarine is one of my personal favourites. Kate and Alaa are the most incredible hosts, regaling guests over dinner with stories of how they met and renovated the property (hats off to them, they must have pitched these stories every night for years!). We enjoyed a few drinks on arrival, chatting into the evening about our adventures.

The whole place looks as fresh and jaw-dropping as it did 10 years ago – the scale of the inner courtyard and magnificent pillars, the sympathetic renovation and pared-back, almost monastic simplicity of some of the rooms (except ours which was fit for a king). There’s no modern art or funky furniture; they’ve honoured the authenticity. This one’s for the history buffs and architects who appreciate original form.

I still rate the roof terrace as one of my favourite places anywhere; being surrounded by Fes medina and all the sights, smells and sounds is utterly intoxicating. The food is amazing and served up communal-style amongst guests (although you can have a private table if you prefer). It’s all very unpretentious and relaxed. You really do feel like it’s your home. A great one for solo travellers.

Stop 3: Riad Laaroussa

Verdict: Luxe for less

Riad Laaroussa was by far the snazziest place we visited (a pool! a spa! a restaurant with waiters and wine!). It is visually beautiful, and the rooms are all unique and comfy. The pool is a winner after a morning of souks, and the spa is said to be amazing, though we didn’t try it ourselves. This riad ticks a lot of boxes (stylish, affordable, relaxing), and everyone staying here was having a ball.

We did slightly miss the homeliness of the previous two hotels, especially when it came to the food. I prefer home-cooked Moroccan fare that’s been simmering all day to off-the-menu stuff, but if you’re growing tired of tagines (which can happen in Morocco) the Med-inspired cuisine might be a welcome change. Their new rooms are the ones to go for, all with pared-back, neutral colours apart from a few flourishes of tiled floors and art. These rooms are located in the building next door, reached seamlessly through an open arch; it’s a mini-me of the original house (which used to be the owners’ home) and feels very peaceful and calm, with a private garden and lounge area. 

You get a lot of bang for your buck here. The interior is filled with fountains, columns, keyhole arches and ornate tile and woodwork – serious style on a budget.

Fes tips and advice

I’m not usually one for tour guides, but Fes is one of few cities where I would pay for the experience. There are hidden worlds within the walls here which are not always easy to access, and almost all of the mosques, madrassas and old university are closed to non-muslims. With a tour guide, you can properly get under the skin of the place and understand the daily formalities. Just ask your hotel to arrange this for you – Alaa from Dar Seffarine is an architect and runs his own tours of the city, teaching you all about its fascinating architectural styles.

Ryanair has opened up many more routes to Fes from London airports, which means it’s now easier than ever to avoid busy Marrakech. We flew into Rabat, which we found a dream compared to the chaos of Marrakech airport, then caught the train to Fes from there (3 hours). If you’re not London-based, there are new flights between Fes and Marrakech which make the transfer a cinch (the 45-minute flight was also cheaper than the 8-hour train) – not so good for the environment, but it saves a day of your itinerary. Once in the city, the small red petit taxis are always the cheapest for short hops around town. I generally find the older the driver, the more honest they will be – always ensure they use the meter.

For Morocco travel advice or more Fes tips, chat to Ben on +44 117 946 7072, or email him at ben@i-escape.com