Tag Archives: Fez Medina

Vagobond Travel Museum – Fez World Sacred Music Festival

Today is the first day of the Fez Festival of Sacred Music and as such, this edition of the Vagobond Travel Museum is dedicated to the festival, the city of Fez, and the sacred (but sometimes not) music of the participants.

The City of Fez

Fes Festival of World Sacred MusicFez is an amazing place to visit. As I’ve detailed previously, the architecture of the houses in Fez is something to be in awe of. It’s worth a moment to find out more about. While there are a lot of wonderful places to stay, my personal recommendations are Dar El Menia, Dar Iman, Dar Finn, and Riad 9.  My recommendations are as much a matter of knowing the people who run them as of knowing that the houses are beautiful and well maintained.

The Fez Medina is a world heritage site filled with monuments, architecture and more. The  walled city still teems with madrasas, fondouks, mosques and palaces dating from Marinid rule in the 13th–14th centuries. At that period, Fez replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom.  Some of the more famous sites are the  Bou Inania Madrasa (1351-1356),  Al-Attarine Madrasa (1323-1325),  University of Al-Karaouine (859),   Zaouia Moulay Idriss II (shrine), and the  Dar al-Magana, a clockhouse which holds a weight powered water clock (1357).

Fez Festival of Sacred MusicThe History of Fez is a long and interesting read. Here is a very concise and colorful  Description and History of Fez.  In addition, there are a number of very good Historical essays by numerous authors which cover the long and sometimes very interesting history of Morocco as well. 

Morocco, so tolerant and “unextreme” in many respects, still operates a policy of non-entry to its mosques by non-muslims.  There are, however, some madrasas which can be visited. Fez is a “monumental city” whose atmosphere is generated by countless examples of  architecture and and a multitude of human activities. It size really is amazing – this is no preserved corner of a modern city. Fez does have a modern quarter but the old Medina is of “full size” in its own right. A particular joy are the specialised areas for  Dyeing , Pottery, Tanning, Metalwork, Carpet, weaving, woodwork, and Tile making – not to mention the food!

Fez Festival of Sacred MusicThe Jewish Community in Fez is very interesting in itself and sometimes when you look at Fez today, it’s hard to remember that there is a long tradition of Jewish Life here. 

The novelist  Paul Bowles wrote about Fez in his novels and essays and of course one must explore the Taste of  Moroccan food while here as well. It is as exotic and flavorful as the people who live here.  Fez is said to be the largest car free city in the world.

Morocco’s Remarkable Riads deserve a tour all their own. Still, it is just one reason to come to Fez during the World Festival of Sacred Music.  The city has been covered by Lonely Planet and National Geographic many times in the past.

Another thing to enjoy when you aren’t enjoying the music is a Hammam trip in Fes.  The Museums in Fes can fill your days between concerts and these days there are plenty of sites and articles about the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music.

Fez Festival of Sacred MusicThere is plenty of information for the independent traveler to Morocco on the web.  Visitors will also want to visit the forums on Trip Advisor.  Fez is a magical place, there is no doubt about it. From the Glaoui Palace to taking tours through the workshops of traditional artisans there is absoulutely no shortage of things to do in Fez.  

It should be noted that in Morocco, it is the French spelling that is primarily used. Fes. Fez is the anglicized spelling.

The Fez World Sacred Music Festival

The Fez Festival of World Sacred Music is one of the principal events of the Spirit of Fes Foundation. The aim is to harness the arts and spirituality to promote human and social development and to foster harmony between people and cultures.

Exploring the Fez medinaThe  theme of the 18th Festival , from 8-16 June 2012 is  Re-enchanting the World  and is a tribute to the great Persian poet  Omar al Khayyam.  The Fes Festival explores the vast repertoire of the songs and rhythms of the cultures of the world.

The headliner this year is Bjork but also of note are Joan Baez, Anuj Mishra, Sonam Marvi, Wadi el Safi and an incredible program of music, discussion, dance and poetry.

Here are some videos of a few of the highlights I’m looking forward to seeing.



Also coming is the Romanian Ensemble Sentimento Gipsy Paganin

Here are some of the other artists who will be at this years Festival:

sheikh Yassin Al Tuhami of Egypt

Cantica Symphonia of Italy

And many more. In addition there will be forums held in English, French, Spanish, Arabic as well as poetry by Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat and others.

Another event I’m personally looking forward to is seeing Cherifa, the Middle Atlas Poet – which may or may not be translated.

For a full list of the music and events, you can visit the site of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.

What’s the Best Tour in Morocco?

What’s the best tour of Morocco?

artisan in Fes MedinaLike anywhere, Morocco is a personal and subjective experience. This is a country that people either love or hate, there is rarely an in between. If you are looking for stunning sandy beaches, pristine wilderness, and great tourist infrastructure – Morocco is not the place to come. You will hate it if you come with those or many other expectations.

However, if you are coming for an experience in the authenticity of an exotic land and you aren’t looking to stay in a generic hotel or resort then you might find this to be one of the great stops in your travels.

High End Tours – Travel Like a Sultan

travel like a SultanThe thing is, you can find great high-end tours here that will take care of all the dirty work for you and make sure that you enjoy the most of your time. The thing is, you have to pay for it. For a lot of folks, that’s worth it. They fly into Marrakesh, get private luxury transfers to a private luxury riad or villa from which they have private tours and drivers that take them to each of their destinations. Along the way, they are kept fairly isolated from beggars, touts, merchants, and the normal everyday variety of Moroccan person, which is a shame because one of the great joys of Morocco is the hospitality and warmth of the normal people who lead every day lives.

If you want to travel like a sultan you can find fluent English language drivers and guides who will take you to the finest 5 star riads and hotels and show you mind blowing beauty and history. For this kind of trip, your guide will be your window to the Moroccan world and so top shelf guides are fluent in communicating language and culture and of course in knowing the best places to see and the most exciting things to do. All of this with confidence and security.Explore the ancient medina of Fes, trek across the Sahara by camel, or soak in the ambinace and eat the delicious gourmet food of Marrakesh.

Long Weekend Getaways and Short Trips to Morocco

tour of Casablanca Hassan II MosqueFor a tour of five days in Morocco, my recommendation would be to focus on one city and then to perhaps take an overnight trip to the desert. Something like this:

DAy 1) Fly into Fez – Guided tour of the Medina
Day 2) Private transfer day trip to Moulay Idriss and the
Roman ruins of Volubulis
Day 3) Private Transport to Merzouga
Camel Caravan to Oasis
Overnight at Oasis
Day 4) Back to Merzouga by Camel
Back to Fes by Private Transfer
Moroccan Hammam
Day 5) Explore Fez
Fly out of Fez

You see, the time goes very quickly. Less than five days and you should focus on just one spot such as Tangier, Tetuan, Agadir, Essouaria, Fes, Rabat, Casablanca, Meknes or Marrakech. A three day trip to any of these cities can make for a relaxing long weekend from Europe, Turkey, or the Middle East.

Longer Trips to Morocco 6-14 days

the best tour of MoroccoPersonally, I think a nine day tour of Morocco is a great way to get a feel for the country and to experience some of the best of what it has to offer. Starting in either Marrakech or Fez offers you the convenience of a flight in and a great starting point for visiting the kasbahs, the Atlas mountains, and amazing locations such as Djemma el Fna Square in Marrakech or the astounding Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou.

No tour of Morocco is complete without a visit to Fes el-Bali, the ancient medina of Fes or a visit to the magnificent Sahara desert and Todra Gorges.

Keep in mind that most flights from the U.S.A. arrive in Casablanca or Marrakech. Flights from Europe have more flexibility in terms of initial destinations. Still, in terms of first impressions, Casablanca and Marrakech will both give you the chance to relax and acclimatize while offering plenty in interesting history and picturesque sites.

Marrakech is an imperial city that has been continuously occupied since neolithic times. It was the capital of the Berber empires and is perhaps the most African city in Morocco. Djemma el Fna for nearly 2000 years has offered story tellers, snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, food, dance, and fortune telling to adults and children alike. Nowhere will you find a place like Marrakech. Outside of Djemma el Fna there are myriad Berber rug vendors, dried fruit and spice stalls, leather and ironworkers’ shops and a wonderful Berber pharmacy.

South of Marrakech the High Atlas Mountains send their peaks up as high as 7,400 feet and to reach the Sahara you must cross them. Crossing the Atlas is a highlight in itself as on the way you will see panoramic views of snowy peaks above and lush oasis below. Through the Atlas and past Toubkal and you come to the mountain fortress (kasbah) of Ait Benhaddou. If it looks familiar then perhaps you have seen Lawrence of Arabia.

Nearby, the valley or a thousand Kasbahs offers days of exploration of Berber and Arab culture while the Dades and Todra Gorges are a paradise for hikers and photographers. The red rock formations, precariously set villages, and magnificent kasbahs of the region allow vistors to step back in time. Soaring cliffs and sheer rock walls make for some of the best climging in Africa.

Barbary Macaques in AsrouCrossing back over the Middle Atlas, it is possible to see Barbary Apes climging in Cedars in the forests of Azrou or to visit an alpine ski resort at Ifrane.

And of course there is more. The Imperial cities of Meknes, Rabat, Fes, and Marrakesh all offer days of exploration. Chefchauen, the blue village of the Rif mountains is, in itself the experience of a lifetime. Then there are the cities of the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, Berber villages, and the Spanish enclaves of Cebta and Melila. Morocco offers so much to visitors.

What’s the best tour of Morocco? Your tour. Let me help you put it together.

Dar el Menia – a traditional house in Fes

To experience the wonder of staying in an incredible tradtional Fez house visit Dar El Menia on the web.

Staying in a traditional house in the Fez medina can be one of the most memorable things about your time in Morocco. There is something beyond magical about looking up at high beams hewn from Atlas Cedar before you close your eyes and drift to sleep. And of course, the feeling of exhilarating relief as you wind your way through the souks and derbs, getting lost, finding your way, asking directions, stopping to eat a delicious bit of bastilla or sip a bit of sweet mint tea, and finally coming to a recognizable metal studded wooden door and knowing that for the moment, you are home.

This, perhaps, is the thing that never ceases to amaze me about the many types and styles of home in the Fes medina. Upon entering, they all feel like home. Whether it is the warm tapestries or a psychological result of the zellij, I can’t say, but I’ve talked with a lot of tourists, residents, and travelers about this and the feeling is nearly universal. And that, is a very good thing, because be warned, the medina can be overwhelming to all of the senses to even those who are most used to it. That sense of comfort that comes from being home, whether you are staying in a massreiya, riad, or dar is a necessary psychological adjustment to the exotic chaos that is ever present in the Fes medina.
dar, massreiya, riad in Fes, Riad in Morocco
One such home away from home that is a favorite resting point for everyone from dignitaries to lonely planet writers is Dar El Menia. Situated near one of the many pulsing veins of the medina, Talaa Kebira, this traditional family Dar is approximately 250 years old and fully restored in traditional style with a few modern amenities added on in ways that don’t distract from the craftsmanship, design, and overall aesthetic of the world’s largest car free urban zone.
Morocco Riad, Fes Riad, Riad in Fez

Fes is the largest medieval Islamic city in the world that is still occupied and as such staying in a place like Dar El Menia puts you firmly within a living museum. By making a traditional Fassi house like Dar el Menia your temporary base, you make every facet of your stay in this ancient fortified city a historical journey and put yourself within easy reach of the famous hammams, tanneries, mosques, medersas, and living museums.
Dar in Fes, Moroccan house, Dar in Fez
From the original marble floor to the fully restored plaster and zellij tile work, Dar el Menia oozes luxury and comfort without giving an inch to compromise. The courtyard carries cool breezes down from the roof where epic views of the medina will fill you with wonder at any time of the day or night. Dar el Menia is the personal project of Graham Coules, a friendly Englishman whose face is familiar to everyone who spends any amount of time in the medina. Day to day running of the dar is taken care of by a local Moroccan family that have lived and worked in the medina for generations.
zellij, Moroccan tile work, Morocco, House in Fez
They say that you haven’t experienced Morocco until you have been invited into a Moroccan home, and a stay at Dar el Menia counts as such. Um Klthum, who acts as housekeeper and manager is an incredible Moroccan cook and loves to make traditional foods to share with guests. When you eat her Friday couscous on the roof of Dar el Menia, you will know why every Moroccan’s mom makes the best couscous in the world. Her tajines, bastilla, fresh baked khobz (bread), and salads bring the many spices, fresh ingredients, and traditional cooking techniques together in a meal that you will certainly consider a masterpiece.

To book a room in Dar El Menia go here

Mustapha, the household manager also oversaw restoration and construction on the house and is knowledgeable about the many techniques and styles of building and craftsmanship within the medina.

Abdul, who speaks English, Spanish, French, Derija, and modern standard Arabic is more than just the family linguist, he is a ready and willing conversationalist and historian who is both willing and capable to help you understand the many incredible things you will see throughout your days in this traditional home. And if you are lucky enough to be around when he picks up a guitar, you’ll find that music is another language he speaks fluently. The chance to interact and become friends with this local family is one of the things that truly makes Dar el Menia stand out among the many houses in Fez that you can choose to stay in.

Moroccan music, traditional Moroccan house, Fes, Fez

Dar el Menia can sleep up to eleven guests and if you are part of a group, the entire house is available for rental. Because of its reputation and comfort, it is adviable to make reservations well in advance of when you will be in Fes. King size beds, fans, wi-fi, a roof top shower, full baths and showering facilities, a large communal kitchen, and stunning views over the Merenid tombs and large sections of the medina from the rooftop terrace all make your stay here one that is comfortable, memorable, and a relief from the rigours of world travel.
traditional Fes house, traditiona dar, traditional Riad
Um-Klthum will provide you with lunch or dinner if you wish to arrange it and breakfast is served for all guests each and every morning. Everything from towels to blankets are provided and in the colder winter months, each room has a heater too. Prices vary according to season but a stay in Dar el Menia can cost as little as 450 dirhams per night. Of course if you want an en-suite bathroom or to rent the whole house, prices will be a bit more. Dar el Menia has been recommended by everyone from Lonely Planet to the Sunday London Times.

To arrange a stay at Dar el Menia or to find out more about this incredible traditional house in Fes, take a look at the website Graham has built for it.

There you can arrange bookings, make inquiries, or just browse the galleries of stunning photos of the house, guests, and life in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
view from Fez, Dar el Menia, Fez Medina, Fes medina, tradtional house in Morocco