Morocco in a week – Fez, Marrakesh & the desert

Please note: all our trip reports are independently written and based on our own experiences. All links and recommendations are not sponsored, unless explicitly labelled as such.

This trip took place in March 2019.


We’ve been to Marrakesh before but have had an eye on returning to Morocco since then, as we liked the city a lot. As Morocco has so much to offer, but we only had a week of time for our visit, we decided to do a combination of the cities of Fez and Marrakesh. Eeven though the medinas of both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they are a little in contrast, as Fez is less touristy and more traditional, while the proximity of Marrakesh to some desert camps gave us the possibility to stay in one and make a long-cherished wish come true. Here’s what we experienced during our trip and what we can recommend for yours:

FEZ

We arrived at Fez Airport (FEZ) after an early flight from Germany, so we were happy we arranged a transfer to our riad (a traditional Moroccon hotel) Dar Bab Guissa (Tripadvisor) in the northern part of the medina. Not perfectly central, but in a quiet neighborhood with nice and clean rooms, friendly staff and the best pet on the roof terrace: a turtle. The drive from the airport to the medina leads you through the modern part of the city, where many modern stores, restaurants and malls are located, but we concentrated on the old and traditional part of the city.

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It was a 15-20 minute walk from the riad to the main entrance of the medina, the Blue Gate “Bab Bou Jeloud”.

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The two main streets of the souk are starting from here, so there always are a lot of people in this place. It is a nice place to go to when you’re hungry, as there are several restaurants and market stalls selling food located around this area.

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When entering one of the streets leading through the souk, you should always have in mind, that it is quite easy to get lost here. There are many narrow streets leading through the medina like a maze. Some just end at some point, others are splitting. There are not too many signs leading back to the main alleys and sights, so be careful to remember the way back and carry a map (most maps are not perfectly correct) when you want to leave the main path.

The souk itself is very traditional, like what you find in many other bigger cities across the Arabian countries. There are small stalls, restaurants and cafés along the street, usually the owner sits in front of it, presenting their goods to people passing by. But don’t be afraid, the people in Fez are not as pushy and bothersome as in other very touristy areas, they usually only address you when you stop at a stall to check their offers. Prices are not tagged, you have to ask for it and you should not accept the first price but try to bargain it down by about 20% minimum.

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As mentioned before, the medina can be like a maze when you take some wrong turns. Luckily there always is somebody around who is offering to lead you back to the main tourist routes, or even better, who wants to show you around a little bit. Please mind, that even if most offer this in a very friendly way, usually they will expect money after they brought you where you wished. So if you want to avoid any trouble or awkward situation, try to ask for what they want you to pay in the first place, or just tell them you’re not interested.

We had a small excursion away from the souk to a small tannery, of which there are several throughout the medina. Some are open for tourists, some are signposted, others aren’t, but nonetheless, it is interesting to see how the leather is tanned here the traditional way.

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The two main sights in the Medina are the University of Al Quaraouiyine and the Zaouia Moulay Idriss II shrine. Both are located in the heart of the medina at the end of the two main streets through the souk from the Blue Gate.

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Just outside the medina, on a hill above it, offering a great panoramic view, you will find the Marinid Tombs and a large adjacent cemetery. The ruins of the mausoleum are not huge, but the view makes this place special, see yourself:

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We liked Fez a lot, the medina is much more traditional than the one of Marrakech, besides that it’s more relaxed and calm and due to the lower number of tourists visiting the city, the experience of Moroccan culture is more authentic here.

As always, here are some restaurants we can recommend:

  • Good local food at fair prices, nice rooftop terrace: Bouanania Restaurant-Café (Tripadvisor)
  • Combination of local and international food: Yalla Yalla (Tripadvisor)
  • Modern restaurant with international food (a little hidden): Café Clock (Tripadvisor)
  • Good local food, also a nice rooftop terrace: Nagham Café (Tripadvisor)
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Food at Yalla Yalla

Next thing we did was taking a flight to Marrakech, where we stayed for only one night, at the very good Riad Menzeh (Tripadvisor).

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DESERT CAMP

We used this one night stay only as a buffer, as we had a stay booked at the Scarabeo Desert Camp (Tripadvisor) not far from Marrakech. The stay in a desert camp has been in our heads, so our local travel agency found this nice one for us. We loved it!

We were collected at our riad in Marrakech and brought to the camp by a private transfer. It’s located in the south west of Marrakech, 45-60 minutes of transfer time by car, depending on the traffic. As most people have wrong impression of what a desert might look like: this camp is not located in a sand desert, as you will see in our pictures. To see a sand desert, Morocco might not be the right destination to go to, as there only are few sand desert areas near the Algerian border.

Anyways, the camp was awesome! There are about 18 tents that are furnished quite comfortable with a couch, a double bed, a desk, wardrobe, safe and woodstove. Attached to each tent, there is a small private bathroom tent, where you find a shower, a chemical toilet and a sink. As there are no pipes bringing water here, water is limited to the amount that is filled into the tank every day. With economical use it was way enough to us, we had no shortage. Here are some pictures:

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After being introduced to the camp we had some short time to relax in our tent. Meals are served in the center of the camp. There you will find a public area with tables located on wooden terraces with shade giving awning. We had a delicious local lunch here with an awesome view onto the surrounding nature and the High Atlas.

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The rest of the day meant relaxation for us! Unwinding from the busy medina of Marrakech, enjoying the tranquility of the camp and using the shady seating areas of the camp to read or play cards. We also did a little walk through the desert nature in and around the camp. If you like, you can also do some activity in that free time, you can for example do camel back riding or quad tours, but believe me, that unnecessary noise of the quads will destroy the pleasant atmosphere of the camp for you and the other guests.

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In the evening, the camp gets a little more atmospheric. The public tents in the center are not only transformed into the dinner area, but there also is a musician playing. We don’t know if the music changes from time to time, but when we’ve been to the camp, the music was a mix of international classics and French music with acoustic guitar backing. Unfortunately every group or tent gets their own table. Mixing it up a little and sharing tables, might’ve been a good idea to encourage people to get in contact with each other.

Nonetheless atmosphere and food were awesome, besides that, you can also get wine and beer during dinner, they’re not included in the price, so inform about that first, as you’ll pay it upon check out. Prices for drinks have not been cheap but not expensive either, you have to consider, that alcoholic drinks are not cheap in most Muslim countries anyways.

The food was traditional and tasty. There was a vegetarian or a chicken tajine for choice, we tried both and those were some of the best tajines we’ve ever had.

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During the dinner, the stoves in the tents were heated up, so that the tents become warm during the night. Actually so warm, that the thick duvet was too warm as long as the fire was burning. There is an amount of wood placed next to the oven, that should be enough to keep the oven fired for the whole night. We only put in some more wood before we slept and once during the night, that was enough to keep the tent warm. During the night the camp is very calm, it can only happen that you hear some dogs barking far away. As there are only a few candles leading the way to the tents, you can also enjoy the night sky with more stars visible than in the city.

We only had a stay of one night, so we were brought back to Marrakech about two hours after breakfast. We had a great stay there, it was exactly what we expected when booking, even better. The comfort, the food and the tranquility of this camp are perfect, but as you see in our pictures, you shouldn’t expect a traditional nomad’s camp.

We had two spare nights to fill before we flew back home, so our way lead us back to:

MARRAKECH

As already mentioned, we’ve been to Marrakech before. You can read about it here.

Last time, our hotel was located in the modern part of the city, so except for the main sights in the medina, we mainly explored the area of the new Marrakech. This time the riad we stayed at was located in the heart of the medina, so it was time to explore the old and traditional part of the city.

The medina of Marrakech is more touristy than the one of Fez. The signposting is better and in some parts of the medina, the store owners and deliverers are the only local people you see besides tourists. Also different from Fez is the use of motor scooters in the narrow streets, which requires attention while walking, as some drivers are speeding unmindful. Nonetheless the medina is an experience itself. It is crowded, it is buzzing, but at the same time cafés and restaurants are inviting to rest, often on a rooftop terrace overlooking all the action down in the streets.

As in Fez, you can check out things you’re interested to buy in stores without any problems, store owners usually try to advertise their goods, but are also fulfilling customer’s wishes if they are looking for a different color, shape or material for example. Before negotiating a price, it is helpful to check out a number of stores (usually many stores sell the same things, just a few booths away from each other) to get a feeling for an average price.

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For sure we didn’t only roam the souks, but also did some sightseeing. In the south of the medina, you will find the El Badi Palace, an ancient palace from the 16th century, which is really interesting to explore. Besides the impressive courtyard, the tour includes a small museum complex with an ancient minbar, the walk through of the prison and a walk along the outlines of the guest rooms. Entry fee for a visit is 70 MAD per person.

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Round the corner, you’ll also find the Bahia Palace, a garden surrounded palace from 19th century. The entry fee also is 70 MAD per person and the tour leads you through different rooms, patios and gardens. It is a unique experience, as this palace is really beautiful and restored perfectly, but see yourself:

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As you know us, for sure we didn’t let out the gastronomical sector, but tried many different restaurants and cafés, here are our favorites:

  • Good local food in the medina: La Porte de Marrakech (Tripadvisor)
  • Local and international dishes at really high quality: Eveil des Sens (Tripadvisor)

And here’s where we stayed during our trip:

This stay in Marrakech was the end of our trip, so we took the flight back home to Germany. If you want to know how to get to Fez and/or Marrakech, here’s how:

How to get to Fez and Marrakech?

From within Morocco you can reach both cities by ONCF Trains from Casablanca, or by bus, taxi and car from all over the country. By plane, Fez only has a little airport (IATA Code: FEZ). Air Arabia Maroc and Ryanair offer several direct flights from cities in Europe and within Morocco to Fez, besides that you can for example fly on Royal Air Maroc via Casablanca or TAP Air Portugal via Lisbon.

Marrakech airport offers a lot more connections: greatest players in concern of direct flights are Air Arabia Maroc, Royal Air Maroc, easyjet, the TUI Airlines and Ryanair with flights from many cities in Europe and Morocco. Besides that following airlines are offering regular flights from their intercontinental hubs: Aegean Airlines (via Athens), Air Europa and Iberia (via Madrid), Air France (via Paris), Austrian Airlines (via Vienna), British Airways (via London Heathrow/Gatwick), Brussels Airlines (via Brussels), Lufthansa (via Frankfurt and Munich), Qatar Airways (via Doha), Swiss (via Zurich), TAP (via Lisbon) and Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul).

To travel between those cities, you can choose between bus (direct), train (through Casablanca), taxi, car or by plane. If you want to fly, the only direct flights are operated by Air Arabia Maroc.

 

Thank you for reading, we hope we were able to give you some interesting tips and inspiration for your own trip to Morocco.

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