It's Culture / Travel There

A Houstonian’s Guide: Fez, Morocco in 24 Hours

The finale post of my 10-day trip to Morocco trip is here…featuring the glorious city of Fez! Writing this post is bittersweet. On one hand I’m feeling super accomplished because I’ve hammered out literally thousands of words about Morocco over the past month, but also super nostalgic because that trip to Morocco was literally one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done. And while the pictures and the words tell a story, it’s nothing like truly being in the city and experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling medina, elegant riad, or underground hammam yourself!

Fez Morocco Travel Tips Women Local Hammam

Morning

Fez was the last stop on our Morocco trip before heading back to home. We took an overnight bus from the Erg Chebbi desert in Merzouga and arrived at Fez around 4am. We procured a taxi at the train station and made it to the edge of the Fez medina where we had to continue our journey on foot.

Fez Morocco Travel Tips Women Local Hammam

Having been warned that the Fez medina was much larger, winding and confusing than the Marrekech and Rabat ones, we bit the bullet and had a rando on the street guide us to our riad. Totally worth the 30 dirham (DH) that he charged us for accompanying us. We stayed at Palais El Yazid, which I booked through Airbnb (get $40 off your Airbnb booking when you register with this link: https://abnb.me/e/376NuiFKDN). The riad, like all the riads we stayed in, was absolutely incredible with insane views of the city, intricate tiling details, and all the mint tea we could ever want. The owners were so nice and let us check into our room at 5:30am, where we took a quick power nap before heading out into the city.

Fez Morocco Travel Tips Women Local Hammam

After waking, enjoying a typical breakfast of Moroccan breads, jams, and mint tea. We ventured out into the media–which was equally as confusing in the daytime–to El Glaoui Palace. This palace is cared for by an eclectic artist who collects money at the door (25 DH) and paints during low traffic times. Inside there’s an overwhelming amount of tiles, stained glass, fountains and carved wood. It’s a mystery to me how the place stays together, but it was beautiful to visit.

Fez Morocco Travel Tips Women Local Hammam

Afterwards, we returned to the riad where we had arranged for a trip to a hammam or Moroccan bathhouse. This visit to the hammam was unlike anything I’d ever done. It was authentic, raw, and intimate. We had initially planned on going to some spa in the city and paying the equivalent of $40 for a massage with the ghasoul/rhassoul or exfoliating lava clay, but the riad owner ixnayed that idea and arranged for us to go to his neighborhood bathhouse instead. It cost 12 EUR, and we were lead to this inconspicuously marked staircase that lead into a basement. There was one staircase for men and one for women.

Side note: this whole ordeal was not conducted in any common language. We were speaking English, Spanish, and broken French and he was speaking Arabic and Moroccan French. So that just adds to comical nature of this borderline-sketchy endeavor.

As instructed through hand gestures, I head down the staircase clutching nothing but a towel, a plastic bag and an extra pair of underwear. At the bottom of the stairs, I’m greeted by a humid locker room-esque lobby and a Moroccan grandmother, who again in a mixture of Arabic and hand gestures, instructed me to strip down to my underwear and follow her.

Wildly confused, but doing as I’m told, I follow her in nothing by my panties through a series of white washed shower rooms, increasing in humidity. We come to the final room where a faucet is pouring hot water into a stone tube, and naked-but-for-panties women and children are seated along the ground scrubbing and washing each other.

I sit on the ground and a tiny woman brings me three buckets of water of varying temperatures and a plastic bowl and motions for me to start pouring the water on my body. Following cues from the children nearby, I commence. The woman returned with shampoo and the black scrub and had me lay face down on the tile floor (I tried not to think about how gross that was) and scrubbed my whole body. I then flipped over onto my back and she scrubbed the front of my body, leaving no crevice touched. She then shampooed and conditioned my hair and left me with more buckets of water to rinse my body with using the plastic bowl. I was very much transported back to my childhood with my mom detangling my hair in the bathtub.

The experience was very intimate and personal. Despite being very exposed and akward as the only non-Moroccan, I felt very much apart of the community where women of all ages took turns to scrub and wash each other. I was there about an hour, and it was clear that this was a neighborhood spot. The women all knew each other and would greet one another with cheek kisses and scoot their buckets over to make room for their friends on the floor.

The closest thing I could compare the hammam to would be the Body Glow service at Hiatus in Houston. I’m sure the Moroccan hammam is where Hiatus got their inspiration from for their exfoliating shower service. But in Body Glow, you’re siloed into your own individual room for a private massage and lose the unique sense of community that came with the Moroccan counterpart.

Despite tourism being a huge part of the economy in Morocco, most of my trip was spent in authentic experiences like this which made the experience so memorable. After two days spent in the desert, I definitely felt the cleanest I had ever been as well.

To read more about traditional hammams, here’s a great article on what you should expect before you go. 

Afternoon

Returning to the riad dazzed and exfoliated, we enjoyed a meal made by the riad owners and some other tourists. We sat on the rooftop patio, overlooked the city and listened to the call of prayer ring out across the rooftops. This meal was definitely one of my favorites (if anyone is counting, pretty much anything I ate in Morocco was my favorite), but it was filled with a bunch of tapas style like Moroccan dishes with carrots, potato, olives, peppers, green beans, bread, and meats. I’ve since found similar recipes on the blog My Moccocan Food.

Fez Morocco Travel Tips Women Local Hammam

The rest of our day was spent getting lost in the medina and buying souvenirs. Since it was the last day of our trip and we didn’t have to lug things around anywhere we hit the kiosks hardcore and put our bartering skills to the test. I left with a fabulous wool blanket with the Moroccan white and black pattern on it, as well as some gold mirrors, mini tagines to hold spices, and Joe left with a Moroccan drum!

We also swung by the tanneries because that’s what everyone seemed to be telling us to do. As a vegan, I found the tanneries SO GROSS. We climbed a staircase of a leather shop and went out onto the third floor balcony that overlooked the stone baths which animal skins were being washed, soaked, and dyed. The smell was absolutely horrendous and all visitors were given a spring of mint leaves to smell when observing the activity. It was interesting to see, but lawd was I glad to leave.

Evening

Getting lost in the medinas of Morocco and finding rooftops that overlook the city was one of my favorite past times on the trip. After chatting with a gold lighting guy for a few minutes (and getting ripped off on my purchase- lol like usual), he referred us to a restaurant down the road where we dined on a rooftop and watched the lights of the city come alive. More Moroccan salad, tagine, and baked desserts to fill our bellies before returning home to the riad for one last night.

Fez Morocco Travel Tips Women Local Hammam

 

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