HI! I am back on Canadian soil after my trip to the magical country of Morocco, I’m beyond excited to share some of the highlights from my trip exploring Fes, Morocco, with all of you and explore everything from where to stay and what to buy! I have been to Morocco previously, and a local explained to me this trip, your first time in Morocco is for looking, your second time in Morocco is for immersing yourself and your third time in Morocco, well you are there to stay! I was certainly able to immerse myself in the culture and cuisine more readily as I knew what to expect, from the rich history, to the hussle and bustle of the medina, some of the best shopping around, the array of smells, the vibrant colors of the freshest of fresh ingredients and enough food to feed a village in one setting… it is a place of wonder! Get ready for an experience of a lifetime.
What initially brought me to Morocco was a medical mission trip with Operation Smile, in Casablanca on a Orthognathic & Cleft Lip/Palate correction nursing volunteer trip, it was incredibly successful and during this time I was able to understand the Moroccan way of life first hand. Their kindness and compassion towards me was immediately felt as I was embraced and lightly kissed on the cheeks with every meeting and parting. I felt like I was at home, there is a certain beauty to their hospitality and a kindness difficult to put into words. I was able to partake in their lives during a time where their children would undergo life altering surgeries, most definitely a stressful undertaking, yet all I was surrounded by were enormous smiles, hugs, thankful phrases, whispers of their prayer and their comforting touch on my shoulder as I took care of their little ones. This particular mission also allowed me to care for an older female patient population and my heart bonded with these beautiful girls whom were faced with medical tribulations since birth and they had the courage and trust in us to undergo these difficult surgeries. Their ability to support one another in these times was immensely moving, they bonded like family and helped one another through it all, I stood back and watched in amazement and wondered what our world would be like if everyone could create a community like this. I am so grateful for this experience as I was able to experience the Moroccan culture through another looking-glass, something I’ll never forget.
After completing the mission in Casablanca I decided to head to where it all started, Fes, the oldest Imperial city in Morocco, bursting with charm, history, an endless medina and rolling hills. I felt an immediate connection with the city as my train pulled into this historical city. I took the local train as my choice of transportation, a clean and fairly quick way of getting around. The trip from Casablanca to Fes was approximately 4 hours, cost me 174 Dirham ($23) and I was able to take in the stunning countryside through my first class window side seat on the train, they also serve refreshments and snacks at a cost if needed! My train came to a stop and the excitement set in!
Where to Stay:
In Morocco I would recommend always staying at a riad, it is a traditional Moroccan traditional house in which the rooms encircle a grand courtyard, they once used to be the homes of wealthy citizens and are now being restored to their former glory as hotels, they typically have multiple rooms fit for royalty and many of which are a couple hundred years old! It is certainly a sight to see when you travel down tight cobble stone streets through the loud busy medina streets and cannot be sure that there is a peaceful getaway in the middle of it all, but there is!
I chose a lovely riad in Fes by the name of Dar Victoria, I was greeted by the manager and navigated towards what would be my home for the next 5 days, riad’s can be difficult to find the first time, but once you memorize your left’s and rights through the streets, you’re set! We came upon a grand wooden carved door and as I stepped through it, the breathtaking view of bright and meticulously placed tiles poured into sight , then a grand courtyard with tables, lanterns, plants and astounding pounded copper topped tables filled my view. The walls throughout the entire riad courtyard are chiseled in perfect design and painted with colors only found in nature such as saffron, indigo and agave plants, it’s simply impossible to truly take it all in on the first day. Oh and not to mention a lovely rooftop patio to watch the sunset from! After a must have welcome mint tea sit down with the riad manager, Muhammad, he graciously led me to my room, a quaint and rustic Moroccan getaway decorated with colorful Moroccan rugs, framed pictures of mysteriously beautiful Berber women and of course more artfully laid tiles. I felt at home!
Shopping in Morocco:
My intent on this mini vacay was to delve into the history, eat like the Moroccans eat and clearly the glaringly obvious thing to do… SHOP! Now I believe the secret to getting the full experience of a city is getting lost and going where your heart and feet take you. That was exactly my plan on that first day, getting lost in the walled medina, until I read that there were over 9,500 intricate streets in this medina.. . So perhaps I should take some mental notes on what streets I was on and a plan to reach the main artery of the medina if needed! I downloaded an offline map just as a backup means!
It can be EXTREMELY tempting to start buying all the mesmerizing Moroccan goods the second you lay eyes on them, just wait! Take note of what you see, where it was and your ability to take it home and truly enjoy it at home. I made the mistake on my last trip to Morocco of buying everything in sight that caught my eye immediately and regretted after all the things I wished I had actually brought back. There are hundreds of shops with hidden treasures, search and you’ll know when you come upon something that is calling to come home with you.
Now some shopping 101 in Morocco, be kind, be patient, never pay the asking price (I paid about a quarter/third of their initial asking price on everything), haggle to your hearts desire, set a price in your mind on the items worth to you and stick to it and try to stay away from the shops on the main road ways, find the hidden gems with less foot traffic. Haggling is a way of life, friendly back and forth haggling banter with a smile on your face is truly exhilarating, just be sure to be well fed and rested before tackling a day of shopping! Alright here is my three-step guide to getting that item you want at the price you want!
How to Haggle Like a Pro:
Step 1: Build rapport and stay calm! You see that plate that is calling your name from across the store, you’re tempted to run over, examine it and ask for a price, restrain yourself! Walk in, greet the store owner, in my broken Arabic, I always exchange names and proudly exclaim I’m Canadian and while doing so, I show interest in all the items they have for sale, don’t show excitement or attachment to that one item alone.
Step 2: Examine many items, tire them out. These are the recommendations from a local Moroccan, he told me to tire them out! Ask about many items, scour through, dig in the corners, you will hear over and over, make yourself at home, this is also your home, so do it! They will soon be confused on exactly what you came for and get a little exhausted with you rifling through and asking about each item, then behold, you’ve reached that plate that you’ve had your eye on the entire time, casually ask about it and it’s price. By this time they are usually just going to throw out a decent price as you’ve asked several times before, but this time it’s coming home!
Step 3: Set a price and haggle haggle. You have to face it that you’ll never get local pricing, you are a tourist, but this doesn’t mean you can’t leave with a hell of a deal! They will throw at you an absurd number to begin with, I throw them a look of disbelief and a huge grin with a HOW MUCH?! Counter them back, in fact, what do you have to lose in it all?! They start crazy high, I start crazy low, cut the price in quarter if not more, then let the games begin. Patience and having fun is key, you will go back and forth on a price and eventually when you reach your intended price of worth, say that’s my best price and make it known that you really want to buy from them and what a great store they have.
Thank them for their time and hospitality and say that’s your best price, 90% of the time with some more jokes and smiles they will begin to wrap the item for you in newspaper and tape it up without actually agreeing, this is my sign when I set the price and offer a handshake to seal the deal!
I’ve tested this method over and over and I’d say I got some pretty darn good prices on some high quality souvenirs! Don’t get upset, aggressive, or ignorant, this will not get you anywhere, I also don’t recommend the turn and walk away method and hope they call you back, they usually don’t in my experience.
What to Buy and How Much Should You Pay?
I now buy items that I know I’ll use and appreciate when back at home. Being such a foodie I regretted not bringing back a tagine (a Moroccan clay cooking oven) during my last visit, I knew this was coming home with me this time, despite its weight being similar to a small donkey… it did just fine on my carry on. I’ll be able to recreate Moroccan dishes in a traditional oven, nothing beats that. There are two types of tagines, ones that are elaborately painted and ceramic, these are only used to serve food in, NOT to cook in. The other are the full red/brown clay tagines that are oven cured and glazed for use in high temperatures and cooking, decide what you want your tagine for and buy accordingly. Beware, I have heard of some tagines being painted in lead paint, although when I asked if the cooking tagines were painted they stated never cook with a painted tagine… clay only. I haggled a medium-sized (holds enough for 2-3 people) red clay tagine for about 80 dirhams ($11 dollars), the smaller ones you can get for cheaper.
I wanted some items to accent my home and bring that Moroccan flare. I adore the Berber rug I bought last time and it’s certainly a conversation starter that is so unique. A rug is something that will last a long long time and you can’t get anything like it here. The rug buying experience is also something it itself, tea ceremonies and rugs flying at you from every which direction is most amusing. Rug prices vary greatly based on size, material and intricacy of the stitching, we managed to bring back a berber rug about 5×3 ft for $90, I still think we could have haggled harder for this one!
This time around I bought some unbelievable pillow covers that are made from agave plant silk, the patterns and styles are endless, this shopping trip took me two hours in the store alone, the styles are endless! They are top quality and hand stitched, I bargained hard and got 3 large pillow covers for 125 dirham ($17) each.
If you want dishes, Fes is the place to get them. You can’t miss the white and blue enticing dishes that dance across the medina shops, hand crafted and ornate. I managed to grab 4 lovely bowls to enjoy at home and they also faired just fine, well wrapped, on my carry on! The options are endless, plates of all sizes, bowls, platters, spice holders, serving tagines etc. Very difficult to restrain yourself! I got the bowls at 40 dirham ($5) a pop!
This time I couldn’t walk away without buying a leather pouf for my living room, they are the growing trend and bring so much character to a space! I bought a cream-colored tall pouf with a simple designed stamped on top for myself and the same in brown for my mom! Make sure you take your time looking at these in different shops, some feel brittle and thin, I searched until I found tall, thick and sturdy camel hide poufs. I haggled hard for over an hour for these beauties but it was well with my time, I walked away with two for 300 dirham, only $20 bucks a pouf!
It would be a sin not to buy spices from the land of spice, especially ras el hanout , a Moroccan spice blend containing cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, coriander, chili powder, cumin, turmeric and pepper, it’s used for many dishes such as cous cous, tagines, meats and vegetables. The other must buy is saffron! We pay an arm and a leg for these threads of beauty, I got a gram for 35 dirham ($4), steal of a deal! Most spices go for 30-35 dirham per 100 gram and saffron is usually 35-40 dirham per gram.
If you are into beauty products, don’t leave without pure Argan oil, it is a skin and hair reviving goddess! Ensure you go to a shop that actually sells pure Argan oil, many places sell a knock off product with only 20% being Argan, either buy from a pharmacy or ask your local riad/hotel for any recommendations, better yet, I found a store that was pressing the Argan nuts in front of me and I watched the oil be pressed out, doesn’t get any more real than that! Also, the Moroccans swear by their rose-water, used for skin rejuvenation, aromatherapy, perfume and “keeping their mother in-laws happy” by bringing and spraying them in the stuff on visits! Last but not least the Moroccan clay is used for face masks, body wraps and exfoliates! The Argan oil is usually 100 dirham ($13) for a small bottle and the rose-water half that price for a similar size.
These are some of my top picks for shopping, of course all based on my individual tastes and uses at home! Go out and see what catches your eye and remember the three steps of successful haggling! But most of all, soak it all in and enjoy yourself.
Stay tuned for the second half of my Fes experience, this time all be covering what food you have to try, where to eat and my favorite part, the Moroccan cooking class! I will share with you some recipes that I was able to create during my cooking class!