I pulled an all nighter and, having arrived in Fes (Fez) El Bali at three in the morning, found my way to the Western gate of Bab Boujeloud. It is a focus for travellers and many of the budget hotels are nearby. Once again street cleaners were my friends. The well equipped municipal cleaning services are very efficient at clearing the streets of the previous days rubbish. I had wandered in to a Southern gate of the Medina and after asking directions was escorted to Bab Boujeloud by one of the cleaners. I found the well recommended Hotel Cascade just inside the gate and returned to sit next to a Cafe with some of the cleaning team managers. The Cafe opened very early and so was able to enjoy a badly needed coffee.
The Hotel Cascade figures in every guide book as the ‘grandaddy’ of budget hotels with an excellent position to explore the medina and unmatched roof terrace with good views. With such publicity it is oversubscribed by backpackers. Once open I peered in the doorway. The stairs are narrow and it looked quite unsuitable for carrying my bike. As it turned out there were no rooms available. Wearily I began the arduous task of finding somewhere suitable to ‘hang my coat’. Round and round I tramped. There are lots of Riads tucked away down passageways but the thought of forking out for some overblown boutique hotel kept me from making enquiries. Eventually I found myself at the gateway to the old Kasbah en Nouah a few minutes walk up from the Cascade Hotel. I was suddenly met with a flashing smile and an invitation to look at his ‘hotel’.. My knee-jerk reaction to such suggestions is usually a polite ‘no thanks’ but on this occasion I thought I would check it out. Through the 15th century gate and immediately on the left was the ‘Pension El Kasbah’. This man was the owner.. and his father had a small food shop opposite. It was delightful and cheap! Traditional Moroccan furnishings, fabulous hot shower, rooftop balcony and good facilities. Initially I was offered a slightly pokey room without a window but then negotiated a lovely double on the first floor close to the wifi router. Lady luck had smiled on me and I had landed very nicely in Fes.
Fes itself compares to Marrakech in terms of the Medina and its complex maze of passageways that provide a spectacular display of medieval buildings. However Fes predates Marrakech and enjoyed a ‘golden age’ of prosperity during the 13th to 15th centuries during which it became the ‘Baghdad of the West’. The Medina at Fes El Bali has UNESCO world heritage status and is cited as the worlds largest car free urban area. Personally I preferred Fes as a city over Marrakech and felt that it offered a better experience. Fes is set amongst hills and has many historical sites spread across the city as a whole. The old city Medina reminded me of Kathmandu and a magical step back in time. However Marrakech seemed better for shopping, traditional crafts, workshops and well positioned as a starting point for desert excursions or mountain trekking. I feel lucky to have had the privilege to visit both places..