MOROCCO: Fes, Chefchaouen, and accidentally getting naked at a hammam

Despite travelling around Morocco on my own, there wasn’t one moment in Fes where I was actually alone.

This is quite rare for me, because as much as I love travelling with other people, I usually start most of my trips by wandering around, finding my bearings and having a general explore. But a combination of a lack of wifi, a fear of getting lost in the maze that is the Fes Medina and a bad experience in Morocco meant I was too hesitant to wander around on my own.

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I’ll explain more in another blog post as to why I’d be hesitant of going back to Morocco on my own. But while I didn’t have the best time in Marrakech, I was a huge fan of Fes.

I got an eight-hour train from Marrakech that bought me to Fes train station. From there, I spent 40dh (about £3) on a taxi that actually took me to where I wanted to go – round the corner from my hostel. I was so surprised that my driver didn’t attempt to rip me off or take me to the wrong place that I felt unreasonably happy and thanked him profusely.  I’m not 100% convinced he knew what I was talking about. But he dropped me off round the corner from Funky Fes hostel and in I went. I checked into my room – a typical Moroccan riad with an open centre, incredible rooftop and friendly atmosphere. Breakfast was free, dinner was cheap and there were signs detailing a huge variety of day trips, which was exactly what I wanted.

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I actually explored Chefchaouen before I explored Fes, despite staying a five hour drive away from the city. I met a few German girls who were going the next day and so decided to share a grande taxi there and back with them. I naively assumed the journey would take about an hour and a half but the four-and-a-bit journey through mountains was actually incredible and the scenery was worth the dead legs.

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Chefchaouen was amazing. We wandered around the Medina for hours, stopping for a fresh orange juice and some mint tea throughout our walk. We visited a rooftop bar to admire the view, gazed at a mini waterfall and saw more cats than I ever thought was possible in such a short period of time.

The city is known worldwide for being filled with bright blue buildings and it didn’t disappoint. From the rooftops to the walls, pipes and doorways – everything was either blue or white. But possibly my favourite thing about Chefchaouen was how friendly the people were. Compared to the rest of Morocco, where it feels a lot like everyone is out to rip you off, Chefchaouen was filled with people wanting to stop and chat or to offer you help and assistance. To say it was a nice contrast would be putting it incredibly mildly.

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At the end of the day we got the taxi back to Fes and watched the sun go down as we drove through the mountains.

The next day I took part in a walking tour. My usual first stop on any kind of trip is to hunt down one of those “pay as you feel” walking tours where you tip at the end. However in Morocco, these don’t really seem to exist. There’s a walking tour at my hostel in Fes that runs literally every single day…except Friday. Which, obviously, was the day I wanted to do it.

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But somehow – for some unknown reason – at 10pm on Thursday night, the guy who runs the walks decided to spontaneously throw one the next morning. So away I went.

And it was a good thing he did change his mind, because I’m not really sure what I would have done otherwise. Usually I have no reservations about wandering around a new city on my own, but Fes has 9,600 alleyways inside its Medina and some of them are so small, you pretty much have to duck and hope for the best. And, to make matters more complex, there’s also no wifi and barely any GPS signal inside. So if you get lost, you may as well wave goodbye to civilisation and accept your fate as a new Medina resident. With my horrendous sense of direction, I don’t honestly think I would have made it out alive – or at least for a very long time. So the accidentally-running walking tour was a huge blessing.

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And it actually showed me everything I wanted to see inside the Medina. We walked to an incredible viewpoint at the top of a hill. We visited the oldest university in the world – and it was founded by a woman (yas!). We walked around a huge tannery where leathers are stripped back into their purest form and turned into amazingly colourful bags, belts and other goods. If I’d had more space in my bag I’d definitely have made some purchases. As it stood, I overpacked (as per) and the only thing I could squeeze into my bag was a bar of soap. As you might expect from a place where they rip up cow skin, the tannery smelt horrendous but luckily we were given some sprigs of mint to hold on our noses as we walked through.

Next up was the argon oil factory, where a man showed us around all of the different products he had on sale and his elderly mother sat in the back peeling the nuts out of the argon berries to make the oil. He showed us a one litre bottle of argon oil and explained that an entire day’s work would result in one – ONE – bottle of oil. And I could have bought it for around £7. It was a crazy contrast to buying literally anything in the UK argon-oil related.

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We also explored the shops, peeked into a few different mosques and tried a cactus fruit – which I found to taste quite like a cucumber but a bit fruiter and with many, many seeds. But for the price of 1dh (8p) I thought it was worth trying.

On the walking tour I made friends with an Austrian girl who wanted to visit a hammam – a traditional Moroccan spa. This was undoubtedly one of the most hilarious parts of my trip. My new friend had visited a hammam in a hotel a few weeks back in another area of the country. But while the fancy/tourist-focused spas cost in the region of £40-£60 for a scrub and a massage, we were recommended a local one by our walking tour guide. He explained that we’d get all the traditional elements of the spa (an intense scrub down with black soap, a massage and a general clean) we’d only be paying a minimal amount because we’d be visiting one of the hammams that Moroccan women visit.

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And traditional it was! We were the only non-Moroccan women in there and I felt like my already-pale skin was almost glowing. It had a lovely atmosphere – these hammams are a weekly tradition for some women and there were plenty with young children who came along. And what was also lovely (and a bit unexpected) was the amount of attention that we got inside this spa. Compliments kept coming and one woman even came over to wash/brush my hair for me.

The scrub itself was very funny, too. At the tourist-y hammam you’re given paper knickers to wear – a bit like going for a wax. We knew we’d have to get topless but we didn’t realise that at the traditional hammams you’re entirely naked. So I went from chatting about what I do for a job with my new pal to getting 100% naked right next to her. And to make things even funnier, the Moroccan women scrubbing us had us hug right at the end, presumably thinking we were sisters or related or had known each other for longer than about six hours. I’m not sure I’d repeat the experience, but it cost me around £7 so no complaints, really.

The rest of Fes was spent wandering around the Medina, trying the local street food – chickpeas, pastillas and tagines. And, despite being one of the biggest cities with the largest (and oldest) Medina in the world, it was actually where I felt the safest in Morocco.

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