In Depth

Get lost on purpose: A guide to Fez

Thrillingly unique, Morocco’s most authentic city boasts a rabbit-warren, memory-clogging medina and fine, fruit-happy cuisine

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Is any world city more immersive? The brilliant brouhaha of Morocco's oldest imperial capital delivers a full-throttle assault of every sense: colours dazzle, sounds blare for attention, smells delight and disgust, surfaces beg to be touched and foods thrill the tongue. Now served by direct weekly Air Arabia Maroc flights from Gatwick, Fez is truly a Moroccan must-see.

What to do

Fez's heart is Fez el-Bali: a UNESCO-protected medina, and the world's largest car-free urban area. Strolling this dilapidated, pulsating timewarp typically involves gasping constantly and dodging lots of donkeys. You'll probably also get lost as, supposedly, no cartographer has ever accurately translated Fez el-Bali's labyrinth to paper, including some alleys so narrow one must walk sideways – but that's half the fun. Make sure to duck into an ornate madrasa (school) and to visit the Chouara tanneries: hulking clay vats filled with vivid, multi-coloured dyes, as pongy as they are beautiful.

Where to shop

Guides help you get the best from the medina, but be aware that they'll sometimes pressure you into purchases at their friends' shops. Be polite but firm and, above all, be prepared to barter: haggling is a national sport. The medina divides into artisan quarters from jewellery to perfume; particularly impressive are its kaftans, rugs, cushions, babouche slippers and leather bags.

What to see

Only 45 minutes by train is Meknes, another imperial city and very attractive. Jemima Mann-Baha, owner of hotel, Palais Amani, also recommends the nearby Zalagh hills. 'In less than five minutes, you're in rolling countryside,' she declares. 'Picnic spots in mature olive groves have breathtaking medina views.'

Where to eat

Fez is reckoned to be Morocco's foodie capital, with its Fassi cuisine using fruits as vegetables and fond of spices like cumin and cinnamon. Riad Le Calife does all the classic dishes superbly, including tagines and pastilla – a sweet pie with pigeon meat.

Where to stay

Located beside one of the medina's main gates, Palais Amani's Art Deco building dates to the 1930s. There are 15 rooms, a candlelit hammam, a rooftop solarium and bar looking over Fez's minarets and satellite dishes, a restaurant, and a large, orange tree garden – the perfect retreat after those chaotic souks.

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