After almost two years without leaving Portugal, it was wonderful to finally travel abroad a few weeks ago. Fez, Morocco has been a destination for Tom and me since our first visit to the Kingdom, way back in 2002. We enjoyed our cycling trip in the south that year, but fell in love with the royal cities, and especially Fez. Like so many others, we could not shake the spell, and bought a house in the medina. After several years of anxiety-producing effort, and a bigger investment of time and money than was probably wise, Dar Borj Dahab, our little house in Fez, became a livable reality. Sadly, since Covid-19 hit, we had not been able to enter the country, let alone spend time in the medina and in our home there. Finally, a lull in the pandemic gave us a chance for our long-deferred return to Fez, Morocco.
Tom’s exhibition–Fez medina on show
We timed our visit to attend the launch of Tom’s joint exhibition in the Ville Nouvelle (New City) with calligrapher Mohamed Charkaoui. The exhibition, hosted by the Conseil Regional des Architectes Fes (CROA), showcased Tom’s photographs of the people who make the medina one of the most fascinating places in the world, along with images from significant rites of passage there. Mohamed’s calligraphy adorns public, commercial and private spaces in Morocco and abroad, and he offers calligraphy workshops to travelers intrigued with this art form. Showing his calligraphic works and Tom’s photography side by side for the exhibition proved the perfect pairing. Exhibition photos are now on Tom’s photography website, along with other photographs from the Fez medina: take a look!
Home to Dar Borj Dahab
Our trip gave us a chance to spend time in our medina home. We seized the opportunity to freshen the house in preparation for guests. They would be our first bookings at Dar Borj Dahab since the pandemic closed down tourism here. It was time to brave a crowded, mostly unmasked fabric market, and source new covers for Moroccan sofas, and to pick up another carpet or two for the bedrooms. After the exhibition launched, Tom went on the prowl for the paint needed for a touch-up in the kitchen. Later, on our way back to Portugal, we stopped off at the marvelous Maison de Blanc in Casablanca to order custom-made linens for the house.
Moroccan flavors we’ve been missing
As soon as we arrived in Fez, Morocco we shared a generous spread of calamari, shrimp and a fish tagine with the good friend who met our train from Casablanca. Over the course of errands during our stay, out and about in the New City, we made frequent stops at cafés for treats: mlaoui, fresh orange juice, and coffee for breakfast, and Moroccan cakes and cookies with afternoon tea.
At home in the medina, we ordered food in from a nearby restaurant that had opened since our last visit, and savored fine Moroccan meals on our rooftop terrace. We highly recommend that our guests at Dar Borj Dahab do this too, or ask our house manager to prepare a custom meal, to be enjoyed on the terrace or in the Moroccan salon.
In Fez, the best food moments happen at home. A family meal, served on a low table and eaten with hands, is one of the best Moroccan food experiences going, and is just one of the many things we have missed over the past many months. Our recent visit was too short to see everyone we wanted to, but we thrilled to reconnected with a few dear friends and still happily recall every detail of the several wonderful meals we were able to share with them. No time in the kitchen with Moroccan home cooks this visit, alas!
Our house manager and his wife welcomed us to their home with a simple meal of loubia, harira and mint tea, the perfect restorative after our journey. The soups were served with honey-drizzled chebakia alongside and afterward, with tea, we had sellou, a Ramadan crumble served in a communal bowl and dipped out by the spoonful. These dishes can be part of everyday dining in Moroccan homes, but are also key elements in festive meals, such as those for breaking the fast at Ramadan.
Words fail when I think of hands reaching toward a shared platter of beautifully seasoned chicken with a dollop of harissa on top. When we joined a local family for a meal in their medina home, small bowls of stewed vegetables and a simple dessert of pomegranate seeds added vibrant seasonal flavors to the meal. We washed everything down with fresh mandarin juice and after dessert, sweet tea poured to showman-like effect. It was the joy of belonging that meant the most to us, though. Times such as these were a major attraction for Tom and me, from the moment of our first visit to Morocco. They still are!
Fez, Morocco is calling
Founded in the 9th century, Fez is the oldest of Morocco’s four historic capitals and continues to be the country’s cultural and spiritual center. The Fez medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its labyrinth of narrow streets is completely car-free. Each of the medina’s many neighborhoods has a mosque, bakery, a school and a hammam.
This is an ancient city with attitude, exuding a presence that stimulates the senses at every turn. Streets and alleyways devoted to traditional crafts and souks offering food and specialty goods make every nook of the ancient city worth a visit. Getting to know Fez takes time, much more time than many tourists are prepared to give it, but rewards those who do.
When the Kingdom of Morocco opens for business, our house will be there too, welcoming guests for stays of a week or more. When you book a stay in Dar Borj Dahab, we hope you enjoy our home, and your time in the medina, as much as we do!