To shop, or even browse, in Fes requires large doses of patience, humor, or money -- preferably all three. Fassi shopkeepers are the doyen of hagglers, and it takes a concerted effort to go head-to-head with one. Keeping this in mind, it must be said that Fes el Bali is Morocco's shopping center. Here you can find whole streets of artisans devoted to just one specific trade. Woodwork, babouches (slippers), jewelry, tailored clothing, leatherwork, pottery, mosaic tiling, brass and copperware, cotton and silk weaving, drums -- all can be bought direct from the factory, so to speak. Approach each experience with a smile and positive thoughts, and your shopping in Fes can prove memorable.
Items that particularly require the three previously mentioned qualities are carpets, kélims, and rugs. It seems everywhere you turn in Fes el Bali, a maison du tapis (carpet shop) is right there. Unfortunately, this seemingly excess supply doesn't equate to bargain prices. Carpets aren't cheap in Fes. If you're traveling into the Atlas mountains or beyond into central Morocco and the palmeraies, then frankly you are better off waiting until then. The carpet emporiums of Fes know this and can be annoyingly persistent for your business once you show even a flicker of interest. If you intend on shopping for carpets and rugs here, have a good idea of how much you are willing to pay before you begin any negotiations. It's your choice, and remember that you can always walk out of the shop. Once you've started, however, sit back and enjoy the banter, mint tea, and plethora of choice displayed before you.
Caution: When shopping in Fes's medina, don't rely on being able to use your credit card. For most of your purchases, cash -- usually dirham but sometimes euros or dollars -- will be the only form of payment accepted. Some carpet emporiums and antiques shops may accept credit cards, but be aware of the full amount being charged to your card prior to signing off the transaction. The purchase should be charged in dirham, so be aware of current exchange rates; if you're not sure, ask the proprietor to show you where the day's rate has been procured from and the calculation conducted to arrive at the price. On no occasion should you agree to pay for your purchase in monthly installments. There's every chance that the multiple slips you signed will either be banked all together or, worse, that you discover the amounts were manipulated upon your arrival back home.
For everyday items, head to the Central Marché in the ville nouvelle on boulevard Mohammed V, 2 blocks north of place Mohammed V. Here you'll find fresh produce, dried fruit and nuts, and dairy products. There are also a couple of alcohol shops on either side of the entrance opposite the Hotel Olympic. For fresh produce, groceries, toiletries, and alcohol, there's an Acima supermarket in the ville nouvelle, on avenue Mahmoud al Aqqad, in the direction of the Fes-Meknes auto route (tel. 0535/931374), which is open daily from 9am to 10pm. On the western edge of the ville nouvelle, on the old highway to Meknes, is the Western-style, air-conditioned Marjane Hypermarket (tel. 0535/957814), open daily from 9am to 9pm and selling everything from groceries and general foodstuffs (including bacon) to cookware and computers. There's also an ATM, pharmacy, and well-stocked liquor store that stays open for tourists during Ramadan.
Guides will invariably lead you to their shops of choice while showing you around the medina. As this is their livelihood, a guide will want you to purchase something so that he will earn a commission from the sale, sometimes up to 30%. This incentive for you to buy can work in your favor if you're a good haggler and stick to your guns. If you prefer to shop on your own, then strongly advise your guide of this before you begin. He may then request you to increase the rate for the tour by 100dh -- from 400dh to 500dh for example -- which is fair enough if it then affords you more time to visit the sights and profit from his knowledge rather than his shopping contacts.
Shopping A to Z
On or around Derb Sidi Moussa, southeast of the Foundouk Nejjarine Museum, are a smattering of antiques shops, the best of which is Chakib Lahkim Bennani's Les Mystères de Fes, 53 Derb Bin Lemsarri, off rue Sidi Moussa, Guerniz (tel. 0535/636148 or 0661/483195). Chakib's family have been antiques dealers of note since 1922, and their three-story, 13th-century riad is all class. "I am obliged to find and sell the best of the best," Chakib says. You can spend a whole day here wandering around and marveling at the craftsmanship required to produce a 19th-century pure silver settee with blue-velvet cushions; twin 2m-high (6 1/2-ft.) bronze urns; carpets interwoven with silk and silver; Berber turquoise pottery; antique Arab jewelry; and a calligraphy-engraved crystal terriya, or chandelier. Most of the pieces are of Moroccan origin, but there are also items from Syria, Turkey, and India. There are small pieces that make great souvenirs; large items can be bought, wrapped, and shipped in handmade wood chests to anywhere in the world. It's open daily 9am to 7pm.
Carpets & Rugs
"If a carpet talks to your heart, it will make you happy," says carpet salesman extraordinaire Hakim Hamid, directeur of Aux Merveilles du Tapis, 22 Derb Sbaâ Louyat, Seffarine, Medina (next door to Dar Seffarine; tel. 0535/638735 or phone Hakim direct on 0663/672068). Sit back and enjoy your mint tea while he explains the connection between Morocco's architecture (the shop itself is housed in a grand 14th-c. palace) and its carpets; the difference between Berber rugs and Royal (Arabic) carpets; and the importance of knots, lamb's wool, and reversible carpets. His sales pitch is so corny it's funny, is not at all pushy, and makes for an enjoyable experience even if you don't buy. If you are buying, then you'll be spoiled for choice in design, color, and size. Hakim estimates there are 3,000 carpets, rugs, and kélims within this shop, and I don't doubt him. Prices vary greatly depending on the quality of craftsmanship and your negotiation skills, but small kélims can go for as little as 1,000dh; a medium-size (2*2m/6 1/2*6 1/2 ft.) Berber rug for 5,000dh; and a 4X4m (13*13 ft.) reversible carpet can sell for 32,000dh. Daily hours are 9am to 7pm.
For cotton and silk rugs, visit Chez Alibaba, 7 Derb el Mitter, Blida, Medina (btw. Pension Dalila and Restaurant Zohra; tel. 0535/636932). Mustapha Jamila and his jovial staff will gladly show you the weaving process; cotton, wool, and Algarve silk are some of the threads being used on the traditional loom here. Rugs and throw blankets can be ordered in a rainbow of colors and made within a day, and there is also a wide choice of lampshades, bed covers, curtains, and cushion covers. It's open daily 9am to 7pm.
Rachid Alaoui's Maison de Broderie, Derb Blida (20m/66 ft. southwest from the junction with Derb Hassan; tel. 0535/636546 or 0670/857675), is one of the premier embroidery shops in the medina. English-speaking Rachid has a wealth of knowledge on the craft and will gladly explain the work being produced on-site, except Fridays when the women have a day off. Crisp, white bedspreads, cushions, napkins, and tablecloths are all decorated with exquisitely embroidered Berber designs. It's open daily 9am to 7pm (American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are accepted).
Chez Alami's Caftan Saâda, on Tala'a Kbira just east of the Bouinania Medersa (tel. 0667/188873 or 0667/334000), is the place to go for jellabahs and caftans. Alami has been operating from this 1312 riad for almost 25 years, and the wall-to-wall choice of designs and colors is staggering. For high quality shawls and scarves, visit Chez Alibaba.
Terrasse de Tannerie, 10 Derb Chouwara at the Chouwara Tanneries (tel. 0535/636625), is a veritable rabbit's warren of all things leather. Camel, cow, and goat leather products -- babouches, poufes, belts, jackets, wallets, and every size bag imaginable -- are crammed within a series of rooms that eventually lead to a split-level covered terrace with the best view of the tanneries down below. It's a busy shop (guides bring their groups here throughout the day), but the staff are always keen to sell and are usually willing to give you time to absorb the atmosphere, view, and even smell before choosing something. Pay attention to the varying qualities of leather (camel leather is the most supple); bad-quality leather will crack over time. A well-placed basket of fresh mint leaves is at the top of the stairs as you enter. Daily hours are 9am to sunset.
Lajaj Ali's Fabrication de Percussions & de Poterie, 23 Derb el Horra (20m/66 ft. from Tala'a Sghira; tel. 0535/635954 or 0660/916750), is a rustic, ramshackle treasure trove of the many different styles of percussion instruments played in Morocco. Since the 1930s, Lajaj's father and now Lajaj himself have been producing quality drums -- darbuka, bandia, tabla, tahr, and djembe -- from the 200-year-old riad. Drum makers are often at work in the front rooms, while in the courtyard is a mass of drums stacked in among Fassi pottery, antique carpets, and what can quaintly be described as bric-a-brac. Lajaj is a very genuine man who loves nothing more than to explain the historical context behind each drum. In a similar vein is Abdellah Leajaj, 54 Foundouk Tazi, Tala'a Kbira (tel. 0663/002918 or 0664/622050), who has been crafting ceramic drums for the past 50 years, and is only too happy to show his work to interested visitors. An average-size darbuka sells for around 200dh, and a tabla for 250dh. Both Lajaj and Abdellah's shops are open Saturday to Thursday 9am to 6pm, and sometimes Friday morning.
Pottery & Ceramics
Direct from the potter, the pieces at master potter Serghini Maître Potier, 32 Aïn Nokbi (tel. 0535/761629 or 0535/649726), are the best in quality and consequently not the cheapest. Two floors house everything from ashtrays to fountains. Most of the common housewares -- bowls, vases, cups -- are decorated in the distinctive Fassi style and colors. If you have the time, take the free guided tour at the rear of the property to see the entire process from raw clay to the finished product; note that some workers are absent on Fridays. There's usually a steady stream of shoppers traipsing through, but there's always a staff member on hand to assist you -- and haggle with. English-speaking Azzeddine Khaloui is one of the most respected sales assistants in the quarter, and can be contacted after hours at tel. 0672/723683 if required. The shop is open daily 8:30am to sunset.
If you can't make it out to the quarter, Abdelfettah Dahhouki's Le Bleu de Fes, on the corner of Tala'a Kbira and Rhat Shems (tel. 0667/254079), has a nice selection of both pottery and zellij. Easily packed items include square-tile house numbers for your home (150dh) and small, zellij-topped mosaic tables weighing only 3 kilograms (6.5 lb.) and selling for around 300dh. Offering a more varied selection, including clay pots and vases from the Rif Mountains to the north of Fes, is Zaz Abdelslam's Maison Sahara, 9 place Nejjarine (tel. 0535/634522 or 0665/735681). Both shops are open daily 8am to 8pm (closed Fri during the colder months).
Spices & Herboristes
Recognizable by the cone-shape mounds of green (henna), red (paprika), and yellow (turmeric) on display at their entrances are the medina's spice shops. An essential item in everyday Moroccan cooking, spices can be bought readily and without any haggling. Prices should be fixed (around 35dh per 100g/ 1/4 lb. for any standard spice, perhaps a little more for saffron) and the transaction drama-free.
The medina's herboristes, on the other hand, provide much more entertainment for your money. Along with selling spices, including a mixture of 35 different varieties known as ras el hanout that is great for stews and casseroles, these Berber chemists show off their stock of herbal medicines, oils, and teas said to "cure" everything from bladder problems and constipation to depression and obesity; there's even a "Viagra" tea for impotence. Abdou Belkhaid, aka Herboriste Abdou, 148 rue Sidi Moussa, Guerniz (tel. 0535/638127), has more than 350 jars of goodies to show you, along with a huge lineup of perfumed oils -- cedar wood, jasmine, orange, amber, rose -- and natural cosmetics. He's open every day from 9am to 7pm. In a similar vein is Amina's and Sanae's Aux Mille Epices, 42 Derb Blida (20m/66 ft. southwest from the junction with Derb Hassan; tel. 0535/741879 or 0666/514825).
Tip: If you are anywhere near the Acima or Marjane supermarket, have a look at their spice section. Although they are obviously lacking the atmosphere of shopping in the medina, you are very likely to find the exact same spices at a cheaper price.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.