Marrakech gets all the celebrity glamour but for a taste of the real Morocco, it's hard to beat the imperial city of Fes with its ancient labyrinthine medina, medieval tanneries and stunning converted riads.
Still the spiritual and cultural core of the country, it's also famous for its pottery and mosaics, intricately tooled metal and some of Morocco's best restaurants. Less hectic and overwhelming than Marrakech, it's the closest you'll get to stepping back to the 13th century until someone invents a time machine.
Starter for 10: FesForget hotels - you'll be missing out if you don't check into a riad or traditional Fassi homes, set around a central courtyard with a fountain.
For out and out luxury, La Maison Bleue was built as a family palace in 1915. On the edge of the medina, its restaurant is famously good and there's also a roof terrace and hammam, while the bedrooms have beautiful tiled floors and canopy beds in many of the rooms. Four nights costs from £670 per person, based on two sharing, including flights from London with Best of Morocco.
Or foodies should book into Dar el Ghalia in the medina itself, which dates back to the 17th century. The riad has one of the city's best-known restaurants, with traditional home-cooked food overseen by owner Madame Lebbar – especially the bastilla, pigeon in flaky pastry and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar (odd but it works). Four nights costs from £520 per person including flights with Best of Morocco.
Look down on the round clay pits from one of the rooftops, and the tanneries resemble an old-fashioned paint pot – for giants rather than children – filled with the various changing coloured dyes used to transform the basic leather, including red poppy flowers, yellow saffron and blue indigo.
You can see the process from the beginning, when the hides are dropped into more pits filled with noxious white pigeon droppings used to strip and soften the leather, which might put you off purchasing later. While most people wouldn't want to venture any closer, the men working there are often immersed up to the knees as they scrape, beat, clean and dye.
Around half of Morocco's total leather production comes from raw materials produced here. There are plenty of places nearby to pick up the end results, including the babouches or slippers, bags, and belts.
Restored after being listed on the World Monument Fund's list of the world's 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites, entrance is free although you'll need to be let in by the caretaker who'll expect a tip. Guided tours of the city can include a visit. It's usually closed on Fridays and Saturdays.
And take 10 minutes to marvel at the intricate golden gates at the Royal Palace, Dar el-Makhzen, although you can't go in.
Fassis are proud of having invented 'Fes blue' using cobalt and techniques dating back to the 10th century, and you can see pieces showing off the centuries-old skills of local artists. There's a small entry charge and the museum is open every day except Tuesday and during lunchtime. The museum is on Place du Batha and Rue de la Musee, in the medina.
But it's no tourist replica. Next to souvenir shops, stalls sell essentials for the people who live in the atmospheric old medina. Start at the blue and green tiled gate, Bab Bou Jeloud, and stick to the two main streets Tala'a Kebira and Tala'a Seghira. If you do get lost, all the city's thousands of satellite dishes point south so you can navigate by them.
Also helping you to get your bearings is the 9th century Kairaouine mosque at the centre of the medina, dominating all the other buildings. With space for 20,000 worshippers, it's the largest in Africa and lays claim to the title of world's oldest university. Non-Muslims aren't allowed inside but you can peer through the doorway. And stop at the Bou Inania medersa, which you can visit for a small fee. Built in the 14th century, the white marble courtyard is a haven of peace.
As well as La Maison Bleue, Dar Ghalia and Riad Fes for traditional and updated Fassi dishes – including pigeon consommé and carrot soup with orange flower water - head to Riad al Andalous (Derb Bennani, 055 740 700) for Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine, as well as belly dancing. Or venture into the Nouvelle Ville for something fancier, with gourmet French at Le Majestic at the Henri Lecompte Tennis Academy (Route de Zwagha, 035 729 999).
If you fancy whipping up your own three-course meal, try a day course from Lahcen's Moroccan Cooking. Starting with a visit to the market, followed by lessons in how to prepare three dishes plus mint tea, they cost around £35 per person if there's two or more or around £42.50 for one person.
Outside the hotels, there are few bars in Fes but if you're craving a glam night out with some cocktails, head into the new town to the Crown Palace Hotel (85 Ave des FAR, 035 948 000) for the piano bar or the Cigar Club for its leather armchairs and cocktail menu.
Most astonishing of all is watching the mosaic tables being made, with the tiles laid out face down in complex geometric patterns, all of which the craftsmen has to memorise. Chances are that even if you can resist shipping one of these home, you'll pick up a miniature salt dish.
Back in the medina, you'll find workshops specialising in beaten bronze and silver plates, with artists transforming the plain metal using just a couple of simple tools. And it's almost impossible to leave without visiting at least one carpet shop, many of which also give demonstrations of the weaving and traditional Berber techniques. Kelim Berber, off Tala'a Kebira is a good place to stop at.
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