Our next desitnation on our tour around Morocco was Meknes. In order to get there we premiered a new mode of transport: the Moroccan trains. The network is mainly limited to big cities and stretches between Tangier, Fes, Marrakesh and Agadir. The trains are clean, comfortable and good value for money. We payed 44dh for the 45 min journey from Fes to Meknes.
We thought finding our riad would be straight forward: the road was marked on our map (though without a name) and the riad existed only once. It ended up taking us at least half an hour and three locals to find it. When we finally reached it it turned out we had come the back way missing the instructions on the booking confirmation and signs from the other end of the medina.The room was very spacious and for the first time in a week we had an ensuite bathroom.
Meknes is a fairly big city located about 30km from two major tourist attractions: the village of Moulay Idriss which houses a mosque and the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss I. and Voulubilis, an old roman city.
Most tourists do them either together or on their own as day trips from Fes which means Meknes is a lot less set up for tourists. The medina is geared for locals and is completely lacking signs or maps like in Fes or Marrakesh. The whole atmosphere is different and prices in the shops are lower but accomomodation is a lot more expensive. Overall it was still cheaper to stay here than to travel from Fes for two days and go on a daytrip to Voloubilis.
On our arrival day we headed straight for the medina only to get lost very quickly. Our map was only of limited use partially due to the lack of signs at squares and gates. We managed to find a big metal souk with many forges, welders and blacksmiths producing a vast variety of iron goods. Eventually we found our bearings and the exit with the help of a friendly shop keeper. Getting lost in medinas can be exciting if there are interesting things to discover. If you get lost in the housing part of it it becomes boring very quickly. In the evening we had a lovely picnic on the roof terrace with fresh bread and pastries from our local bakery.
The next morning started with a very unplessant surprise: the melon we bought from a market the day before had exploded inside our daysack which (along with the contents) was covered in melon slush and seeds. Ted very narrowly escaped by being at the top of the contents. Otherwise he would have had a rather unpleasant washing experience. Despite all washing and cleaning we ended up carrying a bag smelling of rotting melon with us for the best part of the day. Understandably Ted decided not to take his usual seat in the backpack and stay behind in the riad (at least he got some blogging done 😉 ).
There are three options to get the Moulay Idriss/Voloubilis from Meknes: grand taxi, bus or private tour. Due to the costs and budget restrictions we found ourselves waiting at the bottom of the hill near Bab Mansour to catch bus number 15 to Moulay Idriss. The ride takes about 50min and the bus leaves on the hour at both ends. A ticket for the whole journey is super cheap and costs only 7dh per person (grand taxis are about 50dh per seat!). The only downside was that we had to stand since there were only about 20 seats on the bus but space for 40 standing.
There are various websites as to where to catch the bus but we recommend getting it from the bottom of the hill of Bab Mansour since this is a major bus hub and even has an office! None of the places the driver stopped at had a citybus sign or any hint of being a bus stop. They seem to stop anytime upon request though. The common sign for this was hitting the side of the bus. This was also a signal for the driver to open the back doors at any stop.
Voloubilis is about 4km outside Moulay Idriss and can either be reached by taxi or walking (or hitchhiking if you are lucky). We chose to go for a nice walk along a single track road past fields of olive trees which took us about 40min.
The entrance fee to the impressive ruins of the roman city is 10dh per adult and 4dh for children (the usual rate in Morocco). At its hay day, the city covered an area of 42 hectars most of which surounded by walls. It’s wealth stemmed from cereal and olive agriculture around it which kept it going for 600 years after the romans left in 285B.C. There are two cafes and a little museum near the entrance which provided a much needed cool down after walking around for an hour and a half in almost 40 deg C without any shade.
The main attraction are undoubtably the triumph arch, the remains of the capitol and the mosaics which are dotted around the big houses. Some of the mosaics are in impressive condition considering their age although some had been visably restored.
After two hours in the museum and a much needed refuelling and cool down we walked back to Moulay Idriss. We got there just in time to find the bus waiting near the village center. Since neither of us was in the mood for shopping and wandering about (as non-muslims we weren’t allowed into the main attraction anyway) we called it a day and headed back home.
In the evening we decided to try one of the local ‘cheap eats’ from Tripadvisor with the hope of sampling the local speciality: meatballs. We opted for a place called Aisha due to its reviews and proximity to our riad. The restaurant consists of the smallest professional kitchens ever and two tables. The menu consisted of photos on a smartphone and we quickly decided on Harira, berber tajine and sweet and salty couscous with chicken. The staff was super friendly and we recieved our food faster than in any other place we have been to so far. The dishes were absolutely amazing! We can’t put it into words how good. They were in a different league compared to anything we have tasted in Morocco. For pudding we had a big oot of teaand some berber sweets and cookies to finish of this amazing meal. As it turned out in the end it wasn’t really a cheap eat: in fact thr pricetag matched the quality but we didn’t care; it was still great value for money. If you ever end up in Meknes you have to go there!!! Just prepare yourself that you might not get a table during peak tourist season.
After dinner we spoke to the chefs son (yes, it’s only one woman cooking) about spices and we ended up going to shop run by a cooperative of widowed women to by the special ‘king spice mix’ used in our mains and some Moroccan tea.
We can’t wait to start trying to venture further into the Moroccan cuisine and trying more dishes out ourselfs.
If Ted’s got anything to do with it you should find something about it here.