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Blagging bargain carpets in Fez and a mesmerising Moroccan adventure

by Ace Damon
Bargain hunting: The streets of the medina of Fez, which has few modern traps

Smiling with a three-toothed smile, Adil calls me once more. ‘Good price to you, my friend. Moroccan price without tourists. & # 39; It's the same old sales pitch.

The 6,500 dirhams (£ 525) he offers are more than five times what I intend to spend on his thick Beni Ourain Berber sheep wool rug. As I respectfully decide and continue up the steep, narrow street, he runs after me – and we start all over again.

After my several attempts to leave, he finally reached out and we squeezed 1,100 dirhams (90 pounds). A bargain considering its gigantic size of 10 feet x 6 feet. "Best offer of the month to you, my friend, make me poor," he says as I pick up my treasure.

Bargain hunting: The streets of the medina of Fez, which has few modern traps

Harriet strikes a deal for some rugs for her apartment

Harriet strikes a deal for some rugs for her apartment

Bargaining in Fez's sprawling central medina is hard work. But armed with patience, persistence and three sentences: salaam-alaikum (hello), shukran (thank you) and, most importantly, la (no), I'm determined to come out with three rugs to my new apartment.

The 9th century medina has few modern features beyond the dishonest-looking power line. Everywhere, artisans beat, pull and attack metal, leather and stone. They are sitting at the entrance to their stalls, in front of walls lined with colorful leather slippers and piles of handmade rugs. There are no price tags anywhere, so it all depends on stressful negotiations.

Fez is just three hours 'flight from the UK, but unlike the famous brother Marrakech (six hours' drive south), tourists remain the minority and much of the medina is intended for locals.

Culturally and spiritually, Fez is the pinnacle of Morocco and once of much of the Muslim world. It is home to the oldest university in the world, Al-Karaouine – founded in 859 – whose alumni include the first French pope, Sylvester II, who attended in 998. I am here for three days with my mother, Jo, in the palatial Riad Fes, who belonged to one of the 19th century Fassi families.

Our last night is spent at Riad Fes's sister hotel, Hotel Sahrai, perched on a hill overlooking the new city. It's modern and lacks charm, and we feel we could be anywhere in the world. But it serves great food and wine and has a huge infinity pool on Instagram and the Givenchy spa – the only one in Africa.

Riad Fes's pool, designed in the traditional ornate Moroccan style

Riad Fes's pool, designed in the traditional ornate Moroccan style

Hotel Sahrai and its Instagramable Pool, which sits on a hill overlooking the new city of Fes

Hotel Sahrai and its Instagramable Pool, which sits on a hill overlooking the new city of Fes

We head towards the thousand-year-old Chouara tannery at the end of the medina, where most leather goods are made.

The process here has hardly changed since medieval times. Some tanners are working to the waist in gigantic wells, using their bodies to blend the skin of cows, sheep, goats and camels with pigeon poop – a natural leather softener – and vegetable dyes. Others rearrange the skins to dry in the heat.

Carpet stalls near the tannery are some of the best. We entered one of them with newly found confidence and immediately spotted two rugs, one colored in fabric, the other a small thick wool rug.

I keep calm and ask indifferently about the price. He pays £ 300 for both, I ask for a third and we agree to £ 130 with much less effort than my first experience.

Fez, pictured, is just a three-hour flight from the UK and a six-hour drive south of Marrakech.

Fez, pictured, is just a three-hour flight from the UK and a six-hour drive south of Marrakech.

TRAVEL FACTS

B&B doubles at Riad Fes from £ 190 (riadfes.com)

Air Arabia flies Gatwick to Fez around £ 176 (airarabia.com)

I find my mother in an opposite tent on a sea of ​​brightly colored rugs unrolled by a skinny dreadlocks salesman who eventually gives in and agrees to cut almost three percent of three Azilal rugs with intricate patterns.

Walking back to the riad in the overwhelming heat is not easy, but the ingenious way in which tent owners wrap and seal the rugs in small packages means that we fit the six into two huge bags of clothes we brought from home.

My three rugs cost £ 225, my mother's three rugs cost £ 310. We would have spent at least £ 1,000 each at home. Even when you consider flights, extra luggage (£ 28) and a room, it's a good value. And somehow, Fez has more influence than my local North London shopping mall.

BE CHAMPION CHAMPION …

Don't act too much or you will lose your bargaining power.

Offer a third of the price the seller quotes first and haggle from there.

Be prepared for the laughter that will accompany your first offer.

Always keep no agreement on the table.

If you do not want to pay the final price offered, back down politely and leave. You may be followed, but keep walking and do not respond or make eye contact.

Learn some of the language, like salaamalaikum (hello) and shukran (thank you).

Always be polite.

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