Morocco’s third imperial city is just a stone’s throw from Fes (if you’ve got a strong arm) and just 30 minutes on the train westbound towards Rabat and Casablanca. At a puny 20 MAD you can funk with the locals as you burn through the vineyards in your own, 2nd class cabin. Or, if you are like me, you can select your own cabin and then have some kid kick you in the leg repeatedly before he decided to nut a table and then sit himself down.
Meknes is a city surrounded by fields filled with olives, vineyards brewing up one of the nastiest wines you will ever taste and trees dotted with oranges. It is, all things considered a small vibrant city rolling along at snail pace and despite its proximity, could not be any further away from Fez.
The first thing any traveler will notice about this fabulous city is how cheap in comparison to other Moroccan cities it is. At least a third cheaper than Fez, and half that of Casablanca. Accommodation wise it blows Rabat out of the water. One might think that this tiny little hamlet has nothing to offer the traveler. You would be wrong. Rocking Africa since the 10th century, Meknes has popped up a tight little Medina, a new city, some walls and has managed somehow to weave it into a modern lifestyle whilst retaining that Berber feel. It is like Marrakesh on downers. No one is in a rush, even the car manufacturers have yet to move on from the 70’s Peugeot, and the painters are still licking things in baby blue. Life has grinded to an almighty halt, and rather than cause friction with daily life it has seamlessly intertwined itself into a laid back, chilled out existence of happiness, understanding and appreciation of what life should be like. I have no doubt that should Bob Marley ever have a second coming and somehow find himself in Morocco – He will head to Meknes.
In contrast to Fez and Marrakesh and even Casablanca, Meknes is easy. We haven’t been asked a single time for a taxi, or to go into a shop, or offered the services of a guide. In fact, the only person that has spoken to us throughout our whole time in Meknes was some dude sat chilling, as we walked past he must’ve realised we were headed for the Medina and said “Bro, the Madina is that way” pointing down a road, barely moving his festering limbs.
The Medina was quite unique in that it was empty, we literally had much of the place to ourselves. Occasionally a kid would run past kicking a punctured football, or a woman would mooch by with a basket on her head. But it was so quiet it felt surreal. What didn’t feel surreal was that yet again we ended up getting lost despite me yet again feeling skilled. Eventually I rescued us from the labyrinth of alleyways and we stumbled upon the most amazing souk, a quant place filled with the smoke of coal fired chicken mixed with fresh mint and cilantro, both of which formed huge piles of herbs and spices piled up outside makeshit market stalls.
After a while we popped out of the Medina and found ourselves at Place el-Hadim. A vast and lovely open area filled with markets, donkeys pulling tired carriages and vendors plying their wares. Not a single “hey Mr., hey sir” – nothing. We were left alone to roam in peace and absolute tranquility amongst the fantastic Islamic architecture and gated walls. It was true bliss. I know of nowhere like it in terms of being able to just roam freely without any hassle or concern in another Islamic country.
The day drew on and I fancied a beer – I hailed a taxi and asked ‘Label’Vie” pronounced La-bell-Vee – We hopped in the taxi, the meter was started and 7MAD later (40p) we rocked up at Carrefour where I bagged a few beers from the only off licence I know of in Meknes. So hassle free it felt like the Truman show.
That’s actually pretty much it. Genuinely our time in Meknes was spent strolling the streets, laughing, kicking cans and loving Morocco. I can’t think of a single fault, and really – Don’t want to. But I will recommend this – Forget about Fez, head to Meknes and kick back whilst saving a small fortune in the process. J