Smiling with a three-toothed grin, Adil beckons me once again. ‘Good price for you my friend. Moroccan price, no tourist.’ It’s the same old sales pitch.
The 6,500 dirhams (£525) he’s offering is more than five times what I aim to spend on his thick sheep wool Beni Ourain Berber rug. As I respectfully decline and continue up the steep, narrow street he runs after me — and we start all over again.
After my several attempts to walk away, he finally reaches out his hand and we shake on 1,100 dirhams (£90). A bargain considering its mammoth 10ftx6ft size. ‘Best deal of the month for you my friend, leave me poor’, he says as I take my treasure.
Bargain hunt: The streets of Fez’s medina, which has few modern trappings
Harriet closes in on a deal for some rugs for her flat
Haggling in Fez’s central, sprawling medina is a slog. But armed with patience, persistence and three phrases: salaam-alaikum (hello), shukran (thanks), and, most importantly, la (no), I’m determined to leave with three rugs for my new flat.
The 9th century medina has few modern trappings apart from the dodgy-looking power line. Everywhere, craftsmen bang, pull and pummel at metal, leather and stone. They sit at the entrance to their stalls, in front of walls lined with colourful leather babouche slippers and piles of hand-woven carpets. There are no price tags anywhere, so everything is up for stressful negotiation.
Fez is just a three-hour flight from the UK but, in contrast to its famous sibling Marrakech (a six hour drive south), tourists still remain the minority and much of the medina is aimed at locals.
Culturally and spiritually, Fez is the pinnacle of Morocco, and once, of much of the Muslim world. It’s home to the world’s oldest university, Al-Karaouine — founded in 859 — whose alumni include the first French pope, Sylvester II, who attended in 998. I’m here for three days with my mother, Jo, staying at the palatial Riad Fes, which once belonged to one of the 19th century Fassi families.
Our last evening is spent at Riad Fes’s sister hotel, Hotel Sahrai, situated on a hill overlooking the new town. It’s modern and lacks charm and we feel we could be anywhere in the world. But it serves excellent food and wine and has a huge, instagrammable infinity pool and Givenchy spa – the only in Africa
The pool at Riad Fes, which is designed in the ornate traditional Moroccan style
Hotel Sahrai and its Instagrammable pool, which is on a hill overlooking the new town of Fez
We head towards the 1,000 year-old Chouara Tannery, at the bottom of the medina, where most of the leather goods are made.
The process here has barely changed since medieval times. Some of the tanners are working waist-deep in the gargantuan pits, using their bodies to mix the hides of cows, sheep, goats and camel with pigeon poo — a natural leather softener — and vegetable dyes. Others rearrange the skins to dry out in the heat.
The carpet stalls near the tannery are some of the best. We walk into one with a new-found confidence and immediately spot two carpets, one a colourful woven runner, the other a small thick woollen rug.
I keep my cool and enquire nonchalantly about the price. He goes in at £300 for the two, I ask for a third and we agree on £130 with remarkably 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
B&B doubles at Riad Fes from £190 (riadfes.com).
Air Arabia flies Gatwick to Fez return from £176 (airarabia.com).
I find my mother in an opposite stall standing on a sea of brightly coloured carpets unrolled by a tetchy seller with thick dreadlocks who eventually gives in and agrees to the almost 50 per cent reduction for three intricately-patterned Azilal rugs.
The trek back to the riad in the crushing heat isn’t easy but the genius way in which the stall owners roll up and seal the rugs in tiny packages means we fit all six into two jumbo laundry bags we’ve brought from home.
My three carpets cost £225, my mother’s three come to £310. We would have spent at least £1,000 each at home. Even when you factor in flights, extra luggage (£28) and a room it’s good value. And, somehow, Fez has more of a ring to it than my local shopping centre in North London.
BE A CHAMPION HAGGLER…
Don’t act too keen or you’ll lose your bargaining power.
Offer one third of the price that the seller first quotes and haggle from there.
Be prepared for the laughter which will accompany your first offer.
Always keep no deal on the table.
If you don’t want to pay the final price offered, decline politely and walk away. You may be followed, but keep walking and don’t respond or make eye contact.
Learn some of the language such as salaamalaikum (hello) and shukran (thanks).
Always be polite.