Best for getting lost: Fez

Every great city is entirely itself and nowhere else. At the same time, they're all like ... somewhere. Somewhere that doesn't exist. A Platonic copy, perhaps; an embodiment of the idea of the city, whatever that may be. Morocco has several versions – all different – but in the end Tangier, Rabat and Marrakesh seem to me just rehearsals for the world's great masterpiece, Fez. In particular, the Bali Medina, the walled Old City, of Fez. The traditional Great City – traditional now, in our post-Enlightenment eyes – is a place of visual harmony, of vistas and prospects, squares, spires and domes. Old Fez is the exact opposite. The alleyways of the medina are so sinuous, straitened and overbuilt that there is, quite literally, no view. You never know what is around the next corner as it tilts down towards the river. You barely know where the next corner is. There is no angle that can lead the eye upwards more than 30ft. The rooflines are a mystery. The medina from the air reveals nothing about the medina on the ground. The eye is made useless.

Instead, you navigate by sound and smell. The clangour of hammers on metal leads you into a narrow defile, where brass-beaters and tinsmiths bang their trade. Here a vegetable steam announces the dyers, the streets robed in scarlet cloth hung to dry. A haunting, literally faecal, fleshy, fatty, ammoniacal smell declares that the great and terrifying Chouara Tannery is nearby – but where? Through what doorway, along which grease-skittered cobbles, up which narrow stairs?

Stay in one of the many riyads in Fez – built for extended families, now often converted into guest-houses where you can dine under the open sky, rooms opening on to balconies overlooking the central courtyards – and ignore the threats of getting irretrievably lost if you venture into the medina. Hire an official guide if you want; go alone if you don't mind your sleeve being plucked every few yards by boys eager for dirhams. Be prepared to be cheated; the oud-wood oil the perfumer offers you will be Firmenich Oud Synthetic 10760E or Black Agar Givco from Roure if you're lucky, a frantically dodgy concocted base (smelling of santalone, maple syrup and old gas-pipes) if you're not. It doesn't matter; you don't know what real oud smells like anyway and nor do your friends. The soft wool djellaba, naturally dyed, will be spun rayon, unnaturally dyed, and anyway you'll never learn to keep the hood pointed up, like a Klansman or a wizard. Bear with it. The medina is not about you.

It is about Al-Karaouine, the world's oldest functioning university (branched out from Qur'anic studies into geography and maths as a sort of competitive USP). The medressehs in every district. The scraps of silk thread on every narrow wall, left by the cord-weavers of the city with their little electric winding-motors. The tiny cubicles and low, narrow basement spaces where men ply unrecognisable trades. The donkey-shouts and sweetmeats and small doors which could lead into a finely restored riyad or a warren of hovels.

Get lost. That's part of it. Part of the quality of the great city: that you can become almost instantly, hauntingly lost. (The other part is that you can be easily found, that you can belong to it.) I can describe it for you if you are a perfumer: it is what Guerlain's Shalimar would be if there were no obscenity laws. I can describe it for you if you are an organist: imagine inhabiting the sound of the 17th-century Gabler organ at Weingarten Abbey. For the rest of us, all I can say is: if you abandoned a Brussels EU apparatchik in the medina, he would die of horror, screaming. In fact I can do better: Fez is the opposite of Brussels. Go there. It will populate your dreams.

Exotic escapes

# China's most dazzling city puts on a show: Shanghai World Expo (1 May-31 October) is expected to attract a record 70 million visitors. Better City, Better Life, is the theme. Packages including Expo tickets from Wendy Wu Tours (0844 875 2433; wendywutours.co.uk)

# Develop a taste for voluntourism in Vanuatu in the South Pacific. This holiday combines volunteering (renovations of houses and schools in a remote island community), with time to explore the volcanic island of Vanuatu. Hands Up Holidays (0207-193 1062; handsupholidays.com), 15 days from £1,450 pp.

# Explore India's Western Ghats and the Prambimulum Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the world's 34 bio-diversity hotspots and home to endemic species like the Royal Bengal Tiger. TransIndus (020-8566 2729; transindus.com) has three-day tented camp excursions from £498 per person.

# Take an exotic cookery course in Vietnam with Holiday on the Menu (08708 998844; holidayonthemenu.com). Learn different regional dishes and take a chef-guided market trip, with accommodation at the plush Life Resort in the UNESCO port town of Hoi An. Seven nights from £799 per person.

# This new Japanese riverside "hoshinoya" (upscale traditional inn) Hoshinoya Karuizawa (hoshinoya.com/en) is a forest-cloaked eco-retreat with natural hot springs and meditation bath. Doubles from £94 per night.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?