Smiling with a two-toothed grin, Adil beckons me once more. ‘My friend, good price for you. Moroccan price, no tourist.’ It’s the same old sales pitch
The 9,900 dirhams (£800) he’s offering is many more times I aim to spend on his wolly Beni Ourain Berber rug. As I respectfully decline and continue along the steep, narrow street he chases after me (and a prospective sale) — and we begin all over again.
After my several attempts to escape, he finally reaches out his hand and we shake on 3,300 dirhams (£270). A bargain considering its beauty and its mammoth 10ftx6ft size. ‘Best deal of the month for you my friend, leave me poor’, he says as I take my treasure.
It’s tiring haggling in Fez’s central madina. Persistence, patience and the poker face are what’s needed, along with three phrases. salaam-alaikum (hello), shukran (thanks), and, most importantly, la (no). I am on a mission to return to London, where I study, with three authentic Moroccan rugs for my student apartment. Fortunately, I have the benefit of having spent my formative years in Morocco, leaving me a little wiser to the age-old game – my aim, to achieve local prices.
The 9th century medina is a walk into the past (except for the dodgy-looking power lines). Everywhere, there are banging craftsmen, pulling and pummelling 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. And all up for negotiation. In contrast to its famous sibling Marrakech (a six hour drive south and home to me for a long time), tourists still remain the minority and much of the medina is aimed at locals.
Fez is the pinnacle of Moroccan culture and spirit, and once, of much of the Muslim world. It’s home to the world’s oldest university, Al-Karaouine — founded in 859. I’m here for three days, staying at the palatial Riad Fes, which once belonged to one of the 19th century Fassi families, and then its sister, 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 I hear.
We go towards the millennia old Chouara Tannery, at the base of the medina, where most of the leather goods are made. The process here has barely changed since medieval times with 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 £500 for the two, I ask for a third and we agree on £200 with remarkably less effort than my first experience.
I later find another 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 sacks we acquired. My three carpets cost £700 – a bargain compared to the £2,000 price we found in London a few months earlier. Even when you factor in flights, extra luggage and a room it’s good value. And, somehow, Fez has more of a ring to it than a shopping centre in North London.
While we always recommend the adventure of buying rugs in person, it’s fair to say it is a lot of effort and time. To really get the best prices it can take several days of research and building relationships, tiptoeing the cultural tightrope to avoid offending a trader while trying to continually lower the price. We spent 3 days getting our rugs – worth it - but for those who want an easier way, we found Benisouk to offer the best range of authentic Moroccan Rugs at very reasonable prices, and they will deliver straight to your door. When our friends ask us to get a Moroccan Rug for them next time we are in Morocco – we always refer them to Benisouk.