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Short stay: Palais Amani, Fez, Morocco

Amani means desire or wish in Arabic. The Palais Amani gives guests the chance to fulfil their dreams of living at the heart of Fez’s ancient and authentic Medina. For guests the Palais Amani, with its opulent Arabian-Andalusian style, is their home for a few precious days, as they savour an imperial city of colours and flavours. Fez is a city where there are hands-on opportunities to engage with the people. Guests may learn traditional Fez skills such as baking, calligraphy and cooking. Or they can just relax in the Hamman. The welcome Leaving the car and the 21st century behind, a porter took my luggage through the entrance into the labyrinthine tangle of over 9,500 alleys – beyond mapping and beyond GPS – that is Fez’s ancient Medina. At the Palais Amani there is a traditional Arabic welcome for weary travellers: chilled flannel, iced lemonade and biscotti. I relax on a sofa in the riad’s haven of peace – amongst lemon, orange and pomegranate trees and a trickling water feature. Meanwhile the necessities of check-in were completed. The room The Palais was built, in the 17th century, so ceilings are lofty and cooling. This palatial riad was a home for a merchant and his extended family of some 50 souls. Efficient 21st century air-conditioning finishes the cooling job. Thick cedar shutters muffle the imam’s pre-dawn call to prayer, mute the clatter of a town of some 60,000 people. The co-owner of the Palais first visited Fez at 13, never imaging that one day she would marry Abdel from Fez and would have a trio of sister-in-laws called Fatima. Nor anticipating that she, Jemima Mann-Baha, and her husband, would buy a rather tired looking Palais in 2006 and spend almost four years restoring it. Traditional dark Maroc furnishings are lit with filigree lanterns backed by artfully placed mini-spotlights. There is a magical Arabian Nights ambience – but contemporary expectations are met with Nespresso coffee-maker, spacious mini-bar and upscale tea tray. It is almost an impeccable Vogue photo-shoot for Fez stylish living. Camouflaged against the dark wood there is a flat-screen television but no-one comes to Fez to watch TV. There is no need, the Medina is pure theatre. Even in entry level Classic rooms the beds are huge oases of comfort. In the opulent and regal Grand Suite, taking over one entire floor of a wing, you gaze through stained glass windows down onto the tree canopy of the riad. The bathroom For Moslems the call to prayer, which echoes through the Medina skyline, is also a call to cleansing and purification before prayer. Bathrooms are important for Moroccans. This mosaic tiled bathroom has a spacious rain-fall shower, large heated towel rail and two hanging white bath-robes: bidet but no bath. Though in the Grand Suite the bath, celebrated on a podium, is fit for a sultan. Traditionally oil from the Argan tree was used for rehydrating skin, appropriately for Fez’s soaring temperatures, Argan soap is provided. The facilities Birds soar and swoop around the trees, flitting above the geraniums, papyrus and roses of this Garden of Eden. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant is called The Eden restaurant. Finding Fez begins with breakfast. Everyday of the week there is the option of a different “Discovery”. Perhaps d’chicha, a thick tomato and semolina soup. Chorea – a traditional vegetable soup served with eggy bread. Krachel – a brioche throwback to the French Protectorate. And so on … Alongside there are fruits, yogurts, flatbreads with olives, oil, butter, cheese, nuts, honey and jams. Eggs are available to order too. The only place to be for sunset is the roof terrace bar: a 360 degree view of the Medina and across to a grey granitey mountain that’s geologically classified as part of the Middle Atlas. Sip a cocktail, maybe a pomegranate mojito, amongst bougainvillea, lavender, olive trees, roses and vines. As the sky turns shades of apricot and saffron a thousand birds’ evening chorus crescendos. Then back down, in the lift, a rarity for a riad, to dine in The Eden Restaurant. Every week a three course bistro menu changes to reflect the seasons. Though the a la carte menu always honours the classic traditions of local Fassi cuisine. Perhaps a starter of mixed Moroccan salads, followed by a chicken tajine or duck confit with prunes and finally, maybe, a lemon mousse. Semolina served with almonds and honey finally exorcises the ghosts of school dinner semolina. A lighter tapas style menu is available too, celebrating the Arab Andalusians who fled from Córdoba to Fez during the Reconquest of Moorish Spain. Location Accessed only by foot, the Palais Amani, is in the heart of the Medina. Forget the electricity, filter out the mobile phones. Focus on donkeys, men and mules as beasts of burden. Watch craftsmen ply age old trades – blacksmith, calligrapher, tanner, tailor, cooper, book-binder, knife-sharpener, quill-maker. As Morocco’s holiest city, Fez’s Medina is where thousands quietly live and toil with dignity. It is a living, thriving town not a mere tourist attraction. You are but a short walk from the centuries old Chouwara tanning pits, Qu’ranic schools, the world’s oldest continually functioning university and the Al-Qarawiyyin library, the world’s oldest library. Visit the women’s weaving co-operative, stocking at least 13,000 items, that created rugs for the Palais Amani. Another option is to have a leather jacket bespoke made at Maisonette de Cuir Sidi Moussa. Delivered in under five hours, it may be back at the Palais Amani before you are. Other nice touches A treatment, in the Palais Amani’s serene Hamman is more than just a therapeutic steam bath. For Moslems, originally the Hamman was a ritual of both physical and spiritual purification before prayer, a social event at public steam baths. At the Palais Hamman, it becomes a more individual journey, as you are guided through cleansing with black Argan oil soap, steam and exfoliation: water trickles and candles gently glow as body and mind relax. If you still need to relax further, yoga sessions run on most days. Costs A classic room, including breakfast, begins at around £245 while the Grand Suite costs from £640. The best bit The Palais Amani encourages guests to engage with Fez’s sensuous world, to get to know it’s people. Marrakech replaced Fez as the political capital in 1912 but Fez remains supreme as Morocco’s Foodie Capital and Capital of Crafts. Take the Palais’ Fez Cookery School course to get an insight into Fassi cuisine. Breakfast at the stalls of the Medina whilst you shop with the chef for your ingredients to create a chicken tajine, a smokey aubergine salad and a dessert of phyllo pastry and orange blossom cream. With a hands-on baking course, a calligraphy lesson based on storytelling of yesteryear Fez and a hike in the nearby mountains, guests have the chance to take part in the crafts and activities that have made Fez such a vibrant imperial city. The final verdict As an intimate boutique hotel, with immaculate service, the Palais Amani is not just a place to stay, refuel and relax. Every conversation, every detail and every flavour makes a connection. Guests are invited into Fez’s peaceful world, it’s arts and crafts, it’s past and present. Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by the Palais Amani.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. I can see why this amazing riad gets listed under pampering! When I visit it certainly won’t be a short stay. It will be a week of pampering for me.

  2. Reading this piece let’s you see how luxury travel is developing. I get the feel that Fez is providing a chance for people to join in with the local people and have a go at the handicrafts. It would be nice to think that running these interactive courses is also helping to keep the old skills alive.

    What really appeals to me is spending a couple of hours with a local Fez person who is teaching you so that you can build-up a rapport. You will get a far more realistic idea of what makes Fez and it’s people tick than just getting lost in all those alleys. I always opt to do things like this so that you can get to ask the questions you want answering.

    1. Yes, it’s a real trend in Fez to do some hands-on activities. I mentioned the Fez Cooking School and they also do a Jewish Cooking Class too.

      Moving out from the Palais Amani, Craft Draft does a book-binding course and the Clock Cafe also has some Art and Craft options.

  3. I’m probably not the first person to say this but the Palais Amani must be a dream destination for a honeymoon. Sunset cocktails up on the roof garden, like in the first picture, looks so romantic. That picture of a table for two hidden amongst the greenery of the riad is perfect for a romantic honeymoon too. What I also like is that there are plenty of activities that you could do together. I expect that the spa does couples massages.

    1. You are right Zoe, Palais Amani is a perfect place for a honeymoon and we are lucky to welcome many happy couples. Les Bains Amani, do provide both Hammam rituals and massages for couples as well as people wishing their own private time!

    2. Thanks for the reply.

      I’m sorry to say that it’s just wishful thinking at the moment. No suitable man on the scene currently but a girl can always dream.

    3. I can attest to the honeymoon suitability! My husband and I had the most wonderful stay for our honeymoon, in late September this year.
      The hotel is a wonderful place, we could not have asked for more. We will surely celebrate more than one anniversary by going back.
      Cannot reccommend the place enough!

  4. I’m just addicted to travel. I find it fascinating to get out there and see how different cultures live.

    Coming down to breakfast and immediately having the choice of a different Discovery dish each day is sheer genius. Right from the start of your day you are learning something new about Fez. I’d like to think that this is something that could catch on with hotels across the world.

  5. Wow, what an incredible place this is, and I love the blend of traditional meets modern. Can’t say I thought semolina could ever be well used in a dish, so it made me laugh how you described that it ‘exorcises’ those yucky school dinner memories. It’s almost at odds to see such contemporary touches and sophisticated dining, surrounded by the authentic and low key Medina. It must be a nice change of pace and a breath of fresh air to stay there and appreciate the way of life in the city. It’s also nice to see a focus on wellness and getting involved in the culture. I think that’s what can make a trip so much more meaningful, when you can really absorb yourself in the area and learn and experience something so new.

    1. Back to the key issue of semolina, you have to remember that the Moroccans have been serving it for centuries. The dessert that I tried included almonds, nutmeg and wine. Maybe if the cook at my school had included wine we may have been more impressed with the results.

    2. Hah, yes, I’m sure a little wine could have made anything taste better for school children, even vegetables!

  6. Earlier in the year we visited both Fez and Marrakech. For me Fez wins hands down. The main problem with Marrakech is the motorbikes roaring through the narrow alleyways. I saw someone who had their foot run over. Also the sheer number of motorbikes is lowering the quality of the air in Marrakech. You get hassled a lot more by sales people in Marrakech than you do in Fez.

    As Fez’s medina is pedestrianised you can walk through the alleys and relax.

    I’ve also heard good things about Meknes, which is quite close to Fez, so I plan for that to be on my agenda the next time that I go to Morocco.

    As it’s just a 3 hour budget airline flight from London to Morocco it’s a cheap way of getting some sun. As the weather’s so good you can do it on hand-luggage as you don’t need many clothes, making it even more of a bargain.

  7. I read somewhere that Morocco is the ideal place for couples wishing to have a honeymoon on a budget. Is it really so? This hotel sounds tempting though I find £245 for a night stay a bit expensive. But if the overall cost of vacationing including the food, shopping and transport is cheap, then I guess that couples with a tight budget too can easily afford it.
    I would be soo grateful if somebody can enlighten me.

    1. Hi Huggie,

      I flew from London Stansted with RyanAir for not very much and the flight was prompt. Sadly, the return flight didn’t fit with my diary, though it was good value, and I paid a little more to come back with Air Arabia to London Gatwick. Again the flight came in exactly on time.

      That room rate at the Palais was the one displayed in Reception and you may be able to get a better deal online depending on the time of year. Breakfast, included in the price is such a banquet, that you are unlikely to need to spend much on lunch.

      The Market Menu in the Eden Restaurant comes in at less than £25 for three courses.

  8. The bedroom looks lush, I bet that affords a good night’s sleep! Having a Cookery School course is an interesting bonus, is that just for a day over a couple of hours? Can’t say I’ve ever stayed anywhere that’s offered anything like that!

    1. We started our tour of the Medina at 10am and spent at least a couple of hours touring the souks.

      One tip is don’t have too big a breakfast before doing the Cez Cooking School as we had the real Fez experience of stopping for breakfast along the way as locals do. The first pit-stop was for a soup and bread. Then it was a break for something spelt like sfinat – Moroccan-style donuts but cooked in an oil spiced with cumin and salt. We also had stops for mint tea and lemonade.

      We all asked so many questions that we probably didn’t start cooking until 12.45. By the time we had cooked and ate our meal it was about 3.30 – so I wouldn’t plan much else for the day apart from maybe a Hamman at around 5 ish!

  9. This is an ideal honeymoon destination, I fully reccomend Palais Amani for newlyweds!

    My husband and I stayed at the hotel for the first half of our honeymoon, which was on a budget. It coincided with Michael’s stay, in September. I do agree with Michaels advice.
    And I would like to add: It may not be the cheapest choice, but it is well worth it -we got so much from our booking! We had free upgrade on the room (we had mentioned the reason for our stay, and upon arrival they had the most amazing room ready for us). Breakfast is included, it is delicious and really copious, not to be missed! Everyone at the hotel was wonderful, and if you do like us and stay for 3 nights or more, you can get a culinary package with meals, cooking lessons, visit to the zoukh and complimentary couples hammam.

    Honestly, we had a lovely and memorable time there, could not have asked for more!
    It was the highlight of the trip, we surely will be back.

  10. My wife is Moroccan and her traditional African ways of life perfectly contrast with a contemporary European touch. This amazes me to say the least. I wonder how it would feel to meet an oasis of people with ways similar to hers. I am also mesmerized by her tales of her motherland. I and my family also go gaga over the delectable Moroccan food she cooks. One day definitely, gonna fly to the place to get a taste of the meals prepared by professional Moroccan chefs!

  11. This article reminded me of my stay in Istanbul’s Four Season Hotel. A 19th century palace was transformed into this Grand Hotel. It featured a mind-blowing hammam and massage centre. Also the perfect blend of the past with the present was commendable. I was looking for a similar experience but in a different land. Thanks for sharing this piece of information. Now, I have certainly got a clue where to plan my next vacations at!

  12. Really sounds like a remarkable city. All the food looks great. I would have never guessed that there would be such a relaxing escape or getaway in a city in Morocco. Pretty cool stuff.

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