If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a Golden Age merchant of means, Palais Amani is the place for you. This regal riad in Fez’s medina has its roots in the 1600s, but has been treated to both 20th- and 21st-century makeovers. The result? Traditional riad trademarks (lofty ceilings, jewel-hued stained glass…), chicly offset by monochrome art-deco details and straight-from-the-souk textiles. Each zellige-tiled turn doles out a fresh antidote to the heat-hazed hubbub outside – descend lantern-lit steps to the heady hammam, settle down for supper in the citrus grove, then retreat to the rooftop terrace to take in the city’s sights, fresh mint tea in hand. Souvenir-seekers fear not: once you’re rested and relaxed, the maze-like Medina streets are mere steps away…
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Glass of wine or alcohol-free cocktail and a gift from the Medina
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm (9am if the room’s free).
Double rooms from £86.70 (€101), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €4.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include traditional Moroccan breakfast. You can rent the entire riad for €3,000–€4,000 a night.
Palais Amani’s spa provides facials, massages, gommage and, of course, hammam treatments. In summer and autumn, treatments take place in a rooftop pergola, looking out over the city. The assorted unguents employed are made using unique-to-Morocco argan oil from the gardens of Ourika.
At the hotel
Spa with hammam, gardens, library of books and DVDs, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: sound system with preloaded iPod, air-con, and all-natural aromatic bath products. Most have flatscreen TVs.
Our favourite rooms
Room 12 is the Grand Suite, a sprawling swathe of hotel eye candy, occupying an entire wing of the first floor. Stained-glass windows look out onto the garden, and the bedroom (with – count them – two walk-in wardrobes) has grab-your-easel views over the desert to the hills. For opulence at a smaller price tag, the Mezzanine Suites are adorned with original artworks and have an intimate apartment feel.
There’s no pool at Palais Amani, but staff will happily direct you to one nearby, and the rooftop showers (not to mention the fountain in the courtyard) can provide emergency relief in high summer.
Trainers for tramping the mountains. Even though there’s no pool, bring swimwear, so you can sunbathe on the roof and nip into the outdoor shower when it gets too hot.
Smoking is allowed on the roof terrace and in the gardens.
Welcome. Free cots, extra beds (€65 a night for over-3s) and highchairs are available, and the kitchen can rustle up child-friendly meals on request. Babysitters are available, though they don't speak English (€20 for three hours, book a day ahead).
Solar panels have been installed, the spa exclusively uses organic products, and wherever possible, kitchen ingredients come straight from the garden or the local area.
Beside one of the wrought-iron screens to let in the air. Before the meal, hit the roof terrace for aperitifs, cured olives and home-smoked almonds.
Breezy boho and lightweight linens.
Walled with intricate blue and white tiles, Amani’s restaurant expertly juggles French and Moroccan cuisine. Prepare for extremely generous portions of fall-off-the-bone meat tagines and toothsome couscous. Let the kitchen know in advance, however, and the chef will rustle up anything you fancy.
In the palace’s old winter salon on the roof, the bar is bedecked with colourful sunbursts and photo prints of local crafts (originally snapped by the owner’s mother-in-law). Don’t leave without sampling a caipirinha.
The restaurant is open all day, until around 9.30pm. The bar opens at 5.30pm and the last cocktail is shaken around midnight.
Snacks and light meals (soup, sandwiches, and desserts) can be served in rooms from noon to 10pm.
Fez’s little airport, Saïs, hosts flights to a handful of European destinations, including Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome and London Stansted, and is around 45 minutes’ drive outside the city. And, the journey takes the same amount of time if you catch an internal flight from Marrakech.
Fez station is 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel and is linked to Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakech.
The medina itself is more donkey than Daimler, so don’t plan to do much driving around the city. If you do come by car, the charged Oued Zhoune car park is 50 metres from the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you’re interested enough in your boots to wonder where the leather came from, ask the hotel to arrange a tannery trip – but bear in mind these are only for the stout of heart and resilient of nose. The hotel can also arrange city tours, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and classes in henna painting. If you’re after a particular item of Moroccan craftwork and don’t fancy taking your chances in the souks, Palais Amani can put you in touch with talented and trustworthy craftsmen. 75km outside Fez, the Roman ruins at Volubilis are the best preserved in North Africa, and boast some amazing mosaics. The Atlas Mountains offer inspiring hiking trails and unbeatable views across the desert back to Fez, as well as the opportunity to visit a rural mountain village or two.
At nearby Dar Roumana, French chef Vincent Bonnin, who trained at Michelin-starred restaurants, dishes up two- and three-course menus of prettily plated Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. The menu changes daily, based on what looks good at the market that day. The restaurant's closed on Mondays, and it's best to book in advance. In the heart of the medina, NURoffers a contemporary take on traditional Morrocan meals from the Middle Atlas Mountains. Take a seat in the chic black-and-white dining room and enjoy the surpirse of discovering what their elaborate tasting menu features that day; dishes change daily depending on what fresh fare catches the chef's eye at market.
Near the top end of the medina, Café Clock is a laid-back, cosy affair set in a 250-year-old house. Come for the camel burger and a slice of cheesecake, and stay for the henna workshops, impromptu concerts and belly dancing classes.
Don’t expect much in the way of cocktail-fuelled nocturnal thrills – Fez is an Islamic city, so if you want a tipple after hours, rely on the riad rooftops, where you can get all the beers, wines and spirits you fancy.
It is magically cool inside Palais Amani, a 17th-century palace rebuilt in the 1920s with art deco touches, then lovingly restored again recently and reopened as a hotel. To appreciate just how welcome it was to be in its grand tiled courtyard planted with citrus trees and flowers, I’ll fill you in on how we got here…
Having flown to Morocco with the most budget of all budget airlines (don’t even ask), by the time we are tipped onto the runway at Fez, we are tetchy, sweaty and squashed. The hotel offered a luxury car service, but for reasons I now cannot explain, we opt for a taxi to the medina. Learn from our mistake. Unless your idea of fun is veering all over the road in an ancient jalopy held together with packing tape while the driver uses one hand to hold the mobile he’s shouting into and the other to operate a steering wheel that’s playing chicken with oncoming traffic. When we swerve into a car park just inside the medina, our taxi is instantly a magnet for every hawker, restaurant owner and passer-by it would seem. It is hot. And dusty. And chaotic…
Like a mirage, a smiling man in a Palais Amani uniform materialises next to us to take our bags. We follow him up a narrow side alley, take a couple of quick twists and turns until he opens an unremarkable carved wooden door; it proves a portal to another world. There’s the sound of birdsong and the trickle of water in a fountain. We are greeted by fluent-in-English Mehdi, a charmer with a movie-star smile. Refreshing glasses of sweet mint tea appear along with a plate of cookies (this happens whenever you settle anywhere in the hotel for more than a few minutes; not that such service shows up as extra on the bill). Stress falls away. Shoulders drop. Red, sweaty faces fade to a pleasing pink. Mr Smith jokes that perhaps we did die en route from the airport after all, and when they show us our room we’re confident we’ve found heaven.
What can I tell you about the Grand Suite? Our first London flat would fit into the bedroom, with room to spare. The light hanging from the high ceiling is the size of a small car. A double-height stained-glass window looks onto the courtyard; the bed is huge and there are separate his-and-hers walk-in dressing rooms. Mr Smith spends an amusing few minutes unpacking his weekend bag, giving each pair of boxers its own separate shelf, while I fall back blissfully onto a bed made up with downy soft pillows and crisp white Egyptian-cotton bed linen.
This vast room is flanked by a huge luxurious bathroom and a lounge. Everything is stylish, comfortable, tasteful, with lovely touches such as traditional leather pointy-toed slippers left as gifts, and fresh rose petals strewn across the bed and the big-enough-for-two tub. Other rooms are smaller, but all betray the same romantic eye for detail. Misriah 2 has its own terrace perfect for dinners under the stars.
When we’re called for the treatment we’ve booked, we’re led down candlelit steps into the dark, scented, sensual world of the hammam. Two ladies wordlessly lead us through three candlelit chambers, then gently pour warm water over us, giggling. After an hour of being massaged and scrubbed on marble slabs, we move to beds in a cosy room upstairs, shampooed, showered and so relaxed that we can barely move. We don’t walk to dinner – we float.
The medina is still there, just outside the hotel walls. From our bed, we can just hear a family putting their kids to bed in an adjacent house. Tear yourself from comfy recliners on the top terrace and you’ll see washing lines strung up on neighbouring roofs, strips of meat pegged out to dry in the sun alongside the laundry. Dusk is best of all, when the sound of swooping and chattering birds roosting in the trees is drowned out by the call to prayer. It would be easy not to leave the luxury of Palais Amani at all, but eventually we do, armed with a map and a card bearing the name of the hotel in Arabic, and an instruction to get lost in the labyrinth and have fun.
Much has been written about the sights, smells, colours of the souks – but its not until their intensity washes over you that you understand why these stalls selling fruits, spices, bags made from butter-soft suede, carpets and cooking pots are so special. As we work our way up the steep hill, the occasional open gate gives us glimpses into stunning mosques and gardens. Fez is more laid-back than Marrakech, and in some ways more beautiful. A great place to wander, and soak up the atmosphere, on the way back down a street selling modern shoes and jeans, we follow signs to the Ruined Garden. These take us to a courtyard recreated as a restaurant; here we share a platter of salads, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a couple of beers. Later someone tells us it’s owned by a former maître d’ of the Ivy in London; while we can’t vouch for that, the welcome was certainly as warm.
Close to the hotel, we get hopelessly lost, ending up at the tanneries with their extreme smells and animal skins being transformed into quality leathers. We find someone willing to guide us back, and soon enough we’re stepping out of the dust, heat and confusion back into a world of beauty and calm. Weeks later, and my skin is still soft from the hammam, my shoulders still relaxed, and we feel as though we had the honeymoon we missed first time around. Palais Amani is the gift that keeps on giving.