Bucket List This: Fez, Morocco
The secret to a seamless stay in Fez, Morocco, according to Joanne Shurvell, is to stay at a luxury riad. Scroll through below as she gives a glimpse of the hotel and the city.
From the rooftop terrace of Palais Amani, we were mesmerized by the panoramic views of the Middle Atlas mountains that dramatically frame the ancient city of Fez, with its verdant hills and valleys nearby supplying olives, almonds, beans and peas to the medina.
The owners of our hotel, Englishwoman Jemima and her husband Abdelali, a Fez native, spent four years lovingly restoring the ruined building, maintaining many of the 17th-century riad’s features – including fine tiling, carved wooden doors and stained glass windows – before opening it as the Palais Amani, in 2010.
As tempting as it was to soak up the spring sunshine on the plush terrace loungers, the city was calling. After all, we were right in the heart of the bustling ancient medina and there was much to be seen and experienced. With the help of a guide provided by the hotel, we ventured up the main street, the Talaa Kebira, and through many of the 9,000 narrow streets lined with palaces, mosques, fountains and mosaics dating back to the 9th century.
Although most of the religious sites are closed to non-Muslims, their beautiful exteriors with vast, colourful tiled arches, provide a wonderful impression of what lies within. As such, we were only able to admire al-Qarawiyyin university, the world’s oldest and the adjoining mosque from the outside.
Founded in 859AD by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, the mosque can accommodate up to 20,000 people at prayer at any one time. Nearby, we were allowed access to the fascinating Musee Nejjarine des arts et Metiers du Bois, a 14-century inn for carpenters, now a three-storey museum displaying native woods and tools. A rooftop cafe offered tea (fresh mint, of course) and views across the medina.
By now, we were thirsty. We’d forgotten, however, that in a primarily Muslim country, actual alcohol is only served in hotels and, while the Palais Amani does have an alcohol licence, we found that the surrounding old city was pretty much dry. As we entered our hotel’s large wooden door from a narrow, dusty alleyway, we were greeted with what was to be the first of many cups of fresh mint tea, described by the hotel staff as “Moroccan whiskey.” Why not complete our day with just a sip more of tradition? Cocktails could wait. —Joanne Shurvell
If you go