Parisian chic meets Maroc at this colourful, light-filled Medina riad
Who would guess that such earthly delights were hidden away behind
a studded cedarwood door?
Stepping in from the dust and brouhaha of the medina the opulence of Riad Norma’s inner patio can’t fail but raise a sigh: a trickling fountain, strewn with rose petals, occupies centre stage whilst to all sides high zellig-covered columns, intricately carved stucco and enormous cedarwood doors draw your gaze upwards to an extraordinary zouak ceiling, a full 12 metres above you. But what makes this riad so unique is that to one side of this classical fassi patio is an exquisite garden, planted with citrus, loquat, palm and roses, whose scented greenery wraps round a fountain-fed pool.
Riad Norma’s French owner, Monique, oversaw almost two long years of restoration to create her vision of The Arabian Nights. Her riad is an ode to the beauty and skill of the craftsmen of Fes and to her love of Opera. And if she chose to name Norma after a druid priestess...alors, pourquoi pas?
Norma’s bedrooms are named after Monique’s favourite
operas: there are two Royal Suites, Tosca and Norma;
three Junior Suites, Aïda, Manon and
Lucía; a duplex double room, Carmen; and a
small room normally used for single occupancy, Mimi. All of
the rooms are high-ceilinged and give onto the central patio, apart
from Mimi which is tucked away up a narrow staircase: this is the
only room which has neither air-conditioning nor a bath.
The bedrooms have same decorative cocktail as the ground floor lounge and dining room, marrying Moroccan base elements – zellig and beijmat tiles, intricate stucco carving, high inlaid cedarwood doors – with northern European ones, most notably a double layer of floor-to-ceiling satiny voile curtains which impart a distinct whiff of Parisian boudoir. But if the wrought iron beds, stripey fabrics and Italian chandeliers feel slightly out of riad synch, framed prints of Arab calligraphy – these are present throughout the riad – strike a more authentically North African note. The two Royal Suites are enormous and one, Norma, has a dressing room as well as a lounge.
The bathrooms – most have low, beamed ceilings which impart a really cosy feel - also have beijmat floors, zellig lined sinks and baths, and shining tadlakt walls. And you’re treated to snowy white bath robes, a hairdryer, a stack of towels and an interesting selection of soaps, shampoos and oils.
It’s at breakfast, lunch and dinner that Riad
Norma comes into its own. The setting alone gets your meal off to a
great start: you eat in the columned patio to the sound of the
trickling fountain, beneath the citrus trees out in the garden or,
in cooler weather, in front of the ornately carved fireplace in the
high-ceilinged dining room. Music will always will be
present, as you might expect given the riad’s operatic
touchstone. Monique tends to play classical composers in the
morning – perhaps Schumann or Chopin – moves on in the
afternoon to North African music and then to Jazz and Baroque later
in the evening.
Monique’s chief-of-staff Abdelkader, who speaks excellent English, often officiates at breakfast. This is billed as a Franco-Marocain event and includes freshly squeezed orange juice, a fruit salad that changes daily, Moroccan bread, melaoui and mil trous pancakes, jams and honey and, of course, a choice of black or mint tea, or coffee.
You’ll be asked at breakfast what you’d like to eat for supper. Monique will have her own ideas, according to which vegetables are in season, but is happy to tailor meals to your requirements. Starters tend to be a salad variant – fennel, aubergine or tomato – whilst the main course will probably be a beef, lamb or chicken tagine, lovingly prepared by Hadija, Norma’s in-house cuisiniere. Dinners end on a more European note with, perhaps, clafoutis, crème caramèle or even an apple crumble. You can choose from a small selection of white, rosé and red Moroccan wines and other alcoholic drinks: fresh orange juice, and still and sparkling water are also always available.
Norma isn’t really geared up for lunches but a cold platter – L’assiette du Riad - can be prepared: just let Monique or Abdelkader know at breakfast if you like the idea.
Unless you really enjoy the heat avoid the summer months: temperatures can soar into the mid 40s and keeping your cool in the souks becomes doubly difficult. At any other time of year Fes is a great place to be and Riad Norma is well equipped for the colder months with an open fire, patio heaters and hot air heating in all of its suites.
Children are welcome at Riad Norma and any kid would get a big kick out of the colour and anarchy of the medina: there’s something interesting around every single corner. Kiddies would love the plunge pool and parents could relax knowing that it’s shallow. But Norma doesn’t make any obvious attempt to pitch at the younger market and there are no cots or extra beds provided.
Riad Norma is in the Ziat quarter of Fes' medina, a few blocks from Bab Ziat (the Ziat gate).
Fes Sais (12km). Click on the link below for a list of airlines.
There are regular trains to Fes from Casablanca (4hrs), Tangiers (5hrs) and Marrakech (7hrs).
From the airport
It is about 20 minutes from the airport to Riad Norma; the cost of a shuttle is from €15.
If you want to hire a car to explore other parts of Morocco see our car rental recommendations.
Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.
More on getting to Morocco and getting around.
"When Monique Devaux retired she came to Fes and bought Riad Norma because she fell in love with the garden. How right she was. It's magical. A little sun trap behind high walls where bushy rose trees and tumbling bougainvillea surround an enticing pool.
The guests spend most of their time in the garden but that's not to say the rest of the house isn't impeccable. Monique used to work in the airline industry and knows a thing or two about service and comfort. In winter the patio - usually a large, cold space - is warm and inviting. The beds are firmer than a trampoline and the rooms are equipped with extra pillows, a writing desk, bathrobes, slippers and that elusive appliance: a hairdryer. Monique's style also differs from other Fassi riads (traditional townhouses), utilising Moroccan fabrics and crafts in inimitable French designs - check out those raspberry-red sofas with plump cushions and tasselled bolsters. The double bedroom Lucia is a favourite with honeymooners but it's likely to be outdone when Monique's current flat with its double aspect windows over the garden and patio is transformed into the Norma suite."
Reviews are from people who have booked through us.
“Riad Norma is a lovely place to stay on the edge of the Fes Medina. It has been beautifully restored and Monique is a wonderful hostess. It's fun trying to find your way around the winding streets of the Medina and, if you get lost, there is always somebody to help you find your way. We were there during Ramadan which is not the best time of year because fasting between sunrise and sunset is strictly observed which means many cafes are not open or, if open, only frequented by visitors. But overall this didn't take away from our enjoyment both of the magnificent Riad Norma or the exciting and invigorating Fes Medina.”