“A prime position, friendly owners, rooftop dinners and ornate rooms add up to our favourite riad-hotel in Fes’ vast medina”
Besides the burbling fountain is a ceremonial bartal (alcove), cosy with guides, city maps, a sleeping cat and Sebastian’s guitar. His flawless flamenco accompanies you as you wind up steep stairwells to the roof terrace, strewn with leather pouffes and inviting sofas. You can take dinner up here too (a happy fusion of local ingredients and high-end cooking), before lazing under the stars with a satisfied grin on your face.
- The Royal Suite (Yasmina) is one of the most splendid riad-rooms in Fes; and the other 3 aren’t far behind
- From the moment you arrive, Jennifer and Sebastian treat you as friends; they can take you on a guided tour of the medina and its food markets
- Dinners are fresh and varied, made with ingredients bought from the market first thing that morning
- You’re away from the medina’s hustle and bustle (even the dawn prayer call is more muted here), but only 10 minutes’ walk to the heart of the souks
- The roof terrace is a lovely space for post-souk relaxation, with its sheltered seating, raised crow’s nest and the rustle of a huge plane tree alongside
- The 2 ground floor rooms lack privacy (close windows and shutters before wandering about your room in a state of undress!) and air con
- A couple of bathrooms lack natural light
- It’s hard to find - though only 5 mins’ walk from either Bab Guissa or Ain Azlitan gates, where you can be met
- We're yet to sample the food since Vincent, the new chef, took over the kitchen in 2014, but reports remain excellent
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Riad Hotel
- Restaurant (open daily)
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Spa Treatments
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
There are just 5 bedrooms, all of them stately, spacious and magnificent in their decorative detail. Expect high panelled ceilings, ornate stucco friezes or window arches, finely carved shutters over stained glass windows and beautifully (but not garishly) patterned floor tiling - often continuing around 4-metre high wooden doors; much of this is original (100 years old). All rooms have an ensuite bathroom with bespoke bath products from London (the ‘winter’ range includes an orange and cardamom scented gel that’s almost edible).
Pride of place goes to the splendid double-aspect Yasmina Suite on the first floor. Triple windows look over the court one way and the city roofscape the other, one set opening onto a small private balcony. A huge handmade cedar four-poster sits on zellij tiling which continues up to head height, while stucco patterns continue up from the window arches to cover the entire ceiling. The bathroom has a 3-corner tub and plenty of light.
Of the other rooms, ground-floor Roumana Suite stands out for its claw-footed bathtub and separate shower room, while across the court, Qarmousa Suite has steps up from the main double bedroom to a narrow mezzanine room with a daybed, and a green-tiled tadlakt-walled shower room below. Second floor Tamarind Suite is perhaps the least opulent, but shares the same 5-metre ceilings, diamond-tiled floors and beautiful rugs and bedspreads - in this case faded red, amber and burgundy; its bathroom has a raised tub in a zellij-covered pedestal, with overhead shower. The Argana Suite suite is smaller and is reached by 3 steep flights of stairs. It is the only suite that doesn’t look onto the courtyard but it has a lovely view over the medina and feels more private than the other rooms.
- Central heating
- Extra beds
- Internet access
- Safe box
You start the day with a classic Moroccan breakfast of freshly-made crêpes and pastries (oversize crumpets or perhaps diamonds of lemon-semolina cake), a trio of jams including sweet potato (reminiscent of chestnut) and apricot, and a platter of dates, figs and other seasonal fruit. Fresh juices include, appropriately enough, pomegranate (roumana) with a twist of lemon and ginger, or orange outside the pomegranate season; there’s Twinings tea and strong coffee, and it’s all served in the courtyard on pretty crockery.
But where this place stands out is in its daily-changing dinner menu; French chef Vincent goes to the market every morning and sources fresh local produce to transform into beautiful Mediterranean dishes which are served in the candlelit courtyard. Expect more than just tagines, couscous and brochettes! You could be served a smoked duck salad with fresh figs and pain d'epice, wild sea-bass with artichokes and chermoula sauce or chicken marinated in pomegranate molasses. Desserts include creme brulée, a sinfully-rich dark-chocolate tart, or a Sephardic bitter orange and almond cake with yoghurt - a nod to the nearby Jewish quarter. Note that the restaurant is open Tuesday-Sunday, from 7.30-9pm; advance booking is recommended.
On Monday’s, hotel guests have the opportunity to sample traditional home-cooked Moroccan food, prepared by head housekeeper Naima. For lunch, and if you’d like a change of scene at dinner, there are numerous restaurants and cafés a short walk away. From simple stalls selling sweet and savoury pastries to the top-notch feasts offered by La Maison Bleue.
- Restaurants nearby
- Room service
- Vegetarian menu
- Explore Fes’ vast and vigorous medina (old walled centre) - preferably with an official guide (booked through the hotel), as it’s a tangle of winding alleys with no street signs
- Visit the medersas (religious colleges) with their stately courtyards decorated with finely carved wood and stucco; the grandiose dars and palaces hidden behind lowly wooden doors; and the tanneries, where you look down on vatfuls of brightly coloured dyes and the quasi-medieval serfs who stir the ponging mixtures
- Be sure to take a trip to the gold markets and fabric shops of Kissaria, check out the exotic fruit and vegetable stalls, and explore all the other souks (markets) selling lanterns, leather shoes and pouffes, jewellery, rugs, ironwork, thuya-wood chess sets, silk kaftans, yellow babouches (pointy slippers) and countless other appealing knick-knacks which you’ll wonder what to do with when you get home
- If that sounds daunting, start with the medina of nearby Meknes, which Sebastian calls ‘Fes lite’ - smaller and more manageable but also less impressive, so a good ‘induction’ for Fes; its 25-mile-long city walls and monumental babs (gates) are a highlight
- You can tie this in with a morning visit to the beautiful mosaics in the ruined Roman city of Volubilis - a must if you’re interested in Roman history, and haven’t seen the mosaics of Pompeii or Sicily; the town survived into the 18th century, so you can still see residential quarters as well as public monuments
- Also in the area is Moulay Idriss, a bustling pilgrimage town for Muslims honouring the great grandson of the prophet Mohammed and founder of Fes; a trip here is worth one fifth of the hajj to Mecca
- In summer, escape into the cool mountains of the Middle Atlas around Azrou and Ifrane (1-2 hours); with their cedar forests and verdant lakes, the scenery is reminiscent of the Alps, and in winter you can even go skiing
- Or take a hot soak in the spa town of Moulay Yacoub (1/2 hour), reputed for its skin treatments, rheumatism-busting springs and thalassotherapy
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Historical sites
- Shopping / markets
- Traditional cultures
Bear in mind that Fes is a tiring city at the best of times, doubly so with children (crowded, chaotic, easy to get separated from parents), and triply so if you go with kids during Ramadan.
Family friendly accommodation:
There’s a 'low' rollaway bed (small and low to the ground) for under 5’s which can be placed in any room. The Qarmousa Suite has a narrow mezzanine sitting room with a single daybed, but the stairs leading to it are not protected.
Babysitting is available by arrangement.