Riad al Bartal

Fes, Morocco Book from Eur85

A delightful French-run maison d'hotes (riad guesthouse) in Fes's extraordinary medina
Fes is the cultural and religious heart of Morocco; it's an intriguing medieval maze of exotic souks and twisting alleyways, where market traders still carry their wares by donkey. More turbulent and less touristy than Marrakech, Fes has fewer boutique guesthouses and Riad al Bartal was one of the first. It’s a traditional riad that was renovated with élan by a French couple who lived here with their daughter for many years, before selling it to some compatriots in 2010.

In the interior courtyard you get cool classic Moroccan lines with white marble flooring, and what appear to be the hanging gardens of Babylon falling from the terraces. It's a real contrast from the dusty backstreet outside; the space is alive with colour, and intricate mosaics and ornately carved columns lead up past cedar wood balconies to the open sky. Guests are encouraged to chat together over meals or while lounging on the roof terrace, and to explore the gritty, winding streets of the medina (staff have plenty of contacts for tannery or workshop tours). In the morning, listen for the riad’s namesake - the tiny birds which flit about the courtyard - while you enjoy Bartal’s wonderful breakfast alongside other guests fortunate enough to have found one of Fes’s little gems.

Highs

  • Excellent location in the Fes medina, considered the most authentic in the Arab world
  • Beautifully decorated with intricate zellig tilework, carved wooden doors and lofty columns - among the most architecturally impressive of the guesthouse riads
  • The charming French host, Raymond Prieto-Perez, and his staff know the city well and will bend over backwards to help with your sightseeing. Poulet the parrot is also a delight!
  • Outstanding feast-like meals in an atmospheric setting - we loved the soothing evening ambience, with wonderful sounds from Algeria or Mali wafting over the candlelit tables in the courtyard
  • Unlike much of Fes, the riad is accessible by car - vehicles are parked in a safe garage with a caretaker

Lows

  • There's a 2-night minimum stay, but you'll probably want that much time if it's your first visit to Fes
  • Don't let the riad's plain exterior and dusty approach put you off, the interior is a real revelation
  • The mezzanine rooms are not ideal for those with toddlers
  • The rooms can be dark - a godsend in summer, less so in winter
  • There's no pool at the riad (though you can get day entry to other hotel pools)

Best time to go

You may prefer to avoid mid-summer when temperatures can rocket and the hassle of the souks can seem that much more of an ordeal. The city has a more laid-back vibe in the low season, and the cooler temperatures make it much easier to explore.

Our top tips

Hotel staff can recommend official guides to show you around Fes. We think it's worth it, at least on your first day, as you'll learn more and avoid having to fend off touts the whole time. We also advise pre-booking supper at the hotel one evening (perhaps for your arrival day) - the leafy courtyard setting is magical, and the food is exquisite.

Take your bearings carefully when leaving the hotel, the medina is a maze of alleyways and you want to be sure you can find your way home again!

Great for...

City Style
Family
Foodie
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Riad Guesthouse
  • 8
  • Breakfast (+ dinner by arrangement)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
  • Courtyard
Room:

Rooms

Riad al Bartal has 8 rooms and suites, each leading from the central plant-filled courtyard. The décor respects traditional Moroccan architecture: vast cedar wood doors, high ceilings and sitting areas with either a fireplace or a ceramic wood stove are featured in all.

During our 2012 visit we stayed in Suite Agadez. Everything was on a large scale: high ceilings, a huge four-poster bed and a beautiful arched wooden door. Surprisingly (and to the riad's credit) we never felt lost in the space: the clever use of eclectic furniture and the mish-mash of local artwork and artefacts - antique camel bags, old Berber rugs, artisan carvings and French colonial paintings - create a warm, comforting feel. This theme flows through into the beautiful terracotta red tadelakt bathroom. We also loved the excellent selection of local books and up-to-date guides scattered throughout.

The cosy Double Rooms (Kirwan and Cordoba) are the smallest, with raised sleeping lofts and fireside seating downstairs, while the Berber Room offers slightly more space. If you're travelling in a group or with kids you might want to stay in Seffarine, the 2-Bedroom Suite. It sleeps up to 4 people and has an amazing copper tanning vat for a bathtub.

All rooms are air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter. But don't expect TVs, radios, telephones or minibars - this is a traditional, low-tech hideaway; though there is WiFi in some areas.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fireplace
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

Despite the gastronomic reputation of their homeland, the owners maintain ties to their adopted country by employing local cooks and crew in the kitchen. In fact, the relationship with their employees is obviously one of respect on both sides, not always the case in French-owned riads! The result is superb Moroccan fare (and service), from the tasty breakfasts (included in the room rate) to the on-request suppers.

Dinner is an informal and relaxed affair, with candlelit tables carved out from the courtyard foliage, a gentle murmur of voices chatting and an acoustic guitar playing in the background. The meal itself is fit for a king and large enough for its army. We were served starters of miniature pastilla, guacamole and sweet tomato, and onion and cinnamon paste with fresh breads, followed by a chicken and aubergine tagine (complete with obligatory olives). Pudding was an excellent pear and peach crumble. Regardless of what’s on offer, if there’s a particular type of tagine that you hanker after, it will be no problem to prepare.

Breakfast is a huge selection of breads, crepes and local jams, honey and cheese, olives, omelette and an amazing sweet potato jam (my highlight); all of which was served on beautiful local ceramic pottery and antique copper pots - we defy anyone to finish all that is brought before them.

The riad doesn't serve lunch, as chances are you'll be out and about exploring the city’s many eateries; from pavement stalls to lavish multi-course feasts.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The owners can organise a tour of Fes’s medieval medina - their recommended guides will ensure a hassle-free exploration of the 9,000 alleys (a total maze to the uninitiated) where you can bargain for carpets, lanterns and leather goods

  • Even if you’re not a shopper, the medina’s abandoned palaces, traditional homes and medersas (Arabic schools) can be visited… you might even get a private tour in one of the palaces

  • Further expeditions can be arranged to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, the pretty towns of Ifrane and Azrou in the Middle Atlas mountains, and (with an overnight or 2) Merzouga in the sand dunes to the south

  • The hot springs of Moulay Yacoub, 20km west of Fes, are reputed to cure skin complaints and rheumatism; there’s also detoxing and de-stressing thalassotherapy spa treatments available. If you don't feel up to the journey, Riad al Bartal can arrange a treatments nearby

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking

Kids

This is a family-friendly riad, and most of the bedrooms can take 1-2 extra beds - though be aware that the some are on 2 levels, with steep stairs. There's also a 2-Bedroom Suite, Seffarine, which has 1 double bed and 2 single sofabeds sharing a bathroom. The owners are very accommodating to parents' needs.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Extra Beds Available, Family Rooms

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
10/
Overall

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