“Parisian chic meets Maroc at this colourful, light-filled riad, with a pool, gardens and helpful staff, providing an oasis in the heart of the Medina”
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 2 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 inner courtyard is simply stunning. In the winter months a roof is slid across and gas heaters are lit so that you can still enjoy it to the full
- Few of the riads in Fes have gardens. Monique’s even has a small plunge pool which is a real blessing in the hotter months
- Norma is at the edge of Fes’ labyrinthine medina, easy to find, and has secure parking right next door
- Nearly all of the bedrooms are big, airy, and exceptionally quiet
- Norma packs a pricey punch compared with other riads of similar standards
- The combination of fancy French fabrics and Moroccan decorative elements can feel a tad contrived
- The roof terrace was in need of a little T.L.C. when we visited. But with such an exquisite garden you may not venture up there, anyway
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Riad Guesthouse
- Breakfast (+ dinner on request)
- Only Children aged 12 and over are accepted
- Open all year
- Plunge Pool
- Spa Treatments
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
Norma’s bedrooms are named after Monique’s favourite operas: there are 2 Royal Suites, Tosca and Norma; 3 Junior Suites, Aïda, Manon and Lucía and a duplex double room, Carmen. All of the rooms are high-ceilinged and give onto the central patio.
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 2 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.
- Air conditioning
- Central heating
- Internet access
- Plunge pool
- Safe box
It’s at breakfast 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. There’s a variety of alcoholic drinks available.
- Dinner by arrangement
- Restaurants nearby
- Room service
- Vegetarian menu
- Step out of the Norma’s door and into the souks. A guide can be arranged if you prefer to be in company though you’ll be perfectly safe on your own
- Have an extrordinary day of fassi sightseeing by visiting the Medina’s mediaeval tanneries, the Madersa, the Merenid tombs and the Batha museum
- Take a day trip to Meknes (60km away) then drive on to Volubulis. Seeing this exquisite Roman site in the evening light is a once-in-a-lifetime experience
- Ride, play tennis or shoot a round of golf. All activities are easily accessible at the outskirts of the city
- Soak away your pains in a hot, sulphurous bath at the Moulay Yaokoub spa, a short drive from Fes
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Cooking classes
- Historical sites
- Museums / galleries
- Shopping / markets
- Traditional cultures