Finding FezPosted on: 07 October 2019 by Michael Edwards
The Palais Amani majestically sits within Fez’s walled Medina. Michael Edwards discovers Morocco’s second city.
Although Fez is just three hours from London’s airports it is a world away. The ancient Medina is the world’s largest pedestrianised zone, a labyrinth of over 9,500 narrow alleys. Maps are useless and getting lost is inevitable.
After a half hour drive from Fez airport, your taxi parks at the Medina’s wall. It can go no further. A porter arrives from the luxurious 5* Palais Amani to collect your luggage and guide you through a maze of thinning alleys. It is like stepping back into the Middle Ages.
Sixty thousand people call the Medina their home. Since the late 17th century the Palais has elegantly sat in its midst. Once it was home to an extended family of some 50 people: a wealthy merchant and his family who traded with Manchester, probably cotton and sugar. Today the focus of the 18 rooms and suites is inward facing to the gardens, to the water feature of the riad. At the Eden Restaurant guests dine amongst lemon, orange, pomegranate trees and lanterns hung in their branches.
As a child of 13, Jemima Mann first visited Fez, from England, as a tourist with her mother. Never did she imagine that one day - she would not only marry Abdel from Fez - but that they would return in 2006 to purchase a very tired looking Palais. After the earthquake of 1928 the riad had been restored but the crumbling building was in need of another project. Surprisingly the 1930s Art Deco makeover had blended artfully with the original Arabian - Andalusian architecture.
The restoration that Jemima Mann-Baha and her husband Abdel planned took nearly four years. Blue-mosaic tiling on the towering columns in the central courtyard was repaired and the gardens returned to their former glory.
Rooms and suites retain many original features: filigree lighting, recesses resembling mosque arches and hefty cedar window shutters to muffle the imam’s pre-dawn call to prayer. Yet, spot lighting, a Nespresso coffee machine and a large mini-bar meet with contemporary guests 5* expectations.
The Palais caters for the guest who wants to get to know Fez, a city renowned for its arts and crafts as well as its food heritage. Guests can take a foodie tour of the Medina, with their chef tutor, to shop for the Moroccan meal they will create on the rooftop at the Fez Cooking School. A Baking and Pastry making session is also on offer. Guests take their finished loaves out into the Medina, just like families have for centuries, to have their bread baked at a communal bakery.
A hamman, a steam bath, is part of Fez’s heritage. Once it was a public process of cleansing and purification before prayer. Today, the Palais’ hamman experience, with rehydrating argan-oil soap, is an individual and far more serene pampering experience. If you are still not sufficiently relaxed in this tranquil oasis there are regular yoga classes or you can book your own private one-to-one yoga class.
If you want to look down on a magnificent view of Fez, the Palais will organise a guide to take you for a hike, complete with picnic, through the mountains of the Middle Atlas. Back at the riad, a calligrapher teaches his skills using stories from ancient Fez to bring the course to life.
Every morning begins with an opportunity to find Fez. There is a different “Discovery” course offered each day of the week. Perhaps a traditional vegetable soup served with eggy bread or a thick tomato and semolina soup or a Brioche based treat. Remember that for many years Morocco was a French Protectorate. If the “Discovery” course of the day does not appeal there are plenty of other options.
As afternoon turns to evening, head for the rooftop bar, perhaps for a pomegranate mojito, whilst the sun sets with streaks of apricot and saffron over the white Merinide tombs. Then it’s time to descend to the cool courtyard for dinner. With three menus - a Market Menu that changes weekly, a classic a la carte listing and a tapas menu - the Eden restaurant offers a perfect introduction to the flavours of Morocco.
Learn more at www.palaisamani.com
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