Fez is home to Morocco’s oldest Medina and with a warren of over 9,000 twisting cobbled streets, it’s an attack on all the senses, a bustling hub of sights, smells and sounds. But just moments from the non-stop activity lies a haven of tranquility that could be a million miles away from the craziness that lies outside its walls.
Palais Amani - so called Fez’s ‘best kept secret’ for very good reason - lies on the edge of the old city’s boundaries, hidden behind palatial wooden doors, crossing the threshold you’re transported far away from the bustling streets outside. A courtyard of striking blue and white tiled pillars, intricately carved wooden shutters behind which lie sumptuous suites, delicate fretwork above the rows of windows studding the butter yellow walls, all surrounding a lush verdant garden.
Head up to the roof and you’ll be rewarded with a sun-drenched terrace, where you can take in 360° views of the city skyline and the mountains beyond from either a lounger on the rooftop solarium or a canopied seating area, covered in vibrant mirrored cushions and come sundown lit with the delicate flickering of hammered brass lanterns. The perfect spot enjoy a drink from the rooftop bar, the silence is only broken by the call to prayer that echoes out across the rooftops of the city. One of the hotel’s suites even has access to its own private domed terrace on which to take tea, though it’s worth asking about access as if no one is booked in to said suite, the terrace is yours for the taking.
The opulent listed building was partly rebuilt in the 1930s, explaining the slight Art Deco touch to its Arabian Andalusian style, and the luxury Riad is home to eighteen rooms and suites. From cosy Classic Rooms with views over the Medina to the breathtaking Grand Suite, covering the whole 100 sq/m of the south wing and resplendent with a salon, his and hers dressing rooms, spectacular bathroom and breathtaking views onto the gardens and the hills beyond,
all are set around the central courtyard garden and come with luxurious touches like local argan oil toiletries.
The hotel restaurant offers guests a slice of traditional Moroccan cuisine with an inventive flair, with a daily changing discovery menu of local breakfast dishes - we fell in love with the fresh whipped goat’s cheese and delectable honey - as well as lunches and dinners served either inside or in the garden. In addition to the selection of exquisite Moroccan signature dishes on the à la carte menu - including the rather delectable tagging of lamb shanks served with barley meal and courgettes - there’s a ‘Market Moroccan’ concept offering a monthly changing three-course bistro menu of fresh, healthy dishes featuring an abundance of seasonal produce from the local market.
It’s perfectly possible to while away the hours at Palais Amani, but with such a rich heritage to explore the other side of the walls, it makes for the perfect base from which to discover the fascinating ancient city of Fez.
It would be rude to visit Morocco without trying a traditional Hammam and Palais Amani offers guests the opportunity right on site. It may take a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the darkness as you descend into the candle-lit basement after stepping out of the blinding sunshine, but there you’ll be greeted by a willing volunteer to scrub you until your skin shines like you didn’t know it could. The traditional Hammam experience (405dhs/approx £40) involves a sea salt crystal hand and foot bath, natural rose water and bran scrub foot scrub, a white rhassoul clay hair mask, a body steam bath with the traditional Moroccan argan oil and mint black soap and a thorough body exfoliation. Trust me, you’ll leave squeaky clean. The hotel also offers a spa menu of treatments, including luxurious massages with local oils which, for the ultimate indulgence, can take place in a private tented pergola on the roof.
Those with a keen interest in beauty take note; as one of the wonderful menu of extra experiences Palais Amani can book for guests to enhance their stay, you can partake in a fascinating three hour beauty workshop, an introduction to traditional Moroccan beauty products.
Being two complete junkies we obviously jumped at the chance and found ourselves, along with our guide, welcomed into the home of a local woman where we learnt of the secrets and scents of the Hammam essentials every woman is taught to make from a plethora of natural ingredients, with subtle, secret family twists on classic recipes passed down through generations of women. With a table laid out with everything needed, from volcanic Rhassoul clay from the Atlas Mountains, locally sourced henna, rose and orange waters, to dried herbs and spices, fresh eggs and honey she shared her recipes. From a henna and lemon juice face mask, to a deep conditioner of flax seed, egg yolk, olive and castor oils, a heavenly scented ground rice, cinnamon and rose water face scrub and a body scrub of ground lavender, rose petals, thyme and oats, we walked out of there with baby soft faces, Tupperware tubs labelled up ready for our Hammam visit, instructions on where to find the best honey and rose water in the Medina and a promise to make more of our own natural skincare upon our return.
To ensure your Palais Amani experience is everything you desire, the hotel can also arrange a multitude of other experiences, from a private hiking trip with luxury picnic in the surrounding mountains, an Arabic calligraphy workshop, photography tours, henna parties and excursions to nearby Chefchaouen and Meknez.
This glittering gem of a hotel is also home to the Fez Cooking School (www.fezcookingschool.com), a must-do for those who like to get busy in the kitchen. Fez is the birthplace of Morocco’s most diverse cuisine, so it’s the perfect location to create your own. We joined the hotel chef for a morning food tour of the Medina to buy the ingredients for our feast, visiting olive sellers, passing open air butchers (not for those of a delicate stomach), stopping off for a taste of a local soup, sizzling fresh doughnut and freshly-brewed mint tea, plunging deeper into the winding cobbled streets of the Medina and wondering, were we not in the very capable hands of our guide, if we would ever find our way out again.
Back at Fez Cooking School’s open-air rooftop kitchen, we worked under the expert tutelage of the chef to create a mouthwatering chicken tagine packed with onions and olives, a zaalouk smoky aubergine salad and a divine dessert of layers of flaky pastry drizzled with an orange blossom icing and finished with cinnamon and honey, all of which were devoured in the sunshine with a glass of wine. With the Fez Cooking School programme also including Moroccan bread and pastry workshops and a Moroccan Jewish Culinary Heritage Workshop and prices from around £32 per person to £150 per person, there’s something for everyone.
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