Hotel review

Palais Amani hotel review: This luxury riad is one of the finest stays in Fes

Keep calm and cool off at this chic oasis amid the clamour of Morocco’s cultural capital, writes Helen Coffey

Thursday 17 February 2022 15:33
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<p>Gaze out over Fes from Palais Amani</p>

Gaze out over Fes from Palais Amani

In a nutshell: An upmarket riad offering Moroccan opulence within Fes’ walled medina.

Price point: ££

The neighbourhood

Tucked down an alley on the edge of Fes’ famed El Bali – the world’s biggest walled medina and an Unesco World Heritage Site – Palais Amani occupies a handy spot on the northeastern corner. It means that, unlike some other accommodation offerings, it’s not too difficult to find in the mind-bending warren of the medina’s hundreds of tiny (and often unnamed) streets. Although guests need not worry on that front when they first arrive: Palais staff will come and meet you from the nearby carpark to help with your bags and guide you to the entrance.

Eat among the trees in the courtyard garden

The look

Pure, unadulterated Moroccan opulence: I actually gasped when I stepped from the unassuming entrance, a wooden door set in the wall, into the riad’s extensive, cool, tiled central garden, open to the sky and stuffed with lush trees dripping with fruit. The “palais” bit of the name feels apt – the building was previously owned by one of the city’s wealthiest families before being lovingly converted into a high-end hotel, first opened in 2010. The courtyard is dotted with well-spaced tables and chairs among the trees around the focal point: an intricately patterned fountain in the shape of a flower, filled with cool, turquoise water. Look up and you’ll see painstakingly carved wooden-framed windows, some adorned with stained glass in jewel tones. Everything you look at, from the blue, mint and white tiled floors to the double-height windows and doors, manages to strike a balance of traditional and contemporary luxe.

The vibe

An oasis of tranquillity in which to escape the clamour and hustle of Fes’ at times overwhelming medina. Step through the door – perhaps with the many catcalls of local vendors still ringing in your ears – and all is miraculously calm, quiet and somehow several degrees cooler. The sound of the central fountain tinkling, accompanied by the chirps of the birds that flutter down to drink from it, puts guests in an instant meditative state.

The grand suite: Grand by name, grand by nature

Service mirrors this feeling: staff are never overbearing or in your face, but always ready with a smile and a softly spoken recommendation. It all feels wonderfully laid-back, and hurry- and hassle-free.

The hotel can also arrange various first-class activities and excursions for guests: I enjoy a traditional scrub down at Amani’s in-house hammam (where a woman rubs me with such rigour yet tenderness that I consider proposing); join a group yoga class, designed to restore balance, in an airy room off the courtyard; and, most highly recommended of all, tour the medina with experienced guide Jamal of Mint Tea Tours, who takes me to meet the souk’s highest quality artisans, from carpet-makers and metal workers to the famed tanneries and pottery collectives. Other options include cookery classes, calligraphy lessons, henna rituals and day trips to destinations such as Chefchaouen, the “Blue City”.

Bed and bath

Bedrooms at Palais Amani are, I suspect, the closest I will ever come to experiencing the life of actual royalty. Ludicrous ceiling heights, walk-in wardrobes and gargantuan feature windows that cover entire walls – with exquisite stained-glass accents, wooden shutters and pleasingly thick, heavy curtains to block out all light – all combine to create an impression of utmost decadence. The gorgeous tilework, cool under foot even at the hottest point of the day, continues across bedrooms and bathrooms, adorning the floors and making its way all over the sunken bathtub. Extra decorative touches pay homage to the medina’s skilled craftsmen: there are traditional Berber rugs, blankets with hand-stitched embroidery and eye-catching lampshades featuring delicate silver filigree work, still produced by hand by Fes artisans. There are even a pair of traditional leather Moroccan slippers for guests to slide their feet into. In the bathroom, toiletries are Moroccan-made and produced using natural ingredients.

Bathrooms are swathed in intricate tilework

Food and drink

Guests can opt to have breakfast and dinner outdoors in the central courtyard amid the trees, in the ground-floor restaurant or on the hotel’s roof terrace. The morning brings a traditional multi-course Moroccan breakfast (195dh/£15) served at your table, the contents of which are changed up slightly each day so you don’t get bored. Think an assortment of flatbreads, rolls and pastries with olive oil, honey, soft cheese and relish; bowls of nuts and olives; a fresh fruit platter with yoghurt; and a hot option (one morning a rice pudding-like bowl with warming cinnamon notes, another a hearty chicken stew).

Chow down on traditional Moroccan food at the hotel restaurant

A light menu is available all day, while dinner is served from 7.30-11.30pm, with a choice of a “Market Moroccan Menu” and a la carte options. You can choose between two or three courses (260dh/£21 or 320dh/£25) for the reasonably priced set menu – I’m served a winning selection of cold Moroccan salads; grilled fish with tagine-spiced roasted vegetables; and zingy deconstructed citrus cheesecake.

Cocktails with a view can be enjoyed at the rooftop bar, complete with extensive terrace and cushion-strewn cosy booths, until midnight.

Pools, spas and public areas

In addition to the fabulous roof terrace, courtyard and in-house hammam, there is also a shop in reception, where you can pick up locally made artisanal crafts.

Nuts and bolts

Room count: 18

In the bathroom: Locally made toiletries

Wifi: Free

Disability access: There are six ground floor rooms and a lift accesses all floors and the roof terrace.

Pet policy: No pets allowed.

Extra charges: Activities and excursions are bookable for an extra charge.

Bottom line

Best thing: The sumptuous décor and glorious courtyard garden.

Worst thing: The set breakfast was way more food than needed; leaving half of it each morning felt incredibly wasteful. Being able to pick and choose dishes would feel more sustainable.

Perfect for: Couples or groups of friends looking for an ultra-luxe base from which to explore the medina.

Not right for: Families with small children – it definitely had a more adult-friendly vibe when I stayed.

Instagram from: The roof terrace, with stellar city views.

Room rate: Doubles from €180 (£150); palaisamani.com

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