How do you like it at the Palais Amani hotel in Fez?
Marrakech may represent the cosmopolitan hub of Morocco, and Essaouira its romantic charm, but it is Fez that is the country’s very beating heart. Here you will find the same souks, selling almost the same wares as the other cities but there is something perceptibly different. The streets are narrower and labyrinthine and there is a distinct feeling that you are in a place where little has changed since biblical times. Diners eat out in the open, enjoying the reprieve of the cooler night air, butchers closing for the day throw offal onto the streets to feed the cities beloved stray cats – there are some 15,000 of them – and the harsh, daily life of Fez’s inhabitants is played out in those very alleyways. Aside from electricity and cars there are very few clues that you are actually in the 21st century. There are no shopping malls, no McDonald’s, almost no air conditioning but it is a place where the spirit of travel is untainted or moderated and my god do you feel alive!
However while all this intrepid exploration is terribly exhilarating one does need a little 21st century respite come bedtime. Enter Palais Amani. Not yet a year old, Amani is setting a shining example of how traditional aesthetics and values can be fused seamlessly – with the things we love to love, like say, hair dryers or marble clad bathrooms bigger than our urban apartments. Set back from the bustle of the main town by a short taxi ride (always count your change!) the Palais is completely concealed from view from the street. It is only after meandering through a few warren-like alleys that you stumble upon the grand, antique Moroccan door which quite literally leads you into another world.
The Palais is built according to the country’s traditional design and centred around a tropical courtyard with the ubiquitous Byzantine fountain in the centre. Birds chirp sleepily in the trees and the scent of rose petals and mint tea fill the balmy air – you should arrive in the evening for maximum effect. Palais Amani is a small family-owned affair – a boutique if you will – and the ethos of keeping in tradition with their surroundings is evident. The building is a former palace and is a protected building which has been lovingly restored with infinite patience, right down to the beautifully intricate mosaics which line every inch of the immense courtyard.
Furnished sparsely, with local accents complementing chic, contemporary design, Amani oozes style and splendour from head to toe, crowned by one of the best views in the city. Their prized rooftop sundeck offers a rare chance to sunbathe in this crowded and conservative city, and by evening transforms into a fully functioning cocktail bar offering delectable aperitifs to sip after sundown – a particular treat during the majestic, evening call-to-prayer which echoes over the city from competing minarets.
Breakfast at the Palais is the pièce de résistance. A traditional fare prepared by the hotel’s local master chef, the meal comprises several variations of Berber pancakes and breads, local honeys and argan oil (the country’s famed export) as well as countless seasonal sweet and savoury treats. You will want to spare at least an hour for this gastronomic feast, if you plan to be day-tripping before sunrise, save it for another day.
Rooms start from 190 Euros per night for a classic room. Call ahead for help and directions finding the hotel, staff are warm and friendly and will happily arrange a driver to meet you from wherever you might be coming from. And in case you shouldn’t want to leave, just sprinkle on a little of the orange blossom body oil (which you won’t be able to resist taking from the bathroom toiletries) to be instantly transported back to heady nights at the Palais.
by Nicola Kavanagh All photographs by Aaron Trinidade