Morocco : Fes and Meknes
These two inland Imperial Cities are rich in history and culture. Each of the Moroccan dynasties has left its mark in some shape or form, and the area deserves a good few days to explore and appreciate its religious and historical importance to Morocco past and present.
Fes is one of the world's last medieval cities (others being Marrakech, Cairo and Damascus) where life has stood still for hundreds of years. Fes has retained its Arabic identity and is undoubtedly the religious capital of Morocco, this is apparent as you wander through the alleyways past beautifully detailed mosques and university buildings. Fes el-Bali (the old town) is a maze of 9,400 narrow alleys concealing souks, restaurants, meat markets and tanneries (it is worth making time to be shown around a tannery and learn about the curing procedure), more than once you will be forced aside by a heavily laden donkey or mule carrying supplies through the streets. A guide is necessary if you want to penetrate to the core and make the most of your visit. Fes is famous for its colourful and bold pottery and the largest factory is just outside the old town. Here you can try your hand at some ceramic skills, have a tour and browse through many imaginative finished products with very little sales pressure.
Meknes (described as the most imperial of cities) is only an hour's drive from Fes. Moulay Ismail reigned for nearly 60 years during the 17th century and there is still striking evidence of his influence. Although many buildings and traditions have since deteriorated but the Royal Palace and stables, Agdal Basin, Bab el-Mansour and many other monuments of the Imperial city have been restored. You can hire a horse drawn carriage for a tour of the medina and the working King's stables are open to the public every afternoon where you can meet some of Morocco's finest Arab stallions.
The Roman ruins at Volubilis dating from the second Century have recently been declared a Unesco World Heritage site and are only 50 kilometres from Fes. Even if looking at Roman Ruins is not usually of interest, these ones are definitely worth a visit.
Le Palais Jamai is arguably the best appointed hotel in Fes, just within the old city's walls, this hotel is close to the hustle and bustle of the busy Medina, yet behind its doors let yourself enjoy the unique Moroccan elegance and tranquillity. Le Palais Jamai was built in 1879 as the residence of a senior aide to Sultan Moulay Hassan I. In 1930, it was converted into a hotel and more recently has undergone a renovation and some more bedrooms were added. It has still retained its old charm and there is a truly authentic feeling through out the hotel, with some stunning pieces of marble, mosaic work and internal furnishings.
There are 142 rooms altogether and they vary considerably in views and standard. All of the rooms are en-suite, with air conditioning and mini-bars, views are either of the old medina (which can be stunning at night) or the mountains. Treat your self to a stay in one of the suites where you will enjoy the charismatic private apartment in the original palace, restored to its full splendour.
There are two restaurants; La Djenina, which serves international dishes and Al Fassia, which specialises in Moroccan dishes. The hotel is set around beautiful rich and lush gardens, with many fruit and palm trees and the occasional marble sculptured fountain. There is a large swimming pool and a sun terrace, which provides great views over the Medina. Other facilities include a fitness centre, tennis, business centre, hammam and a boutique.
Riad La Maison Bleue is a really charming small guest house within the Medina. You are met and guided through the winding alleyways to the hidden entrance, behind which are three small 19th century houses which have been interlinked to create an intimate and romantic atmosphere. It doesn't have the same drafty proportions as some Fassi riads, and the former home of Moulay Bel Arbi El Alaoui, eminent judge and professor of theology, is both stylish and welcoming. There are 13 unique rooms and suites, a small restaurant, spa and gym, and a shimmering pool, all exuding discreet luxury.
This stunning guesthouse in the Medina is probably the most exclusive residence in Fes. Not only is it within walking distance to most attractions in the old city, it is also the home of astounding artwork and craftsmanship. The house is richly decorated in blue and white mosaics, finely carved large cedar doors, stained glass windows and intricate plasterwork. There is a bright, airy and rather majestic feeling despite being located in the centre of the Medina.
There are six luxurious suites all with beautifully tiled bathrooms and large four-poster beds. The staff are welcoming and friendly, they will ensure that your every need is catered for. The restaurant is well know and indeed to food is second to none, but prepare yourself for a feast, with musical accompaniment. Large comfortable chairs and cushions surround intimate tables, the emphasis is to enjoy your meal and spend time over it. Before you start supper make your way to the roof terrace for an evening drink as the sunsets, it is a magical sight!
Riad Fes is three old Medina houses joined together, they date back to the early 19th Century and have been restored with many of the original mosaic and Andalusian features. The houses were formally owned by a noble fassi family, and today you can still enjoy the authentic splendour of this grand home.
There are 17 rooms varying in appearance and size, two of them have their own private terraces and all of them have bathrooms, air conditioning, satellite television, mini bar and telephones.
There is a small open-air courtyard with beautifully manicured gardens and a small swimming pool. From the rooftop, there are impressive views of the old city of Fes and gym equipment for those who feel they need some more activity. The riad also has a hammam with massages, a jacuzzi and a library. On request they are also able organise guided visits to the medina, excursions around Fez, hairdresser, beauty consultant, traditional 'tattooing' with henna, golf, tennis and a visit to the thermal baths in the region of Fez.