Fortunately my Alice & Co stretchy summer dresses are light and roll up nice and small leaving me with a half-empty suitcase – the famous Fez Medina has 1001 shops so I’m surely not going to return empty handed! Just in case of shopping overload, some portable suitcase scales also go into my bag – although Ryanair are a bit more generous with their luggage allowances these days.
Leave your Louboutins at home and do the soft shoe shuffle – the streets of the Medina are steep and cobbled and not without the odd dollop of donkey poo. But they offer rich pickings for multi-colour junkies like me. Look at this glorious display of babouches. The yellow which symbolizes richness is a popular choice for wearing at the Eid al-Adha festival at the end of Ramadan.
I choose a lilac pair to go with an Alice & Co kaftan in a bold Joel & Son cotton lawn print for a relaxing morning at the Palais Amani hotel. I’m reading ‘A House In Fez‘, Susanne Clarke’s entertaining tale of how she rescued a tumbledown riad here.
Fortunately Palais Amani has already been renovated to a luxurious standard. Behind its big wooden doors lie lush gardens and cool patios with intricately tiled walls and pillars. There are elegant bedrooms with stained glass windows and a sunny roof terrace with panoramic views over the Medina.
When I’m not reading I’m often sewing, in this case a Joel & Son fabric vivid print skirt. The fountain is a nice cool place to sit and the friendly staff often pop by with some mint tea and coconut cookies and to see what I’m up to.
It’s time for some action, so we’ve signed up with the Palais Amani chef, Houssam Laassiri, to learn how to cook some Moroccan recipes. We boldly step out into the mayhem of the Medina to buy our ingredients.
Chickens are sold live here and there is an option on a camel’s head and some gruesome looking hooves, but we stick with tomatoes, aubergines and bundles of herbs.
Smiley Chef Houssam shows us how to make Harira soup from chickpeas, tomatoes, vermicelli and spices. This is traditionally eaten to break the Ramadan fast and is also served for breakfast. It’s very healthy and tastes delicious.
Entering into the spirit of Ramadan we decide to save our feast for after the sunset cannon booms and instead indulge our other senses back in the Medina.
For lovers of colour and pattern…
there’s intricate wood carving…
rainbow-hued silk embroidery threads…and all the latest in kaftan design.I help our guide get measured up for some new togs – he chooses an austere white djellaba while I barter for a bright orange jacket in butter-soft leather…
This is bought at Terrasse de Tannerie El Haj Ali Baba where you can see the skins being dyed and also smell them! Thankfully they offer bunches of mint to sniff for those with delicate noses.
My Fez guide book says that tanners enjoy high status in Fassi society – I hope that’s true as it looks like blinkin’ hot and hard work.
All Medina-ed out and ready for a change of scene, I take a road trip to the Roman ruins at Volubilis. This is the triumphal arch of Caracalla and would have stood at one end of the main street.
I like a Roman ruin and these ones are a spectacular example with enough structures left to make it easy to image Roman life in full swing. Nice and empty with no signs or railings – the site’s official guides speak good English and know their history. It would be especially good to visit in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.
Mosaics are a great medium for story telling. This poor naked slave is leading a lion off to the arena – where he will probably have to fight it – before becoming its lunch.
After the blistering heat of Volubils it was a relief to move on to the town of Meknes where Sultan Moulay Ismail, a despotic ruler and masterbuilder of the 17th century built a massive granary and stables for 12,000 horses. These are very impressive and also delightfully cool!
Shh! don’t tell but I’m wearing my Alice & Co pyjama jacket. Well, it is silk and a lovely 60s print. I realised that any skin left uncovered was going to fry like an aubergine. Not a good look!
Back at base and time for dinner. You can’t browse restaurants in the time-honoured way in Fez as they’re all behind closed doors, albeit impressive ones. So you have to do your research, and make a booking – then they’ll send a porter to collect you – or you’d never find your dinner before bedtime.
Dar Hatim, run by dynamo chef and mother of three Karima, serves home-cooked traditional food in her in-laws house. She will also give you a tour of her beautiful home. The salon ceiling will make your eyes pop out. Try her speciality pastilla – chicken pie. It’s not licensed but they’re happy for you to BYO.
Dar Roumana is an elegant riad with a French chef and a modern take on Moroccan dishes. They serve French and Moroccan wines – La Petite Ferme rosé is good and be sure to have the Sephardic orange cake for dessert.
For a cocktail with a view take a red petit taxi up the hill to the spanking new Hotel Sahrai. You can also buy a day pass to use the pool and have lunch.
Cafe Clock is open for lunch and dinner. It’s a boho meeting place with higgledy-piggledy rooms and great views from the roof terrace – not licenced but their homemade mint and lemonade drink is lovely. They also run courses and cultural events.
Riad Palais Amani offers an all day tapas menu as well as lunch and dinner. Homely traditional recipes are cooked with a sophisticated style and served in the shady garden.
In addition to my orange leather jacket, I bought a blue stripey bedspread from the local weavers, a few scarves and this rather lovely horse. It’s made in the Damascene technique from blackened iron inlaid with silver wire.
At fingers rather than hands high he didn’t quite blow my Ryanair luggage allowance and will be a nice reminder of my Moroccan moment.
For a good read on the way home try ‘In Morocco‘ by Edith Wharton. She travelled around the country by car at the end of the First World War with the French Governor.
All images © 2014 imagepalace.co.uk
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