Experience modern luxury suites surrounding a gorgeous, secluded courtyard garden. Or just pop in to get pampered at the hammam. You’ll Soon FOrget you’re right in the midst of Fez’s medieval medina.
We highly recommend getting pampered in a historic palace as the perfect way to close a vacation.
A guide met us at our riad around 9:30 a.m. on our last full day in Fès and led us to the opulent Palais Amani, located on the northern side of the medina. We had decided to splurge and scheduled the Drop in and Unwind spa package at les Bains Amani. The luxurious experience includes traditional hammam and massage treatments, which use skin-nourishing argan oil sourced from a cooperative located in the Ourika Valley.
When we arrived, the gardens were alive with birdsong and the soothing gurgle of the courtyard fountain, which dissolved the boundary between indoors and out.
We were welcomed by the lovely Soukaina, who escorted us to a changing room complete with daybeds and plush terrycloth bathrobes.
A Luxury Hammam
Bowls of warm water were ceremoniously poured over us as the two women filled from the fountain located within the steam room. Our hands were placed in a bowl of warm water as a mineral-rich henna mud was applied to our hair.
We were then led to the steam room, where we were each served a glass of refreshing ginger lemonade and left to detoxify. I’m not sure how long we remained in there — suffice to say, that it induced the most intense sweat I’ve ever experienced. Wally suggested we lie down, as we were finding it difficult to breathe in the heavy steam. Maybe we had a few too many toxins to expel?
The women returned and proceeded to scrub us down with course exfoliating gloves and black soap with argan oil and wild mint.
This was all rinsed off in a shower, and we went back up to our changing room, where we rested, sipping chamomile tea and eating the most delicious coconut macaroons.
Then came an argan and eucalyptus oil massage. Wally and I literally felt transformed — and who wouldn’t after having layers of dead skin gently sloughed off?
The lobby includes a boutique with handmade pottery and spa products, so you can re-create the experience at home.
Afterward, we were taken to sit in the tranquil garden terrace. Lunch was smoked salmon atop pillowy brioche rounds paired with a trio of refreshing salads: beet, smoky aubergine and diced cucumber.
Medieval Meets Modern
As we ate, we were taken care of by the operations manager, Hana, who told us about the history of the hotel and introduced us to one of the owners, Abdelali Baha. He asked if we were enjoying our afternoon at the palace. We told him of course we were.
Abdelali is originally from Fès, so the Palais Amani restoration was a project of “coming home,” as it were.
“Our other partners have been connected to the Arab world for a long time and wanted to find a way to invest in Morocco,” Abdelali’s wife, Jemima, told us.
The Palais Amani “originally dates back to the 17th century, but the family we bought it from rebuilt the majority of the palace in the 1920s, after a landslide badly damaged most of the building,” Jemima explained. “This explains the Art Deco feel to the palace.”
The original owners were a prominent family of merchants who imported silverware and cotton from Manchester, England, among other things.
It was rumored that 50 family members once resided here and each room had its own kitchen.
The boutique hotel was a labor of love and fully revitalized in 2007, taking a total of four years to complete. They have a wonderful photo album documenting the restoration.
The investors worked with local craftsmen to complete the renovation. Hand-cut traditional zellij tiles, stuccowork and cedar woodwork were fully restored.
“The original craft techniques still exist, so that was laborious but relatively easy,” Jemima said.
The palace’s original footprint was modified. The hammam, for instance, was once a kitchen. Palais Amani now has 15 spacious suites, including the Royal Suite, which occupies an entire wing.
When asked about the biggest difficulties of the renovation, Jemima responded, “The size! It took four years, but when you see how big the building is, it is not really that long. The biggest challenge was probably access to the building through the tiny alleyways and getting the level of modern comforts just right in a medieval city.”
“Were there any interesting discoveries during renovation?” we asked.
“Letters dating back to the 1930s, showing commercial links with Manchester were a great find,” Jemima told us. “But also during the first six months of renovation, it rained nonstop — practically unheard of in Morocco. We found every leak in the building! With hindsight, this was a good thing, as we were able to repair them all — but it was alarming at the time!”
Afterward we made our way to the rooftop terrace, where we enjoyed a cocktail and the view of this amazing ancient city. –Duke