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Riad Arabesque – Oasis in Fés

Patio at Riad Arabesque in Fès, Morocco / © Photo: Georg Berg

Patio at Riad Arabesque in Fès, Morocco / © Photo: Georg Berg

There are two types of accommodation in Fez. The large star hotels are located outside the city. The category rating in Morocco is not comparable with the criteria of the Hotelstars Union. Thus, a hotel with five Moroccan stars is equivalent to the internationally comparable comfort class of three-star superior. The hotels have many rooms and the majority of guests are group travelers who rarely spend more than one night in the same accommodation. For a more atmospheric option, the riads located in the old town are highly recommended. Located in the narrow dark alleys, they do not let you guess from the outside how splendidly they are designed inside. Thus, a strange feeling creeps over the European guest upon arrival.

Am I in the right place? The booked Riad Arabesque looked quite different on the website / © Photo: Georg Berg
The dark entrance on a forbidding wall even makes you doubt for a moment whether the door you rang the bell at will open / © Photo: Georg Berg

All the greater then the relief after the friendly greeting. There is no reception desk, but the inner courtyard is an oasis of peace. The registration formalities can be completed over a Moroccan mint tea. The lemon tree and the fountain spread tranquility and the strains of the journey are already forgotten before you can be surprised by one of the 18 guest rooms.

There is no reception at Riad Arabesque, but the courtyard is an oasis of calm. Registration formalities can be completed over a Moroccan mint tea / © Photo: Georg Berg

The riad was built in the 16th century, renovated 300 years later, and rebuilt as a guest house from 1996 to 1998 along with the neighboring house. It is widely accessible and many corners invite you to linger.

Accommodations at Riad Arabesque in Fez, Morocco

Accommodations at Riad Arabesque are available in four categories. Two Royal Suites, four Ambassador Suites, four Junior Suites. Even the 8 standard rooms have their own style. Since the riad is right on the city wall, it has two entrances. One via the alleys of the medina, the other via a gravel path from the street not known to all cab drivers. This is very convenient for arriving with luggage.

The Riad Arabesque is widely accessible and many corners invite you to linger / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Ambassador Suite Chriffa is located at the end of the covered courtyard. It has a queen-size double bed, two sofas, and two additional beds accessible on the second floor via a spiral staircase.

The Ambassador Suite Chriffa spans two floors, has a queen-size double bed, two sofas, and two additional beds / © Photo: Georg Berg.

Directly in front of the suite, a swimming pool offers refreshment opportunities, especially in the hot summer.

Guests find heavenly peace in the small courtyard with pool / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Royal and Junior Suites at Riad Arabesque in Fès

The Royal Suite extends over two floors, has an open fireplace and a traditional Moroccan bathtub in the sanitary area / © Photo: Georg Berg
The sanitary area features a traditional Moroccan bathtub / © Photo: Georg Berg
The Junior Suite Jaffa is magnificently decorated and has a queen-size double bed / © Photo: Georg Berg
In the sanitary area, the basins are not made of porcelain, but just like the walls, they are made of the traditional Moroccan Tadelekt material and enameled terracotta tiles / © Photo: Georg Berg
The junior suite Zalagh has a friendly bright sitting area. Its windows look not into the courtyard, as most suites do, but onto the eponymous Zalagh Mountain / © Photo: Georg Berg
The Royal Suite Moulay Hassan has two floors and a richly ornamented sanitary area / © Photo: Georg Berg
The blue walls in the bathroom area of the Ambassador Suite Saad are not painted but consist of solid-colored tadelakt / © Photo: Georg Berg
Comparatively functional: the bedroom of the Ambassador Suite Toufik / © Photo: Georg Berg

All the guest rooms tell of the time when they were inhabited by patrician families. There is a scent of cedar wood, from which almost all the wooden structures are made. The electrical and sanitary equipment is kept functional by today’s standards. Breaks in style, such as bathtubs in places where there used to be a fountain, are accepted. As far as possible, the original ceramics, carvings and wall reliefs have been preserved.

The Hamam in the Riad Arabesque in Fez, Morocco

Despite having a shower or bathtub in all suites, the Riad Arabesque has its own hammam in the basement. This is a good opportunity to get acquainted with the Arabian bathing culture. The wellness treatments offered at the riad by a tellak (both masseur and bath attendant) should be booked in advance. They last 90 minutes and start in the sauna.

The wellness treatments offered in the riad by a tellak (also a masseur and bath attendant) should be booked in advance / © Photo: Georg Berg

Hamam experience at Riad Arabesque in Fez

Taim, 63, welcomes me in dripping wet swimming trunks, because he has already preheated the tiles of the hamam with warm water. He has been working as a hamam master for 42 years and, like the other so-called tellaks, is booked by the riad. Women also practice this profession. After showering, they go to the sauna, then to a preheated marble table. With black olive oil soap the whole body is rubbed and massaged. With a warm shower the olive soap is rinsed off still on the marble table with a glove made of wild silk. Resting phases alternate with various procedures using different substances – each time kindly announced by the Tellak with sign language. After the last shower, one feels relaxed and the tiredness after a comparatively hectic day in the old town has miraculously vanished. Refreshed with orange water, you are in the best possible mood for dinner in an oriental ambience.

Taim, 63, welcomes me in dripping wet swimming trunks, because he has already preheated the tiles of the hammam with warm water / © Photo: Georg Berg

Haut Lieu de gastronomic Marocaine at the Riad Arabesque in Fez.

Meals are served either on the terrace, in your own suite, or a feudal sitting area. When was the last time you ate a meal on a sofa? The owner couple of the Riad Arabesque, Khalid and Amina Benamour and also all employees are real hosts. With a restraint that is pleasant for Europeans, they take care of their guests’ well-being, encourage newcomers to discover all areas of the riad, make recommendations for menu choices, and take time to introduce interested guests to the Orient and especially to their hometown.

When was the last time you had your dinner on a sofa? / © Photo: Georg Berg

The menu at Riad Arabesque in Fez

A puff pastry called pastilla in Morocco makes up the appetizer. With a pleasantly mild hint of cinnamon, the chicken pairs surprisingly well with the eggs folded in, parsley, onions, almonds and ginger. All of the above ingredients still leave room on the palate for that special touch. Saffron celebrates its uniqueness here. It has been grown in Morocco for centuries. In the region around Taliouine beyond the High Atlas Mountains, the most precious of all spices is cultivated in the small village of Souktana at an altitude of about 1,100 meters.

A puff pastry called pastilla in Morocco forms the appetizer. With a pleasantly mild hint of cinnamon, the chicken pairs surprisingly well with the eggs folded in, with parsley, onions, almonds and ginger / © Photo: Georg Berg

The menu is accompanied by good Moroccan wine. Throughout the country, however, asking waiters for a recommendation is a matter of pure luck. Is he or she allowed to admit that their faith has forbidden the consumption of alcoholic beverages? The beef tajilla is served next. In Morocco, the tajilla is common. It is served and prepared on an earthenware pan over an open flame covered with a clay cone.

The mild preparation with green beans and 45 spices is called Ras al Hanout. A decoction to dip your pita bread in / © Photo: Georg Berg

The mild preparation with green beans and 45 spices, which became known in different composition under the name Ras al Hanout, a decoction is conjured up, in which afterwards country-typically with fresh Moroccan flat bread should be dipped. A dinner is finished with sweet pastries, accompanied by green tea poured into a glass with mint leaves.

A gigantic breakfast provides strength for the day / © Photo: Georg Berg

The next day, you don’t want to leave the breakfast table. And yet, the next adventure is already waiting in the souks of the old town.

Let yourself drift on the off chance

On the second day in the medina, you know the pace here and have the courage to lose yourself in the alleys. You can’t orient yourself by the sun, because the almost windowless house walls are too high for that. No alley has a straight course, residential areas end as dead ends, and at the many intersections one decides on a direction, but this is rarely purposeful. Because at the latest, when you recognize an alley, you have unintentionally walked in circles. And you start the next attempt. Without a guide, you have to pay attention to more details. Signs on house walls and archways point the way to sights and city gates. A city map with these signs helps and with a little more experience you can guess, for example, that loaded donkeys or carts are more likely to head for the center, while empty ones head for one of the city gates.

An unloaded donkey strives with its leader in the direction of one of the city gates. Simple orientation rule in the medina: donkeys without load leave the old town, heavily loaded donkey backs show you the way into the old town / © Photo: Georg Berg

The most important realization: being on the road on good luck is also a strategy. This is the state in which the best discoveries succeed.

Women are the better cooks in Morocco

At lunchtime, we are in the center of the old town and are told more about the country’s typical cuisine in the top restaurant Dar Saada. Here we learn that Moroccan cuisine is dominated by women. Rabia Hassan is the chef in the same kitchen where she started 30 years ago as an assistant cook. There is chicken with pickled lemon slices, shallots, olives and the typical Moroccan spices that combine sweet spicy and slightly bitter flavors. By the way, the chicken is already pickled the day before in a separate pot with salt and vinegar. Only the next morning it goes into the tajine with the other fresh ingredients. Typical spices are cinnamon, mace, anise, nutmeg, rosebuds, turmeric, violet root chili peppers, lavender flowers, cloves allspice, cardamom, galangal, cumin, cumin, rose peppers and white bell pepper.

The variety of Moroccan spices can be found in Zugg, the quarter of spice traders. Here everything seems to be in abundance: turmeric, ginger, chili, cinnamon and laurel. It smells and you would like to take some of everything home with you / © Photo: Georg Berg

Last but not least: I almost weakened on the last day when I saw the sign: “Riad for sale”

I almost weakened and became a hotelier on the last day when I saw the sign: “Riad for sale” / © Photo: Georg Berg

Wall calendar with photos by Georg Berg available in bookstores (also online) in different sizes: Fès – Morocco as in the Middle Ages / also as family planner (*)

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This research trip was supported by the Moroccan Tourist Office

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