Fez, Morocco

Photo: Hotel Sahrai
Photo: Hotel Sahrai

Fez has always been your favorite Moroccan city. The country’s spiritual and intellectual capital sits at the base of the Middle Atlas mountains. Its two car-free medinas—Fes el Bali and Al-Qarawiyyin—are full of mosques, palaces, and twisting alleyways. Interesting scents, vibrant colors, and intriguing sounds pull you in different directions, until you’re utterly and wonderfully misplaced. Yet you never feel lost, since you’re trying mouthwatering harira, couscous, and tagine along the way.

But this trip to Fez is different. Of course, you see some of your favorite spots: the Bab Boujeloud (the Blue Gate), the Batha Museum (in a Moorish palace), and the Bou Inania Madrasa (Fez’s only madrasa with a minaret). Your focus isn’t on the city’s historical markers, though. For the first time, you’re here to check out what’s new and modern.

On previous visits, you’ve stayed in riads within the medina. The old homes were renovated and turned into small inns with beautiful courtyard gardens. This time, you’re staying at a true hotel. Hotel Sahrai sits on a hillside in between the medina and Ville Nouvelle, the modern section of the city that was built by the French. With Taza limestone, carved walls, and arched pavilions, the hotel may look old, but the modern amenities give it away. If they don’t, the Givenchy Spa—the first in North Africa—certainly will.

Photo: Hotel Sahrai
Photo: Hotel Sahrai

You’re welcomed to the hotel with handmade Moroccan pastries. Unpack in your light-filled room. It has floor-to-ceiling windows, layers of sheer curtains, and a glass-walled marble bathroom. While a handmade leather headboard, hand-painted ceramics, and copper lanterns blur the modern with the traditional. Sip fresh mint tea under the open-air arches at Arcades. Eat lunch on the terrace of Relais de Paris, a French-inspired brasserie. Oualidia oysters and a glass of La Ferme Rouge rosé are the perfect way to start the meal. Decompress in the hammam and with an herbal wrap at the spa. Daydream by the infinity pool. Then take the shuttle into the city for your dinner reservation.

Restaurant No. 7 is just as, if not more, unique as Hotel Sahrai. The little restaurant is sparsely decorated with black-and-white tiles, large photographs, and an indoor waterfall. The wine list is all local. The menu, which changes daily, is handwritten on a blackboard. Recent offerings include chilled fava bean and almond soup, baked sardines with pickled plums and fried sage, and farm chicken braised with fresh figs and anise seed. All Moroccan inspired, but by no means traditional.

But the real treat is the chef, or in this case, chefs. The restaurant features a rotating series of guest chefs from around the world. They arrive for one-to-four-month stints in a cross-culinary exchange. A Chilean chef, who has cooked at some of the best restaurants in the world, is about to take over. Dig in, everything smells delicious.

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