There is special gem, an unassuming destination in the middle of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Here, effortless beauty, mystery, and wonder unite. I have just stepped foot into the expansive, gorgeous Karajan Riad of Morocco.
I am whisked back in time as I imagine life in the medina hundreds of years ago. If you are looking to experience authentic Moroccan hospitality, stay in a raid. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house, located within an ancient medina (walled city), which is designed around a central courtyard and/or garden. These beautiful homes have been restored to reflect traditional Moroccan décor yet also provide guests with many of the modern amenities found in four- and five-star hotels.
As you approach Karawan Riad in Fez, from Morocco’s narrow, labyrinthine streets, you will likely notice that each door you pass is gray stone and plaster walls as they all look fairly similar. I have a guide who is escorting me, which helps me navigate the narrow maze. As we approach the entrance, it is unassuming and simple. The oversized door is made of carved wood. My guide opens the door to Karawan Riad, and I first enter into a hallway, but I can only get a glimpse into the heart of the house. This layered effect of walls, doors, and hallways is a historical privacy feature for the residents of the house, allowing the outside door to be opened to the public while offering protection for those within. It also creates a sound barrier against the noise of the streets.
As I enter into the main area, I see the courtyard/garden with an open ceiling to gaze up at the sky. I am pleasantly surprised and delighted by this tranquil, elegant beauty that gracefully sits within. It is as if I have found a diamond in the rough!
My guide escorts me and my friends to the courtyard to sit and relax before we go into our room. He brings out fresh bottles of water, and the Moroccan drink of choice, mint tea. I sip my tea with gratitude, for this is an oasis in the ancient city.
I imagine life in the Riad in its highlighted prime time. In the seventeenth century there was nowhere more romantic than Maqfia in the Andalous quarter. In those days, it was a complex of palatial riads separated by gardens filled with flowers and fruit trees and cooled by tinkling fountains to create an environment befitting of queens. Karawan Riad was the grandest harem in town.
It was here that the pashas of the time entertained while their ladies peeked at proceedings from square balconies tucked into each corner of the first floor of the palace.
The riad has undergone a restoration with exactly the same materials made by local craftsmen: handcrafted zellije (glazed mosaic tiles), delicate wrought ironwork, intricate plaster and filigreed lanterns, silk embroidery, and richly painted wood, plus curios and artifacts inspired by the “caravanserai” who moved exquisite handicrafts, fabulous food, and romantic stories all over Morocco and the Middle East.
Karawan Riad in Fèz is the coming together of all these influences and the art of luxury Moroccan hospitality re-imagined for the 21st century.
I finish my tea then head into my room. The Riad has seven suites, each with its own theme and point of view. I am staying in Zephyr. Inspired by the Mediterranean path of the caravans, this suite is ideal for single travelers, its lofty dimensions ensuring you still get a good sense of space. An immense, carved plaster wall—the original sample occupies a place of pride opposite the bed—is the star feature, and combined with its ocean-blue velvet drapes and sea greens and grays worked into the zellije, it has a fresh, spring-like quality that makes it an invigorating place to wake up.
A small, stone bathroom is located at mezzanine level, giving a bird’s-eye view of the room. The secret of this room is an intimate terrace overlooking the medina that provides views all the way across the Minaret of Moulay, Idriss to the Merenid Tombs.
I head to the Leelah Hammam & Spa for a traditional hammam and massage.
Renovated in the Ottoman-style with vaulted ceilings and heated floors, walls, and benches, Leelah Hammam & Spa in Fez is where I go to rest and recharge. I do a hammam, which is a traditional gommage (scrub down and steam with traditional olive-based soap, essential oils, and rose-water-infused clay). It is a Moroccan beauty secret that has been passed down, mother to daughter, generation by generation through the centuries with the intention of purifying body and soul to leave you feeling completely rejuvenated. After my hammam, I head upstairs to the massage treatment room and lie on the massage table for a traditional massage. The massage is relaxing and a perfect way to finish my day. I feel at peace and connected to my best self.
After my spa time, I get ready for dinner. My stomach lets me know it is time for dinner. Fez is the gastronomy capital of Morocco. At Karawan Restaurant, fine dining is the key focus. I enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal with creations from a young Moroccan chef, Outhmane. It is the best meal I have eaten in all of Morocco; the flavors burst in my mouth.
We start with fresh olives, bread, and vegetables then couscous, the traditional favorite dish of Morocco. We finish with fresh fruit, nuts, and a sweet tart.
I’ve had a beautiful stay and plan to come back to this little piece of heaven. The concierge offers to arrange for cultural tours of the Fez medina: shopping trips, cooking classes, and out-of-town visits to other heritage sites.
Built in the 19th century; its history is engrained in the palace. It has been restored by world-renowned artists creating a luxurious yet welcoming vibe that is inviting, as if to say, “Welcome home to your home away from home.”
When you come to Morocco, Fez is a must visit. According to Lonely Planet, some ten years ago, Fez boomed as a tourist destination. Money poured into the city, from foreigners buying up riads in the medina to new parks and fountains in the ville nouvelle. If you believed the travel and style pages of the Western media, Fez had become the new Marrakesh. Then the Arab Spring and similar events in other Muslim countries took their toll on tourism. Now, however, it seems that investment is on its way back, particularly apparent in the number of new hotels being built and old ones renovated in Fez.
Fassis, though, know that their city is beyond the vagaries of tourism. This is an old and supremely self-confident city that has nothing to prove to anyone. Dynasties and booms have all come and gone in the city’s 1200-year existence, and Fez will be around long after the next fashion has burned itself out.
For visitors, the medina of Fès el-Bali (Old Fez) is the city’s great drawing card. It’s an assault on the senses, a warren of narrow lanes and covered bazaars fit to bursting with aromatic food stands, craft workshops, mosques, and an endless parade of people. Old and new constantly collide: the man driving the donkeys and mules that remain the main form of transport is likely to be chatting on his mobile phone, while the ancient skyline is punctuated equally with satellite dishes and minarets. You will be happy to retreat to Karawan Riad, the oasis in the ancient city.
Want to go? Karawan Riad: http://www.karawanriad.com/
Photos from Karawan Riad
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