Known as the country’s cultural capital, Fes is the oldest city in Morocco. This makes it one of Morocco’s most popular and a must visit destination for anyone who wants to experience Morocco in full.
With an array of options for accommodation, where to stay in Fes is a question that a lot of visitors to the country’s second biggest city ask themselves, particularly first timers. Should you stay in a Moroccan riad or in a hotel? I have tried them both, so let me help you with your decision.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is a Moroccan riad?
- 2 Staying at Riad Fes
- 3 Staying at Hotel Sahrai
- 4 Conclusion
- 5 Visiting Fes? Read my other articles about Fes
- 6 Like this post? Pin and save for later
What is a Moroccan riad?
Traditional houses in Morocco are called riads. They are normally two or more stories high and they are built around a courtyard where you’ll find a fountain. Riads used to be the stately homes of wealthy merchants and courtiers, so they are highly decorated with rich details. These details often include intricately carved wood, colourful tile and mosaic work, and brightly coloured stained glass.
A lot of them have now been converted into accommodation and staying in a riad is a great way to get to know the Moroccan way of life. Their architecture tells us a lot about Moroccan culture, history and how the climate influences the way locals live their lives.
Here is my top recommendation for staying in a riad in Fes, called Riad Fes.
Staying at Riad Fes
Riad Fes is located in the heart of Fes El Bali, or medina, which is the oldest walled part of the city. Being in such a central location, most of the sights are within walking distance from the riad, so it’s perfect to explore Fes. But being so centrally located doesn’t mean that you can’t escape the hustle and bustle of the medina. Riad Fes is the perfect oasis of calm and you will feel like you are a million miles away from everything.
Riad Fes is not just a riad but five original riads converted into one. These five buildings were traditional Moroccan mansions that once belonged to Fassi families, wealthy and highly influential families from 19thcentury Fes, who travelled to Europe and brought back a lot of artistic influences. The main building was built by a rich trader that specialised in cosmetics, importing soaps from France and exporting back ingredients for perfumes. Here you can travel back in time while enjoying the splendour of a time gone by.
Despite being in the medina, which is mostly car-free, Riad Fes is reachable by car, so you don’t have to lug your luggage around.
The five traditional Moroccan mansions that make up Riad Fes were built between the 17thand 20thcentury. You can see the different periods reflected in the patios within the property. The main patio is quintessentially Moorish, displaying Islamic carvings, antique doors and beautiful intricate mosaics. It is here that we were welcomed with a refreshing drink and some delicious almond biscuits.
A second patio is reminiscent of the Alhambra in Spain, with its colonnades, marbles and decorative arched around a small pool. Another patio shows Moroccan traditional architecture combined with Baroque style.
Riad Fes is a member of Relais & Chateaux, so you know you will be spending your time in Fes in comfort and style. And you might think that of course, most hotels offer comfort and style. However, Riad Fes is on another level.
Every single room of the 33 in the riad is decorated differently, offering true individuality. The only problem with this is that every room is drop dead gorgeous so you’ll want to stay in every single one of them.
Every room is decorated with a mix of contemporary and traditional style, and well equipped with modern facilities such as LCD TV with international channels, minibars, free wifi, and breakfast can be served in the room.
We stayed in one of the Ambassador Suites and it was an absolute dream. Literally. The bed was incredibly comfortable. And big. You could easily fit four people in it. (We didn’t!). Our room had impossibly high ceilings and was decorated in a rich red and gold palette. The bathroom was enormous, all lined in white marble with a highly decorated stucco ceiling and a luxurious antique roll top bath.
To get to the room I had to go through a little patio garden, with citrus and palm trees, that was private to the room. It was really lovely to be woken up in the morning by the birds singing.
The pool and the terrace
Being in the centre of the medina, where space is at a premium, doesn’t mean that you have to compromise. Riad Fes has a beautiful pool surrounded by orange, lemons and bay leaf trees, that is 14m long and 1.5m deep. Perfect for relaxing after sightseeing in Fes and even for a refreshing dip before going out into the whirlwind the medina can be.
If you’d like to try a glass (or two) of Moroccan wine by the pool, there is a Wine Bar that is open until 11pm.
Riad Fes also has an incredible roof terrace with panoramic views over the medina and the Atlas Mountains, ideal to visit at sunrise as the mosques sound their call to prayer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enjoy the terrace as during my visit it was undergoing renovations, but here is a beautiful photo by @anniesbucketlist to give you an idea of what it looks like. Dreamy, huh?
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Riad Fes has one of the city’s best fine dining restaurants within its premises. Restaurant ‘L’Ambre’ Fez serves exquisite Moroccan cuisine with a twist specific to Riad Fes. The menu offers a wide selection of dishes that are carefully prepared and presented.
I had a mouthwatering chicken pastilla (a kind of chicken pie with filo pastry, cinnamon and icing sugar) as a starter and a beautifully cooked sea bass with fine herbs and preserved lemons.
The food was glorious, L’Ambre is after all included in the Best Restaurants Maroc guide, and the setting made it a special meal to remember. We ate in the Alhambra-like patio, by the emerald-green pool accompanied by very atmospheric music played by a local musician, and by candlelight. A truly magical moment.
There are also plenty of hotels in Fes, but if you are looking for something pretty special Hotel Sahrai will not disappoint.
Staying at Hotel Sahrai
Hotel Sahrai opened in 2014 and is a completely different style of accommodation, and a totally new experience in Fes. Designed in a contemporary style, the Sahrai incorporates elements of Moroccan tradition, such as the use of lanterns and water features throughout the property, and arches that are reminiscent of the building that used to occupy its site.
Located in the former site of a summer palace, this five-star hotel was designed by French architect and designer Christophe Pillet. And you can tell a lot of thought has gone into its design and layout, with bright and airy spaces that somehow manage to feel pretty intimate.
Hotel Sahrai is away from the hubbub of the medina, and it feels like a retreat where you can relax while you enjoy the expansive view of the largest medina in the Arab world. It is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, so you can trust your stay will be pretty special here.
Hotel Sahrai has 50 beautifully designed rooms that feel both intricately decorated and minimalist at the same time. The use of traditional lanterns designed with a modern twist, and the combination of stone cladding and sculpted plaster walls give the rooms a unique feel between contemporary lifestyles and tradition.
We stayed in a Junior Suite, which felt so big you could easily run around the bed. The Suite was incredibly bright, thanks to the floor to ceiling window that took up the whole of the external wall. The view was incredible too, with the impressive infinity pool right at our feet and the medina in the distance. It really felt like the outside was part of the room.
All the rooms have glass-walled bathrooms, which add to the sense of spaciousness. But don’t worry, the toilet is separate and for the shower you can use curtains for privacy, giving you the choice to conceal or reveal the different spaces within the room. Our bathroom felt super luxurious with the use of black marble everywhere. And for an added touch of opulence, they come with very expensive Acqua di Parma toiletries. So lush!
The Givenchy Spa
One of the things that I absolutely loved about Hotel Sahrai is the spa. This is not just any spa, it is a Givenchy Spa. Beautifully elegant and luxurious it is perfect for a pampering session.
The spa has five treatment rooms, a giant heated Jacuzzi with a relaxation open area around it overlooking the city, as well as a hammam and a steam room. And if you enjoy any of the Givenchy products used on your treatments, which would be really hard not to, you can buy them from the Givenchy boutique within the spa.
I enjoyed a Stress Relief massage that left me super relaxed, and I finished off my treatment with some time in the Jacuzzi. It was a great way to end the day!
Relais de Paris
The ‘Relais de Paris’ Restaurant within Hotel Sahrai is another culinary gem included in the Best Restaurants Maroc guide. It offers gourmet French cuisine in an informal chic atmosphere, and the meat dishes are excellent (try the rib steak. So juicy and tasty!).
If you are there with your significant other, request a table outside by the pool. It’s the perfect spot for sunset and it’s super romantic.
Amaraz was hosting a private function when we stayed here, so we didn’t get to try it. But it is also featured on the Best Restaurants Maroc guide, so I’m sure the food it’s pretty good too. It serves gourmet Moroccan and Lebanese food.
When visiting a new country, especially when it’s completely new, you will find two types of travellers. Those who thrive and revel on experiencing something completely different to what they know and what they are used to, and those who love exploring what a new country has to offer but like to go back to some sort of familiarity in the evening.
But whatever you decide when it comes to staying in Fes, whether it’s a Moroccan riad like Riad Fes or a contemporary hotel like Hotel Sahrai, you will have an unforgettable experience in Morocco’s ancient city.
Would you choose a Moroccan riad or a hotel to stay in Fes?
Let me know in the comments!
Visiting Fes? Read my other articles about Fes
Like this post? Pin and save for later
Disclosure: A big thank you to Riad Fes and Hotel Sahrai who hosted me on this trip. As always, all views are my own.
Teresa is an award-winning travel blogger based in London. She’s on a mission to explore the world through responsible cultural and adventure travel, and through deeper, more meaningful local experiences. She’s a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and she’s always looking for ways to make a positive impact through sustainable travel.