Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
12 Derb El Miter
Oued Zhoune, Hay Blida
Tel: 212 5 35 63 32 09
I always wanted to spend a night in an Arabian palace.
Finally, in Morocco, my long time wish was fulfilled – and without the intervention of a jinn, which leaves still my three wishes untouched.
Palais Amani is a true palace lovingly restored and converted into an 18 room boutique Riad situated on a top tier of the ancient Fez medina (for more on Riads see Riads in Morocco).
It is built as a classic Arab Andaluz-styled 17th century North African building, with a gorgeous central courtyard garden that features a tiled fountain right out of 1001-nights and fruit-laden orange trees; birds live permanently in the garden. Restored delicate wrought iron rails, stained glass details and exquisite hand-carved doors can be found throughout the building.
Reception room, dining room, offices, library and other executive and utility spaces are on the ground floor, including the “Fez Cooking School of Palais Amani”, while bedrooms are on the second story connected by an enclosed balcony with large arched windows overlooking the courtyard. This is a traditional design for a Moslem home where the women of the house are sequestered but still have access to the open-air and garden below. There is a roof dinning terrace and solarium accessed by either a staircase on one corner of the building or an elevator, on another corner. The view of the bustling, serpentine medina and souks from the roof terrace is terrific!
The staff that picked up our suitcases at the bottom of the hill where the medina is located, carted them up a long staircase to the entrance and delivered them to our rooms. We walked up the same staircase and were welcomed at the main entrance to a building that reminded me a bit of the details of the Alcázar in Seville or the Alhambra - not as elaborate but with the same kind of Moorish/Andaluz styling.
Abdelali Baha, the co-owner, welcomed us to a reception room/library featuring a lit fireplace, with the de rigueur mint tea offering poured by one of the dining room servers, and demi lune and date- and fig- stuffed cookies made in house.
We were seen to our rooms on the second floor that were beautifully decorated with Moroccan touches. The bathrooms were completely modern with glass enclosed showers with rainmaker shower heads, aromatic amenities and bath-oils, and fluffy terry robes and babouche slippers. On a table by the window was a bottle of mineral water, a tajine shaped glass container with Moroccan cookies and a fruit bowl – hopefully the oranges were from the trees in the courtyard.
The dining room was at the other end of the oblong garden from the reception room/library and the food was outstanding, as it should be for a hotel that has a cooking school on premises. Because the trip we were in was to explore the history of the Jewish community in Morocco and a number in the group were eating kosher – a kind of cooking which I have normally found to be really heavy -- to be honest, I did not expect culinary fireworks; well I was very, very wrong!
Moroccan cuisine is inherently very flavorful using blends of numerous spices as well as the Tajine, a conical clay utensil where the food cooks at a low temperature, for a long time, in a very humid environment. Meat is either chicken or lamb and sometimes fish cooked in the tajine with spices and vegetables.
Also, deep-fried fritters and börek were served, made with multiple layers of phyllo dough stuffed with meat, or vegetables, or cheese and vegetable mixtures -- in our case the cheese was omitted to comply with kosher dietary law. Side dishes are usually stewed vegetables or couscous. And, at the end of the meal, fresh fruit and Moroccan coffee – which differs from standard Arabic coffee because cardamom is mixed in and boiled with the powdered coffee and sugar – or the ubiquitous mint tea were offered.
All these were presented to our table as well as little clay pots full of pickled olives both green and black, dried raisins and walnuts, dates and different kinds of bread that included pita-like loafs, a fresh spongy injera-like bread and what seemed to be deep fried doughnuts.
A feast for the eyes and the palate!
For further information contact the Moroccan National Tourist Office www.visitmorocco.com
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