La Maison Blanche Fez, Buzz

By Margaret Kemp

Call it Fez or Fes, it's a great place to visit and only 2 hours 15 minutes from Orly Sud, Paris. Fez is the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco and goes back to at least 790AD. It's the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The largest of the two Medinas (walled cities within a city) is the world's largest car-free zone, but beware of the donkeys.

The language is French, Arabic and English are understood almost everywhere. In 1956 Morocco gained independence from France, Hassan 11 is King and is omnipresent with gold-framed portraits and photos. The French feel very “family” towards their Moroccan cousins.

Take a guide, the easiest way to tackle the city. “Even the Moroccans do this”, says Bruno Franck, Director General of Maison Blanche, the restaurant/bar recently launched by the Pourcel Brothers, Jacques and Laurent, two heads, four hands www.jardindessens.com It's located in a new contemporary building and the interior, on two floors with hip mezzanine bar for tapas and cocktails, is ultra-modern state-of-the-art. Décor by architect Christophe Pillet using dramatic grey slate and local Khenifra stone. The panoramic terrace is great for warm days, Spring is just awakening at present.

Heading the Maison Blanche kitchens is Julien Louis (ex-Tour d'Argent, Plaza Athénee, Bristol and Tour d'Argent). “It's fantastic here, the products are so exciting, as is the wine. I'm surrounded by women in the kitchen, Moroccan cuisine is a cuisine des femmes” so I have only the dishwasher for a bit of moral support”, he grins. The Maison Blanche menu features fusion food with Mediterranean and Moroccan twists. Starters include Nage de gambas, moules et Saint-Jacques au safran de Talaouine. Risottos auz morilles et asperges vertes, emulsion à l'huile d'Argan. Moroccan foie gras de canard poelé, raviole d'ananas aux dattes Mejhoul. Mains: Saint-Pierre à la plancha, Risotto Vénéré, vinaigrette au citron. Carré d'agneau rôti, purée de petits pois, jus au sésame noir. And to finish: Fraises en déclinaisons, chaudes et froides.

From the comprehensive wine list (priced from 22€-1,000€) choose a Moroccan Halana syrah. “Moroccans are very attached to the land and well suited to cultivating vines”, notes chef Louis. “Even if they don't drink it, although more and more young yuppie locals are into wine tasting”.

Where to stay:

There's something for every pocket and Buzz discovered the sublime Maison Bleue built as a family palace in 1915. It's a Maison d'hôtes and superb restaurant, mosaic and original architectural features create a romantic thousand and one nights atmosphere. Riad attitude is everywhere.

What is a Riad?

A traditional Moroccan house or palace with interior garden, from the Arabic “ryad”, which translates as garden.

Created by the same owners, the El Abbadi family, is La Maison Bleue and Spa. The main courtyard, built in Arabo-Andalusian style is open to the sky and has a swimming pool surrounded by fragrant orange and lemon trees. Riad Arabesque is a recently restored jewel box hotel, with gardens and two lovely restaurants serving organic products. Brad Pitt stays here, so does Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kass, the owner Khalid Benamour's not saying if they took the “Introduction to Henna” course but they certainly took in the traditional music, oriental dance, traditional “gnaouas” music and dance until the wee small hours. The Sofitel with its handsome Moorish architecture is located in the Palais Jamai once home to Grand-Vizier Jamai. The spa with hamman has a wide range of treatments; there's a heated outdoor pool, tennis, wonderful views over the city and Al Fassia the French inspired restaurant.

Address Book:

Maison Blanche,

12, rue Ahmed Chaouki, Fes.

T: +212 (0) 5 35 62 27 27

Average spend Dh 1050 + wine

www.maisonblanche.ma

 

Le Riad Fes,

5 Derb Ben Slimane, Zerbtana

T: +212 (0) 5 35 94 76 10

www.riadfes.com

Riad La Maison Bleue & Spa

& La Maison Bleue

www.maisonbleue.com

Sofitel Palace Jamai & Spa

www.sofitel.com

Arabesque

www.arabesquehotelfez.com

Royal Air Maroc

www.royalairmaroc.com

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