The Aura of Ancient Fez Comes Alive in Riad Al Pacha Hotel/Restaurant
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
“Fez! In you is gathered all the beauties of the world.
How many are the blessings and riches that you bestow on your inhabitants.”
Thus wrote a Moroccan poet who went on to describe this historic and intellectual heart of Morocco as the `Queen of Cities’ and `Jewel of North Africa’.
Fez, declared by UNESCO a part of the world’s heritage, is the oldest of Morocco’s four Imperial Cities – the others being Meknes, Marrakesh, and Rabat. Idriss II descendant of the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad laid its foundation stone in the first part of the 9th century. At its founding, it is said that Idriss lifted up his hands saying, “O God! Might this town be one of science and learning and might it be the place where Your Book (Qur’an) be recited, and Your Commandants respected.”
This ancient Fez one can still enjoy today then dine in The Thousand and One Nights atmosphere of Riad Al Pacha, an 18th century Arab/Andalusia palace renovated into a hotel/restaurant. Amid its exotic architecture and adornments, I with four of my colleagues and friends sat enjoying some of the best traditional food in Morocco. It was a journey into the Oriental world of long ago.
The first idea of opening his hotel/restaurant came to Rachid Benamor, owner of Riad Al Pacha, when working in his father’s shop dealing with tourists. However, he first established a tourist agency preparing for his now ingrained plans. Five years ago his dream came to life when he opened Riad Al Pacha.
Benamor advised us: “Walk to the roof and you will see one of the most all-encompassing–panoramic view of old Fez and its surrounding walls before you sit down to dinner.” How true were his words! Fez literally lay at our feet – a picture postcard of beauty.
From this renovated Arab Andalusia palace with a parking lot a few minutes walk away, travellers can plunge into the narrow and picturesque streets of the old city preserved as if it a still thriving town of the Middle Ages. Within its perfectly preserved walls no auto or any other motor vehicle are allowed – only humans, donkeys and mules can carry goods or transport people. Walking is the only way to get around.
Close by, about a 15 minute walk away, are the jewels of Fez – from among these are the illustrious Qarawiyin Mosque, which had within its walls what is said to have been the first university in the world; the Medersa (school) Bouanania, famous for its ancient hydraulic clock with it its yet unknown mechanism; the Najarine Wood Museum, a former Medersa; the tanners district; and the many other venerable tourist drawing cards.
Walking downstairs after our exhilarating view of the city we sat down in the Riad’s Patio Restaurant surrounded by Arab-Andalusia style decorations, including a picturesque fountain. Encompassed by azulejos (mosaic) walls, fine artistic plasterwork and other adornments, we plunged into the Moroccan food set before us, defusing a mouth-watering aroma.
The first dish was a seafood bastilla – a type of pie that had been introduced into Morocco by the expelled Arab-Muslims from Spain. Before we barely had a chance to finish the dish, different types of Moroccan salads were placed before us, followed by kafta – tasty type of brochettes. Culminating the feast was a huge chicken couscous platter prepared from couscous, herbs and spices, and seven fruits and vegetables: chickpeas, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, raisins, squash and turnips.
As we sat back sated and content, a platter of fruit was placed before us , followed by Moroccan tea and pastries such as shabakia, (honey-soaked fried dough). ghrabia (type of shortbread) and others. It was a feast to remember and only at a cost of some 25 euros each.
Unlike us, visitors when then they travel to the Riad usually stay a night or more in one of the eight suites it offers. Here, they can relax and be soothed by the murmurings of the fountain, the songs of birds that hover over the Riad, intermixed with the smell of orange blossom water and mint. The atmosphere will be conducive to dream of the world of the past when the owners of this Arab-Andalusian palace lived the good life in romantic surroundings.
As for us, we left with a feeling of elation. Ours was an adventure into the renowned Moroccan culinary world in all its glory – a gift of Riad Al Pacha’s gift to visitors to Fez. Truly, it was a journey back to the days of The Thousand and One Nights.
For Further Information, Contact:
Riad Al Pacha Maison D’Hotes & Restaurant, 7 7 Derb El Miter, Ain Azliten , Medina, Fes, Morocco. Tél : 1+212 5356-35409. International Tel: 1+44 (02) 3026 5047
Book online via website: http://riad-al-pacha.fes-hotels.net/en/