Marrakech and Tangier have long shared double billing as Morocco’s most alluring cities. In contrast, Fez, the country’s intellectual and spiritual capital, has always been respectfully admired for its architecture and its authenticity. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981, it’s a reserved but fascinating town that has been ambivalent about courting tourism — and until recently, has never had an opulent luxury hotel akin to Marrakech’s famed La Mamounia.
Now that has changed, with the opening of the 50-room Hotel Sahrai overlooking the medina, the beehive-like quarter that is the largest surviving traditional urban neighborhood in Morocco. In deference to local sensibilities, however, the Paris-based interior designer Christophe Pillet, one of France’s rising young talents, designed the hilltop hotel to be discreet and respectful of local aesthetics. The visual richness of the Sahrai comes from the sumptuous quality of the raw materials used to build the hotel and a respect for the principles of classical Arabic domestic architecture, especially the zones of light and shadow created by atria and arcades.
Pillet’s décor speaks to Morocco’s rich craft tradition with its handmade leather headboards, copper-framed lanterns and hand-painted Fassi ceramics, but otherwise projects serenity with its walls of biscuit-colored Taza stone and hand-carved plaster wall coverings. There are stunning views of Fez and the Atlas mountains from the teak deck around the outdoor pool, rooftop bar and lounge bar, where there’s often a live D.J. at night. The Givenchy spa offers traditional Moroccan and European treatments, and the hotel has two restaurants: the Relaisde Paris, which has become popular with the local expat community for its diverse continental menu, and Amaraz, a gourmet Moroccan eatery. If the Sahrai looks set to be a game-changer for Fez, what many locals appreciate most is that it offers a witty riff on history rather than ignoring it.