Hidden Fès {Morocco}

At first glace the streets of are a giant maze, but behind any door lies a secret world. In a culture where wealth is hidden rather than paraded, an unsuspecting door can lead to a magical discovery. I was lucky enough to have my thesis advisor, a part-time resident of Fès for several years, to help unwrap the city for me.
My design tour of Fès started at visual designer Jess Stephen‘s pop up shop (above) on the main stream on the medina.I popped in long enough to have a seat, chat with Jess and take in the street as it passed us by. A local seller who usually sells footballs and posters packed up his shop for a brief hiatus, for Jess to set up shop and catch up with the locals (especially cool was the fact that her shop was diagonal from one of the few female shop keepers in town, and one afternoon I passed and saw Jess and the shopkeeper’s daughter sharing an ice cream). I especially loved her jewelry made from bedouin buttons (also available in her Etsy shop) and the hand-painted sign that said “snack” in Arabic. Even if Jess’s pop-up shop has already come and gone, Jess hopes to start up an artist in residency program, and you can check out the latest happenings on her Culture Vultures Fez blog.
Then we were off to Jardin de Biehn, known particularly for Michel Biehn’s eye for color and textiles. There was a spirit to this place which was just magical. On my next trip the Fez Cafe (part of the riad) is going to be one of my first stops, and I’d love to stay in any of the rooms and absorb the unique color palettes, or stop in the hammam and spa. Clearly the owners have traveled, and I loved the ways elements weaved their ways into the rooms. A week later and I’m still thinking about the amazing colorful door with a memorable matte finish.
On our way to Riad Alkantara, I thought we were completely in the wrong place when we knocked on a big black door after the maze of the medina, but when it opened I felt like I walked into “the secret garden” – an open space with reaching gardens (which continue back beyond this photo), and swimming pool fed by water from the riad’s own well. We were lucky enough to get to sit down for tea with the owner (my favorite part about visiting Morocco is tea with strangers). It was heartbreaking to hear that tourism was down 70% this year after certain world events, and even the festival didn’t fill rooms. I was particularly struck by the detailed plaster work, here – a skill of the owner’s family. And as we sat by the fountain and sipped our mint tea, I gained an appreciation about the amount of work and detail that goes into tile work. You never know what you’ll pick up in Morocco.Dar Roumana (above) was another riad on the other side of the media, owned by a friend of my thesis advisor. The place had been purchased, and completely renovated, paying careful attention to every minor detail (even changing one of the colors of the original tile work). The rooftop deck and views was heavenly.
Then to finish our tour, stop in Cécile’s salon du thé [tea], Fès et Gestes (above). Cécile is lovely and seems to know everyone in town. Her garden café is the perfect oasis from the hustle and bustle of the streets and you never know who you’ll end up meeting while you’re there.

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