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Best Small, Elegant Hotel in Fez, Morocco (continued)

Once the home of the royal astrologer, Si Mohammed El Abbadi, this 1915 Andalusian-style mansion has been transformed into an elegant hotel in the heart of the medina near the Bab Bou Jeloud, one of the arched gates in the ancient ramparts of Fez.  It exemplifies the best of traditional Moroccan design: the exquisite mosaic tile work known as zellij (green for Islam, blue for the aristocracy), ivory plaster arches and window frames carved as delicately as lace, antique stained glass, and elaborately painted ceilings.  The entire house is an interior designer's dream, and, in fact, one morning we came downstairs to discover a French camera crew photographing the atrium for a design magazine.

La Maison Bleue has just six "royal suites."  From the French windows of our spacious second-floor room, "Habiba," we had a bird's eye view of the atrium.  High-beamed ceilings, brocade-covered antique furniture and intricately patterned zellij made us feel as if we were sleeping in a pasha's abode.  Our sheets were scented with rose water, there was a bowl of fresh orange blossoms on a table, and a selection of books from the Abbadi family library were laid out on the desk.  The large bathroom had rosy tadlekt walls, a finish traditionally used in hammams (steam rooms) consisting of colored plaster rubbed with black soap to achieve a smooth, water-repellant surface.   Smaller, quieter rooms are on the third and fourth floors.  All have access to the roof terrace with 360-degree views of the rooftops of the medina.  It is an ideal spot for sketching, or simply listening for the haunting call of the muezzin at sunset.

Before La Maison Bleue became a hotel, it was an acclaimed restaurant serving refined Fassi cuisine.  The Moroccan breakfast is elaborate, beginning with a savory vegetable or sweetened barley soup, and proceeding to specialties such as crepes in olive oil and doughnuts encrusted with toasted almonds.   The real magic occurs in the evening.  Guests from outside the hotel enter a long, lantern-lit, rose scented hall from which, to the sound of a tinkling bell, they are ushered into the candlelit atrium.  As musicians play hypnotic gnaua trance music from Southern Morocco or strum classical Anadalusian strains, waiters clad in pantaloons and black-tasseled fezzes lead you into a luxurious dining alcove to a table where your name is spelled out in blue sequins on the embroidered cloth.  Reclining on the plump cushions, you begin with six or seven delicious cooked salads served in small earthenware tangines--among them, tart, lemon-infused potatoes, charred eggplant with tomato and roasted red pepper, and carrots with cumin and cilantro.  Next comes a classic chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon peel, and then a sweetened couscous with lamb and cinnamon, based on a 13th-century recipe and more delicious than it sounds.   The desert is jouhara, lighter, lighter-than-air pastilla filled with orange water-scented pastry cream and served with thinly sliced sweet oranges dusted with cinnamon.  As the evening winds on the singing and dancing grow wilder, the Moroccan wine flows, and sleep comes swiftly.

Anyone who spends more than a night or two at La Maison Bleue will begin to feel as it they are guests in the home of a wealthy family.   There are no room keys, no chits to sign, and Mr. Abbadi and his staff are unfailingly gracious.  The genial receptionist, Azami, greeted us like long lost friends whenever we returned from our forays into the medina, and went out of his way to get petit taxis to the Ville Nouvelle and arrange for mint tea on the roof or sandwiches at odd hours.  For anyone who wants to have an intimate look at like inside a luxurious Moroccan home, there is no better choice in Fez than La Maison Bleue.   Note: La Maison Bleue has recently opened a Riad, or bed and breakfast in a beautiful, 18th-century Andalusian house with an enclosed garden and swimming pool, perfect for those days when the temperature soars. 


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