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Jnan Palace Hotel in Fes, Morocco

My ancestors must have been Moroccan.  How else can I explain the feeling of belonging?    Feeling at home in an Arabic/French/Berber speaking land as an outsider takes something special indeed; special I got.

Morocco is a land
of art and artisans.

Morocco is a country of artists and artisans.  It is a riot of color at every turn. From the moment you land at the airport until the last precious moment before you leave, you will see photo jewels on every corner.  But the real treasure is people.  Next to the obvious stunning visual effects of this ancient kingdom, what strikes me is the warmth and generosity of her people.  We were treated everywhere like royalty.  Small wonder I must return!

The city of Fes is one of the crown jewels of Morocco and the Jnan Palace is a major star in the crown. (Fes, by the way, is the proper spelling, not the oft-used spelling of the hat known as Fez.) My bus pulled up to the Jnan Palace, passing through an enormous pishtaq, (vaulted archway) built of blocks with massive wooden doors.  The arches are a ubiquitous motif found in Islam and are found not just in architecture but also in everything from furniture to interior décor to fabric patterns. 

“The Arch That Never Sleeps” by Rabah Saoud gives a fascinating look at various aspects of the history of the arch.  One could spend a lifetime looking at the varied and intricately ornamented arches.

The lobby ceiling at
Jnan Palace Hotel, Fes.

Entering the Jnan hotel lobby is a feast on the designs that surround every turn. Soft and sumptuous seating areas invite me to kick off my shoes and stay awhile.  I tilt my head back and enjoy the huge central kaleidoscopic patterned ceiling bordered by stained glass arches.

Service is impeccable and check in quick and I am  escorted to my room while the luggage soon follows.  My roommate and I check our itinerary before she precedes me into the spacious marble bathroom for a wash.  The balcony invites and the warm breeze brings a hint of exotic spices and flowers.

Jnan Palace lobby.

I was traveling on business partly and that went well. Relationships were begun that will lead, with luck and perseverance, to good things for both sides.  Business in foreign lands is often conducted differently than in America.  This is a good thing.  It can, however, take getting used to.  In America, time is money.  Money is good.  We cram as much into our time as is necessary to get our money’s worth. But something gets lost in translation and that is relationship.  For after all, we work and do business to make money so we can spend time on the relationships we value.  However, in the rush to better our business we miss some of the best relationships.  So how do you learn these relationship skills? Start by going to Morocco.  They will welcome you and show you a beautiful country with time to truly enjoy the experience.  Business will come - later.

Jnan Palace garden path.

We start with tea served in tiny glasses, filled with steaming blue-green liquid infused with mint leaves.  The main ingredient of tea around the world is not tea.  It is sugar. Sweet mint tea begins most Moroccan gatherings and certainly ends them.  Mint tea is the national drink and hospitality is the national past time.

In May, the Morocco flora matches the décor in both color and abundance.  Hibiscus, roses, orange trees, and plenty of greenery smile a welcome. Our balcony overlooks the oversize pool. In another life I teach swimming and have become disgusted with postage stamp hotel pools.  This is emphatically not an average pool but could probably host a swim meet. I add midnight swim to my agenda then breathe out the stress of the endless plane ride from New York City. Later I took that swim, all alone in the moonlight, surrounded by twinkling lights.  The water was colder than expected requiring a hard workout to stay comfortable.  The Moroccan desert is cold at night.

L’Herbier de l’Atlas
restaurant at Jnan Palace.

Next morning we congregate in Les Miroirs, the hotel’s breakfast and multiuse dining room. The buffet is  well stocked and delicious with cereals, breads, cakes, yogurts, and fresh fruits, all types of eggs, cold cuts, cheeses, and juices.  Not wanting to miss anything, most of us spent far too little time sleeping, so bless the smiling wait staff that brought the hot Arabica coffee that was plentiful and satisfying.

The hotel’s finest restaurant  is L’Herbier de l’Atlas, which offers up Moroccan-style fare:  lemon chicken, tagines (a typical and delicious dish served all over Morocco which uses a conical capped clay pot to cook a stew of meat and vegetables), and pastillas, which are layers of meat and pastries.

The Lounge Bar at the Palace.

Jnan’s Casa-Verdi serves Mediterranean cuisine, which includes pizza steaks and various other snacks and has a terrace overlooking the pool for dining in nice weather.  The restaurants are feasts for both stomach and eyes. 

There are also several lounges in the hotel, such as The Birdy, an English pub piano bar that is comfortable for a drink with a friend. Le Pheobus is a popular nightclub for the city’s disco crowd. Although I enjoy dancing to the hits, I find tourist pubs available worldwide.  Afterall, this is a  trip to experience Morocco in depth.

Original art at Jnan Palace.

Jnan Palace is filled with art. Cases line the hallways showing antique jewelry, figurines, and crafts.  Pottery and paintings grace corners and walls.  Furniture is draped in kingly fabric and every column, doorway, ceiling, and wall has a different pattern of paint or mosaic or carving.  I came away awed by the workmanship and attention to detail shown by the builders.

We had opportunity to shop on the premises from Aladdin’s Treasure Cave.  Gleaming copper pots, silver tea services, delicate jewelry, colorful carpets were all displayed to perfection for our admiration and purchase.  This may have been a special display for our large group, or it may be standard Palace fare, either way it was breathtaking!

The Palace pool is huge.

The convention center is the largest in Fes; fortunately, not so large as to preclude the friendships that I hoped to make during our meetings and I met a couple of delightful sisters who later brought their children to play on the playground while we visited.  We strolled the paths along the grounds and looked at the four tennis courts that just begged for action. 

There are plenty of other amenities at the Palace, including an exercise room, sauna, massage, table tennis, and a library, as well as the previously mentioned outdoor swimming pool with a kiddie’s area.

Plush beds at the Palace.

The daily maid service was impeccable.  Laundry and dry cleaning are available if needed. We had learned that along with our tips, it would be appropriate if we left other practical gifts and we had planned accordingly.  Small gifts of pencils and crayons and other toys for children are greatly appreciated in many countries.  Those who keep travelers rooms clean are often under-compensated and unappreciated. A personal mission is to ensure that those who make my stay comfortable are noticed and thanked.

Don't sleep, let's shop.
The beds were firm and spotless. We slept deeply through the night, but not long enough. The rooms are equipped with in-room safes, mini-bars, and cable or satellite TV.  Like Crocodile Dundee, some of us had to learn to use the bidet! For those on the European continent, that may seem preposterous, none-the-less, that is not a standard in most homes or hotels in America.

The front desk is competently staffed.  We were assisted in all our communications needs such as faxing and computer hookups.  The staff is able to assist with tours to all the magnificent local attractions.  Our trip was planned ahead by the world’s most incredible tour guide,  Hassan Samrhouni, owner of Casablanca Travel and Tours

On Tour in Fes

What makes Casablanca Tours so special is the level of commitment and passion they bring to your trip.  The tour guides are English-speaking natives of Morocco and have deep knowledge about their country combined with the ability to show it to you in a way that leaves you breathless. They have offices in Washington D.C. and Casablanca for your convenience.

Idriss, Casablanca Tour & Travel guide.

Hassan met us in New York and smoothed our way on board Air Maroc and through customs. The flight was long enough for many of us to practice a few Arabic and French phrases.  Meeting us in Morocco were the rest of the tour guides.  Our way was smoothed by each of these men.  I cannot mention them all but they each gave of themselves to make our time special.  I must, however, mention two:  Aziz Ben Said called himself a “white” Moroccan and indeed could have come from the Midwest by his features.  He is a descendent of light colored-Spaniards and had a magnificent sense of humor. 

Idriss Edahby was a guide on our bus. He spent the driving hours from Casablanca to Fes and from Fes to Marrakech teaching us about his country.  His knowledge was prodigious and he told of ancient times and recent history in living color.  He spoke in such an enjoyable manner that it hardly seemed like learning.  Not surprisingly, he used to be a teacher.

A must-see is the Roman ruins of Volubilis. The mosaics are nearly as vivid as they were when laid down eons ago.  The city was founded in 300 B.C. and was an important source of grain for the Roman Empire.  Learn more at this link..

Another worthwhile trip is to the Memorial of Moulay Idriss, the founder of Moulay Idriss and Fes. Views of Volubilis can be seen from his memorial. A short history can be found at this link.

The old walled city of Fes.

Medina of
Fes el Bali

There are many more places to visit around Fes if you have enough time.  If time is limited, if you do nothing else, go to the Medina of Fes el Bali. (The old, walled city.)

It is the largest Medina in Fes and a UNESCO heritage site.  It has other factual labels attached but most of all, it is a place of wonders. 

Centuries old crafts are practiced next to the latest technological advances.  It is delightfully anachronistic but in places modern. There are no cars in the Medina proper.  Donkeys and shoulders are the main forms of transportation.

New and old is found in Fes.

You can see history happening.  Knives sharpened on ancient sharpening stones in a shop smaller than my daughter’s closet.  Rug shops with exquisite weavings and tea served all around.  Tiny mosques. Tantalizing pieces of old mosaics stairs dropping into history.  Vividly beautiful pyramids of spices pungently displayed next to ugly cell phone shops.

People of incredible dress and haunting faces took up every square foot of the Medina; the very poor and the very rich rubbed elbows and shoulders. We ate at a very upscale restaurant somewhere in the midst of it all and enjoyed every bite of our chicken tajine.  You can get lost-and I wanted to.

 I kept stopping to photograph the amazing things I saw.  The most macabre was a genuine freshly removed camels head hanging on the wall.  Dinner is served!  I took so many wrong turns that one of our tour guides was assigned to stay with and lead me back to the group. Thank you Rachid.  I hope we can do it again some day. 

You can find anything at the Fes Souq.

The absolute horrid irony, is that somehow in the transfer from camera to computer, many of those wonderful photos disappeared.  Maybe a Djinn objected to my taking his picture! But, my mind still sees the twisting corridors of the souq.

Ancient civilizations and artifacts fascinate for many reasons.  For some it is the cash value of priceless objets d’art. Others look for genealogies and origins. For me it is an almost voyeuristic view into the lives of others, the wonder that for millennia people have touched these pieces, occupied these spaces, lived nobly or debauched, been rulers or ruled, but still lived and died with the dreams and passions common to all. 

Morocco is well known for rugs.

In the sleepy state just before oblivion, I can almost  hear their whispers and see the shadows of the past.

Morocco is a special country where the ancient and the modern exist peacefully side-by-side and sometimes atop each other.  Ten days in the country left me hungering for more and I spend many hours plotting how and when I shall return. Salaam aleichum.

Feature by Bobbi Buchanan, Jetsetters Magazine Arkansas Correspondent. photos by Bobbi and courtesy of Jnan Palace hotel. More info and discounted travel packages, log on to the Morocco blog from