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Saturday, 30 June 2007

Dar Seffarine: Romance in Fes' Ancient Medina

Written by Christina Kay Bolton
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dar seffarineThere is something so romantic about the restored riads (traditional houses) of Morocco. Dar Seffarine is an exceptional example of that. Its tile work is intricate and exquisite and its carved cedar wood is gorgeous. The architecture is outstanding with its huge carved doors and passageways that lead you up to secret balconies. Part of what gives its romantic feel is the fact that it is nestled in some of the busiest, most confusing, and somewhat threatening tangle of alleyways in the ancient city of Fes, so it feels like a calm oasis in the midst of the storm.


When we finally reached Dar Seffarine, after having a fast-talking, shady guide take us there, I didn’t want to go out again. I wanted to stay inside the quiet walls, but seeing as we hadn’t had dinner and we’d already missed lunch, my hungry boyfriend decided we should go out. dar seffarine


We went to a very romantic palace restaurant overlooking the city, Palais de Fes, and had the set menu which consisted of Moroccan salad (10 small plates of vegetables – including roasted eggplant, pickled beets, spiced carrots, olives, etc.), the appetizer which was a huge pastilla stuffed with pigeon or seafood, tagine for the main course, an immense bowl of fruit for dessert, and coffee. The meal had an intoxicating array of flavors. The Moroccan spices are perfect combinations and their tagines delicious. A tagine is a meal cooked in a clay dish with a cone shaped top – they put everything in at once, put the lid on, and cook it in an oven or surrounded by hot coals. The lid isn’t removed until the dish arrives at the table. We tried the chicken with preserved lemons (which we had almost every night in Morocco in all kinds of restaurants – it was that good) and the lamb with prunes. A lot of tagines incorporate dried fruits with the meat, and apricots and plums are common. The meal was accompanied by musicians playing traditional Moroccan instruments, which set the mood to another piece of the romance puzzle.


In order to get to the restaurant they sent someone to our hotel and we followed him to the place. There is no such thing as taking a taxi, as the alleyways are not big enough for cars. Thank God he was there to lead us back as well because there is no way we would have found our way through all the twists and turns and the streets seemed more suspect after dark with all the busy shops closed and the clatter of donkey hooves gone. On our way home some young men were having a fight and one of them threw a bottle at the other and the glass shattered in our direction. Our large, muscular, quiet guide quickly turned around and led us down a different set of alleys. Needless to say, when we arrived home we unloaded our pockets of dirhams for a large tip.


There is something about danger’s aftermath that also heightens romance, and this safe refuge with its large comfortable rooms is the perfect place to end up after negotiating the 9,000 alleyways in Fes’ medina (central old town), many of which are covered with arched ceilings so are very dark.

dar seffarineThe owners are a kind couple, Kate from Norway and Alaa from Iraq, who’ve overseen this meticulous restoration project themselves. They’ve created unique rooms with interesting nooks and crannies and suites with lovely, spacious sitting rooms and separate bedrooms. I didn’t see two that were the same. The place is run by a friendly, helpful staff who seem like a part of the family.


In the morning we were treated to a homemade feast of fresh juice, avocado milkshakes, eggs, fried tomatoes, cornbread, strong coffee, and flatbread with jam. The breakfast room is right off the roof deck, where plump pillows line couches with a view of the rooftops – a great place to watch the sunset.



I got my wish on the second night, as we didn’t have to go anywhere after a hectic day, because dinner was served at the riad. It was a birthday celebration for one of the owners’ mothers and all the lively staff was there for the party and the guests were invited. After another endless dinner with so many courses, a live band made a dramatic entrance with 4 foot long horns blaring and drums beating while we cheered. Each song would start off with a slow, steady beat and get faster and wilder until it was sending people into trance-like fervor. We learned that this was traditional desert music and the musicians were like shamans.  The dance was meant to cleanse one’s mind, ridding oneself of fears and anxieties. Who needs psychotherapy, anyways?


Eventually, as the guests dropped off and retreated to their rooms, the incredible band was sent away and the rest of us climbed up the steep stairs to our refuges, now one of the extended family.



Details: Dar Seffarine,, double rooms 70 euros, dinner (if available) 100 dirhams, 200 with wine.



©Christina Kay Bolton



Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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