“This is a love letter to our father.”
Such is the beautiful – yet almost deceptively modest – origin story of the opulent Palais de Fes, an intimate luxury hotel on the edge of the medina in Morocco’s oldest and third-largest city. Although the place has been operational in one form or another, first as a restaurant and then as a hotel of all kinds, it came to its current wonderful life for decades in 2020, when Ghita and Nacer Tazi’s father died and the brother and sister returned to Fez to honor his legacy.
In 1980, Azzeddine Tazi opened the first modern restaurant in Fez, and his children grew up there. Nacer remembers greeting guests in a traditional Moroccan outfit at age six and giving tours at age nine. Hospitality became part of who they are.
Moreover, he remembers, it was always a very international environment. The siblings became accustomed to dining with heads of state; photos of Ronald Reagan and Middle Eastern royal families still hang on the wall. “We grew up with the idea that the world has no borders,” he says. “We are very grateful that we had the childhood that we did.” Also: “Seeing people happy makes us happy.”
They left that childhood for education, work and a life abroad. Nacer studied hospitality management at Switzerland’s renowned Glion Institute of Higher Education and subsequently completed training programs with brands such as Park Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton. Ghita worked in Paris and Madrid. In 2019, the two lived between Miami and Dubai as the founder and COO of Black Edge Concierge, an ultra-high-end travel agency with an unorthodox business model and royal families, CEOs and celebrities among its clientele.
When they returned to Fes and searched the family home, so to speak, they discovered that their vast estate had once been one estate, parts of which dated back to the 14th century. Because it had been divided for centuries among the descendants of the original owners, the Tazis had grown up thinking that their hotel consisted of three palaces; their father had acquired and merged them from separate families for about thirty years.
It was quite a puzzle, but armed with this new knowledge and their international hospitality instincts, they turned Palais de Fes into a seamless whole (albeit with some Escher-like mini-stairs). Even as the city grew around it, it retained its connection to the medina. This means that Palais de Fes is easily accessible by car – a rarity in the historic center of Fes – but feels like part of the old-fashioned commerce beyond.
The renovation has been carefully carried out, particularly preserving the bright, emerald green tiles on many of the exterior walls. In the five suites and the private riad you will find handmade tiles, masterful woodwork and soft velvet sofas. The overall feel is residential, not institutional. “We don’t like calling [our project] a hotel,” says Nacer. “It looks more like the palace of a sultan from eight centuries ago.”
And it’s true that there’s a lot that hasn’t changed.
“Our father was a visionary,” says Ghita, reiterating that his restaurant Dar Tazi – still the centerpiece of the hotel – opened 44 years ago and that he was one of the first people to create the ‘riad concept’ , with a collection of rooms in a residential-style building as an extension of a restaurant, now a hallmark of Moroccan hospitality.
And while the new generation has modernized the hotel and streamlined some of the service (especially the parts that guests are never aware of), they still serve food ‘like our grandmothers would serve it’. She continues, “The menu hasn’t changed in forty years,” and much of the kitchen staff has been here for almost that long.
“Moroccan cuisine doesn’t try to be something it isn’t,” she says, pointing to the simple presentations that belie the complexity of spice blends and the patience of hours of simmering in tagines, pastillas and couscous. “The intention is not to be fancy.”
However, it is always plentiful – “food should unite people,” says Ghita, “to make them feel welcome” – and it is common to cover almost every inch of the table. Cleaning your plate is an invitation for more.
Knowing that I would arrive around midnight after a long day of travel, I mentioned that a light snack might be nice. My companion and I were presented with about fifteen different salads – smoked eggplant, marinated peppers, chopped cauliflower – that we thought were above and beyond. These were followed by a vegetable tagine. Around 1 o’clock.
Nine hours later we were having breakfast. That’s because, although the bustling outdoor medina is the largest and grandest in the world, with more than 9,500 streets, 350,000 inhabitants and the best artisan shops in all of Morocco, the hotel is quiet and calm. It is a place of recovery and rest.
The main activities are eating, drinking tea and lounging. You have to slow down, breathe, just be. The many beautifully decorated terraces are perfect for this, all with their green tiles, lush plants and enticing views over the medina. “I never get tired of this view,” admits Ghita, who grew up with it.
A new extension will open in May, which Nacer describes as ‘even more imperial’, with a 12-metre high ceiling above the ornamental pool in the central courtyard. It is part of the palace but has its own identity. Every detail is inlaid and cut by hand on site; a single panel can take days. The handful of suites have international hotel-style amenities, and the white-on-white spa has a large hammam. Each suite will have its own color palette, Nacer says, and his adjectives are telling: one is “Hermès orange.”
Their Tazi Group is developing new properties in Morocco – palaces with personal service and attention to details – and beyond. While the details are not yet known, they have their eyes on some major markets. After welcoming the world to Morocco for generations, they are eager to bring Morocco to the world.