On the advice of several good friends here who had previously spent time in Fes we booked ourselves into Dar Roumana. The home was built in the late 1800s by a family of olive oil merchants and was home to multiple generations of the family (and their livestock) before being purchased in 2002 by Jen Smith, a young American who had been a Fulbright scholar in Damascus, former investment banker in London, and trained chef, who fell in love with Fes and its medina on a visit. She was one of the youngest entrepreneurs trying to start a new guesthouse at the time and she and her team spent multiple years working with craftsmen and put in countless amounts of elbow grease to do much of the restoration themselves.
One of the really neat things about this place was that while originally it was run by a series of professional hospitality (hotel/restaurant) folks brought in to set the bar on quality and create the right systems and infrastructure, it was recently decided that the young local staff had all grown into their roles enough to take over and run the whole show. It was really neat to talk to them and to see the successful business they have created. All the staff were lovely and welcoming and really tried to meet any need you might have.
Because the medina is such an warren of maze-like streets and because motorized vehicles (motos/cars etc) are not allowed inside, hotels will send a porter to meet you at the gate to guide you to your location and to load all of your luggage into a pushcart. When ours met our taxi at the gate the first morning he didn’t quite know what to do with our 4 small backpacks and just slung them over his shoulders with a smile.
(On the way out at the end of our stay however he put the bags in a push cart anyway and the kids had fun alternately pushing the cart for him or racing him and the cart through the streets)
Because of our early flight it was only 9:30 when we arrived at the Dar and we were all pretty wiped out. Though we weren’t supposed to be able to check in/be official guests until early afternoon, the staff immediately fixed a delicious breakfast for us (fresh yogurt with milk, granola, fresh fruit, moroccan pancakes, breads, scrambled eggs, fresh squeezed OJ and mint tea) that went a long way to helping us feel human again. The kids passed the rest of the time that we waited observing and playing with the resident turtle who had the run of the courtyard.
We were super grateful to be let up to our room late morning so that we could take a nap before going out exploring. On the advice of the same friends who had pointed us to this Dar we had specifically booked the Yasmina room (their biggest), so that there would be enough room for the kids to stay with us comfortably over a multi-day stay. Even though we had already seen pictures of it online, we couldn’t help but notice our jaws drop a little when we entered: the intricately and ornately carved wood and plaster was just beautiful, and the light streamed in from stained glass window on both sides. Even with adding two full sized beds for the kids (smartly at opposite sides of the room) there were still two sitting areas available as well as a private balcony. We can’t say enough how much of a sanctuary it felt like and how restful it was to spend time there each day resting and reading.
We also made great use of the rooftop terrace for relaxing, reading, and game playing. (And especially for taking our afternoon mint tea and cookies!) Because Dar Roumana is on the edge of the medina (and the higher edge at that), it provided a great view of the area we were trying to explore. The other advantage of being out at the edge like that was that it was a little quieter (and smelled less like the tannery) and provided even more of a respite from the sensory overload of the medina.
The terrace had a range of options for hanging out that included many comfortable sets of cushions, couches or lounge chairs in both shaded and sunny areas (and even provided sunhats for that extra bit of protection). We spent most of our time however up on an upper platform that was less cozy, but had the best view.
Dar Roumana also houses a restaurant, both for its guests and for other tourists in town. Unlike many of the other dars and riads in town offering (often very delicious) traditional tagines and couscous, Roumana’s chef was cooking more fine dining, franco-moroccan fusion dishes featuring lots of fresh vegetables and fish (as well as lamb). While it was indeed quite good (and the quality of the ingredients was higher than many places in town), we actually enjoyed some of our more traditional meals around town (and in the desert) more.
The restaurant is almost always fully booked and has developed a reputation at higher level than the guest house, so much so that they are hoping to eventually open a stand-alone restaurant to be able to serve more people and create a second successful business. We wish them all the best of luck.
All in all, we really can’t say enough about the warmth and hospitality and helpfulness of the staff and the comfort of the dar. It would definitely be our choice of a home on a future Fes visit.