Monday, May 1, 2017

THE STORY OF DAR ANEBAR, FES (my guest house)

Roof top at Dar Anebar overlooking the medina

When I complained to Ahmed, the owner of the guest house, that I needed to enjoy some distant views as I couldn't see outside, he marched me up to the roof and began telling me the story of his family home that is Dar Anebar and the history of Fes.

Central courtyard from the library
The doorway leads into what was Ahmed's grand-
mother's rooms where she entertained and slept.

These traditional houses are built around a central courtyard and there are no windows in the outside walls. Instead there are windows  facing inwards and they have iron grill work instead of glass.  The design was for privacy, defence/security in the old days, and to keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter. Most had only one door to enter through.

Bab Guissa one minute from the guest house

Dar Anebar was partially built in the late 1800s by Ahmed's grandfather when the medina was growing bigger. At least he built the first floor then. Gradually he added the remaining floors and roof and it was finally complete in 1950!! The dar sits at the edge on the north east corner of the medina (old city) near one of the gates into the city and the ramparts are on its north side. Bab Guissa was, at that time, the main gate, thus Dar Anebar is very accessible from the main outer road and about two minutes walk from the gate. The heart of the medina and its souks lies about ten minutes away through the labyrinth of alley ways. Ahmed is proud that his home is in a quiet clean neighbourhood that is high up with a stunning panorama of Fes and its surrounding hills.

Ahmed grew up in this house along with grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and his cousins. His grandma worked at the nearby Palace Jamai in the 1920s after it was built by a minister of the king to control the city's growth and citizens. It's now a Sofitel and closed for renos.

His home was always filled with relatives, friends, and kids and Ahmed clearly loved his childhood here. But after he finished university, his uncle decided to sell it to some Germans for a holiday home. Ahmed and a cousin were horrified and bought it themselves to turn it into a good guest house. They spent a fortune on renovations, much of it on plumbing and electricity. Once the big house was finished, Ahmed gave a great party to celebrate and his extended family brought him gifts of furnishings from the original home.

Top and left: Tea service in brass
Lower right: orange blossom water dispensers

Dar Anebar is now filled with old family friends, the artefacts of a century of family life here. They include an incense burner, photographs taken long ago, a samovar, a tea service for mint tea, side tables and chairs, and much more.

Incense burner- still used

Today, Ahmed is removing the covering above the courtyard that is in place during the rainy season to protect his furnishings and so guests don't get wet while enjoying dinner in the restaurant. Light will pour down into the courtyard in the summer months where the rooms that branch off it were used as bedrooms which were cooler in June, July and August. Now they are breakfast rooms used by all the guests.

In winter, the family moved up one or two floors to get the benefit from rising heat to be cosier. Today these are the guest rooms, each with an ensuite bathroom and efficient AC. Up here is also a long gallery that is a pleasant library overlooking the courtyard with its palm and olive trees and central fountain. Ahmed has hung the old family photos in this gallery that tell his family story. One dates back to 1912 of his grandfather in traditional dress. Others are on display in the courtyard rooms.

The gallery with family photos
Stairs at back right lead to the roof
Ahmed has one guiding principle — he treats his staff and guests as if they are his family. The hospitality is generous and warm in the Moroccan tradition. When I was writing in the courtyard, his young intern from hotel school plied me with mint tea all day, just as guests are greeted when they first arrive along with delicious cookies. Customer service is personal and excellent from everyone here, from the housekeepers to the cook, to the servers, and to Ahmed himself. One day, the housekeeper presented me with my facecloth and underwear that I had washed and hung to dry in my bathroom. She had taken it all and run it through the guest house's laundry for me without being asked! "Much better," she said in French. I have not been allowed to tip for these personal touches.

Ahmed never charged me for all the mint tea I drank or two snacky lunches. Just five nights that also included the best breakfasts I've eaten in over three weeks in Morocco.

If you ever go to Fes, I recommend Dar Anebar to anyone who wants traditional Moroccan hospitality. However don't compare it with the N. American or European 4-5 star hotel chains. It's not the same experience at all — Dar Anebar is a home in the truest sense that welcomes strangers in need of a room.

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ALL IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2017. All rights reserved