This review is really overdue because it’s hard to describe this fabulous place. Jardin des Biehn is flat-out the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen. It’s a reason by itself to go to Morocco.
This is a historic Moroccan riad which began as a Caliph’s summer palace. It’s a set of buildings and rooms walling in a large inner garden. The effect is of complete tranquility, as though you’re completely isolated from the streets outside. In fact, in the morning all I heard in the garden was babbling water and bird calls. It also has a great location in old Fez—it’s not far from transportation and very close to the main streets.
If you’ve been to Marrakesh and have seen the Bahia Palace and Jardin Majorelle, imagine both combined and filled with fabulous antiquarian furniture and art objects. The inner courtyard here is a beautiful garden, cleverly irrigated and filled with plants ranging from palms to cactus to roses. Mosiac walkways that must have been constructed a hundred years ago run through the garden and around the edges, and there’s a long ornamental pond with koi, water lilies, and splashing spigots of water.
This is a small riad with maybe nine guest rooms, and I saw three of its suites: the Chinese Suite has what I think is called a Chinese opium bed—the most extravagant one I’ve ever seen—and other wonderful antiquities like a huge umbrella as a ceiling lamp and Chinese ceremonial robes decorating the walls. The “shower” is an entire room. I also saw the Caliph Suite with two beds, great for a family with small children or friends travelling together, again filled with antiques and another entire room for a shower. Both suites were huge, with floors and walls covered with antique Moroccan tile.
We stayed, however, in the Pasha Suite. We’ve always been budget-conscious and I'm not sure how that happened, but WOW. I spent the first three hours in it just taking pictures. It's so opulent and romantic I think we need to start saving money to do it again. It has six rooms filled with extravagent antiquities, and a 40-foot high ceiling in the bedroom with a skylight identical to the ones in the Bahia Palace but absolutely huge. The kind-sized canopied bed had lovely linens and a perfect mattress. Carved and painted gigantic double doors, set in arches of carved plasterwork, open from the bedroom into two identically-sized rooms facing each other, one a dressing room with a Napoleonic fainting couch, and the other with couches as big as beds and a writing desk. The main bathroom has a tub bigger than my hall closet and a large and modern shower. But the pièce de résistance is a sunken massage room with two plunge pools, plants, and a portion of the ceiling open to the sky. You can also hire a masseuse. The suite’s floors are antique tile that extends up the walls. What also blew my mind was trying to figure out how the electrical and plumbing had been added to such a historic building—great fixtures everywhere and the plastering was immaculate. Note this property has no air-conditioning, but we were there in September, the hottest month, and the indoor temperature was fine. (The date noted below for our stay is wrong--that's how overdue I am.) The Pasha Suite was like staying in a luxurious and comfortable museum that just happened to have a ton of Argan oil bath products.
For the common areas, there’s an extremely good restaurant open to the public. We ate dinner there and the food was very innovative, beautifully presented, and delicious. The breakfast included in the price was just as good, and I was even given three separate types of coffee, each better than the last. Down by the garden’s plunge pool there’s a reading room with an eclectic and daring combination of modern art set off with opulent couches, shells, and Berber metal work, as well as plenty of reading materials including a book on women’s decorations written by the riad’s owner. There’s a game/computer room that has an oriental and gaudy 1930s club feel, stocked with maroon Egyptian couches. Even the office/store area has a pretty courtyard of its own with a fountain and more modern art. Last, one room is devoted to artifacts exhibitions; when we were there, Berber antique beaded bags were displayed.
The personnel were wonderful, especially Malik, the manager, and Mr. Biehn’s son, who was running the restaurant and who’s an accomplished photographer. Last, I am still astonished at the many areas of expertise of Monsieur Biehn, the owner. He’s an author, talented horticulturalist, and supremely discerning antiquarian, and the world-class interior designer and restorer this historic site must have demanded. I believe that when he bought this property 14 families were living in it, and it would be fascinating to see what this looked like previously.
But as to what it looks like now, I’ve never seen anything so wonderful, fanciful, and extravagent. The Pasha Suite especially must be one of the most romantic hotel suites anywhere, not to mention, you’d really have to do some looking to find another room with your own plunge pools. I am completely out of adjectives, so I just recommend you go and see this for yourself.