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Dar Bennis


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Dar Bennis is a small 18th century traditional Moroccan house in the heart of the Fes medina, on a small street just off Talaa Sghira, the main business street of the medieval quarter of Fez.  The house has been carefully restored over the past four years, using only traditional craftsmanship and materials.   Although a modest house by Fez standards, it features hand-painted and natural cedar ceilings, windows and doors, carved plasterwork, stained glass windows, decorative ironwork, handmade zellij mosaic floors, and a rooftop terrace with an amazing panoramic view of the Fez medina and surrounding mountains.  The house is simply decorated, to accent the beauty of the architecture, with antique and handmade furniture and textiles.

     One of the main advantages of Dar Bennis as a holiday rental property, compared to a bed and breakfast, maison d'hotes (guest house), or larger riad, is having the complete house to yourself.  It is also older than most riads and traditional hotels available in Fez, which date to the early 20th century and are located on the outskirts of the medina.  Because Dar Bennis is deeper in the medina, the guest gets a real sense of what it's like living in the medina, with its joys and challenges.

     The house is built on four levels around a small central court.  Dar Bennis is technically a dar and not a riad, since a real riad (or riyad) must have a garden with fruit trees.  But these days many people call all Moroccan courtyard houses riads.  

     On the ground floor is a large fully-equipped kitchen with hand-hewn ceiling and Italian marble countertops.  Up a few stairs is a modern bathroom with floor-to-ceiling handmade zellij.  A little further up the stairs and you come to the beautiful central court, which is covered in the rainy season.  Around the courtyard are two salons on the first floor and two more on the second.  In the two large rooms are double beds, and a single bed in one of the small rooms.  

     The house is cozy enough for one or two people, but large enough for up to four.  Dar Bennis is an ideal vacation rental for a holiday, or for a longer stay for an artist, writer, or scholar interested in Morocco, Islamic art and architecture, or the medina of Fez.


What the critics say about Dar Bennis:

"This 18th-century Medina house…has been painstakingly restored. With its pocket-sized courtyard and snug salons, it would provide perfect family accommodation."    Conde Nast Traveller, The Fes Guide

"Dreaming of your own 18th century house deep in the fascinating medina of ancient Fez?  Delicious Dar Bennis, a doll’s house compared to grander old houses, is ideal for two or four.  David has restored it with loving knowledge, natural materials and fine craftsmen using antique zellige to replace the irretrievable lost pieces.  You enter the domestic space of a modest Moroccan family of 200 years ago, though beneath their beams the big kitchen and neat bathroom are thoroughly modern.  The first-floor patio is as authentic as can be, a cool quiet space to relax in.  Bedrooms open off it on two floors: space and simple comfortable furnishings — antiques, old fabrics, new mattresses; the terrace view will keep you intrigued for hours.  Hafid, the perfect anchor, will bring you breakfast, bright smiles, and advice on all things Fassi, in excellent English; Layla will cook for you — you’ll like that — and David may let you into the secrets of living and building here, a journey into a passion for these intricate arts, aeons away from mass-produced modernities.  Part of your rent goes to a community restoration project."    Ann Cooke-Yarborough, in Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay, Morocco

"We know this was the house of Mr. Bennis. The original door knocker says so. It's a typically unpretentious middle-class Fassi home which has been returned to its former modest luxury with tender loving care. Renting this house plugs you straight into street-level life in the medina.

Don't come here expecting bell-boys and 24hr service. Come on, this is the medina - you have to find your feet. It's not that hard really. Hafid, the manager, is never far away. In the evening Layla arrives to help out with cooking and to teach you a thing or two about haggling in the market and transforming foreign ingredients into edible food. The house is pretty roomy, with two double bedrooms, a sitting room, a central courtyard and a private roof terrace. It's a great experience. David Amster, director of the American Language Centre, who owns the house, personally oversaw the restoration with an eagle eye, replacing antique tile with antique tile, making only a few concessions to modern amenities in the swish bathroom, big eat-in kitchen and Internet connection."
   Paula Hardy, Lonely Planet: Fes Accommodation Reviews 

"Dar Bennis has a truly wonderful terrace, I have to say… I like the fact that the restoration is very purist.  You haven't put in tadelakt bathrooms everywhere.  It's all quite minimalist and there is nice, calm furniture, and lots of space.  I really think it’s good.  The big strong point of your conversion is the professionalism of it.  I see so many places with damp, crap windows opening the wrong way, and doors that traditionally don't shut that it really was a pleasure to be somewhere with such high quality finish."    Justin McGuinness, author of the Footprint guide to Morocco

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©2010 David Amster

Dar Bennis Courtyard

Plaster in Courtyard

Dar Bennis iron grill; photo Suzanna Clarke

Dar Bennis courtyard; photo Suzanna Clarke

Zellij and Doors looking into Bedroom

Zellij and View of Courtyard

Dar Bennis view from upstairs window; photo Suzanna Clarke

Dar Bennis upstairs bedroom; photo Suzanna Clarke