A trip to Fes – Riad Fes & Hotel Sahrai

Recently I was lucky enough to be taken on a press trip to Fes, Morocco’s second largest city, to review two sister hotels in the area. Having been to Marrakech twice, I was excited to visit somewhere new in Morocco and with its rich and interesting history, Fes seemed like the perfect choice!

Some background: Fes was founded in the 8th Century and for a while was one of the largest cities in the world. Now, with a population of 1.2 million, Fes is known for its medina, probably the largest pedestrianised site in the world, and its university, the University of Al Quaraouiyine which was founded in 859 and the oldest continuously functioning university in the world.

This trip was gifted but as always all views are my own! We flew directly from Gatwick with Air Arabia. All images by the incredibly talented Tamsin Hurrell. Follow her on Instagram!

 

 

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Riad Fes

We arrived late in the evening to Fes airport, and after a short drive arrived at our first hotel, Riad Fes. Despite being late, after a short walk down a dark alleyway, we found ourselves in the most spectacular courtyard. We later discovered that the Riad had previously been someone’s home, and the original architecture had been painstakingly removed, cleaned and replaced, each tile by hand!

Our room was beautiful and overlooked the pool (a rare feature for hotels within or surrounding the medina). When the hotel had been bought, the surrounding houses were purchased too, making the hotel significantly larger (and maze-like!) than a traditional riad. If you ever visit Riad Fes you will be blown away by the architecture – I know I was!

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Breakfast buffet

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty buffet breakfast, we headed into the medina for a 3h tour of the sights. The first thing I noticed was the number of chickens for sale on every corner – meat eating in Morocco is very much a matter of pointing at the one you want to eat and then taking it home with you. Being vegan this was quite tough to watch, but I also noted that the chickens all seemed in much better shape than any commercially raised chicken I’ve seen in the UK. The reality of eating meat may be tough to witness for some, but the same thing happens here in the UK, only under much more intensive (and often cruel) production methods, out of sight.

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Walking round the medina was incredible – having visited Marrakech’s medina multiple times, I was blown away by the size of Fes. One of our first rules was ‘if you get lost, stay where you are. If you move, you will only get more lost’. Needless to say, I stuck to the group closely! Within the medina are thousands of stalls, run by locals selling all sorts of products, much the same as Marrakech. However, each city has its speciality – a key product to trade between cities (and now around the world). In Fes, it is the tanneries, producing leather that is now exported across the world.

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The tanneries operate in much the same way as they did when they were first built in the early centuries. Stone wells contain liquids designed to strip hides of fur and flesh, before being softened in ammonia (which I am told is bird poo!) and dyed. They’re visually appealing for sure, although perhaps not for everyone.

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You are offered mint to smell as you head up to the tanneries

Hotel Sahrai

Following our tour of the medina, including the oldest continually running university in the world, we headed back to the Riad to be transported to our second hotel, Hotel Sahrai. Both hotels are owned by the same group, but they couldn’t have been more different! Where Riad Fes is traditional and cosy, Hotel Sahrai is expansive and modern. Situated on a hillside outside the medina, the views are also amazing, looking out onto the huge city of Fes.

 

 

We were lucky enough to be able to try their Namaste yoga package, providing yoga sessions morning and evening for hotel guests – the best way to wake up and warm up into the day! I’m not an avid yoga fan but when it’s on the roof terrace of a gorgeous hotel in the early Moroccan sun I can make exceptions!

Here are some pics from around the gorgeous hotel – you can see why I loved it so much 🙂

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The pool overlooks the medina

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Enjoying the second, smaller pool with Tamsin

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Have you ever visited Fes? Comment below or head over to my Instagram!

Gstaad – active holidays

When I was invited to travel to Gstaad, Switzerland as part of a press trip, I was simultaneously excited and concerned – as someone who is around a month out from a marathon, every training session counts! But buoyed on by the knowledge that the trip would be an active one, I happily packed my bags for my first snow of the year. Please note – this trip was gifted by Gstaad tourism, but as always all views are my own.

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After an early start, we landed in Geneva airport, ready to take two trains to Geneva. After around 2.5h we arrived in our destination. Gstaad is not easy to get to, but the views en route are spectacular, and its exclusivity is what makes it such an enviable destination for tourists and locals alike. It was great to have a tour of the town when we arrived to get our bearings, although unfortunately we weren’t staying in the town itself initially, something I would change if I were to return, as it is stunning!

Our first morning was spent skiing in the most perfect skiing conditions I have ever experienced, with few people on the slopes and fresh snow the whole way down. Lunchtime arrived and we skied to an igloo hotel/restaurant (reminiscent of the ice hotel). Thankfully there were vegan options on the menu, which sadly is a rarity while skiing! The bulk of the group ate cheese fondue while I had mixed anti-pasti, soup and fresh bread, which were all delicious.

That afternoon we travelled to the Ermitage hotel, a beautiful hotel with an even nicer spa. Unfortunately due to the packed schedule (and very snowy conditions) I had been unable to do any running since arriving (although of course skiing is excellent exercise!) and instead of heading straight to the spa, I instead went to the gym to complete 3x 800m sprints as part of my marathon training. My thinking is that giving 80% in your training consistently is far better than giving 100% sporadically when you know you’re at your best (i.e. in London on a track). So I got the workout done and headed to dinner at the hotel after a short (and much needed!) dip in the pool. Dinner at The Ermitage was great and one of the few places that offered full vegan meals (as opposed to salad leaves and copious amounts of bread). Satisfied and full, I opted for an early night.

The next day was significantly snowier than our first day, which was no problem as we were heading out to do a childhood favourite of mind – tobogganing! After a delicious breakfast at Charly’s (one of the best traditional cafes in town), we headed up the new gondola lift to reach the toboggan run. Sledding down the run was a definite throwback to my childhood and we all had so much fun!

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Following tobogganing we moved hotel for the final night, heading to The Park in the town of Gstaad (previously we had been a short drive from the town). I was immediately blown over by the hotel with its mix of décor, from parts that were redone around 2010 (but that have a timeless chic feel), to the central hotel lift, which is from when the building was originally built.  The Park has 84 rooms and 10 suites, as well as 3 restaurants (a local cuisine, sustainable restaurant, an Argentinian restaurant and an Al Fresco pool-side dining area). The three pillars of the hotel are: sustainability, fitness and health, so you can imagine I was very excited to be spending an evening here. Needless to say, the gym was very pleasant, with plenty of equipment and a large studio, where classes take place. The hotel is open 6 months of the year – 3 within ski season, and 3 in the summer, when the hotel attracts half its clientele, and with good reason. The number of activities available to guests in the summer is astounding, and with the hotel being situated in the mountains, it’s the perfect place to set off for whatever adventure you’re looking for. I’m excited to head back in the summer to see more of what’s on offer, from mountain biking to golf club to trail running.

On our final we were set to take part in a glacier walk, on organised tour of the local glacier (which unfortunately is fast retreating). However, due to high winds and unpredictable weather, we were unable to go. Not all as lost though, as it means that I was able to head back up the mountain, skis in hand (and then on feet) for a final morning of skiing! Deterred by the weather warnings, the mountains were almost devoid of people, so it was incredible to ski on the fresh snow and freshly piste-bashed pistes. I have never encountered skiing conditions like those at Gstaad and despite the cost of getting there, would head back in a heartbeat to experience them again. After around 40 minutes of skiing in the snow and wind, the skies cleared to reveal a beautiful sunny day, fresh snow and not a soul on the mountains, which was a spectacular way to remember Gstaad.

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TL;DR

  • Would I recommend going to Gstaad? Yes, absolutely. Summer or winter, you’ll love it.
  • Cons? It’s expensive and, unless you have a helicopter, a little time consuming to get to.
  • Best parts? The skiing and tobogganing! Although I would also happily stay in a suite at The Park hotel for the entire time too.
  • Worst parts? The lack of vegan/healthy food out, although this is to be expected anywhere you go skiing.

Read more about Gstaad

Almyra Hotel – Cyprus

I’d use three words to describe Almyra hotel in Cyprus: friendly, relaxing and refreshing. I had the pleasure of being invited to return to Cyprus (after my trip last year) in order to review the beautiful hotel that is Almyra. With a focus on wellness and a chic, modern interior, I knew that it was exactly where I wanted to spend what was bound to be a rainy April weekend in London.

The great thing about Cyprus actually is that it’s warm so much earlier than the rest of the med, at a warm 26 degrees everyday we were there! 🙂 In my opinion we were there at the best time of year – before everywhere else was warm and before it got too busy! Apparently September/October is perfect too.

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Rooms

We stayed in one of the seaview rooms closest to the spa, away from the hustle and bustle of the main hotel (K18 to be exact). The room looked out onto the sea with a private outdoor area with two extra sunloungers. I was actually amazed at how light and airy it was – the doors onto the outside terrace were floor to ceiling glass, letting in as much light as possible. We didn’t spend much time in the room (there was too much sunbathing and eating going on) but it was nice to come back to a large room big enough for two girls’ clutter.

Food

Almyra has a lot of options when it comes to food. It’s situated along a row of hotels and a little bit away from the main town, so the easiest place to eat is in the hotel, which usually has me a little worried, but I was very pleasantly surprised with the delicious options! The hotel itself has three main restaurants – Notios (Japanese with a Cypriot twist), Eauzone (the main breakfast and dinner buffet) and Ouzeri (a classic Cypriot restaurant on the seafront). For half board guests, breakfast and dinner at the Eauzone were included. The buffet was a fairly standard buffet – nothing special but good quality food and (thankfully) a decent selection of healthy vegetarian and vegan foods. We enjoyed breakfast at the spa one morning too and I was very impressed with the food. We got the set menu (minus pastries and cakes), which contained a pleasing amount of fresh fruit and a smoothie (of your choice). We visited the local-style restaurant, Ouzeri, for a mezze lunch – we were encouraged to get 4 hot and 4 cold dishes and couldn’t finish, so I would give a 10/10 for quantity and everything was absolutely delicious. The Japanese restaurant had to be my favourite – after all, it is my favourite cuisine. The food there was top quality – probably better than any of the other restaurants in the area, and it was a gorgeous place to sit for drinks at sunset!

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Drinks at Notios

Amenities

The hotel has a separate spa complex that is pretty serene and relaxing, with a myriad of rooms I was unable to explore in the time we had. I was told that there were many treatments that could be had, and met multiple people who had travelled from other hotels for use of the spa. The prices were not unreasonable either, and the relaxation factor was just perfect. I can’t speak for the quality of treatment, as I didn’t have any. On the top floor of the spa is a gym – basic by London standards, but with a wide selection of free-weights, a few machines (though no squat rack!), soft mats and cardio equipment. I never saw it so busy that people had to wait. It was also the best view I’ve ever had whilst running on a treadmill! If you have boxing gloves, bring them, as there’s a balcony with a bag for free use. This is also where I filmed lots of my bodyweight workouts.

In the area

Other than sunbathing, eating and gymming, there were plenty of activities to do in the area. The main town is just a short walk away (max 10 minutes) and has lots of cute, as well as touristy shops (and a strip, like any other European city). In the other direction, along the coast lies Suite 48, a fantastic bar and restaurant serving up cocktails and snack, often to live music. I went to Suite 48 last year, and was not disappointed on my return. The staff are so welcoming and many of the drinks are really special, if you pick the right ones (they have a lot of the cheap, sweet strip classics, too). My recommendation if you like G&T would be the ‘Monkey Business’, though plenty of the other gin cocktails are also delicious. A short drive away is Muse restaurant, up a hill and looking out over Paphos and the sea. 100% would recommend this restaurant for sunset – it’s a view you won’t want to miss. Don’t forget to book though – it gets full quickly! At the bottom of Almyra is a watersports shack with a new pier, offering activities such as waterskiing, sailing, jetskiing, parasailing, paddleboarding and, of course, a pedalo with a slide (a childhood favourite). I tried the first two, and got to know men runnin the show pretty well. The man who drove the boat for water/mono-skiing clearly is really passionate about teaching people, which was very helpful for me, as it was only my second session mono-skiing, and improvements were made within our two 10 minute sessions! Would thoroughly recommend if you’re looking for lessons or just a fun trip out.

Visit the website and check out Almyra’s instagram.