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travel CITY BREAK; Go for the souks, stay for the soaks in centuries-old Moroccan gem.

Byline: MATTHEW DRAKE

As the intoxicating jasmine and citrus scents float on the breeze, the songbirds fall silent - and the only sound in the splendid tranquillity is the ice crackling in our drinks.

It is impossible to imagine such an oasis could be found anywhere, let alone at the heart of the busiest marketplace in Africa.

But despite the chaotic din of Moroccan life outside, not even the raucous braying of donkeys can breach the peace inside our extraordinary palace.

For within the medieval walls of the legendary Old Medina in Fez- a three-hour flight from London - the Palais Amani can revitalise the most flagging spirit.

But first, you have to find it. The Amani, a traditional "riad" around a central courtyard, is well hidden in this ancient World Heritage Site in Morocco's oldest imperial city.

MAZE Thankfully a sage-looking guide has been sent to lead my girlfriend Laura and I along the maze of alleyways to the Palais Amani's carved cedar-wood entrance.

The doorway gives no clue to the world waiting behind. The intimate courtyard is striking with its quiet fountain, canopy of citrus trees and intricate mosaics.

Before long we are on the riad's whitewashed terrace enjoying a sunset gin and tonic, the breathtaking panorama stretching out across Fez to the Atlas mountains.

So begins our hammam break and the pampering it entails. Be ready for the stress to slip away.

Palais Amani is the Old Medina's largest hotel. Its 14 rooms range from classic luxury to the exceptional Grand Suite.

Ours is adorned with handwoven rugs, local pottery and kaleidoscopic windows of stained-glass. But despite the grandeur, it is the hotel's gastronomic merits that steal the show.

Start with a breakfast of fruit, creamy yoghurt with sultanas, Moroccan pancakes and perfectly scrambled eggs.

For lunch and dinner the a la carte menu of local dishes sits alongside tapas plates such as avocado mousse, chicken skewers and spiced parcels. We were lucky enough to try some cooking ourselves under the gaze of one of the hotel's talented chefs - preparing a rich chicken tagine of fresh spices and red olives.

It would be easy to spend your entire stay in the Amani, but outside its door is the true wonder of Fez, the Old Medina.

Along its winding streets, palaces, mosques and madrassas (Arabic schools) can be explored at length. And every route leads to the famed shopping souks.

These sell goods from handbags, scarves and blankets to monkeys, motorbikes and huge shisha pipes with as much chance of getting past UK border control as Lord Lucan. Rest anywhere and glasses of sweet mint tea appear, along with promises of the finest bargains in all of Fez.

At a silk-dyeing factory we made traditional scarves of every colour, while at the world's oldest tannery, seeing an ancient method of transforming skins into soft leather was a staggering sight.

After all this, it is time for some spa treats, and the traditional hammam ritual beckons most.

A focus of Moroccan culture, at Palais Amani it includes a hand and foot scrub, natural henna hair mask, body exfoliation and a black-soap steam bath.

With the bustle outside, the only danger in this medieval palace is the wish to be trapped for ever.

TRAVEL FILE GETTING AROUND: Take one of the tiny red taxis outside the Old Medina to be dropped from gate to gate for a small fee.

TOP TIP: Hire a local guide to help you explore. WHAT'S HAPPENING: Next month Fez comes alive to the sound of the World Sacred Music Festival (May 22-30) with the Atlas Mountains and the city's stunning architecture providing the backdrop for performances by choirs, musicians and poets. fesfestival.com GETTING THERE: Ryanair flies to Fez from Stansted on Wednesdays and Sundays.

ryanair.com BOOK IT: Rooms from PS143 for two sharing, including three-course Moroccan breakfast. palaisamani.com For budget flights, where to eat and stay in Fez, visit mirror.co.uk/travel

CAPTION(S):

Souking it up: Laura and Matt

World at your feet: Enjoy tranquillity of terrace with Atlas mountain views

Magical market: the exotic Medina

Luxury lie-in: One of the 14 rooms
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:6MORO
Date:Apr 19, 2015
Words:691
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