The world is getting smaller, but the chances of having an extraordinary new experience are only increasing. Whether it’s an emerging style hub in North Africa or a quiet stretch of sand in the Caribbean, this year’s standout destinations are changing the travel map.
For more than a decade, Marrakesh has been the Moroccan destination on everyone’s list, with its ever-more-luxurious hotels, nightclubs, and attainable whiff of the exotic. Fez, about 240 miles northeast of Marrakesh, was often an afterthought. Those who went there raved about the medieval medina—still totally inaccessible to cars, still genuinely Moroccan. But with few upscale places to stay, conservative Fez was never more than a quick stopover. Times are changing. Slowly, quietly, a sophisticated scene is taking root in Fez, much as it did in Marrakesh 15 years ago. It started with expats and locals restoring riads, and continues as hotels, restaurants, and galleries pop up. So far, over-development isn’t an issue. Whether this will last—especially with this year’s debut of an upgraded airport, set to accommodate 2.5 million passengers, five times the current volume—is anyone’s guess. Don’t wait to find out. For those who fell in love with Marrakesh before it became an international party hub, this is the moment to see Fez.
The biggest news is Hotel Sahrai. Opened by Fez-born businessman Anis Sefrioui six months ago, it’s perched on a hillside between the medina and the French-built ville nouvelle. Christophe Pillet designed the 50 contemporary guest rooms, many of which overlook an L-shaped infinity pool. The rooftop bar has quickly become the hippest place in town, while the Givenchy Spa is filled with light and intricate mashrabiya latticework.
It’s also worth spending a night or two in the medina to soak in its intense, lost-in-time ambience. Karawan Riad—a lavish renovation of a 17th-century house in the Andalous quarter—is the place to stay. The seven spacious suites offer a modern alternative to more traditional riad hotels, favoring sandstone walls and a neutral palette over the usual tile and bright tadelakt plaster.
Outside the southern wall, at the Bab Ziat gate, Palais Faraj is the bold vision of local entrepreneur Driss Faceh. Recognizing that Fez was on the cusp of becoming a hot spot, Faceh hired architect Jean-Baptiste Barian, a favorite of the Moroccan royal family, to transform the abandoned 19th-century palace. The spacious rooms echo Marrakesh’s legendary La Mamounia, with their intricate zellij mosaics and painted cedar ceilings.