A visit to Marrakech is a magical experience. The city offers plenty of exoticism and romance, with a thriving old centre housing bustling markets, craft businesses, restaurants and more. It’s a tourist destination that manages to combine the best of Moroccan culture and tradition but with a chilled-out vibe and modern amenities too. The riads of Marrakech are famous for providing an authentic visitor experience in this enchanting city. So if you’re planning a trip to Marrakech, don’t book yourself into a hotel – try staying in a Moroccan riad instead.
What is a riad?
Simply put, a riad is a traditional Moroccan house. The term comes from the Arab word ‘ryad’ (meaning ‘garden’) but is applied to townhouses built around an inner courtyard or garden. True riads will have lush plants in four planting beds and a central fountain, but many variations exist. Some even have a swimming pool or a private, hammam-style spa for their guests.
The windows of each room face into the courtyard in line with the Islamic idea of privacy and inward reflection. What’s more, this clever design helps to keep the air cool and comfortable, particularly during hot Moroccan summers. All riads provide traditional hotel accommodation but what sets them apart from regular hotels is that your experience is steeped in the culture and history of Marrakech.
Where can you find a riad in Marrakech?
While riads are located all over Morocco, in the Old Medina of Marrakech you’ll find some of the most authentic. As a rule of thumb, the most sought-after riads are located within 10 minutes’ walk from the Jemaa el Fna. Part of the appeal is trying to locate your riad – you may not realise you’re right in front of it. Having been designed as private, intimate spaces, there’s often no outward sign other than a humble wooden door on a narrow stone street.
If it’s your first visit, it’s best to arrange a meeting place nearby. That way you can be safely guided to your riad by one of its employees. Arriving after dark and without a map or guide isn’t recommended as you’ll most likely get lost.
What are the rooms like?
Riads aren’t large establishments and many have less than 10 rooms – but each one is unique. What makes them so special is that each room is individually decorated, incorporating intricate Moroccan architecture and beautiful tilework to bring out the room’s beauty and personality.
The size, décor and level of luxury of guest rooms ranges from budget-friendly to top end accommodation. Rooms on the upper floors often have semi-private balconies and are quieter than those on the ground floor.
Floors tend to be tiled rather than carpeted, with bathrooms displaying vibrant Moroccan tile work. Expect hanging lanterns, colourful textiles, hand-woven carpets and carved wood as popular style elements. WiFi is often available, less so TV.
What will I eat and drink?
Experiencing local cuisine is an integral part of visiting other countries. And Morocco has a rich culinary heritage that you simply must sample. Riads are renowned for the superb quality of their food. Each has its own team of local chefs that conjure up delectable menus of authentic Moroccan cuisine.
In fact, the meals you eat at your Marrakech riad may well be the thing you remember most about your visit to Morocco. Expect a simple but tasty breakfast of Moroccan bread, local pastries, fruit, honey, fresh juice and mint tea. Dinner is made to order from fresh produce and ingredients purchased on the day – few riads have full-service restaurants.
Simply let staff know if you’d like to dine in and the chefs will wow you with their traditional dishes. They’ll often be served in the courtyard or on a roof terrace, possibly under an Arabian style tent. Since Morocco is a Muslim country, it’s also wise to check if alcoholic drinks are available.
What’s the service like?
Riads tend to be owned by individuals and are often run by owner-managers. Due to the intimate set-up and small number of rooms, service is highly personalised and often of an exceptional standard.
Much guest feedback centres around the incredible attention to detail they received from staff during their stay. Being treated like one of the family, or having the red carpet rolled out for you (though perhaps not literally) can be one of the most memorable elements of your visit to Marrakech.
Dakota Murphey has been lucky enough to travel around the world, exploring numerous cultures and sharing her experiences through her writing. Now with two kids, she looks to keep the focus of travel prominent in her family and is excited to plan her next adventures around Europe in 2019.