Morocco is a nation steeped with history and rich in culture, a destination that promises an awakening of all the senses around every corner. Every year, the city of Marrakech attracts visitors with intricate architecture – the impressive Bab Agnaou is one of my favourites – and the heady scents of exotic spices and tagines that float from the souks into the streets. It’s a truly immersive experience, and one that I think is made complete with a stay in a traditional riad.
The History Behind the Walls
Originally used as opulent oases for Marrakech’s elite, these classic houses are the hidden jewels of the city. So unassuming are these hideaways that you can wander past them on the dusty streets completely unaware of their existence. The outer walls of brown clay tower above passersby giving nothing away, while an elegant wooden door invite those in the know to a luxurious secret.
These sensuous spaces feel welcoming with an enveloping sense of calm as you enter a central garden, which is the focal point of the building. In fact, the word ‘riad’ means ‘garden’ in Arabic. The citrus scent of lemon trees and the tinkling of the fountain transports you to another world as arches and pillars rise around you, blocking out the chaos of the city. As well as the natural elements, I find the craftsmanship of these lavish homes extremely inspiring, as I’m certain you will too. The handcrafted Tadelakt plaster hints at the labour intensive process of building such a structure, while the Zellige tiles are a treat for the eyes in their gorgeous geometric patterns.
Although many of these secret spaces fell into disrepair during the twentieth century, interest in them had been reignited in recent years, thanks to the blossoming European tourist trade. In recent times a wonderful array of sanctuaries have been beautifully restored to hotels and restaurants. Brought back from extinction, these alluring buildings offer their soothing atriums as a perfect place to enjoy a refreshing mint tea away from the busy crowds and midday Moroccan sun.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Despite excellent renovations, it is important to keep in mind that many riads do not have modern luxuries of air conditioning or a swimming pool, a prerequisite for many people. The regal height of the buildings also means that your room is likely to be several floors off the ground, therefore not the best choice for those with mobility issues.
If, like me, you’ve already fallen in love with the romance of traditional Morocco, then you’ll want to have a look this collection of my favourite elegant townhouses in Marrakech.
I love Zenithya because of its perfect balance of contemporary luxury and charming tradition; it boasts both air-conditioned rooms and a swimming pool. Arranged around the airy courtyard, the ensuite guest rooms provide a cool retreat from the heat of the day, and each has its own private balcony or direct access to the central atrium. Complimentary breakfast and aromatic coffee is served daily by the plunge pool, choose from fragrant Moroccan or exquisite French dishes.
It’s a great base for those that want to experience the hustle and bustle of city life, with Jamaâ El Fna a short 15-minute walk away, or perhaps you’d like a stroll through the Majorelle gardens after breakfast, only 10 minutes away. After a day of exploring, the rooftop terrace is the perfect place to rest tired feet, equipped with sun loungers and umbrellas to shade you from the sunshine.
A short walk from the intriguing Jamaâ El Fna, this townhouse offers you a welcome home within the city with a refreshing swimming pool and beautiful patio. As well as free WiFi, you will be treated to cool air-conditioned rooms, decorated in traditional Moroccan style with warm earthy tones.
Every morning you can enjoy a fresh breakfast on the terrace or choose to share a meal with fellow guests. For the full five-star experience, treat yourself to a massage from the in-house masseurs. Or, if you’re interested in the history your environs, the guesthouse can arrange activities and excursions into the city and surrounding area.
One of my favourite features of the Dar Nimbus, which has been beautifully built in the authentic Moroccan design, is the rooftop terrace. From here you’re treated to a panoramic view of Marrakech’s Old Medina and the Atlas Mountains. It’s truly breathtaking. Better yet, this hotel houses all the modern day luxuries, including a spa, plunge pool and a hammam.
Also installed with cooling air-conditioning, the ensuite rooms are beautifully decorated with bright Zegille tiles arranged in intricate patterns. You’ll also have access to free WiFi and your own fireplace for those chilly nights.
You can choose between al-fresco dining on the terrace or in the dining area, and treat your tastebuds to the flavours of carefully spiced Moroccan cuisine – ask the chef to recommend something traditional and local.
Top Tip: After breakfast, ask the hotel to organise a visit of the surrounding area – it’s only one mile from Majorelle Garden, one of my favourite places to escape to when I’m in need of some greenery. Or, if relaxation is at the top of your agenda, treat yourself to an on-site massage.
How to Get There
I recommend that you fly from the UK to Marrakech (RAK) Airport, and you’ll find the cheapest return flights in July and April. There are five different airlines, including the popular Sun-Air, that fly directly from London, offering around 29 flights a week. The average flight time is an easy 2 hours 40 minutes.
For a hassle-free journey to your resort, my advice is that you pre-book an airport transfer with Shuttle Direct via the secure online booking system. Their professional drivers will pick you up from arrivals and ensure that you arrive at your accommodation smoothly and in a quick 20 minutes.
About Shuttle Direct
Shuttle Direct is a leading provider of low-cost transfers to and from airports, train stations and cruise ports all across Morocco, throughout Europe and Northern Africa.