There is no better place to spend the night in Morocco than a riad, a Moroccan guesthouse. Most riads are located within or just outside the medinas, the walled cities wherein history lives and the culture and color of Morocco shines.
Riads range from the modest to the luxurious, with a range of prices from budget to beyond-your-means. Most riads are former private residences that at some point fell into disrepair and have since been refurbished and remodeled as guesthouses. Some are still family homes that have been passed down for generations and rooms rented out so as to allow the family to keep up with the costs of maintaining such a property. Many were bought up by savvy Moroccans and foreigners, especially Europeans, for investment at a time when many urban Moroccans moved out to the villes nouvelle, craving new homes, space, privacy and quiet.
Today, most riads are still privately owned, although a small percentage are owned and run by private companies. But whether the proprietors are or are not on the premises to share the property’s history, travelers enjoy the chance to spend the night in an authentic Moroccan property, with rich architectural and artistic details.
What to Expect
Each riad is unique. Food service may include breakfast only (usually included, but do check) or may include a restaurant open to the public, as well as guests. There may or may not be air conditioning and other amenities. Some offer cooking lessons. Some offer an hammam or spa.
Most riads have architectural and décor details of interest everywhere the eye turns. Artistic iron work, fretwork screens, stained glass, and brass fixtures and Moroccan lanterns adorn the rooms. Walls are likely of smooth and shiny plaster, or tadelakt. Ceilings may be planked in cedar, and wood doors may be intricately carved. There may be original contemporary paintings hanging with an antique framed amber Berber necklace or early Moroccan travel posters. There will, no doubt, be a photo of the king or royal family somewhere. And there will be wonderful upholstery and cushions. Expect the most amazing zilliij tile work and Moroccan rugs. Expect tile work and rugs everywhere, in fact—and it’s all beautiful.
The largest selection of riads is found in the medinas of Fez, Marrakesh, Meknès, Essaouira, and Chefchaouan.
Let’s look at two wonderful examples; one in the ancient city of Fez and the other in the Rif Mountain city of Chefchaouen.
Riad Dar Echchaouen
The beautiful “blue city” of Chefchaouen is nestled in the Rif Mountains, one of the most beautiful regions of Morocco. Much of the region was settled in the 15th and 16th century by Andalusian Muslims and Jews who fled Spain, and you’ll see Spanish influences everywhere.
Riad Dar Echchaouen remains a family home, and the property is just steps outside the walls of the medina. Each of the 30 rooms is unique, and the property features great garden spaces.
We were greeted by Abdul, whose warm personality is every innkeeper’s dream. He runs the front desk with humor and grace, and a little bit of mambo and flirtation as a bonus. During our stay, the whole staff was wonderful.
The rooms and public spaces have all the comforts, including good wi-fi, and are colorful, with fun, playful personalities with Moorish details.
There’s an outdoor pool and plenty of seating, and views of the mountains and the hillside city of Chefchaouen.
The food at the riad’s restaurant is excellent and includes a full menu of all the Moroccan favorites. Breakfast includes a local creamy fresh goat cheese and honey. The salads are especially creative, and the mezzas, pastilla and tagines are great.
The dining rooms are a perfect gathering space for breakfast and dinner, as well as a cozy place for a pot of tea or glass of wine.
Riad El Amine Fes
The ancient city of Fez is a must on any Moroccan itinerary, as is getting lost in the maze of the city’s car-free medina.
In Fez, we stayed at Riad El Amine Fes, on an alleyway, or derb, in Fez el-Bali, the oldest section of Fez, built in the 8th and 9th centuries.
The 11 available rooms range in size and luxury, but each have a phone and television with satellite—and most importantly—great charm. Internet was intermittent, which meant I had more time to peruse coffee table Moroccan art books in the sitting room and relax over mint tea.
The rooms, the art, the public areas are all lovely as well as comfortable, and the staff is friendly and accommodating.
There are a variety of rooms and suites. My room, one more the more modest, smaller rooms, was at the top, fourth floor, two flights of which were up a narrow, winding staircase. (Fun for me, but reserve a lower floor suite if you have mobility issues.)
All rooms are unique, with common details like the riad’s name appearing in brass on armoire door handles, sandblasted onto shower glass doors, and embroidered onto towels.
Most riads have a water feature, usually a fountain or small pool in the courtyard.
Riad El Amine Fez has a lovely fountain, as well as a tiled swimming pool, located in the riad’s second courtyard. (This riad is an example of having once been two distinct homes.)
The pool courtyard features a truly marvelous retractable roof.
Instead of going out to dinner one evening, some of us decided to stay in. We selected dishes from the dinner menu and arranged a time to return for our meals, then walked up the flights of stairs to the roof with a bucket of ice and fixings for cocktails. It was a great evening to be outdoors. The view from the rooftop deck was the perfect setting for relaxing with new friends. And the food at El Amine Fes is delicious as well.
Morocco is a wonderful country to visit, and staying in riads will only enrich and add to your stay!
- Riad Dar Echchaouen, http://www.darechchaouen.com/eng/
- Riad El Amine Fes, http://www.riadelaminefes.com/
- Moroccan National tourism, http://www.muchmorocco.com/
- There are some wonderful English language books written by foreigners who purchased and renovated older homes as private residences. Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House, a Year in Casablanca and Susana Clarke’s A House in Fez are light, fun pre-trip reading.
- Right here, at Confetti Travel Cafe: On Moroccan ceramic and tile work and on camping in the Sahara desert
– All photos by Nancy Zaffaro.