Yes, it’s that time of year again, and if you haven’t already, you should (shameless link alert!) book a hotel in Marrakech. Yes, I’ve cut straight to the chase there. But I know you’ll all complain if I don’t elaborate a bit, so I’ll now give you a few reasons why you should want to head to the (hint 1) exotic land of Morocco to stay in a (hint 2, hint 3) laid-back, romance-inspiring boutique riad in the heart of the (hint 4) shopping Valhalla that is the Medina. And it’s exotic, but without the long flight or jetlag. And it’s pretty (see pics below). More reasons? We don’t like to whine on about the weather, but… let’s just say that it hasn’t been very dry in London, lately. And the Bank Holiday weekend is upon us. Enough said.
May we propose that, instead of sulking into your tea, you keep a Stiff Upper Lip (I’d like that to be a cocktail, now), and let us help you plot a mini-adventure escape to sunnier climes with a rocking round-up of great riads in Marrakech. Where, between now and Christmas, the sun will shine, the souks will bustle, the atmosphere will be magical, the stars will twinkle romantically in cloud-free skies, and the merest of evening chills will be dispelled by crackling fires and sweetly spiced tagines. Here’s a handful of Moroccan hotels to whet your wanderlust (don’t forget to look out for our new launches next week, too, including the refurbished La Mamounia)…
Style Elegant holiday home
Dar Seven’s interiors look fit for a photo-shoot, stocked with all the most tasteful furniture you’d find in the souk (or at Graham & Green, who surely sourced their mother-of-pearl-inlaid bedside tables and console desks from the same seller). The White Room is pristinely pale and soothing; and the Loggia has its own seating area overlooking the courtyard, plus a bedroom that wouldn’t look of place in Petersham Nurseries Café. The beauty of these spot-on surroundings is unsurprising, given that they are owned by the same real-life Italian princess who throws open the doors to her remarkable Rome home, Residenza Napoleone III (one of our Top 10 Honeymoon Hotels).
Style Refined relaxation
Setting Medina with mod cons
This riad is a lesson in restrained elegance, with luxury trimmings including a polished-marble hammam, iPod docks and dozens of free on-demand movies. Once the well-appointed holiday home of a wealthy Brit, its transformation to high-end hotel has created five suites, each with their own living area and glossy bathroom. Guests are given a djellaba and babouche slippers to slope around in, which prompted our reviewer Scott Manson to note that he felt like a member of a cult: ‘A benign cult, obviously; one with sybaritic leanings, whose worship extended to the drinking of mint tea while flicking through a magazine’. Perfect for post-pampering mooching about.
Style World of interiors
Setting Funky old medina
A private, staffed residence with lots of personality, in a quiet area of the Medina, Dar Darma evokes a hard-to-pinpoint time gone by. The holiday home of an Italian designer, this exotic riad has been restored and theatrically filled with a quirky array of vintage and modern pieces, lending it the air of an artistic Orientalist’s treasure chest. If Vermeer were still alive, he’d be whipping out his easel to capture the chiaroscuro light, faded Oriental carpets, metallic paint finishes, leopardskin rugs and 18th-century period details before you could say ‘Dutch master’. Once he’d packed away his brushes, he’d no doubt unwind in the hammam, ease his aching shoulders with a massage, pick out a sun-bleached cushion on the roof terrace or gilded chair in the courtyard lounge for an aperitif, and enjoy a delicious meal put together by Dar Darma’s capable staff. Delicious, dramatic, and ever so Moorish.
Style Unpretentious colonial
Setting Serene Medina sidestreet
The proximity of Riad Tarabel to the antique dealers of the Marrakech souk goes some way to explaining its interiors – brimming with antiquities and curios, sumptuous paintings and ornate mirrors. The hotel’s decor-magpie owners have lovingly filled their elegant modern riad with heirlooms from the days of Napoleon III (must be pals with that Italian princess, then), transplanted from their family château in Toulouse (also named Tarabel), along with ornamental knick-knacks picked up on their travels, and unique souk-sourced objets d’art. Amid the rattan, cedar and bamboo furniture, you find the resident parrot, a feathery bundle of flamboyance who’s all too happy to join guests at the dinner table. The owners have really poured their hearts into this hotel – and, luckily for you, their taste is impeccable.
Style Palatial comfort
Setting Calming Palmeraie gardens
Calling this place a ‘riad’ is a bit like calling Nobu a chippie, and it’s not actually in the medina, but we’re sneaking it into our list anyway. Set in four hectares of soothingly landscaped grounds, this purpose-built Palmeraie retreat leaves no detail to chance: the hand-carved silver door keys are intricate, weighty and satisfying to use; the own-blend toiletries are proffered in glass and silver bottles; the scented candles have hand-inked labels. They even grow their own wheat to make bread with. Incredible contemporary design – such as the dramatic stone spiral staircase – contrasts dramatically with traditional North African details, to provide all the essentials of a Med-Moorish summer palace, including languid pools, lush gardens, water features and palm-tree avenues. We love the Harim Suites – masses of space, private gardens or terraces, two even have their own pools. And if food’s your thing, the chef’s former employers should give you a flavour of his mettle: Robuchon, Vigato, Passard…
Style Regal and rooftop-enhanced
Setting Just by Djemaa el Fna
For the full Marrakchi experience, you absolutely must spend an evening or morning on a roof terrace – the perfect place for taking coffee and fruit or a glass of wine (or even a mint-flavoured cocktail if you’re in the right place). From up here, there’ll be cooling breezes and pleasing views across the Medina’s rooftops – you might even catch a glimpse of the Atlas mountains on a clear day. Riad Siwan not only has obligingly provided a roof terrace, but one with a pool, as well – just off the main terrace and slightly sunken, so that all the other people enjoying Marrakech’s rooftops won’t be spying on you. Decorated with African art and dramatic light fittings, this riad is perfectly located just south of the Djemaa el Fna square.
RIAD NOIR D’IVOIRE
Style Elegant Arabesque
Setting Bab Doukkala back streets
Yes, yes, we do bang on about this place – but for good reason. The location is great, the atmosphere is join-us-if-you-like house party, the rooms are romantic, and the day beds on suites’ private roof terraces are a corking place to lie back and think of anything but England. As if that’s not enough, there’s a bona fide pool to chill out in (or beside), a lounge bar, library, boutique, and a gym, too. Owner Jill is a true Maroc star, with an unflappable air, an army of devoted former guests and an ‘in’ at all the best places – so when you don’t fancy eating in the riad’s romantic courtyard restaurant, she’ll get you a seat at one of the medina’s other top tables.