Atmospherically located down alleyways in everyday neighbourhoods in the medinas of Morocco’s cities, riads or traditional courtyard houses, offer up a more authentic and enriching experience compared to staying in a centrally-located hotel in the new city. Here are our tips on renting a riad in Morocco.
We stayed in a couple of different types of HomeAway riads during our two weeks in Morocco, Dar Rocmarra in Marrakech and Dar Lazuli in Essaouira, each offering quite different but equally delightful experiences.
While Dar Rocmarra, the first property we made our home, can be rented as a whole house, February is a busy period in Marrakech so while we were there the riad operated more like an intimate boutique hotel or upmarket B&B. We stayed in a spacious suite with living area, while there were other guests in the property’s four other rooms. Staff are on duty 24 hours, including a manager-cum-chef and two other staff, who serve breakfast daily and cook dinner for guests. Guests don’t have access to the kitchen, although Jamila was kind of enough to give Terence a cooking lesson and let him use her kitchen.
Dar Lazuli, on the other hand, consists of four separate self-catering apartments, each with their own kitchens. Guests also have access to the housekeeper-cum-chef who can take guests shopping, give them cooking lessons, and prepare guests dinner in their own kitchens. The property can also be rented in its entirety.
Our tips to renting Moroccan riads based on our recent experience:
* Families & groups of friends should consider renting a whole riad for the freedom, flexibility and privacy it offers. Sound travels across the courtyards, so noisy kids or late night dinner parties might not go down well with other guests. Book your riad well in advance of when you want to travel to ensure owners can block out the whole place for your entire stay.
* Couples and budget travellers will find it more economical to stay in a B&B-style riad with other guests or, if you want to self-cater (see below), to rent an apartment with a kitchen within a riad like Dar Lazuli. Couples in the mood for romance will value the privacy of a riad apartment, as it’s hard to escape other guests in a small B&B-style riad, where the atmosphere is relaxed and social can sometimes be more akin to an upmarket hostel.
* Chef or kitchen? If you want use of your own kitchen to make the kids breakfast, try your hand at Moroccan cooking, or simply keep a bottle of wine and snacks in the fridge for the evening, then opt for a riad apartment with kitchen or if you rent a whole riad make sure that you have use of the kitchen.
* Personal service and pampering? If you’re after the services that a hotel has to offer, such as airport transfers, daily breakfast, regularly changed sheets/towels, a concierge-like manager to arrange taxis, tours and make dinner reservations, and a chef to cook breakfast and other meals, then look for a riad with full-time on-site staff, as we had at Dar Rocmarra.
* Solitude and self-catering? If you prefer privacy, peace and solitude, to do things at your own pace, and are confident and capable of arranging your own transport and restaurant reservations, then you should opt for the self-catering option.
* Facilities and amenities vary considerably: some riads are very basic with simple furnishings and few amenities and are on par with backpacker or flashpacker accommodation (the low price should be an indicator) while others are in the same league as luxury boutique hotels, with heating/air-conditioning, fireplaces, quality sheets, big fluffy towels, hairdryers, iPod docking stations, book/CD libraries and so on. Decide what’s important to you, scrutinize the property listings, and ask the owner/manager questions.
* Atmosphere and ambiance is crucial to a riad experience and is often determined by things such as welcoming staff, mint tea and pastries served upon arrival, a fountain trickling in the courtyard, flower petals strewn about the room, soft background music, flickering candles, and a fireplace lit in your room in the evenings. If this kind of attention to detail is important, study the riad photos on the website and read the testimonials carefully.
* Location In contrast to hotels, which we often want to be centrally located and close to the sights or transport, the best riad experiences come from properties buried deep within a medina, down a gritty alleyway in a living-breathing neighbourhood. Study the property’s Google map carefully, do some research, and ask the owner questions to ensure the location is interesting.
* Meet and greet Note that a secluded location can also mean the riad might be a challenge to locate the first time, so once you’ve booked your property obtain clear directions from the owner, arrange a transfer or to be met at an easy-to-find location, and if the taxi can’t get close to the entrance find out if they have a porter service.
* Create your own vibe Keep in mind that if you can’t afford a luxurious riad there are plenty of simple riads around too, and you can always enhance the ambiance by buying a few candles, a bunch of flowers, and some local music – all cheap at the souqs – to create your own romantic riad.