Red City RiadsPosted on: 03 June 2019 by Michael Edwards
Staying with Marrakech-Riad, Michael Edwards explores Morocco’s most dramatic city.
Winston Churchill, paint-brush in hand, told us that Marrakech was his favourite place in the world. Then Crosby, Stills and Nash sang, on Marrakech Express, about coloured cottons hanging in the air and charming cobras in the square, inspiring 1970s travellers.
So, Marrakech is a top-of-the-bucket-list destination. You could stay in a hotel ...
Or for travellers there is a Riad. A traditional house flowing around an internal garden: authentically Moroccan, intimately welcoming and above all located within the historic walled town. Medieval derbs, ochre labyrinthine alleyways, are too narrow for cars, so you explore the historic Medina by foot. These Riads are a passionate, colourfully rich expression of life in Marrakech.
Each of the four Marrakech-Riad’s properties has thirteen rooms or less, with an intimate family feel. Take breakfast when you choose, order a meal for the evening, perhaps dining on the roof terrace, or ask the English-speaking staff to make a dinner reservation for you at a local restaurant.
Cinnamon Road, recalling the Red City’s place on the Spice Route, has thick persimmon walls and air-conditioning to cool guests. Rose petals float on the central plunge pool offering a refreshing dip after a day of exploring in this Sub-Saharan climate.
Morocco was a French colony and there’s a Berber/French chic to many of the individually designed rooms: hefty dark-wood doors contrast with gleaming brass bolts, filigree shadows from Arabian lampshades soften the light. This is Sultan living from the tales of A Thousand-and-One Arabian Nights.
Mike and Lucie Evans, the British owners of Marrakech-Riad, develop the individual character of the original building, retaining the intricate chiselled stonework wherever possible, keeping hefty cedar doors and preserving cool terracotta tiling. My Chefchoeun Suite at Cinnamon featured a mezzanine lounge with flat-screen TV, looking down on an elegant bedroom featuring Tuareg blue, the indigo dye beloved by the Sahara’s desert people.
Each of Marrakech-Riad’s properties are within the pedestrianised Medina. A driver greets you at the airport and takes you to the Médina entrance. A member of staff from the Riad meets you, takes your luggage and walks you the last few hundred yards to your Riad. You are welcomed with a lamb or vegetarian tagine.
Riad Star, more exuberant than tranquil Cinnamon, was the home of Josephine Baker in the 1940s. She was a superstar of the Jazz Age, propelled to fame by dancing in a skirt made of just a dozen banana skins. During the Second World War, her travels made her an ideal member of the French Resistance. Sometimes concealing secret documents in her underwear.
There’s a decadent Jazz-Age-coalesces-with Arabia feel to the luxurious decor. Djebellas in the wardrobe allow you to dress in the favoured loose-fitting costumes selected by the locals. Plus, there’s a dressing up box for celebrations - Hollywood meets Lawrence of Arabia. You can also request local musicians with their drums and ouds to perform.
.Riad Star hosts a Moroccan Cookery School, tranquil meditative spaces for yoga as well as a serene Spa and Hamman. So, it’s a popular base for girls’ shopping trips, think of the Sex and the City ladies haggling in the souks for caftans, handbags and rose cream to preserve their complexions. Then there are culture trips to the numerous galleries, museums and historic sites. From Pamper Breaks, through Gourmet Tours of the food souks to a starting point for High Atlas adventures, Marrakech has something for everyone.
Each of Marrakech-Riad’s four properties, the others are Papillion and Dar Harbiba feature wonderful roof gardens. As the sun sets, with a pink tinge towards the High Atlas Mountains and the storks returning to their nests, the gardens are an idyllic spot. Amongst the red hibiscus, the cacti, dwarf palms and lavender there are sun-loungers for sun-worshippers or gazebo shaded seats for those who simply wish to relax.
“You will get lost,” says Ali my concierge and Marrakech guru handing me a Nokia phone. He also encourages me to download, for free, the Marrakech-Riad app. It is the definitive guide to Marrakech’s sights, restaurants and a range of excursions.
“Getting lost is all part of exploring Marrakech,” reassures Ali. “If you get lost, take a picture of where you are, ring us and we will come and get you.”
Marrakech will change, inspire and invigorate. Remember that the vibrant colours transformed Yves St Laurent. Such was its impact that he had a home in Marrakech and the Yves St Laurent Museum celebrates his work.
Find out more
Take a look at the website for more information about Marrakech Riad. You can download the Marrakech-Riad app, for free from the App Store and Google Play, to receive a 20% discount on your booking.
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