There’s a certain “je new sais pas” about the passengers boarding the flight for Marrakech, floaty fabrics and bold bangles suggest that it’s a destination for the fashion conscious. Remember that name-dropping such French phrases is appropriate: Morocco was a French colony for many years.
Some people head to the Far East to spiritually find themselves. Fashionistas head for Marrakech to find their style, to satisfy a desire to become their own interior design guru. Let’s be honest – Marrakech is the World’s Soft Furnishings capital: vast plateaus of rugs, mountain ranges of embroidered cushions and hillocks of pouffes.
For the stylish traveller – and note the distinction from tourist – a Riad, within the historic walls of the Medina, right at the beating heart of Marrakech, has to be the option. A stylish hideaway where the centuries-old chant of the Muezzin, a long onomatopoeic call to prayer, reminds the faithful that it is time to head for their local mosque.
Riad, from the Arabic, translates as garden. Today Riads are elegant boutique hotels, flowing around a transcendental inner core of rose-petalled plunge pool, climbing vines, terracotta planters and intricately carved stonework that could grace the Taj Mahal.
Mike and Lucy Wood are a British couple who have fallen in love with Marrakech and the style of the Riad. Already they have created and restored four Riads: Papillion, Dar Habiba, Cinnamon and Star. Every room is an individual project with its own unique personality and decor.
After a driver had collected me from Marrakech airport and taken me to the Medina gate, Ali, in his brown tunic had guided me through labyrinthine derbs (alleys) for the last few hundred yards to Riad Star.
After I had settled in, Ali handed me a local phone.
“You will get lost,” he prophesied.
“When you get lost take a picture of where you are. Send it to us and we will come and find you.” His tone suggested that getting lost was Allah’s will and my destiny.
Riad Star counters medieval infrastructure with the high-tech solution of a free downloadable app. Map, sight-seeing recommendations, best restaurants and shopping are included. Also through the app you can book excursions, spa treatments and a cookery course too.
Josephine Baker, a superstar of the Jazz Age, lived in what is now Riad Star, a three-storey house in the early 1940s. The decor, a sophisticated mix of Art Deco and Arabic, celebrates her quite remarkable life. Photographs, prints and posters tell her exceptional story. She made her name as a dancer in Paris in the 1920s, wearing a revealing skirt made from just 12 synthetic banana skins. After the Second World War she was awarded the Croix de Guerre for her work for the French Resistance, sometimes smuggling coded information out of France in her underwear.
Marrakech, baking on the shoulder of the Sahara Desert, has always attracted adventurers, free thinkers and those prepared to back their own judgement.
You will still find the “coloured cottons hanging in the air” from the 1970s Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “Marrakech Express” which inspired a generation to visit Morocco.
When you are browsing the souks, the challenge is distinguishing the authentic from the “Made in China” tat. And that’s why so many people love Marrakech, scouring the souks for a great find. It’s “Bargain Hunt” gone global.
Marrakech shopping is all about imagination and vision too. How about re-purposing those wedding bells as curtain tie-backs? Brightening up the bathroom with those vibrantly striped Hamman towels? Or framing some of those brass cylinders – inscribed as property deeds or formal marriage proposals – as original decoration for the hallway?
Souk-shopping, in the baking heat, is tough, almost a contact sport. You’ll need a siesta or two back at your Riad. Up on the roof of Riad Star there is a blissfully relaxing Spa and Hamman. The Hamman Rhassoul treatment is a traditional steam room with purifying Atlas mountain clay and extracts from seven plants. It is just one item on a menu that includes a Pasha (Princess) Package too.
Increasingly, visitors are opting for the authentic and intimate experience of a Riad. The Woods have a team of craftsmen working on their next project, Riad Spice: chiselling intricate symmetrical patterns into the white plasterwork, restoring the centuries-old dark wood doors, installing spacious bathrooms that join the aura of worshipful ablutions with 21st Century me-time decadence. Far more authentic, far more character, far more intimate than a hotel.
Tell Me More About Riad Star
Riad Star, 31 Derb Ailich, Kaat Bennahid District, Marrakech
T: +44 (0) 20 7570 0336 E: contact@ marrakech-riad.co.uk
Download the free Marrakech-Riad app and then book for a 20% discount on any of the four Riads.
One night’s B & B from around £100.