Most countries have their own distinct forms of accommodation. In England it's the village inn, in France the gite, in Mexico the hacienda and in Spain the finca. In Morocco we have the Marrakech riad, though they can also be found in Fez, Essauoira and elsewhere, but they are most identified with Marrakech.
Riad, which can also be spelt Riyad or Ryad, is the Arabic word for a traditional house or palace with an interior garden, designed to provide both cool shade from the heat outside, as well as privacy for the family, especially the women. Consequently the walls of a Marrakech riad are typically very thick, made of mud, brick or clay, with no exterior facing windows, just a grilled entrance and a heavy studded door. Once inside, however, a magical world is revealed, of scented potted plants, lemon trees, birdsong, and often a tinkling fountain.
Over the years, many Marrakech riads had fallen into disrepair, but recent times have seen their resurrection, and reinvention, as exotic places to stay for visitors. Ironically, those who perhaps have appreciated the style of these Marrakech riads the most have been the visitors themselves, so many of them have been bought by French and German fans of riad life and developed by them into hotels and restaurants.
It has to be the souk, for spices, rugs, shawls, fabric, tactile rounded clay and wooden cooking utensils, lamps, lanterns and the all important items that you don't know you need until you see them. Haggling is vital and expected so don't be shy to offer half or less the first suggested price. If noisy busy shopping environments are not your idea of fun, go anyway for the enjoyment of returning to your Riad and marvelling at the instant calm and quiet. Even Riads which are right in the bustling medina manage to pull off this impressive trick.
With the huge popularity of North African food based around slow-cooked tagines and cous cous, there are now many excellent cookery schools and classes in Marrakech. Many of us think of cous cous as a quick easy alternative to rice - in Marrakech you can learn how to take three hours to prepare the most delicious cous cous you have ever eaten. Dar Les Cigones, Dar Tchaikana and Dar Fakir are among our recommended Riads which offer cookery classes. The Faim D'Epices and La Maison Arabe schools are also popular.
Here's a selection of Marrakech riads we recommend as places where you are likely to get the most authentic, historic atmosphere. Many of these have been bought and restored by art dealers and collectors so it's not just the buildings that are special, but also the art collections within.
These Marrakech riads have been converted from classic historic buildings, and all include the traditional interior garden as well as wonderful roof terraces. There's nothing more magical than eating traditional Moroccan cous-cous or tagine while reclining on silk cushions by the light of flickering candles in the courtyard at night, perhaps beside a limpid pool - or waking up to the heat of the day over croissants and coffee on the rooftop.
A small traditional hotel nestled in gardens of olive, palm and citrus trees. Local Moroccan designs give a warm colourful feel yet all the mod cons are in place for contemporary living. The dining rooms deep red walls and candle lit tables make for romantic dining. Ideal for completely unwinding.
A designer riad, owned by Vanessa Branson, and furnished with flair in the heart of the Marrakech medina. Lush gardens, secluded terraces and courtyards, surrounding fragrant rose gardes, and magnificent views of the city. The ultimate place for wellbeing.
Marrakech (Rue Souk el Fassis)
An elegant luxury riad right in the heart of Marrakech. The chic airy suites feel spoiling and romantic, with private balconies, Egyptian cotton sheets and handmade furnishings. Traditional white marble hammam is an ideal way to unwind after a day in the Souks. A really exquisite and intimate spot.
An understated and elegance Riad, in the heart of Marrakech. The beautifully decorated rooms fuse Moroccan and European styles to create enchanting spaces. Fantastic views from the roof top terrace, while you chow down on award winning delicious food. Simply magical.
Marrakech (Bab Doukkala)
Iconic restaurant turned luxury hotel, in the Medina of Marrakech. The decor is a sublime combination of traditional Moroccan craftsmanship and smart European style. Every detail sings charm, old-school elegance, and history.
Calm, stylish refuge filled with fine furniture and art. Beautiful white washed patios and roof top sun terrace. A place of tranquility and calm. Its accommodations are well suited for families. A stay in history, amidst history.
For small family groups or special occasions, you can often rent the whole riad exclusively, and the following riads are amongst the smallest and most imtimate, ideal for hiring for a weekend.
An intimate and romantic riad with excellent service. Courtyards flooded with sunlight, opulent shaded rooms, delicious Italian-Moroccan-French cuisine- the perfect romantic hideaway.
Carefully displayed artworks at this minimalist-chic hotel in the heart of the medina. Stark white walls, authentic pottery and classical music in the communal areas. Great breakfasts and views over the city towards the mountains from the roof-top terrace. A perfectly designed riad.
Marrakech (Issebtinne 40000)
Boutique hotel with an elegant aristocratic ambience. Its understated style avoids fake orientalism. It provides authentic peace and harmony with simpler white washed walls, orange trees, and a beautiful inner courtyard.
Marrakech (Riad Zitoun Kedim)
Magnificent, traditional riad in the Medina with easy access to the historic sites. Stunning rooms with exquisite touches, sun-drenched roof-tops, peace, calm and beauty.
Marrakech (Kennaria, Medina)
Romantic central Riad with flickering lights and cosy rooms. Exceptional value for money. Elegant rooms in Berber style in creams and beiges. A place to impress.
Marrakech (Sidi Ben Slimane)
Brand new stylish riad situated in the heart of the Medina. Eight cool suites offer simple yet elegant furnishings with plenty of local craftmanship on display. Two marble courtyards for relaxing after a day at the souks, roof terrace to soak up mountain views and spa with hammam for pampering.