Choosing a riad can be daunting because there are so many options. Seriously, there are hundreds, and so many good ones. We chose Riad Anayela and were blown away because of the understated elegance and the warmth of the staff. I don’t know that our stay in Marrakech would have been the same if we had stayed elsewhere.
WHY STAY IN A RIAD?
When you are choosing a place to stay, there are many things to consider, (read more here), and we ultimately chose to stay in a riad in the Old City because we felt it was a much more authentic Moroccan experience.
A riad is a traditional Moroccan guesthouse with an interior garden or courtyard. They are typically smaller and hold just a handful of guests, though there are some larger ones. There is really nothing like it elsewhere in the world. If you are going to a country like Morocco, doing something that you can’t do elsewhere is the key to a great experience.
GETTING TO THE RIAD
If you are staying at a Riad, their driver should pick you up at the airport, but door-to-door service is not the norm. You’re likely going to have to do some walking if you stay in the Old City. (Don’t wear heels, ladies.)
Our riad was located about a half a mile from a main entryway into the Old City. This seems to be the standard for many of the riads. Our riad guide picked us at the airport and drove us as close as we could get to our riad by car. You can’t drive down many of the residential streets because they are too small and hectic.
The riad manager came to greet us on the street and walked us the rest of the way. I am glad he met us because there was so much going on, from women making traditional stuffed Moroccan bread to motorbikes that will almost run you over, at least 20 times while you’re there. There’s a lot of activity.
If you’re jet-lagged and trying to adjust to what you are seeing (“Was that a baby on the front of a motorbike without a helmet? Sure was.”), it can be a little overwhelming.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Don’t be fooled by the unassuming doors in the Old City. You never know what you will find behind them. Like most, our riad was down a residential street, tucked away behind a modest door.
When the doors open, you step down and into an oasis. This is standard in Morocco. The riads were built to be inner-facing and built for protection.
TRADITIONAL MOROCCAN WELCOME
We were welcomed with dates and milk, and offered sweet mint tea; a traditional way to greet guests. It was the perfect way to settle in.
They wanted us to relax and get our bearings, which was nice after a long day of travel. Nothing is rushed—this holds true for anything you do; things run a bit slower than they do in places like the U.S. Patience is key.
ABOUT THE RIAD
Riad Anayela was a historic residence purchased by a German couple in 2007. They spent a year painstakingly renovating it with the help of 100 workers. The details are truly incredible. Everything, from the beautiful Moroccan chandeliers to the stained glass windows and chairs, was custom-made for the riad. You can tell how much time and effort went into creating the perfect place to stay.
Hundreds of years ago, the riad belonged to a family. There was a young girl who lived there, Yela. The Riad was named after her. As the story goes, she met her true love on the rooftop at 16. The boy told her that the carpet on the rooftop was magical and it would fly if she just let him kiss her. She gave in and they ended up spending the rest of their lives together. Who knows if that is true, but the riad definitely seems a little bit magical.
Today, the riad houses five guest rooms and has nine staff. Essentially; a 1:1, guest: staff ratio.
With that ratio, you never want for anything. You are treated you like you are a guest in someone’s well-appointed home that also includes a five-star chef.
There are two floors of rooms, and all of them open to the courtyard pool area. The third floor has an incredible rooftop where you can see across the city and just see the Atlas Mountains in the distance. It’s the perfect place to relax.
WHAT TO DO DURING YOUR STAY
Our riad did not have a spa or a restaurant, but it was still incredible. Eat breakfast on the roof, and have at least one dinner poolside. You can put a request in for food you want, but I don’t recommend it.
Let them prepare a meal for you and enjoy the surprise. Since Morocco was colonized by the French, the influence shines through in the way of breads, cheeses and heavier dishes, and it’s nothing short of amazing. Everything from the breakfast pastries, cheeses and Moroccan chicken and rice was cooked to perfection. The meals were some of the best we had while there.
Take a cooking class with the chef. We did not do this, but another couple we met took one and loved it.
Grab a glass of wine, head to the rooftop and listen the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. It’s somewhat haunting, but it’s one of the best sounds in the world.
On the second floor, enjoy some shisha while you lounge comfortably. Get a bottle of Moroccan wine, sit back and relax. Say hello to the other guests, you never know whom you might meet.
If you’re thinking a trip to Marrakech, I highly recommend Riad Anayela, but there are many other options (here is great list). And if you are trying to decide which area in the Old City is best, this is a great overview.