Often the first time many travellers learn the word riad is when researching a Moroccan trip. Our accommodation searches may return results labelled riad or dar. For tourists planning to go to Morocco, riads and dars are alternatives to a hotel, set in a traditional home with a courtyard (dar) or inner garden (riad). That's the simple definition but a riad is more than accommodations. A stay in a riad is a truly Moroccan experience that can and should be experienced by all from the casual budget traveller to those seeking a more upscale experience.
Riads can be found all over Morocco but the most authentic are those in Marrakech. Riads are located in the medina (old city) and were once the homes of wealthy citizens, merchants, and couriers but many are now traveller accommodations. They line narrow pedestrian roads and are hidden behind imposing and uninviting doors. Once past those doors, however, is a cool and quiet sanctuary. The buzz of street hawkers, animals, traffic, and tourists completely disappear.
The rectangular multiple-storey building surrounds an open-air courtyard that usually has a fountain or pool and is open to the sky. The courtyard is usually the only natural light source. Since most buildings within the medina are connected, it is very rare to have large (or any) exterior windows. The courtyards tend to include multiple seating and conversational areas.
Rooms are sensually furnished with beautiful fabrics and are kept dark and cool. Rooms tend to be organized in suites that include a sitting area.
Flat roofs are often additional patio space that may include terraces, gardens, and restaurants. Some of the riads have combined buildings and courtyards to form complexes that have cafés and hammams. There are often several different seating choices offering shelter from the sun as it moves across the sky. Most will have a terrific view of the medina.
It's common for a riad to offer a traditional daily breakfast which includes flatbreads with honey, cheese, fruit, olives, and egg served with mint tea. Some may offer a daily dinner tagine to their guests. Higher-end riads often have restaurants that serve a menu of items and alcoholic drinks most evenings to locals, guests, and visitors. The more humble riads may not have alcohol on hand but will not object to guests bringing their own. In my experience, when the riad realized that we enjoyed wine with dinner, it was offered for each of the following nights we chose to have dinner.
Riads pride themselves on their service and hospitality towards guests. They have fewer rooms and attentively provide personal service. Even the most humble will provide some level of concierge service to guests, organizing private tours, massages, guides, and pouring as much mint tea as a human body can consume.
Staff will be an excellent resource for places to go and see and tips for safety and shopping in the souks. Plan your day like a local by doing your shopping and excursions in early mornings/evenings and spend your afternoons napping, reading, or swimming in the courtyard. Organize a hamman massage (but don't plan on being able to do anything afterwards). Take the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the unique riad experience.
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