The Riad Review
Ah, Marrakech. The mere mention of Morocco’s most-visited city conjures up images of snake charmers, belly dancers and spice-scented souks. And, if you’re lucky enough to visit, a stay in a traditional Moroccan riad is a must. Here’s what happened when Thomson staffer, Karen Charles, tested out a riad from the Small & Friendly collection…
As I write this, I’m eating breakfast on my riad’s rooftop terrace. The morning sun is warming my face, whilst the snow on the Atlas Mountains glistens in the background. Would I recommend Marrakech? Yes. Would I stay in a riad again? In a second.
Apparently in the old days, women were meant to stay at home, so houses were built with beautiful interior gardens so they could sit out and enjoy the surroundings. Some of these old houses have been converted into cosy little guest houses known as riads. They make for a great base whilst discovering the labyrinth that is Marrakech’s medina.
I am staying in the Riad Dar Sbihi, which is part of Thomson’s Small and Friendly collection. It’s a traditional guesthouse with a beautiful inner garden filled with trees, flowers and birds. The rooms are really authentic. Patterned tiles and rug covered brick floors add so much character. And outside, there’s a small dipping pool and sun beds on the roof terrace to get a tan, read a book and relax.
The charms of this particular Riad Dar Sbihi have to be the owners, Sybille and Saad. They do everything they can to make sure you enjoy your stay. And the food they prepare is incredible! I’m staying on a bed and breakfast basis, but if I want dinner, all I have to do is let them know and they will fill me on that night’s menu and the price. Last night I had a rich, thick Moroccan soup, which was slightly spicy and full of tomatoes and chick peas. This was followed up by a pigeon tagine with lots of vegetables cooked in the traditional way. I’d never eaten pigeon before and was a bit wary, but it was delicious! I could have said that I wanted something else, but thought hey, why not give it a go, and I am glad I did!! A fruit salad finished the meal perfectly.
Riad Catalina and Riad Opale
During my stay, I’ve also been lucky enough to nose around other riads in the area – Riad Catalina and Riad Opale.
Riad Catalina has an open central terrace which is where breakfast and other meals are taken in the warmer months. Rooms are less traditional, but still have a classic Moroccan feel. And once again, the owners (Nadia and her team) offer a wonderful warm welcome. To top it off, it’s in a great location too deep inside the medina.
As for the Opale, the central courtyard has a small swimming pool, which is surrounded by the bar and a cosy lounge area. There’s even an open fire in winter. The rooms here are also worth mentioning. Romantic in feel, and with draped four poster beds. Elegance springs to mind.
Now, back to breakfast. Is it naughty of me to pour more honey on my Morrocan pancakes. And shall I have more of the delicious orange juice, or another glass of mint tea??
In case you’re wondering, I did go for the honey, but the walk to the medina was just far enough away to walk off those calories. My newest dilemma, though, is how I’m going to fit all these squishy leather sandals and this fabulous wrought iron lamp into my suitcase.