The Art of Choosing a Riad in Marrakech
Everyone who ventures across the big pond known as the Atlantic wants to stay in a Riad in Morocco. More than a hotel, a riad is an old-style Moroccan home that has been converted into a type of bed & breakfast. While families do not run most modern riads, they do cater to tourists looking for a higher-quality, cultural, and even traditional experience. Two of the most popular places to stay in a traditional riad in Morocco are Fez and Marrakech. For our purposes, we are going to focus on Marrakech.
Since Morocco’s airways have opened up to budget airlines coming from all over Europe, tourism is booming. In fact, when we talked to Marrakech riad and hotel owners who had only one, high-season price listed in their establishments, they revealed that they have only one price because it is always high season in Marrakech. Even five years ago, someone could loll into the “red city” and expect to find a room for a few bucks. Nowadays, however, even the budget establishments are a minimum of $7 per person a night, double from a few years ago. And, whether you are arriving on a Sunday or a Tuesday, don’t expect to easily find rooms – anywhere. If you aren’t arriving in the evening, then you will have more luck finding a room without reserving, but it is not guaranteed.
This recent tourism boom that sees no limit has meant that all sorts of riads have popped up all over the city. Foreigners with a little capital have invested in a plethora of riads throughout the Marrakech medina. Additionally, these foreigners are able to advertise on the Internet and claim that their $100 rooms are of the highest quality. While their websites, complete with pictures of the rooms, terraces, fountains, massage parlor, Jacuzzi, and even small pool look quite appealing, what’s there not to love? Well, before you go booking what you think will be a luxury suite in a riad in Marrakech, keep the following in mind.
Riads are rated and placed into three separate categories. These names are often in French, but can easily be translated. The premiere categorie or first class riads fit into the four and five star class. They will probably include a luxury spa room, public washrooms or steam rooms (called a hamam) and a pool. The prices on these establishments can be quite costly and the service is generally good. These first category riads tend to have excellent service and live up to their rating.
Most riads in Marrakech are going to actually fall in the deuixeme categorie (second class) or the troiseme categorie (basic). Some savvy Moroccans have turned these riads into bed and breakfasts, while the others are those that foreigners have converted. With either type, you may not really know what you are going to get until you arrive. While most are OK, some are decorated without taste and end up looking quite tacky – not having a real Moroccan feel beyond the Berber carpets on the floor. Others, however, may not be as well advertised, are decorated quite splendidly, and have unbeatable prices. Some are decorated in a traditional sense, while others are decorated ingeniously meshing modern architecture with old style, giving it a modern look. Whether these riads are in the deuxieme or troiseme categorie makes no real difference. The main difference is in the extra services and amenities offered. What really matters is that the price is fair and that the establishment has excellent service, clean rooms, and just feels right. One might suggest that it is best to search some Morocco forums to find out the riads with the most character, excellent prices, and great service. While a premiere categorie is probably not going to let you down, it is going to cost you the most –around $200 and up. And, if you don’t really care about a small pool or on-site spa, then try something more traditional, authentic, and cultural. When it comes to staying in the medina of an ancient city, the experience can border surreal.