I was slightly torn when deciding where to stay on our visit to Marrakech, in fact, deciding where to stay can be a bewildering experience due to the amount of options.
On one end of the spectrum are the riads inside the walls of the old medina. From the outside these lodgings look like any other old battered doorway but step inside and you will find a relaxing oasis away from the bustle of what can be an exhausting city. Open, ornate courtyards are decked out in elaborate mosaics whilst fountains and pools bubble away in the centre and the rooms can be just as luxurious as a 5 star hotel.
Just outside of the medina you find the new, modern part of town, Nouvelle Ville. Here you will find modern hotel chains with all the ammenities you would expect to find in any other city.
Step further still away from the old town and you will find sprawling all inclusive resorts complete with swimming pools, gyms, spas and in some cases even an attached golf course. These tend to be located around 15-20 minutes from the city centre the Palmerie.
During our stay in Marrakech we stayed in both a riad and a resort so i’m going to break down the pros and cons of both to help you decide where is best for you.
Trying to choose a riad in Marrakech can be bewildering – there are hundreds of them within the Medina walls. Down every alleyway you will find nondescript, windowless buildings with brass studded wooden doors that hide serene courtyards filled with cushion adorned nooks, bubbling fountains and fruit trees. Usually riads are converted 17th century houses or palaces refurbished to reflect classic Moroccan architecture and embellished with ornate Marrakechi craftsmanship.
We opted to stay at Riad al Loune completely down to it’s high rating on trip advisor. If you are a fan of boutique hotels, then this is the place for you. Each room was individually and beautifully decorated. with no windows to let in the noise and pollution from the city this felt like a tranquil oasis, much needed after a long day trudging around the city’s sights.
Outside of the city you can find sprawling resorts ranging from family friendly affairs, all the way to the luxury of he world famous La Mamounia. These club style, often all inclusive, hotels have all the ammenities you need without having to venture in to town – hammams, swimming pools, spas and in some cases, even golf courses.
We stayed for a few nights at Kenzi Club Agdal Medina. Located in the Agdal area of town, about 10-15 minutes taxi ride from Jamaa El Fnaa, this seemed the perfect place to get away from it all.
Riad al Loune
Located in the Azbezt area, the heart of Marrakech’s Medina, existing since the founding of the city – the riad is just a short walk from Jamaa El Fnaa. It is an oasis tucked in a narrow alleyway in the midst of the madness of the streets. It is extremely relaxing and quiet so once you are seated in the courtyard or rooftop terrace, its hard to imagine the noisy and vibrant world outside its doors.
Despite its central location, the riad can be difficult to find. The streets of the Medina are labyrinthine and all have a monotonous look so finding the correct street and even correct doorway can be a struggle. After a night out we spent over an hour searching for it, the map provided by the owner giving us little clue to where in the maze of streets the hotel was. We were giving the phone number of the riad with a promise that the owner would come and find us but due to the late hour, no one seemed to want to answer the phone.
However, this is a small price to pay to be close to everything you need – incredible shopping in the Souks, music and story telling in the main square and plenty of restaurants and bars.
Kenzi Club Agdal Medina
Despite its name, The resort is nowhere near the actual Medina. This hotel is truly outside Marrakech; a 15-minute taxi ride (30-60 dihrams depending how hard you haggle) to the major attractions doesn’t really give you a feel of staying in the city or getting to know it as you would if you stayed more centrally.
If you are after a relaxing and luxurious stay then this might not matter to you as the sprawling gardens, spa and swimming pool will provide all the distractions you need and trust me, it can be hard to build up the energy to venture into the city when you are so relaxed. The only problem with this is that I didn’t feel like I was in Morocco (decor of the hotel aside) and could have been in a hotel anywhere in the world.
Riad al Loune
At check-in, we were greeted with both a delicious mint tea and a smile with the service continuing along these attentive lines for our full stay. Riad al Loune features an opaline courtyard pool surrounded cushion strewn nooks scattered with rose petals, a dining area, orange trees and shimmering lanterns. On the top floor is a roof terrace giving spectacular views of the city; a perfect place to relax with a glass of wine in a candle lit, pillow filled alcove as the sun sets.
The rooms reflected the beauty of traditional Moroccan decor and architecture, each hidden behind a huge wood and brass door, and have a distinctly romantic feel. You won’t find televisions or radios in the rooms to distract from the traditional spirit but the bathrooms were modern and had everything you would need – toiletries and hairdryer included.
Breakfast was a traditional and simple yet abundant spread with tea, juice, Moroccan pancakes and bread complete with jams and marmalade. So much so that I don’t think I managed to eat even half of what was provided. The hotel will also provide dinner in its beautiful courtyard upon request.
Kenzi Club Agdal Medina
Another place where we were given both a mint tea and a warm smile as we arrived. As we stepped into the reception area we realised this was a world away from central Marrakech. The resort’s MO appears to be to create a relaxing, all inclusive setting removing any need leave at any point.
The large swimming pool (complete with water slides) and expansive gardens provide the perfect surroundings to do nothing all day as you relax on a lounger with a good book, drink in hand. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous you can have a massage at the spa, a soak at the hammam or even join in the activities provided by the Club’s entertainment staff. Whether it’s aerobics, darts or water polo, they will cheekily try to get you involved in the fun but i was perfectly happy lounging by the bar supping my (free) Casablanca beer.
The restaurant provides 3 meals a day and the buffet selection is large enough that you can choose something different for every meal, ranging from traditional tagines, roast lamb (roasted whole and carved for you) or even pizza. If this isn’t enough for you, after your meal you can move over to the hotel bar where the nightly disco will be in full swing.
Fitted with a large double bed, flat screen TV and mini bar, the rooms are everything you would expect from this kind of hotel, although have the same decor of hotels found the world over – not quite on par with the boutique feel of a riad.
This is all subjective and just my personal opinion; Both hotels are a perfect fit for a short stay in the city but for me, one comes head and shoulders over the other.
Although the resorts around Marrakech offer everything you could want for a holiday; entertainment, relaxation and wonderful food, you never get the impression that you are in Morocco and can feel as though you are neglecting the real Marrakech. A taste of luxury is nice occasionally but i like to get down and dirty with a place, see it for its true self. With a Riad you get this. They are a uniquely Moroccan experience within the heart and soul of the city and on my next visit, I won’t look anywhere else for a place to stay.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.