Morocco has it fair share of large, modern international hotels to rival some of the best in the world. We usually steer away from these unless they suit our travellers’ requirements. We prefer to work with some of the smaller private hotels that offer an authentic Moroccan experience, high standards and great value for money.
Pros: Things tend to run a bit smoother at least with the larger ones, and newer hotels don’t suffer ancient buildings issues like unreliable plumbing.
Cons: Hotels are not allowed in the ancient medinas of cities, so you will miss out on ambiance if you choose a hotel in a city like Marrakech or Fez. Also you might have to climb multiple stairs as elevators are often missing in action.
A couple of our hotel choices
Hotel Gauthier in Casablanca. Great contemporary design with all the mod cons and a change from the traditional Moroccan-style accommodation (not generally available in Casablanca in any case) that we aim for elsewhere on your tours with us.
Hotel Bin el Ouidane at Lake Bin el Ouidane about 3 hours from Casablanca airport. A great place to recuperate after a long flight with spectacular views of the lake and traditional Amazigh motifs and interior design in general. Family run.
Riads (and dars)
Traditionally, riads (which means “garden” in Arabic) are former private houses of the wealthy that have been converted into small hotels. Riads were built tall but narrow, centred around a courtyard or atrium with rooms facing inward. From the outside a riad looks like blank brick or mud clay walls, a veritable fortress with a heavy door and no outer windows. From the inside, riads are an architectural dream, a magical place with an emphasis on balconies, colourful tiles and indoor gardens. Lemon or orange trees often grow in the centre, and the women of the house would do most of their socialising here. Dars are similar to riads, but they have an inner courtyard without a garden.
Riads are often built in the medinas or older central parts of the city. They offer a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. These are perfect for guests who want to relax, and still be able to walk to the main city sights and attractions.
Riads offer an authentic and intimate Moroccan experience and are usually owner operated. The trick to securing the riad of your choice is to book early, as they typically have only 4–10 rooms and book out quickly.
Pros: Ambiance, ambiance, ambiance! Stepping back in time.
Cons: Rooms can be small and, as the buildings are usually centuries old, things like plumbing are not First World standard. Also, because riads are designed around a central courtyard, your sleep might be disturbed by the comings and goings if you are a light sleeper or unaccustomed to falling asleep to the sounds of human activity.
A couple of our riad choices
Riad Houdou in Marrakech. It has been run by two Frenchmen for many years.
Riad Sirocco d’Amour in Marrakech. Owned by New Zealanders, so you can get pavlova if you ask (and give them sufficient notice – remember you will be on Moroccan time).
(Dar Blues at Boumalne Dades is also very charming, and one we have used. The owner is the chef and the food is good; plus it has a lovely garden as well as traditional Amazigh design features. Prepare yourself for dim evening as the lighting reflects the intensity of starlight, rather than neon lights. Not suitable for night reading of your map for example, or your itinerary.)
Perhaps not as well-known as an accommodation choice in Morocco, but no less interesting, is the option to stay in some of Morocco’s converted Kasbahs. (Some, particularly those run by expatriates, are new constructions made in the traditional style.) A kasbah is traditionally a fortress or medina that was used as a secure location to withdraw to when the main town was under siege.
Built in traditional style, with mud brick walls, they are often located on high ground for better defence and views – many of them are now in spectacular locations for hotels. The best examples tend to be found in the High Atlas Mountains and in the remote south of the country, in an area known as the “route of 1000 kasbahs”.
Incorporate a kasbah in your holiday, so you can experience both an exotic hotel and a traditional desert fortress experience.
Pros: The views. Also, kasbahs can usually (not always) accommodate larger numbers than riads, yet provide the same traditional feel as a more intimate riad. Many, but not all, seem to be run by European expatriates which can assist in western cultural expectations being met in relation to, for example, service.
Cons: They can be a bit difficult to reach and away from the main (and better maintained, definitely asphalted) tourist routes. Not everyone is up for a donkey ride up a steep incline, particularly if your health is not optimal on the day. Also, once you are there you may feel a bit isolated and limited to the activities and prices offered by the kasbah- which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about that.
One of our kasbah choices
Kasbah Angour. This beautifully preserved traditional kasbah is in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains – about 30 minutes outside of Marrakech.
Why Morocco? The traditional accommodation options are pretty much unique to Morocco.
Why sooner rather than later? You never know what is around the corner in your life as this pandemic has demonstrated. Who would have thought the world would be basically grounded for what might be more than a year? Nothing stays the same forever.
Why Aussies in Morocco Tours™? We have done the research, talked with the owners and operators and stayed at the venues. (Note: the kasbah is on our current to-do list). So contact us to discuss your options for making your Moroccan journey and exciting mix of accommodation experiences.
Postscript: In earlier blog posts we also discussed homestays. Check out our 4-Part series “More Depth, Less Surface” under the “Morocco Insider” tab on our website for more information about this. Part 1 is here. We haven’t touched upon the desert camp or Gite experiences in this blog post either! (Although you can find references to each here and here, respectively).
Refreshed and updated November 2020