Marrakech may have hotel riads aplenty, but Popupla founder Pavia Rosati makes a case for Riad Farnatchi in particular.
MARRAKECH – I love a destination that inspires unabashed passion for its clichés. I'm talking about the local pub in London, the café with snooty waiters in Paris, and the picture-perfect Tuscan hill town. Because such places offer minor variations on a larger theme, you might think these establishments would be pretty interchangeable. So if that's the case, why do travelers promote their Owl and the Pussywillow, their Café du Parc, and their San Guardami above all others? Why are they so convinced their favorite is the best of all?
In Marrakech, this thing is the riad — a traditional home that's been converted into a hotel. I stayed in a riad when I first visited Marrakech in 2003, and have seen dozens since. The grand hotels like La Mamounia, Amanjena, and Royal Mansour may make the boldest and most impressive hospitality statements in Marrakech, but I find the riads emblematic of the city itself. They say almost nothing from the outside, their plain façades indistinguishable from those of the surrounding buildings. But once you've been granted access, you're treated to an explosion of color, décor, ornamentation, and hospitality.
Though Marrakechi riads may have their common vocabulary, I'm going to make a case for why I love Riad Farnatchi more than all the others. I came for a few days last September with my husband, having already spent a week at La Mamounia during the PURE travel show and an unforgettable night in the desert at La Pause. We returned to Marrakech for a few days of medina living: Riad Farnatchi more than fit the bill.
Rates from 3100 DH, or about $330 USD.
On a quiet side street on the north end of the medina, within walking distance of everything in the medina. Access to taxis is a few minutes away by foot.
Traditional Moroccan décor infuses the two adjoining buildings, and the eye does not rest here. Not amid the mosaics, textiles, and objects — so many of them, all arranged harmoniously. Every detail feels considered yet easy: Embers glow in the dining room fireplace; fat tassels dangle from heavy iron keys. The decor objects that you see for sale throughout the souks look extra refined here. (How do they do it?) The walls and ceilings along the hallways, staircases, and sitting areas are carved in elaborate traditional patterns. Lanterns cast intricate and evocative shadows. You get the picture.
This Place Is Perfect For
Travelers seeking a secluded stay in the medina, who want service that's helpful and solicitous but not pushy or overbearing.
But Not So Perfect For
Travelers who want a grand hotel experience and such amenities as a gym, large pool, and business center.
What's on Site
As is the tradition in riads, a small courtyard pool in the main building is surrounded by communal living and dining rooms, with guest bedrooms scattered on the upper floors. The next building held the beautiful white spa and the hammam, which I visited but stupidly didn't use. Also on site is a lovely rooftop terrace filled with candlelit lanterns, palms, and orange trees, with great views onto the medina and the countryside beyond. Guests can drink or have dinner here. But let's get back to that pool. And how incredible it felt to float under the stars after a long day of walking the dusty pathways through the medina.
Food + Drink
They serve an excellent hotel breakfast by the pool, with fresh juices and coffees, pastries and eggs. My husband and I ended up having dinner at the hotel on our last night. We hadn't planned ahead, but they served an impeccable Moroccan meal.
Our suite had two main areas, one for living and one for sleeping and bathing. The living room had two overstuffed armchairs, a desk, and an heavy wooden armoire, as well as a balcony overlooking the courtyard pool where we had morning coffees one day. The bedroom had a quieter balcony and a very welcoming king-sized bed. Two large closets were useful for stashing all the loot I bought. (When in Marrakech...) The bathroom area consisted of a room with an enormous bathtub and two sinks, a separate toilet stall, and a walk-in shower that could easily have fit four. The ten suites are all configured differently, which makes peeking into the others fun. I saw headboards emblazoned with Arabic script, and duplex setups. Bonus points to Suite 1 for its own patio and fountain.
Bose speakers. On-demand movies (that we didn't watch). Fast WiFi (that we definitely used). Molton Brown products in the bathroom.
I loved everything about Riad Farnatchi. Truly. I wish I had spent more time just hanging out in the hotel, but Marrkech offered too many distractions.
The small hotel staff were terrific and very helpful. But I was struck by the little gatehouse at the hotel entrance, which is staffed by men who, without being asked, always appeared nearby to guide us back to the entrance or help us hail a secure taxi. I never felt unsafe in Marrkech, but they made me feel extra cared for.
Riad Farnatchi is at the north end of the medina. The medina feels like a labyrinth, and it doesn't help that you'll see 50 variations of the same herbs/colorful slippers/glazed bowls shops on every street, but have faith: You'll get your bearings soon enough. We walked everywhere in the medina.
What to Do Nearby
The closest sites are Medersa Ben Youssef, a 14th-century school; Musee du Parfum perfume museum, Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech photography gallery. Medersa Ben Youssef is a stunner, but go as early as you can to avoid the crowds. (It's open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.) Souk Cherifia, a few minutes away, is a mini galleria within the souk where many modern designers have their boutiques. Le Jardin Secret is a recently renovated complex featuring Islamic architecture and gardens.
Good to Know
We ended up having dinner at the hotel because we ran out of steam, but it was a happy accident. The food was home cooked, the kind you can't get at a restaurant, and we chose to sit in the atrium instead of the dining room because it was a lovely night. As we were the only ones eating in that night, we got to pretend the riad was totally ours. I'll happily indulge in that fantasy again.