05 May 2017

Riads, Kasbahs, Lodgings: Morocco

Riad = originally a town house with rooms around a courtyard with a garden and fountain, of at least three storeys; without a garden and fountain it is a Dar, but the name riad is now generally applied to both. Some of these old structures in urban medinas (old towns) have been renovated to serve as guesthouses. Most riads have less than a dozen rooms to rent.
Kasbah = originally a fortified building that housed a ruling family or several families, so sizes vary. It is surrounded by high walls and has at least one impressive entrance gate. In these places, many have very old locks and keys to ornate bedroom doors.

I have had to borrow from my companion Heather Daveno (HD below) because her great interest in architectural detail, crafts, and textiles make her photographs beautifully precise. For further illumination, please visit her August Phoenix Hats albums: https://www.facebook.com/pg/AugustPhoenix2/photos/?tab=albums.

Dar el-Kebira in Rabat
Our first taste of living (sleeping) in Moorish architecture and Moroccan decor encouraging a princess feeling. El-Kebira is located deep in the very narrow, twisting alleys of the Rabat medina. To transport luggage from a car park way outside the medina, a Dar employee met us and used a hand-pulled cart (we were a small group). The entrance door gives no hint to the beauties inside (and this is true of most guesthouse doors in a medina). We were enthralled with the ambiance and furnishings, high ceilings and exotic textiles. Typically, all bedrooms open onto the central courtyard, now the reception area, with walkways around the upper floors. Breakfast was served on the rooftop patio to start the day perfectly.

Courtesy HD
Al Khalifa in Chefchaouen
Al Khalifa is actually a small modern hotel but its location on a mountainside steps away from entering the fascinating medina makes it special. It is adjacent to a little river that rolls and plunges toward the Atlantic, a river where women still find pools to do their laundry. Never mind I had to trudge to my room on the third floor (elevators are rare in small multiple-storey lodgings). Princess time in a king size bed and a bathroom with a lovely sink and fixtures of ornate design. The sliding pocket door into my bathroom was gorgeous.

Mohayut in Merzouga
This hotel on the edge of the Sahara is a recent build in a one-storey variation of traditional style, something akin to a kasbah. A swimming pool is the centrepiece of a large courtyard where guest rooms are accessed. Another courtyard serves as the outdoor dining area, a smaller one beside the dining room. Perhaps there are more; our stay was regrettably brief. A guardian camel helps circulate the pool water. From the rooftop you can see the desert in all directions; I watched a camel safari returning from a desert ride. The entire place exudes peace and privacy, a favourite with everyone.

Courtesy HD

Note the Berber symbols

Breakfast at Mohayut

Tomboctou in Tinghir
Tinghir is a town in the heart of the beautiful Todra Valley. Tomboctou is billed as a hotel but was built as a family kasbah in 1944, of traditional mud-and-straw brick construction. Converted now to a 16-room guest house, it's located in the central part of town (but not in the medina). Here a swimming pool dominates a courtyard adjacent to reception and dining area ― obviously new additions. On the left is the original kasbah, three tall storeys for guest rooms; here, the central courtyard (not open to the sky) displays a number of antique African carvings and art works. By the dining room, models of kasbahs have been set up. It has a roof terrace "to watch the stars" but we were very busy elsewhere that evening.
Entrance to the original kasbah; from the hotel website

Looking into the interior courtyard; courtesy HD

Some of the African exhibits

Tomboctou restaurant; courtesy HD

Kasbah Ait ben Moro in Skoura
A true kasbah dating back to the 18th century with the high fortified walls, originally home to several families who are still represented on staff. It has been fully restored for guests and is a pleasure to explore. You can see the height of its several storeys. Myriad passages and stairways open onto small courtyards, with lovely gardens and/or countryside views. Flanked at the entrance by a pottery business and a women's weaving co-op, Ait Ben Moro is one of the most popular kasbah destinations for tourists.
Photo from Ait Ben Moro website

Riad Dar Dzahra in Taroudant
Part of this riad is three hundred years old so again the sense of history is around you. Bedrooms are lavishly adorned with the expected Moroccan furniture and finishing touches; the bathrooms feature modern decorative sinks and hardware. The dining area, indoors and out, includes a house cat. A garden wall surrounds three sides of the pool with a variety of horticultural samples. Parking is available at the back and the medina beckons at the front doorstep with all its fascinating souks.

Riad Adriana in Marrakech
Perhaps the most memorable of all, this exquisite riad endowed the most "royal" feeling of all. Not the easiest place to find in the warren of the medina's little streets, but so well placed around the corner (or two) from the souks of the busy bazaar. Elegant rooms, mosaic floors, Berber carpets and blankets, carved pillars, copper bathroom fixtures, and scattered rose petals to welcome you. The open air courtyard with its fountain is a peaceful place to sit, as is the roof terrace where breakfast was served. Mint tea is customarily served in any riad or kasbah to greet new arrivals.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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