Being stuck inside for nearly two months now has got me thinking about all the amazing places I would rather be quarantined. While Canada is doing well during this virus, and I’m holed up in a lovely airBnB, I’m longing for the luxury of a Greek villa or a 5 star Singaporean hotel.
Did you notice I’m longing for warm places?
I miss warmth! Toronto has been stingy with heat in 2020. The few days of sun had me breaking into full lizard mode – which inevitably led to a bad sunburn. But all too soon we were back to zero degrees with chunks of hail getting caught in my glasses as I tried to make use of our hour of exercise.
So, yeah, I really wish I was somewhere else.
Not just in location, but it in time. I want to go back to a time where I could roam the streets without counting feet or give my mom a hug on Mother’s day.
That brings me to this week’s post.
It’s really awkward to run a travel blog during COVID-19. You don’t want to give recommendations for fear that people will try to use them now. But I also don’t want to stop writing.
So I’ve decided to ignore the little voice in my head telling me I’m being irresponsible by sharing travel stories, and to go ahead and share them. Let this stand as my warning: please do not jet off to Morocco tomorrow!
Marrakech was a feature of my 8 months in Europe in 2017/2018. I had always wanted to go to Africa and my cheeky mother used Morocco as a way to dip my toe into the continent without having to take me on a ludicrously expensive safari – my first choice.
We went in January, when the weather in Marrakech was beyond balmy. I had come from the mountains in Spain, where we vied to sit as close to the singular fireplace as possible and stuffed our beds with hot water bottles at night. Now my thin fleece had me sweating before I’d even made it to the Medina.
It wasn’t the gleam of silver and flashes of bright fabric from the Medina, the cooking classes, or the opportunity to eat my weight in tajines that made Marrakech one of my highlights: it was our riad.
Where to Stay in Marrakech?
I had no hand in booking the beautiful place we stayed in. That was all my mom.
She found Riad Le Clos Des Arts on one of her many conference call searches (where she browses booking.com and the like while she waits for her turn to interject). She bundled it with a few options and sent it my way, but I left the decision to her.
At that point I was still trying to figure out how to get myself a Turkish visa, and whether I needed a guide for the Blue City.
My passivity paid off, as it usually does when it comes to my mom’s hotel choices.
My mom decided early on that we were going to stay in a riad. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace where the rooms are built around interior gardens or courtyards. Now the term is used synonymously with “hotel” or “guest house”, but that wouldn’t do for us; we wanted traditional.
You can find riads across Morocco. They tend to be small, with significantly fewer rooms than the giant hotels outside the Medina. The fewer guests allows for a more unique experience. The owners and staff are able to interact with the guests and provide more guidance.
That’s exactly what we got with Riad Le Clos Des Arts.
The Best Riad in Marrakech: Riad Le Clos Des Arts
Riad Le Clos Des Arts is a guest accommodation in the Marrakech Medina. It’s located down winding sand-coloured alleys, with a lion-head door knocker.
The riad is everything you expect from a Moroccan getaway: berber rugs draped on the floors, Moroccan mint tea available in moments, the smell of the nightly tajine wafting through the courtyards come evening. Two courtyards broke the riad up into a figure 8, with rooms around the outer edge going up two floors. On the fourth was a rooftop pool and dining area.
The courtyards were framed by seating areas. Large stone benches, adorned with plush cushions and simple tables hid in the alcoves, just out of sight. Drafting on Wills and editing health ebooks was much more pleasant when I could recline in my own alcove, watching the sun drift slowly over the fountain.
Living my Moroccan Princess Fantasy at Riad Le Clos Des Arts
The rooms were fitted with flowing curtains that billowed every time you opened the doors. I stayed in two: a Traveler’s Room on the main floor for a week and a Doubles Superior Room on the second floor once my mom joined me.
Although the Traveler’s Room was on the main floor and meant you could hear the faint bustling of guests heading to breakfast or sound of children squawking about sunscreen in the mornings, it was the nicer of the two. It had a plush double bed that felt like heaven after a month in cots at a yoga retreat. The bathroom featured brightly painted Moroccan tiles and gilded brass sink fixtures that were opulent yet comfortable.
When I sat, drinking mint tea from a silver cup, I genuinely thought I’d become Moroccan royalty overnight. Maybe all those times my mom had threatened to sell me for camels hadn’t been a joke. If this was the trade, she could have all the camels in Africa! As long as I got to sit in thin white slippers, sipping warm tea, listening to the birds chirp in the courtyard fountain.
The second floor room was marginally wider, fitting two twin beds. While it was lovely, the atmosphere was different. Maybe because it’s hard to live like a Moroccan princess when your mother is in the next bed on her iPad. Or maybe because I was more mint tea than woman at that point and genuinely needed to stop drinking the stuff.
I Didn’t Haunt the Hotel
We did actually leave the riad while we were in Marrakech. Although, I would have happily spent the entire time drifting from alcove to alcove, memorizing the berber carpets, like some kind of tourist ghost haunting the guest house.
When we did leave, our activities were improved by Riad Le Clos Des Arts’ owners. They welcomed us upon our arrival, checked on us at meals, planned activities, and recommended sights.
I think couple that ran the riad were the only reason my mom felt half comfortable with me being in Marrakech alone.
They advised us on what to wear and how to be safe in Morocco as female travellers. Their knowledge of the area helped us find interesting cooking classes, like the Amal Nonprofit. And they helped my mom find wine – a tricky thing in the dry Medina.
Although we didn’t take advantage of this option, the couple even runs yoga retreats from the riad.
If there is anything you require for your trip, any tips you want to know, or an activity you’d like to do: they will arrange it for you.
The Best Part of the Best Riad
I’ve waxed on and on about the riad and I haven’t even gotten to my favourite part yet: the food!
Every suite at Riad Le Clos Des Arts includes breakfast. This isn’t some buffet with soggy eggs or a selection of cereals: this is a coursed affair.
Breakfast features a fresh squeezed juice (changed daily – once it was avocado!), Moroccan breads, fresh fruit salad, fresh yoghurt, tea, homemade jams, and a cake. On top of all that, you can request eggs any way you like.
The selection of small plates covers the whole table and keeps you full for most of the day.
The Riad also offers dinner. You request dinner at breakfast, based on the daily menu they display. It’s all made fresh daily based on local meat and produce. One of their dishes requires slow roasting meat in a pot for a full day – and that wasn’t even their best dish!
Have dietary restrictions? Let them know and they’ll prepare something special for you. I don’t eat lamb, so I got a special dish the night they did a lamb tajine.
Dinner is three courses: appetizer, main (usually a tajine) and dessert. Every table is set with olives, roasted nuts and fresh bread.
I swear, Moroccan bread is the most underrated bread in this world! I wish I have one of their giant community ovens so I could spend my days baking the thin, dense rounds. When I lived in Italy I didn’t eat as much bread as I did in three weeks in Marrakech.
The Best Riad in Marrakech
When you’re looking for where to stay in Marrakech or the best riads in Morocco, don’t skip Le Clos Des Arts. The riad is small, lending to its exclusive feel, but it’s right in the city centre. You can get to everything within a few minutes and guides will meet you at your door.
But more than the location is the service and the atmosphere.
Staying in a real riad adds to the Moroccan experience. And of the many I stayed in during my time in Morocco, Riad Le Clos Des Arts was the clear front runner. No other place offered the impeccable level of service, the delicious food, or the genuine care for their guests that we felt there.
Where do you wish you could be quarantined right now?