What is a riad?

Ever since Marrakech became so internationally popular as a holiday and conference destination back in the nineties, one word, riad, has become synonymous with a particular type of characterful accommodation associated, in particular, with Morocco’s southern capital.

What is a riad? Coming from the Arabic for ‘garden’, the word implies a courtyard house, square or rectangular, enclosing a central open space characterised, typically, by four flower beds with, perhaps, an orange tree in each, and a central fountain.

Another of the essential characteristics of a riad is that all rooms look inwards over the garden, or patio, a design feature largely accounting for its atmosphere of privacy and tranquillity, in sharp contrast to the usually frenetic activity of the streets outside. Rarely, if ever, will there be windows looking out onto the adjoining streets of the medina, the old quarter of every town or city in which most riads are located.

A similar definition can sometimes be applied to small town houses, or dars, built a bit like an open box, the difference being in their case that the central patio is usually too small for a garden.

How to pick a riad? There are a great many riads in Marrakech and they vary considerably in size and standard. It is therefore important to have a good idea of what one is looking for because, even in many riads, as opposed to dars, a patio can be quite small, often less than 30 sq m, while the largest will be spacious enough for an extensive garden with areas for al fresco dining. Many hundreds of the smaller Marrakech riads, formerly quite modest family homes, have today been converted into B&B guesthouses accommodating no more than 6-8 people. Most are attractively designed and decorated but their few bedrooms will usually be small and public rooms, apart from the patio and dining area, are usually non-existent.

At the other end of the scale there is a relatively small number of significantly larger properties, built originally for better-off Moroccans, some of which have been converted into intimate hotels offering a much wider range of services than the average riad is able to provide while retaining all the atmosphere and classic design features of the traditional riad. Such hotels will often be open to the general public, especially if they have a bar and restaurant, whereas a riad will be closed to outsiders, as one would expect of a private B&B. The services provided by a hotel-riad will sometimes include a proper swimming pool, in contrast to the smaller, often little more than ornamental, plunge pools boasted by certain riads. Along with a pool, a hotel-riad will often have space for a spa with hammam bath and massage rooms.

When looking for the riad, or hotel-riad, which best suits your needs, you would be well advised to search the internet inputting the key features that are most important for you. Price is, obviously, another consideration and, as usual, is often the best indicator of what you can expect in terms of comfort and services.

Les Borjs de la Kasbah, having been created by combining several dars and a couple of generously proportioned riads, is fairly typical of the relatively small number of hotel-riads able to offer a full range of services to occupants of its 18 rooms which provide a total capacity of around 30 people.