Riad Due’s four colourful contemporary guest rooms offer the perfect mid-Medina retreat for runaway couples in search of secrecy, and the huge roof terrace – with its roving masseuse – is the ideal place to relax in the sun and escape the scuffle of the souks.
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Four: two suites, a junior suite and a deluxe room.
Noon; check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £152.81 (€179), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include Moroccan breakfast and afternoon tea.
Massages are available on the roof terrace when sunbathing becomes too strenuous, and the hammam and gommage treatments on offer will leave you suitably radiant for the Marrakech nightlife.
At the hotel
Roof terrace, in-room spa treatments, library, CD selection, free WiFi on the patio. In rooms: flowers, candles, incense, free bottled water, air-conditioning.
Our favourite rooms
Suite Zan is the queen of the quartet, with a huge free-standing copper bath tub, a sprawling chaise longue, and over-sized lanterns on either side of the colourful king-size bed. There’s an impressive bathroom, with double sinks lit by Moorish lanterns, hidden behind a sliding red panel. Suite Adbel on the ground floor is similarly spacious, with a lovely carved wooden ceiling and blue-black marble floor and, in the bathroom, a choice between a marble tub and a walk-in shower that’s open to the sky. The hand-carved toilet door has been salvaged from a house in Fez. In the riad’s Junior Suite, Samir, the bed features a headboard converted from an old door and, strikingly, has no legs, so it seems to float on top of an wooden panel. Deluxe Room Kamal is the smallest in Riad Due – very cosy, with a sculptured plaster ceiling.
There’s a lantern-lit deep-sea blue plunge pool in the courtyard – ideal for cooling off, if not for serious lane-swimmers.
Big, floppy hats will help keep the heat at bay when you’re snoozing on the roof terrace – Due provides Pananams. Don’t forget to note down the phone number of Marrakech’s premier personal shopper, Laetitia (+212 (0)74 217228).
Pets are welcome. Smoking allowed throughout. Parking nearby costs around €2 a night. A fast-track immigration service at the airport is offered (MAD1,200 for one guest, MAD1,800 for two, MAD2,400 for three); this service must be requested when booking.
Free cots for under-5s, and extra beds for under-15s are €30 a night; extra beds for older guests are €50. With a day’s notice, babysitting can be arranged with a local nanny (€5 an hour).
The nearest airport is Marrakech’s Menara Airport – fly there from the UK and elsewhere in Europe with British Airways, Royal Air Maroc, EasyJet and Ryanair. From the airport, a one-way Hyundai H1 mini-bus transfer for two people is MAD210; a one-way transfer in a Hyundai Sante Fe SUV is MAD280.
The Moroccan state railway, ONCF, runs inexpensive (but limited) services to Marrakech from Casablanca, Fez and Tangier. Look for TCR (Train Climatisé Rapide) trains to guarantee an air-conditioned journey in summer.
Driving in Marrakech can be horn-filled and hectic, but if you insist, hire a car from the Avis desk at the airport. To reach the hotel, follow Avenue de la Menara to the city centre. Parking is available nearby for €2 a night.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take a cooling dip in the hotel’s plunge pool, or get schooled on Moroccan art and design in the well-stocked library. Enjoy the tranquility of the hotel’s courtyard with a glass of mint tea, before heading out into the heady madness of the Medina. Shop for babouches, spices and scarves in the souk stalls, stop to watch the performers in Djemaa el-Fnaa square and marvel at Koutoubia Mosque – the tallest building in the city.
Palais Soleiman on Dar Layardi and Palais Gharnata on Derb El Arsa both provide traditional Moroccan cuisine in beautiful surroundings. Bô & Zin is a Thai-style salon a little out of the way on the Ourika road, but worth the trek for excellent Southeast Asian dishes and a very trendy atmosphere. Le Fondouk in the heart of the Medina serves Moroccan dishes with a few diversions into Mediterranean cuisine along the way. Book ahead at weekends. Dar Moha is another trad Maroc option opposite the walls of Dar el Bacha, set in what was formerly the house of Pierre Balmain. Try to get a table in the walled garden by the pool; reservations essential. Dar Zellijin the Sidi Ben Slimane quarter is an intimate, relaxed Moroccan restaurant in a 17th-century riad.
There’s no better spot for a mid-souk stop-off than Café Arabe. Ask for a rooftop table and admire the mountain views. Dar Cherifa in Mouassine, is a cross between a café, an art gallery and a library – great for browsing over books on Marrakech over mint tea. There are regular poetry readings in the evening.
Mr Smith prides himself on his exemplary sense of direction. Leaving him to try and find Riad Due in the north medina, I took pleasure in giving him plenty of rope with which to hang himself. A fascinating exercise in the steady devastation of male pride, we traipsed past leatherworkers and lantern-makers down to the main square, and back. And back again. Eventually we gave up and got in a cab, and even the taxi driver had to give up after a while when he got to the edge of the warren of alleys and dead ends that is the city’s market and main attraction. That’s the way it goes in Marrakech – the roads only take you so far.
Mobile phones are another thing altogether and so, amidst the madness (and just to be clear, this was good madness – exciting, exotic, something-a-little-different-from-the-weekend-Waitrose-shop kind), 10 minutes later a tall, handsome young man approached with a luggage trolley. ‘Hello, I am Khalid. Welcome to Riad Due’. Instant calm in a black kaftan.
Khalid loaded our luggage and set off into the maze. We followed him into the alley at a pace several notches above my normal rate of late, being six months pregnant. Khalid chatted to us in embarrassingly easy English as we passed stalls of spices, carcasses and textiles. A few minutes later he hung a left, and it was as if someone had simply press Marrakech’s off switch. It was quiet, and we were outside a wizened, studded wooden door bearing the number 2. After Medina mayhem it was a Through The Looking Glass moment.
Open sesame, and into the Edenic bliss of Riad Due. Khalid showed us to seats by the plunge pool in the centre of the courtyard and brought mint tea and buttery biscuits. Palm trees climbed to the patch of blue sky three storeys up as we marvelled at how two left turns and the turn of a key could lead you in to another world. Jemeiaa, the manager, came to greet us, spread a map of the Medina out in front of us, and pointed out what was worth seeing (and equally as important, what was close.) Khalid was happy to show us the way to our first destination to get us started. After Mr Smith’s adventures in wanderland, this seemed like a fine idea.
Tiled stairs and an ornate wooden doorway led to a balcony and our lodgings. Once left to ourselves we had one of those high-five, whoop-for-joy, let’s-try-everything-out moments. A double-height original carved dark-wood ceiling. A bed so big it needs Google Maps to find the other side. A massive, statement copper bath where the statement is: ‘It’s a massive copper bath – and it’s in the bedroom!’ A floor-to-ceiling sliding door into a bathroom that might as well have ‘covet me’ scratched into the grey-green polished plaster. If this isn’t an intro to Industro-Arabic chic as a decor genre, I don’t know what is. A studious lack of TV or stereo adds complete peace and quiet to Riad Due’s checklist.
We bumbled round the medina, bought a tajine or two and just about managed to resist loading up on silly slippers and trinkets. Back in the solace of the riad we headed up to the roof terrace at dusk. A cold beer for Mr Smith, a mint tea for madame, and a warm breeze as a side order to soothe the spirits. A view of the Koutoubia Mosque’s famous minaret completed the picture postcard, with a distant call to prayer providing the soundtrack. The perfect place for an hour or two of reading, napping and doing not very much.
Breakfast, served in the courtyard by the plunge pool, varied slightly each day. The only constant was freshly squeezed orange juice, which, frankly I could have consumed intravenously. Morocco was, of course, a former French colony, and though we Smiths frown upon colonialism as much as the next couple, you have to say it – it does wonders for a nation’s pastries. A ‘Moroccan breakfast’ therefore, meant a delightful assortment of galettes, baguettes, English muffins, pancakes, doughnuts, French toast… all made fresh on the premises and utterly scrumptious (even with the post-colonial aftertaste)
We were so gobsmacked at le petit dejeuner that we promptly decided to order our dinner at the riad for that evening. Mr Smith opted for a veal tajine; myself I was a little tajined-out after a day or two in Marrakech and so went for the artichoke ravioli. What followed was the best banquet we would have all week – if you want bona fide Marrakech there really is no need to go to the Moroccan restaurants and suffer at the hands of ‘authentic’ tableside musicians. At Riad Due we were treated to a private dining experience with the chef evidently taking pride in his work and keen to impress a captive audience. Complimentary starters of deep fried cheese and vegetables were followed by excellent mains served with another on-the-house dish of slow-cooked broad beans, citrus and olives. The memory of those flavours is seared onto my tastebuds.
‘Shall we go out then?’ said Mr Smith, keen to reassert his inner compass. ‘Go for a wander?’ It was with great pleasure that I could say no way – not for fear of going out, but for the sheer joy of staying in.