In Marrakech, the most popular and exotic riads - customary Moroccan house converted into a bed & breakfast - are within the walls of the old city, the medina. The medina is replete with a spidery maze of narrow, busy roads. The main roads, often as slender as back alleys of Manhattan, further spawn into a labyrinth of narrower streets and byroads.
Our flight had been delayed and we arrived very late in Marrakech. Our cabbie dropped us in front of Derb Derdouba, a dark gash of an alley I would typically not dare enter so late in the night. We rolled our luggage down the cobbled path, the wheels creating a din in the dead of the night, half expecting a window to fly open and be chastened in fluent Arabic. Standing in front of the dark wooden door of the riad, I struggled to keep the faith in my research.
Two bolts scrapped against wood, a chain jangled and the big brown door opened. Yusuf – immaculately dressed at midnight - was all smiles and welcomed us in chaste French. Behind him the magical interiors of the riad welcomed us.
The riad was lit up like a new bride. It was built using the typical plan of a center courtyard open to the sky surrounded by rooms on all sides. In the courtyard was a dip pool lined by tiny blue tiles and had scented candles floating in tiny earthen pots. Yusuf gave us a quick guided trip around the riad. On the ground floor, was a nook for the TV, a tiny kitchen with a giant well stocked fridge, a guest bedroom and the office of the riad. Our rooms were on the first floor and well decorated terrace on the second.
Our stay at Terrasse des Oliviers was nothing short of royal. The riad was very tastefully decorated with artifacts that were clearly picked up locally in the souks giving it a very authentic touch. The staff is attentive yet non obstructive. At Є80 a day, it was worth every penny.
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My favorite spot in the riad was the terrace. The terrace has a special significance in Moroccan homes. The women of the house lead a fairly cloistered life and the terrace is their hangout place. Besides using it for drying laundry and drying grain, it is their social hub. The women can easily lean over to gossip with their neighbors or indulge in some people watching in the alley. For me, the terrace reminded me of a video game called Prince of Persia that I played as a young boy. Standing against the balustrade, the impulse to jump onto the next terrace was tremendous. Though beware. It is not considered polite to peep into other terraces. Neither do they like you looking up from the streets at the terraces.
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Obviously There are cheaper and more contemporary places to stay in Marrakech. Almost every major chain has a hotel here. Nothing can beat a few nights in a riad. Unless you know a local who will invite you to his home, this is probably the only way to experience local living.
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The warmly painted and lit entrance foyer. Prominently placed is a thick leather bound guestbook made of handmade paper that was full of accolades for the staff and facilities of this riad.
On the last day of our stay, the heavens opened up for a brief but heavy shower. I saw a canvas being drawn across the opening using a pulley. The canvas not only helped protect the courtyard from being drenched but also collected the fresh water and sent it through a tube into the pool. What a brilliant idea!
The kids had a blast in the dip pool.
The game room on the first floor where we spend many a hours