MOROCCAN RIADS - with special references to Fes.
Introduction to Riads.
Most people who come to Morocco will stay in a hotel. This is fine, there are many good hotels in Morocco, but they're pretty much the same as hotels you can find anywhere in the world. Some people like this approach as it's safe and familiar, you know what you're going to get for your money. But other people like to stay somewhere a little more adventurous and authentic to get themselves closer to a taste of the real Morocco. So, a good choice is to stay in a Riad or Dar.
Riad means 'garden' in Arabic. Dar means 'house'. A riad, therefore is a house with a central garden open to the sky and often a fountain in the middle, while a dar is a house with a roof, but with central courtyard, often beautifully and elaborately tiled and often still with a fountain. In practice most dars in Morocco are actually also called riads, as other than in Marrakech, where the trend of offering places to tourists started, most of the medinas in Morocco have far more dars than riads. Fes is no exception and a lot of the riads are actually dars, but still beautiful and part of genuine Morocco.
The riad is a traditional Islamic home which provides its inhabitants with a private, but beautiful area at one with nature yet away from the eyes of the world, in keeping with Islamic tradition. The area is a tranquil repose away from the hustle and bustle of the medina streets, as riads a only found in the ancient medinas and Fes has the largest ancient medina in the world. These were built for the wealthier Fassi (people of Fes), but many are now guest houses, effectively privately run bed and breakfast establishments.
An increasing number of visitors are asking us at Fes Desert Trips to get a closer feel of the real Morocco and wish to stay in a Riad with its richly tiled and planted garden surrounded by traditional Moroccan architecture and experiencing real Moroccan warmth and hospitality along with food that is going to be much more authentic than that which is served in hotels or tourist restaurants.
Riad Layout and Design :
The courtyard is the central space with a hallway or corridor leading to the front door and other rooms leading off. In a bigger riad the courtyard will be open to the sky and will often have water features, smaller places will usually have a central fountain. Many will have exotic vegetation and trees, often orange or lemon citrus trees and the branches will be filled with birds and even, on occasion, maybe a chameleon. Some of the higher end riads will have a swimming pool for the use of the guests.
The courtyard is the centre and focus of the Moroccan riad. True to traditional values of privacy, the widows of the surrounding rooms will open into the courtyard and not open into the surrounding streets. Natural sunshine floods the rooms on sunny days and the open design ensures a flow of cool air and keeps the riad at a nice, comfortable temperature even in the hottest dog days of summer.
Location, Location, Location :
As mentioned earlier, you riad will be situated in the ancient medinas of the big Moroccan cities. They can be rather difficult to find, as the windows in the rooms face inwards so the outside at ground level is inevitably a blank wall with beauifully carved or metal studded doors of varying sizes. You will have a sign on or above the door saying the name of the riad and many places are now signposted with arrows in the neighbouring streets, but we have to be honest, some of the riads are in the depths of the medina and you'll never find them without a guide or a friendly local to help you. It's easy to get lost, but your Fes Desert Trips representative will ensure you get to your riad safely!
Guest Accommodation :
Riads will usually have far fewer rooms than your typical hotel. Maybe 10 or fewer. But these rooms will have had great attention to detail heaped upon them and will be individually and often uniquely decorated. The rooms will each have their own individual character and different furnishings and colour schemes. The paintings and objet d'art will be beautiful. The rooms will, of course, be scrupulously clean and well maintained, after all, they are a part of someone's own house!
Although your privacy will be respected, you will find the staff and the host family to be welcoming and friendly when you meet them at meal times.
Proper Moroccan home-cooked fare; the real deal. You probably won't taste better food during your Morocco tours. It is also acceptable to ask at riads if you are not staying there and you want to dine, they'll normally be more than happy to accommodate you for dinner. Restaurant food is often bland and samey by comparison and not necessarily cooked with the same love and attention. In fact I have experienced the common malady 'tagine fatigue' in Moroccan restuarants, the fish, meat or vegetable tagines all taste exactly the same!
You may also find that restaurants and cafes in Morocco don't provide a vegetarian or vegan option, they often don't understand the concept, I have even known of people who said they were vegetarian being served extra meat as the hosts though they just couldn't afford it in their diet.
Your Fes Desert Tours riad will have had plenty of experience and will be happy to help if you explain your particular dietary needs.
Breakfast will be fresh Moroccan bread, which always smells and tastes magnificent, served with lashings of honey and apricot or strawberry jam, pastries, croissant, olives and a buffet while a Continental style breakfast is also usually available.
Sweet Moroccan tea, with mint if you prefer, is always on offer, poured from a great height to enrich it with oxygen, rich, strong dark coffee and fresh orange juice are the usual drinks to accompany your morning meal.
Service and Prices.
A small number of rooms, often in a house which is an actual home, ensures a friendly, personal, efficient service where you can expect individual attention to your every requirement. Ask and your hosts will do their best to provide. You will quite likely become friends with some of the staff.
However, it is fair to point out that all this beauty and personal attention does come at a cost. Riads are normally a fair bit more expensive than staying in a hotel. But, many people find the extra cost well worth the while, as it will guarantee you a truly unique and far more real Moroccan experience.