“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar…”
The muezzin in the minaret closest to our Riad started the melodic ‘isha call to prayer, shortly followed by another somewhere else in the Medina. Within a few minutes six or seven different muezzins were calling their followers. Whilst not harmonic it definitely grabbed our attention and made us think about the true nature of this country. Religion is important to many Moroccans but so too is the generous sense of community.
Relaxing on the terrace on our final evening, reflecting on our ten days in Morocco we knew we had chosen the right place to end our journey.
Researching before leaving the UK, we knew we wanted to spend time in the traditional heart of the city and experience the local way of life…the choice was simple we wanted to find a Dar or Riad which represented tradition whilst giving us a luxury flare to our stay.
We could have spent time in a large hotel, surrounded by many others, a large pool area and entertainment staff within the Ville Nouvelle or Palmeries but this would not have symbolised what we craved…the unique nature of a city still reliant on the good charity of others and donkeys to transport their goods.
Why Everyone Should Stay at Riad Camilia
Riad Camilia can be found in the old quarter of El-Moqf, one of the oldest in Marrakech. This is one of the least tourist parts of the Medina and therefore became the perfect cultural retreat for us. Hidden away down a series of high walled walkways, a narrowing alleyway awaits. Rich and poor live side by side here and value is not shown at the door, so when you stand ringing the bell the anticipation of what hides behind this wonderful wooden door grows.
The warm welcome that greeted us as the imposing door opened immediately grabs you. The smiling faces that invite you over the threshold suggest that they are pleased to see you – like they are welcoming friends back not seeing complete strangers for the first time.
Understated elegance exudes from every corner of this magnificent building. The high ceiling corridor opens up onto a serene courtyard housing a refreshing, ornate dipping pool, fragrant orange trees and ample seating to relax in. My eyes focus on a large door towards the back of this area, automatically drawing me across to discover more. Inside the grand room are three walls covered in deep, cosy sofas of rich warm colours. Any winter evening spent in here would be a pleasure, especially when using the flames of the large fire for light.
Two of the Riad’s rooms directly radiate off of the courtyard whilst still offering privacy. The first is a warm welcoming room of orange, with a fire as the focal point and one of the largest walk in showers I have even seen. The second, slightly more spacious room is draped in deep, dark plum fabrics, regal in design and ambiance.
Two further rooms overlook the courtyard from the floor above, one so spacious you could easily move in as a permanent guest. Room 4 is much more than your usual hotel room, it is a Suite of two sumptuous living areas, a luxurious bedroom and an extravagant bathroom with double sinks and enormous rain shower over a mammoth sunken bath. In relaxing colours of mint and ivory this is true perfection of subtle opulence. Outside you have not one but two terrace areas to enjoy; one looking internally over the sweet smelling courtyard, the other a completely private, enclosed suntrap. From here you have your own private access up to the vast terrace area where you can enjoy awe induced views over the medina.
After touring the inner heart of the medina spending time up here allows to retreat into your own thoughts in the silence. The only noises you will hear are the chirping of birds and the bellowing cries that eminent from the surrounding minarets throughout the day. The sounds are amplified due to the lack of car horns and sirens you become inured to whilst in other cities around the world. When fatigue hits, relaxation calls you to this terrace. With sun loungers, sofas and two plunge pools for when the unbearable afternoon sun hits you will have the impression that you are holidaying in some expensive villa; unlike a larger hotel complex we often had this area completely to ourselves to enjoy.
The ample space provided by the terrace also allows you to have a romantic evening meal in peace, breathing in the fresh night air and seeing the glow coming from the night market in Jamma El Fna.
The food is a wonderful attack on your senses, it is cooked using the fresh foods and spices you will find in the local markets and is exquisite. Whereas in the nearby restaurants they would be looking to serve maybe 100 people per evening; here they are cooking for a maximum of six rooms, meaning you receive local dishes lovingly preparing as if they were cooking for their own families.
Before even arriving at Riad Camilia I explained to Nicolas, the House Manager, that I was a vegetarian but would eat fish and he explained that they would create a fantastic, mouth-watering treat for us with this in mind. The first evening there we had the most wonderful fish tagine I have ever tasted, each mouth full of food was infused with flavours I have never tasted before. Add to this the Moroccan soup we had to start and the most devilish fruit tart for dessert and you have got a meal fit for kings. Needless to say that whilst we were only there for three nights, we took every opportunity to eat the food affectionately prepared.
Breakfast was no exception to the rule and every morning we would bound back up the stairs to a gourmet delight of fruits, breads and jams, yoghurt and crepes, the coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice adding to the marvelous spread. The culinary delight that we looked forward to each day however, was the generous ceramic full of tasty Briouates before dinner. Never before have we tasted such a crispy parcel of joy – the pasty was cooked to perfection and biting into them exposed a filing of sheer pleasure. One evening, this became dinner, we had planned to explore the Medina, but instead we spent the time enjoying the warm inviting courtyard, and several plates of these enticing savouries.
The elegance of this Riad in itself will be enough to draw people to want to stay here, it is the people however, that work here who will make you want to return again and again.
Nicolas is one of the most welcoming and intuitive people I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with; he understands the needs of every person staying at the Riad. During our visit it was clear that one couple strived to find places of lavish richness which only the wealthy could achieve, a world that only presidents and prime ministers of yester year would experience; so he sent them off for lunch at Mamounia, a hotel where a Caesar salad would set you back around $36 US. For others, including ourselves, he spoke about flea markets surrounding the local tanneries and views to die for that were a must for us to see. This understanding of both Marrakech and people lead to everyone receiving an exclusive, bespoke and enriched stay.
Every member of the team at Riad Camilia endeavours to make your stay memorable, working extremely hard to maintain the shy elegance of the building whilst creating an unforgettable experience for all.
As we gaze across the twinkling medina on our last evening we know saying goodbye is going to pull at our heart strings, we wanted to experience life in Marrakech but we never expected to find a place which felt so much like a home.
Riad Camilia’s façade may appear to be like all the other houses along this dusty little alleyway but inside you will discover a gorgeous whitewash of grandeur that you will not want to leave behind.
Moroccans want tourists to visit and fall in love with their hospitable country, embracing their culture and exploring a world that for many, has long since disappeared. The discovery of Riad Camilia has only cemented the fact that we will return to this wonderful city that has grabbed our attention and fascination.
We would like take this opportunity to thank everyone at Riad Camilia for our wonderful stay:
Fatima, for her fantastic food; Hasna, Bouchra and Nadia, for their smiling faces and unbelievable service throughout the day; Youssef, for the attentive service he offered each evening at dinner and of course Nicolas, for his knowledge of Marrakech and his magnificent personality. You all made our experience truly memorable.
Have you visited Marrakech? Perhaps you have also stayed at Riad Camilia and would like to share your thoughts. Perhaps you would like to recommend another Riad that you feel would equal the service and luxury of the Riad Camilia.