Marrakech is a city of unparalleled sights, sounds and smells. Described as a Marmite city, it’s a love it or hate it kind of place. There is no middle ground with this colorful, aromatic city, punctuated with haggling in Arabic and the call to prayer broadcast from the minarets of mosques all around the Medina.
Ali from Riad Star met us in the parking lot closest to the riad and escorted us the short walk through the car-free, cobblestone streets. Stay alert, though, because although it’s car-free, there are motorbikes, donkeys and pushcarts vying for space in the narrow pathways. Through the winding roads and chaos of the streets, we laughed that we’d live in Marrakech forever, unable to find our way out of the maze. When we arrived at the nondescript black door, adorned with a star, our wildest imaginations couldn’t comprehend what lay inside. [click_to_tweet tweet=”Riad Star by @marrakechriad: The vibe is Aladdin-meets-Gatsby in an ultra-cool, classy, airy space.” quote=”The vibe is Aladdin-meets-Gatsby in an ultra-cool, classy, airy space.”]
From the pandemonium outside, we entered into a haven of silence. Marble floors, high ceilings and intricate white walls left me feeling like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole into a whole new world. The vibe is Aladdin-meets-Gatsby in an ultra-cool, classy, airy space.
Riad Star is the flagship property of Marrakech Riad’s four properties. By definition, a riad is a large traditional house built around a courtyard, with windows that face in to the courtyard instead of out to the street. Riad Star, once three individual family homes, is now one incredible riad.
If pampering is what you’re after, there’s a spa and hammam on the top level. Wash away the dirt and grime of the city and finish in a state of utter relaxation with a massage. Or continue to the rooftop terrace, perfect for practicing sunrise yoga or watching the sun set over the medina.
We did plenty of relaxation in Tamraght, so decided to focus on culture and history during our time in Marrakech. Turns out, Riad Star was the perfect place to start. This is the former home of Josephine Baker. If you don’t know her, you should. Your research will yield facts about “the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville.” You’ll learn about the woman who performed in a banana skirt (and not much else) and would bring her pet cheetah, Chiquita, onstage. If Josephine’s performance didn’t entertain the audience, Chiquita’s penchant for terrorizing the orchestra sure would!
For all the glitz and glamor, she was fierce in the fight for doing what was right. As an African American, she fought for civil rights, refusing to perform for segregated crowds. And when WWII hit France, where she moved with her husband, she became an integral member of the French Resistance during WWII, establishing a base in Morocco from which she made tours to entertain soldiers and pass on important intelligence.
The riad pays homage to her entertaining past with a dress up closet full of 1920s costumes, boas, hats and shoes for guests of the riad. As someone whose dress up trunk rivals her ‘real’ clothes, trying on a little of Josephine’s era was my favorite part of the stay.
Josephine adopted 12 children from all colors and creeds, raising babies of different races and religions with hopes to show the world that it’s possible for everyone to get along despite differences. Our room, the Rainbow Room, paid tribute to her children known as the Rainbow Tribe.
With two twin beds, a couch and a vanity, there was plenty of room for Curious Claire and I to unpack and relax. The large flatscreen TV was never turned on— who needs artificial entertainment when the drama of the medina is right outside the door! Two satin jalabas provided a fun and authentic way to relax in the room. The safe and stocked mini-fridge provided comfort. The bathroom is stocked with shampoo and body wash to be used under the shockingly hot rainhead shower.
Despite the riad’s central location, we strained to make out the faint sounds of the call to prayer from our room over the air conditioning. In a Muslim country, being woken up for the first prayers is always a concern for this girl who likes to sleep in past sunrise.
We didn’t sleep too much longer, though, because we were short on time and wanted to see as much of Marrakech as possible. Armed with the MarrakechRiad app and a complimentary local phone, we set off to explore the city.
Mike and Lucie (Marrakech Riad founders) also founded the Henna Cafe, a charitable project to raise money for Moroccans’ education. Ali ensured that we made it to the cafe, with his ever-present smile and a joyful spirit that made us feel safe. We were a little too keen and showed up at the café before opening hours. No problem there- we sat in on a French class, taught by Moroccans or volunteers and provided to students free of charge. The class was so welcoming and we left with several new friends, hoping we would meet again one day, inshallah.
The henna cafe upstairs employs the most talented artists and uses natural henna without any chemicals. After browsing through their books of beautiful designs, I asked if they could copy a design I had my heart set on from Instagram. In minutes, my hand was covered in that exact pattern. We sipped famous tea and munched on flavorful hummus and the most delicious falafel I’ve ever tasted as I waited for the henna to dry. Knowing that the riad and café support Moroccans hoping to further their education gives me all the warm fuzzies.
You know what also gives me the warm fuzzies? A full belly. And back at Riad Star, the talented chefs were cooking up something special. If love were quantified by the amount of food… Riad Star loved us a lot. And the feeling was mutual as beef and lamb tagines were served wth four plates of vegetables for Claire and I. We gave it our best shot and cursed our stomachs for not having more room as the leftovers were taken away.
Breakfast is a more modest affair, with fresh fruit, yogurt, pancakes, jam, fruit juice and coffee or tea. The perfect way to start the day before venturing into the streets of Marrakech.
As Ali walked the winding path with us away from the riad, we knew the way, taking turns in step with our friendly host. The thought crossed my mind that I could stay in Marrakech forever, not because I couldn’t find my way, but because I couldn’t bear to leave the city that stole my heart.
Want to know what else I got up to on this trip? Check out this epic two week Moroccan itinerary!
I was hosted at Riad Star by Marrakech Riad, but all opinions are my own and I’d never recommend anything to you that’s not awesome!