By Courtney Yalen
Ahh, Morocco – the land of Argan oil, black soap, mint tea and some of the most ancient and awe-inspiring places to stay imaginable. Built around arcaded courtyards often decorated with fountains, small gardens and fruit trees, Moroccan riads are often located within the oldest (and most charming) parts of the city, and offer a peaceful haven from the hot and hectic streets.
Smaller and more intimate than a hotel, riads promise a family-like atmosphere, plenty of personal attention and comfort. Plus, unlike larger hotels, riads use less energy and are often granted Green Key certification due to their efficient means of water, waste, energy & resource management, helping to raise environmental awareness among clients, and continuous team education to respect the environment.
It’s a great, green destination with year-round sunshine, but many women are wary of travelling to Morocco on their own (as I did). You needn’t be! Just remember these tips:
Be aware of local norms and customs
Morocco is a relatively conservative country, especially outside the larger towns. Ensure your legs, cleavage and arms are covered up if you want to avoid hassles. People are polite here, saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ or ‘thank you’ when they enter and leave shops. Learn the Arabic (or French) words for these so you can, too. Also, note that gender roles are deeply entrenched here. If you see a lot of men in a cafe, that’s because that’s where the men go – sorry, it’s not for you! If you hang out there, you may well be taken for a prostitute or a woman looking hard for some male attention.
Ignore the men
Men will make comments to you and try to chat you up – just ignore them. Don’t say a word. Eventually they will go away.
In this culture, bargaining is a must. Shopkeepers will invite you in for a tea, or will chat you up a bit. Don’t accept unless you are serious about buying – it will waste your time and theirs. They will state a price, but the ‘real’ price is probably half of that. Bargain down below that, and then meet the shop owner half way. The initial price given to you may be higher than it is for a local – but you know what? They earn far less than you do. Consider it a more democratic form of commerce.
Learn the language
English is not widely spoken here, but French is. Learn some of the basic phrases in either French or Arabic – don’t expect people, especially in smaller towns, to speak much English.
Hire a guide
It’s a lot easier to travel around with a bi-or-trilingual local guide. They don’t cost much, and will make your life a lot easier! Ask your hotel for help finding one.
Don’t be silly
Crime isn’t a huge issue here, but if you walk out at night with a Chanel bag and Van Cleef earrings, you’re just asking for it…
Know what to buy
In the shops, you’ll get great bargains on rosebuds, argan oil, black soap, carpets, slippers, tea sets, lamps, incense, dates, spices, kaftans, and more. Go crazy!
All that being said, some of the most memorable times I’ve ever had abroad have been in Moroccan riads, and it’s one of the most magical, mystical countries I’ve ever been to. So I was delighted when Eluxe asked me to share some of my favourites with you. I’ve picked these for their eco-friendliness, ambiance, and beauty.
My eco friendly Morocco adventure began at this riad, stationed 15 kilometers north of Agadir. It boasts 12 large solar panels, which provide 100% solar heated water. All of the staff members live in nearby Tamraght village and walk to work, eliminating the need for polluting motorized transport to and from work. Agadir boasts one of the biggest souks, or marketplaces, in Morocco – the best place to buy local Argan oil products, fresh local fruits, and handicrafts.
After a leisurely seven-minute walk from the riad, you’ll be on the beach with sand between your toes. If you’d rather stay in the riad, just grab a book and head up to the rooftop terrace or gather in the courtyard for one of their intimate outdoor movie nights. Take a dip in the pool, and once refreshed, you can unwind with an in-house yoga workshop or traditional Moroccan cooking class, or rent a bike to explore the beautiful coastal area.
Green Key holder since: 2015
Price: from €82/night (depending on season)
Located in the heart of one of the largest and most ancient medinas in Morocco, Ryad Mabrouka is surrounded by everything the famous town of Fes has to offer – verdant, fragrant gardens, intricately beautiful architecture and design, and sumptuous food. The owners will recommend and help plan excursions with or without a guide, with a hired car or with your own. There are two things I loved most about this riad: the lovely little pool that allows you to cool off on the hottest days, and the wonderful cook, Saïda, who prepares a traditional Moroccan dinner with a different menu every day, served on the veranda overlooking the old city or in the garden.
Green Key Certified since: 2010
Price: from €82/night (depending on season)
Located a scenic five-minute walk to the centre of a UNESCO World Heritage site – the Portuguese city of Mazagan – and just 15 minutes to the beach, Riad Soleil d’Orient is perfectly located for those who wish to explore the Moroccan city of Jadida.
The riad itself is a haven of tranquility situated in the bustling medina, which is in itself an interesting place to visit – especially if you’re after bargains on carpets, slippers, kaftans or spices. Visits to spas, and local excursions within the city can be arranged, but the fact that it is in a prime coastal location means you can just walk around on your own very easily. With its shaded gardens, cool marble tiles in its spacious rooms and a lovely terrace overlooking the city, this is the ultimate home-away-from-home.
Price: from €78/night (depending on season)
Located in yet another one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites (it seems Morocco is full of them!), Essaouira is a beautiful coastal area full of vibrant art and music. Heure Bleue Palais incorporates luxurious contemporary facilities whilst being in tune with local authenticity, customs and surrounding natural landscapes. It also caters to a higher end clientele accustomed to a bit of pampering and luxury, so no wonder it was accepted into the prestigious Relais & Châteaux hotel association.
If you love swimming and watersports, you’ll be pleased to know that Essaouira obtained the Blue Flag certification for its clean beaches in 2015, and Heure Bleue Palais has been a Green Key holder since then as well. Indeed, this place has a ‘rich hippy’ vibe, with plenty of beauty treatments on offer like a traditional hammam treatment, which I would highly recommend – the marbled hammam is simply stunning, and the experience, which involves steam heat, scrubbing and soaping your body within an inch of its life and a lot of relaxation, will leave your skin as soft and smooth as they day you were born.
The hotel also offers facials, massages and deep-conditioning masks, all of which use local natural ingredients. Wine lovers will want to tour the riad’s own Heure Bleue Palais Val d’Argan wine estate – in fact, food and drink are emphasised here, and the extensive wine list accompanies the ubiquitous flavours of saffron, cumin, coriander and cinnamon beautifully.
If your feet tire of walking in the heat, you can arrange to see the town on bike, camel or horseback, ensuring your experience here is truly unforgettable.
Price: from €170/night (depending on season)
It looks like a castle from afar, but this eco lodge isn’t just open to royalty. Big on Berber traditions, here, you’ll sit on cushions around low tables whilst enjoying fresh flatbreads, mint tea, tagines and other Moroccan classics.
In keeping with the traditional theme, there are no TVs in the rooms, but never fear: this eco-lodge offers an almost overwhelming number of activities. Learn the native Berber or Arabic language, create tadelakt with a hands-on course taught by a master craftsman, sign up for surf lessons, take a dip in the saltwater pool, or even learn about permaculture in the first facility in Morocco to use it in their gardens. If you’re lucky, you may even be invited to a Moroccan wedding!
This eco-friendly Kasbah is located right in the heart of the actual Argan Biosphere Reserve, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The charming owner, Hassan Aboutayeb, combined his Berber heritage and PhD in sustainable development to build this eco-Kasbah using only locally sourced, natural materials. In fact, the Atlas Kasbah has a plethora of prestigious awards and certifications, including but not limited to: the Ministry of Tourism Responsible Tourism Award, Green Key certification, ALM Ecology Trophy, and in 2015 became the Gold Winner of the World Responsible Tourism Award in the category Best Hotel for Local Sourcing.
Price: from €80/night (depending on the season)