How to live like royalty in Morocco
In exotic Morocco, why choose a staid hotel when you can stay like a sultan? Peek inside a palace oasis in the Palmeraie, a riad that belonged to the pasha of Marrakech, or a high-class home turned hotel in Fez — all where the royal treatment reigns.
All photos by Tanveer Badal
Ever wanted to rule your own kingdom? At Palais Namaskar you can—for a night, at least. This sanctuary, located in the desert-and-palm-grove Palmeraie region about 25 minutes from Marrakech, boasts three large private palaces within its 12-acre compound. The front terrace of the gold-domed Pool Palace is shown here; its lagoon-filled layout includes multiple bedrooms, each with a plunge pool, and a grand private pool. A 24-hour butler is on hand to attend to every command, too.
Long walkways float over tranquil blue reflecting pools, connecting the rooms and palaces of the resort. A riot of palms, olive trees, flowering bushes, and fruit trees (like ripe pomegranates you can pull straight from branch) line the waters, with Moorish-style archways following alongside. And if you prefer not to walk the expansive grounds, a personal “carriage” (golf cart) can be arranged to zip you around the resort.
Even if you choose not to stay in one of Palais Namaskar’s three palace complexes, all of the resort's rooms are quite regal—and focused around water. Draw the sheer drapes around your personal heated swimming pool for extra privacy, or sprawl in an outdoor day bed, lazily gazing across the neighboring courtyards and waterways.
To counter the assault of colors, sounds, and smells that greet visitors to the famous Marrakech medina, Palais Namaskar’s designers opted for a subdued touch. A palette of chocolates, tans, and whites, plus a thoughtful set-up that nods to feng shui principles, resulted in this calming sanctuary.
Fragrant blooms like bougainvillea, plumbago, and oleander drape the resort’s archways, but the top note in the air is Arabian jasmine—as if the grounds are “naturally perfumed with Chanel No. 5,” according to general manager Laurent Branover.
Decadent breakfasts at Le Namaskar restaurant always begin with an artful display of fresh fruit. For other meals, guests can choose between two additional on-site restaurants, serving French, Thai, and Moroccan dishes. At night, the resort’s No Mad Bar boasts a stunning view of the Palmeraie oasis that stretches all the way to the Atlas mountains. And afterward—so long as your pocketbook rivals that of a king—you can take your leave in style on the resort’s private jet.
There’s no shortage of storied accommodation in Marrakech, but Riad Star’s rich history packs a double-punch. It has a royal pedigree (the 17th-century building was a part of the palace complex), and once housed pioneering dance superstar Josephine Baker. The American-born artist, who rose to prominence in 1920s Paris, lived in the riad in the early 1940s as the guest—and assumed lover—of the pasha of Marrakech, Thami El Glaoui.
Riad Star’s owners, Mike and Lucie Wood, learned of the building’s star-studded history from neighbors through casual conversation. This suite, “The Josephine,” has an additional secret: The street-facing window is rumored to have been the spot where the Pasha paid local children to read verses of the Q’uran to an ailing Baker.
“We wanted to bring Josephine Baker back to life,” says owner Lucie Wood. To do so, the Woods outfitted the hotel as a mini-museum to the Jazz Age performer. Memorabilia like books, albums, posters, even clothing are tastefully arranged throughout, and larger-than-life photographs of Baker are projected onto the walls at night.
Slip into the role of a silver screen queen yourself with the riad’s collection of ’20s-style clothing, including two of Josephine Baker’s original sequined stage costumes. Flapper dresses, fancy headpieces, boas, bags, and more are available for guests to pillage, turning a stay here into a glamorous affair. A large collection of locally-made pierced-metal filigree lamps fling sparkles around the riad and set the mood.
A belly-dancer glides across the floor, sweeping a golden scarf, beneath the projected image of Baker. In addition to private shows, Riad Star also occasionally covers the courtyard pool to devote space to yoga classes, large dinner parties, and other special events.
Riad Idrissy in Fez, A High-Class Home Turned Hotel
Marrakech’s medina has long been considered a hotbed for restored riads, but Fez, the country’s third largest city, is rapidly catching up. In the midst of the Fez medina’s 9,500-some streets stands posh Riad Idrissy, the result of a six-year renovation of the Idrissy family’s 400-year-old home. In addition to the riad’s classic patterned wooden doors, intricate plaster carving, and restored Fassi architecture are sumptuous touches like heated towel rods and anti-fog mirrors—perfect for contemporary royalty.
Stately and ornate, Riad Idrissy’s hand-painted doors are one of the centerpieces of the open, triple-story courtyard. The doors open in multiple ways—those inner, arched frames swing out too—which helps to regulate heating and cooling in each salon.
One of the two ground-level salons of Riad Idrissy has been turned into a comfortable guest room, complete with a combination of Moroccan/African furnishings. The other remains a common area, lined with couches and tables.
Complimentary caftans are available to don within the riad; tea, hot coffee, tea, and treats are left outside your door each morning; and earplugs are offered lest the evening prayer call disturbs your sleep. Plus, a luxurious rooftop hammam (a steamy bath with head-to-toe exfoliation) elevates the traditional public bathhouse ritual with private treatments and massages.
Riad Idrissy extends into an open, plant-filled oasis—also known as its restaurant, Ruined Garden. Set in the footprint of the grand riad that stood next to the Idrissy family, it took five donkeys five months, load by load, to clear enough rubble to reveal the foundation and original tile floors. British co-owner Robert Johnstone has slowly transformed the space into a leafy getaway with just the right hint of wildness. Guests at the riad take their breakfast here.
Ruined Garden is dotted with a mishmash of antique tables and chairs tucked into the old riad’s salons, plus decorative touches like straw hats, an eza fa (traditional long broom) turned into a trellis, and other found objects. Some of the walls of the original home were left intact, keeping its rich history very much alive.
Tajines, local vegetables, and Mediterranean flavors make the Ruined Garden a destination for foos-lovers. The only catch: Since it’s located within the walled medina, Fez’s religious center, no alcohol is served. But if you’re a riad guest, simply take an after-dinner glass of wine back to your room (where it’s permitted)—and perhaps some of the house chocolate mousse, too. If you’re a non-guest, you can take advantage of a different royal treatment: having a porter escort you to and from the restaurant to your hotel, free of charge.
Written by Kelly Phillips Badal / All photos by Tanveer Badal / CNTraveler.com