What is a riad?

For those travelers who are looking to experience authentic Moroccan hospitality, we always suggest staying in a riad. “But what IS a riad?” you may ask, “And what is the difference between a riad and a hotel?” These are very important questions to ask as you plan your Morocco tour!

Restful Garden in the Riad Jaouhara

Restful Garden in the Riad Jaouhara

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house, located within an ancient medina (walled city), which is designed around a central courtyard and/or garden. These beautiful homes have been restored to reflect traditional Moroccan décor, yet to also provide guests with many of the modern amenities found in 4 and 5 star hotels.

As you approach a riad from one of Morocco’s narrow, labyrinthine streets, you will likely notice that each door in the grey stone and plaster walls looks fairly similar. The doors are usually made of a carved wood with a tiled step entrance. Some doors may have their own personality; some boast large, handcrafted knockers while others are decorated with large rounded nail heads. When you open the door to a riad, you will enter into a hallway that does not yet permit you a glimpse into the heart of the house. This ‘layered’ effect of walls, doors, and hallways is both an historical privacy feature for the residents of the house…allowing the outside door to be open to the public, while offering protection for those within…and also creates a sound barrier against the noise of the streets. As you pass from the bustling streets, through the nondescript exterior and into the central courtyard/garden of a riad, you may be surprised and delighted by tranquil, elegant beauty you find within…riads are often described by visitors as “diamonds in the rough!”

As you enter...

As you enter…

As you pass through the hallway of a riad, you are greeted the burst of sunlight filling a central courtyard or garden area. This courtyard is the heart of the house and all of the rooms and stairways are connected to it. In most riads, the courtyard is left open to the sky, which permits fresh air and sunlight to enter. Some riad courtyards are filled with orange, lemon, or olive trees and plants of many varieties, while others may be centered on a tiered, tiled fountain surrounded by potted plants. Some of the larger riads have small swimming pools within the courtyard space.

Traditional riads are restored using local technique and time-honored design. The floor and walls are tiled with traditional zeliej. Zeliej are small, colored tiles, which are hand-cut and fitted together to form an intricate geometric pattern or design. The elaborate, white plasterwork is formed by hand as it is mounted on the walls. Many riads are also decorated with cedar woodwork: massive doors and balconies painstakingly hand carved with minute details that captivate the eye.

In addition to the spacious central courtyards and inviting shared rooms, most riads are made up of six to eight bedrooms of traditional design with en suite bathrooms. Each bedroom is a unique size and shape, with it’s own distinct features. Some riad rooms are positioned to open onto or overlook the central courtyard, while those situated on the higher floors may look out over the city, some may boast access to the riad’s rooftop terrace. Moroccan riads are rather infamous for their narrow, winding staircases, which most often lead from the riad’s courtyard and shared spaces to the bedrooms located in the higher floors.

Looking into the courtyard

Looking into the courtyard

Throughout your stay at a riad, you will enjoy the attentive, personalized service by the riad staff. As most riads are quite small, the hospitality is intimate. It is not unusual for the riad’s owner or manager to greet you upon arrival and for the staff to offer you a welcoming glass of mint tea…only a few examples of the warm Moroccan hospitality you will experience during your riad stay.

Styles of riads vary, as each riad is decorated to the satisfaction of the owner. The majority of Moroccan riads today blend the beloved traditional design elements of zeliej (tile work), plasterwork, and cedar features with Art Deco era or more modern accents. Some riads provide more modern amenities than do others. All riads do, however, retain one thing in common: they are places of peaceful beauty and authentic Moroccan hospitality.

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