I grinned at the reflection looking back at me in the ornate silver mirror. The velvety turquoise caftan shimmered across my shoulders, rustling suggestively as I did a couple of unselfconscious twirls, taking care not to knock over the expertly curated rows of scent bottles, napkin rings and candles. A girl can admit to secretly loving a bit of personal shopping, right? Especially when it can be done in the comfort of your own luxury Marrakech riad with nobody watching!
The luxury Marrakech Riad
Hubbie and I were in Marrakech to experience our first Moroccan winter, and had decided to grace Riad Assakina with our presence for a few days. It was this opulent treasure trove hidden away in the ancient Jewish quarter of the medina that caused us to fall in love with Marrakech on our first visit to Morocco back in 2010. I’ve always wanted to return and see it through our now more experienced eyes.
Would our memories reflect reality?
We’ve stayed in almost as many riads as we’ve had hot dinners, and love them because they all follow a winning formula. Romantic Moroccan lighting in arched alcoves. Roof terraces decked with sun loungers and terracotta plant pots. Cosy yet sumptuous rooms and tactile tadelakt bathrooms. Not forgetting melt-in-the mouth tagines and the obligatory cat.
There’s always a cat.
There are thousands of riads in Marrakech, yet Riad Assakina manages to stand out from the crowd whilst still ticking those all-important boxes. And it’s all because the delightful British owners Grant and Michele have created a space with personality as well as sparkle. In his previous life Grant was a senior partner at an international law firm, as well as a bit of an adventurer. He once trained as a mounted warrior in Mongolia and has also followed the reindeer migration in the Arctic. Grant plays down his achievements but we’re rather impressed! Michele is an interior designer, which is kinda useful when you have a riad to restore.
They are keen to share the story of the years they spent renovating the luxury Marrakech riad, and it certainly makes you appreciate even more what they have achieved. Riads with a bit of history behind them feel much more meaningful than places which are simply pretty. Did you know Riad Assakina used to be a brothel and was home to 19 prostitutes and their families? Who doesn’t love a bit of juicy history like that.
Today Riad Assakina is far from seedy, with its immaculate yet comfortable Moroccan furnishings and steady stream of respectable paying guests! Michele’s natural artistry is evident in every corner of the riad, which expertly balances a bit of Moroccan magic with Western functionality. I’m going to take advantage of her design expertise when we move house, because our living room and bathroom are going to be Moroccan! Hubbie doesn’t know this yet. Just like he didn’t realise I would be painting the walls of our current lounge bright purple. Sometimes it’s best to just tell him afterwards!
Since our first visit to Riad Assakina, Michele has, to my utter delight, created a small and exclusive boutique up on the first floor, right next to our suite.
There’s also a little ‘window shop’ on the first floor landing full of aromatic candles and luxury natural oils. It’s a first for us, and a very welcome one! A space where you can admire the trinkets and try on the clothes without the hassle or beedy eyes of the souks. Sure, the markets and medina alleyways are where you can pick up bargains and enjoy the banter. Yet sometimes it’s a relief just to relax and enjoy the result of someone else’s hard work. Which is how I found myself indulging in my own little private fashion parade, thanks to all the beautiful garments designed by Michele and handmade by ladies in Marrakech. You don’t get more locally crafted than that!
Meanwhile hubbie was befriending Zak the cat up on the roof terrace, blissfully unaware that his wife was mentally spending all his money. Riad Assakina has one of our favourite roof terraces in Marrakech. Just the right amount of sun and shade, a cute little dipping pool for those hot summer days, and plenty of snugly seats with room for privacy, even if all the guests were up there at once! A decent roof terrace is one of the most important aspects to consider when choosing a luxury Marrakech riad (read about how to choose a riad right here), as it’s where you’ll be spending a lot of your down time.
One of the reasons we enjoy travelling to Morocco is the food, and luxury Marrakech riads are renowned for their delicious cuisine. It certainly wasn’t any different at Riad Assakina. The breakfast feast came with fresh pastries, Moroccan bread and fresh orange, as well as a hot menu with scrummy sounding pancakes, eggs lots of ways, french toast and fresh fruits.
Hubbie and I opted for pancakes each day. We were on holiday after all and you don’t have to be far from the banana pancake trail to still enjoy them! Although mine came with apple and cinnamon instead. Sophisticated and sweet. Just like me! Hubbie is rolling his eyes.
Being January, the evenings were a little chilly so we settled down in the cosy salon for dinner. Comfy amongst the matching cushions and enjoying the ambient music in the background, we tucked into our much anticipated feast.
Up first were the briouattes. If you’ve ever been to Morocco you’ll have come across these. The delicious little filo pastry parcels were crammed full of lamb, vegetables, and my personal favourite, cheese and mint. I could eat those all day! Next came the lamb tagine with prunes and almonds. Nowhere have we tasted such succulent meat, it never quite turns out like that when I cook it at home (probably because I don’t have the patience to leave it simmering for long enough). We chose fruit briouattes for dessert, because we’d never tried them before and they came with ice cream!!! Moroccan deserts are usually pretty boring, and many other riads we’ve stayed in have just produced the obligatory slices of orange dusted with cinnamon. So ice cream was always going to be a winner!
We topped it all off with some red wine produced in the vineyards over near Meknes, the sleepy sister city over in the East. As the empty bottle a couple of hours later suggested, Moroccan wine isn’t half bad.
Feeling regal surrounded by Moroccan artefacts (including an almost life-sized carved camel) we were treated like royalty by Hicham, the evening House Manager, and Meriem the cook. We’ve always gushed about how Moroccan hospitality is second to none, and agree with Hicham that people arrive at Riad Assakina as guests but leave as friends. Our expectations were high, yet the staff here proved to be exceptional. They looked after us as if we were family, and perfectly balanced friendly conversation with discretion. When can we move in?
We loved the hint of Britishness that came with complimentary afternoon tea, served to guests wherever they please in the riad. Mint tea (with just the right amount of sugar!) and cake, a refreshing change from Moroccan pastries. We took ours on the terrace, listening to the haunting calls to prayer from the nearby mosques, and watching the bees buzzing around in the lavender. When no-one was looking I tried pouring the mint tea from a great height, just like the locals do. I’d like to say it didn’t end in disaster, but you can imagine it won’t have gone totally according to plan…
Generally speaking riad bedrooms are rather small and dark, so it really is a delight to discover a luxury Marrakech riad like Assakina which boasts huge suites and heaps of light. There are 2 rooms and 4 suites, and whilst all are lovely, I would encourage you to opt for a suite for more space and privacy.
We stayed in the Almohad Suite up on the first floor. Full of exotic art it had a fabulous view of the courtyard and plunge pool below. I loved the carved horse that was almost big enough to ride, and the imposing wooden columns keeping watch over the living area. It was like living in the coolest museum ever!
Regular readers will know I’m a sucker for a decent bathroom, and this one with it’s tadelakt finish, shiny tiles and his ‘n’ her’s sinks exceeded my requirements by far. The only downside was that there was no hair conditioner amongst the toiletries, but if that was the only niggle they’re clearly onto a winner! The bathroom even had a secret ‘door within a door’ which would get the vote of any princess! We loved the djellaba robes, scented candle and vase of fresh roses, all the ingredients for a little romance!
Whilst Assakina is truly stunning in design and the food some of the best we’ve eaten in Morocco, what sets the riad apart is the staff. They were second to none with their genuine warmth and friendly hospitality, and Michele and Grant were the perfect hosts. We miss them already! They’ve created something rather special here at Riad Assakina, drawing on their life experiences to create a wonderful adventure in design. An exotic and tranquil haven amidst the bustle of the medina outside it’s undeniably a superb place to stay, and if you’re looking for a luxury Marrakech riad I have no hesitation in encouraging you to go and experience it for yourself.
I’ve always said it’s impossible not to fall under the spell of Marrakech, and we’re just happy to have shared a little of that magic for a few days at Riad Assakina.
We will be back!
The location of the riad is superb, next to the Bahia Palace and only a few minutes walk to the Djemaa el Fna.
Rooms on the ground floor by the patio are less private. It’s worth splashing out a bit extra for the other rooms.
Bring swimwear so you can use the plunge pool, it’s big enough to almost swim in!
We loved being able to choose our meals from a menu at the riad. Usually dining at a riad means you get what you’re given, and it has never disappointed, but it was refreshing to have a little control for a change! All the menus are on the Riad Assakina website.
Huge thanks to Grant, Michele and the wonderful team at Riad Assakina for making our stay so special. We did receive a complimentary stay, but as always, words and opinions remain my own.