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.
Check availability for Riad Assakina
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 home for 19 ‘ladies of the night’ 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 beady 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’ hers 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.
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Heather – a lurker here that’s just pulled the trigger on Assakina (and a couple other of your favs) for a Mega Morocco joint bday trip for me and my guy in 2 weeks time. We’ve been sure to mention your name. Thanks for such transparent reviews on everything (including Kasbah Ourika) —based on what you’ve shared we have similar travel vibes (anti-social, privacy preferred, outdoorsy, clean/updated bathrooms, FOOD!) so your reviews have been incredibly helpful. Other than Wild Morocco – do you have tried and true drivers that you’ve used and would strongly recommend? Thanks again for being such a thorough resource – we have literally read every “morocco” tagged blog on your site.
Hi Shauni, thanks for stopping by, and for reading all our Morocco posts, wow, that must have taken you some time 🙂 I’m so glad you’ve found our experiences helpful – we think it’s so important to be honest in our reviews, after all that’s what you’re here for. You’ll LOVE Assakina (say hi to Grant and Michele for us), and hopefully the other spots too. In terms of travel companies, we’ve also used Lovely Travel several times (based in Ouarzazate but operate all over Morocco), mainly because they’re one of the few who let us dictate the itinerary and plan our own accommodation, so we basically just hired a car and driver. Communication with the office prior to the trip was efficient, but we did find at times things were lost in translation a bit (which didn’t come to light until we were over there). The drivers we’ve had have all been lovely, some spoke more English than others, but their actual driving did differ dramatically (although all were safe). One was sooooo slow (very courteous but my god we could have walked faster, he was a very nervous overtaker) that a normal 8 hour journey took more like 11 and we missed out on some things we were supposed to be doing that day. If you do go with them, ask for Hicham, he’s a fab driver and has decent English!
I’d love to hear how your trip goes, so do let us know after you get back if you have time! Have fun 🙂
This looks like a lovely hotel, I’ve always wanted to go to Morocco – it looks like such a vibrant country.
It would be the perfect introduction for a first visit, just as a riad should be!
I love staying in Riads whenever i visit Morocco. They have an atmosphere that is unique. All the ones i have stayed in have tea and good coffee on tap which is a bonus when arriving back from a days walk.
I love the open spaces on the rooftops too especially when you are able to sleep under the stars
I’ve been dreaming of Morocco for years. I cannot wait to visit. This riad looks like the perfect place to relax for a couple days, and yes, staying somewhere with history is alluring.
Fancy… Definitely, fancy!
But I am sure it was worth it. Happy travels 🙂
Definitely worth it!
That looks positively wonderful! I appreciate the detail you have included in this post. Makes we want to visit right now!
And the apple pancake…yes please!!!
Beautiful! I was last in Marrakech in 1987 and I know the whole Riad industry has really developed since then. We’re hoping to be in Portugal/Spain in late summer/fall and had it in mind to cut across to Morocco around then.
Probably a bit too rich for our blood as slow travellers. But it looks wonderful and I love the structure and decorations.
You really should ‘pop’ over, it’s not that far at all even if you can only manage a couple of days. Would be fascinating to see if much has changed since the 80’s, and it’s a great country for ‘slow travel’ too. Go on, be a devil 🙂
I remember back then being shocked by poverty and lepers. I was 17 and my mom decided to bring me on her (2nd) honeymoon (I had my own room). Besides lepers they had people with a disease of the eye, their eyeballs would be all white. And they’d all be sticking their hands in your face looking for a handout, was like being attacked by zombies. I think Morocco traumatized me at the time 🙂
It sounds like a completely different place, but I guess it was many moons ago 🙂 I think being the 3rd person on a honeymoon would have been a more traumatic experience!!
Morocco looks amazing it is on our bucket list and hopefully, we can tick it off later in the year. Great read great pictures and good description
Morocco should be on everyone’s bucket list! Hope you get to go later this year, if you need any tips you know where to come!