So we’re in Morocco…again…relaxing up on the riad roof terrace, listening to birds singing and the gentle trickling water of the dipping pool, trying to guess what’s for dinner as exotic smells waft up from down below, whilst sipping mint tea and reading the guide book…we finally feel like we’re on holiday!
It wasn’t difficult to choose our riad in Meknes. To be honest there wasn’t much competition, but had there been, I’m sure Riad El Ma would still have come out on top. It’s currently number one on Trip Advisor, and definitely worthy of the accolade. I was still a little apprehensive before arriving, mainly because we’re used to the relative glamour and sparkle of Marrakech, and the underlying riad theme in both Meknes and Fes seemed to be muted and a little old fashioned. Probably their version of the dated floral chintz so often found in B&B’s back in England that I detest.
However, of course I needn’t have worried.
Francis the owner of this traditional Moroccan mansion was most helpful in answering all my (many!) questions, and even telephoned me from France to talk me through some transportation options. Now that’s what I call service! He arranged for their local friendly taxi driver Khamal to pick us up from Fes airport, and in true Conversant Traveller fashion, we rattled off into the countryside. Not in a plush air-conditioned jeep but in a rickety contraption with a retro silver and black checkered interior, nailed on wooden door handles and no window winder handles. And we loved it! We’d come to see the real Morocco after all.
Ten minutes later we were close to expiring in the heat, even though it was October and a little cooler than the previous months. Khamal at once noticed our plight and with a wide grin produced a single window winder from the depths of the passenger foot-well. We took it in turns to attach it to the tiny rivets protruding from our doors and at last had fresh air. Sorted.
On arrival in Meknes forty minutes later he walked us to the riad, only five minutes from the road but a world away hidden deep in a cosy corner of the medina.
We were made to feel at home the moment we stepped over the threshold, all the staff wearing beaming smiles and with genuine pleasure welcomed us to their home. The two Aminas were particularly helpful, always on hand with suggestions and mint tea or avocado juice at any time of the day.
We chose the Red Room because it was on the first floor (more privacy than ground floor rooms) and were more than happy with our choice. It was big enough to have a cosy seating area, filled with hand-made Touareg furniture and mood lighting, as well as a lovely tiled bathroom in the traditional style.
Meals are served in the cool leafy courtyard, with the little water fountain trickling calmly in the centre. Breakfasts are like pretty much anywhere else in Morocco – amazing! Hearty plates of breads, cakes, pancakes and jams greet you in the morning, at whatever time you decide to get up, and set you up for the day with no need for lunch.
We also ate at the riad every evening, because it was so delicious and different each night, and there wasn’t exactly a huge choice lined up elsewhere in the medina. Sometimes when you know you’ve got something good it’s ok to stick with it! Several tagines, couscous and brochette’s later we knew we’d made the right decision.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find the portion sizes much more manageable than in many riads where they seem to think we all want to eat enough for a small army. It was certainly a welcome feeling to not be waddling from the dinner table, knowing a night of discomfort awaited. My personal favourite was the cheese-stuffed aubergines, and lemon meringue pie (so great not having crème caramel all the time!).
As with most riads, the icing on the cake was of course the roof terrace, two of them to be precise. The first level was filled with plants and sun loungers, with comfortable shady corners to escape the heat of the afternoon, and what has to be the best dipping pool we’ve ever seen on a roof. It was deep enough to fully submerge ourselves in and even wide enough for a couple of strokes across. Usually the terrace pools are more for paddling and featuring in photographs. Most riads have deeper pools down on the patio level, but we rarely use them as they’re not at all private. So this really was a gem.
Also unusual (in a good way!) is that this terrace isn’t overlooked by surrounding properties so prancing about in your swim wear is quite acceptable in the afternoon sun.
The upper roof terrace is the one with the city skyline views, which of course wouldn’t be complete without minarets and satellite dishes. Expect a front row seat for the several daily calls to prayer, hauntingly beautiful and one of the things we love about Morocco, despite one of them being at 5am every morning. They are almost a welcome intrusion on the otherwise totally silent riad, which although very peaceful can sometimes be a little too quiet – to the extent you sometimes wonder if everyone can hear exactly what you’re doing in the bathroom! I’m sure they can’t, and I’m probably just paranoid. Hopefully!
There are also a few loungers up here for those who like to catch a few rays, but preferring a bit of shade to stop us sizzling we only came up here for photos.
If we were to visit Meknes again I’d definitely come back here, which if you’ve read my post on The Question of the Return, you’ll realise it’s high praise indeed!
Charmed by the faux camel skin keeping the dashboard cosy, the crocodile skin stickers adorning the steering wheel and the two opposing types of air freshener dangling from the cracked rear view mirror, we enlisted Khamal to be our driver for a few days, visiting Volubilis, Moulay Idriss, and finally taking us to our next destination, Chefchaouen.