At Mint Tea Tours, we often get asked by travelers for recommendations for accommodations. We always (always!) recommend to stay in a riad or dar in Morocco, whenever and wherever possible, instead of a chain or large hotel.
We get it – sometimes our guests who choose and book their own accommodations want to be able to take advantage of a customer loyalty or reward program, by earning or redeeming points at an international chain hotel in Morocco. Or our guests are seeking specific amenities which may not be available in a riad or dar in Morocco, for example, well-equipped workout rooms or lap swimming pools.
With our recommendation to say in a riad or dar in Morocco, we don’t mean any disrespect to these large chains – they have a well-established international reputation, but …
But, if you were NOT stay in a riad or dar in Morocco, at least for part of your trip to Morocco, you would be sorely missing out on a unique aspect of traditional Moroccan culture, and the ingrained Moroccan art of hospitality!
What IS a riad or dar in Morocco?
So, what exactly is a riad or dar in Morocco? Simply put, these are intimate traditional homes in the medinas in Morocco, some dating from the 9th century, that were transformed into “boutique” accommodations. There may not be traditional riads in large urban areas.
A riad or dar in Morocco is a hidden gem, like little oases within the busy medinas. They are most typically decorated with traditional Moroccan craftsmanship, such as carved plasterwork, painted wooden ceilings, zellige tilework and mosaics on pillars, walls or floors, and outfitted with authentic Moroccan handicrafts, such as metal lanterns, cozy or stately handwoven rugs, wooden tables and leather poufs. Each location has its own regional charm. Even though they may be located deep in the heart of the medina, they are typically quiet and peaceful.
What is the difference between a riad or dar in Morocco?
As to the differences between a riad or dar in Morocco, as a traveler, this is simply a question of semantics, as your anticipated experience of staying at either a riad or dar in Morocco will be very similar. You’ll be stepping into what feels like your own mini palace, often filled with hidden nooks where to relax, with rooftop terraces with great views of the medina and a front-row seat for the magical chorus of the calls to prayer!
The basics of traditional Moroccan home architecture is that the house’s rooms are built around a central inner courtyard; commonly all the natural light and ventilation comes from an opening in the house’s roof. These traditional homes often housed multiple generations,
From the outside of a riad or dar in Morocco, all you may see is the door, which would not have readily revealed the wealth of the family living inside. From an Islamic architecture perspective, this was to protect the privacy of the family, as any windows and balconies are on the inside of the building, in contrast to the mellahs (Jewish neighborhoods) of Morocco, where balconies and windows are visible from the outside.
Another aspect to safeguard the privacy and intimacy of the life inside of a riad or dar in Morocco, is an L-shaped hallway from the door which leads to the courtyard, so even if the door is open, one still cannot catch a glimpse of the interior or the riad or dar.
One difference between a riad or dar in Morocco is… size. In fact, we should add “palace” to this list of similar accommodations. From largest to smallest, we have palace, then riad, then dar.
Which leads us to the second difference between a riad or dar in Morocco …the courtyard! We already know that a riad should be larger than a dar, so how does that affect the interior design and architecture? By definition, “riad” comes from the word “garden” in Arabic, and “dar” simply means “house”. Because of the larger size of a riad, it allowed the space for a garden and fountain in the courtyard; there may be palm or fruit trees, or raised bed for flowers.
What you need to know when choosing your riad or dar in Morocco
For accommodations, Morocco generally follows a rating system based loosely on international standards and expectations, meaning that you may not necessarily find them similar to the same number of stars accommodation in other countries.
Comfort, customer service and amenities vary according to the levels of a riad or dar in Morocco.
- A 3* riad or dar is for budget-minded travelers. These are often family-friendly establishments, which can equate to perhaps a more animated and less intimate or relaxing experience. They are clean but basic and can lack certain amenities such as AC/heat or may not offer Wi-Fi, or perhaps only in a common area.
- A 5* riad or dar in Morocco is for luxury and has the highest standards for service and details. Many offer gastronomic menus, private spas and perhaps multiple restaurants and a bar. Because of the size, they may also have swimming pools, rather than a smaller “plunge” pool.
- A 4* riad or dar in Morocco offers a great balance, nicely decorated and very comfortable with all-around great service. Based on many Western clients’ travel expectations, we generally recommend 4* accommodations for the amenities, comfort level and attention to detail.
Generally-speaking, a riad or dar in Morocco can be a great place to discover great food. In Morocco, women have traditionally ruled over kitchens versus a more Western male-dominated chef area, and many riads or dars in Morocco employ women with strong cooking skills and with a more personalized touch for their guests. Some riads or dars reserve their restaurants for own guests; others are open to the public. We do suggest eating at your riad or dar in Morocco on days of long travel, and if you’ve hired a private driver with Mint Tea Tours, he can assist in making a reservation, since riads typically shop the day of for fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Tips for a successful stay at a riad or dar in Morocco
Now that we’ve convinced you to stay at a riad or dar in Morocco, here are some tips to ensure a successful stay!
- Because of the intimate nature of a riad or dar in Morocco, which often have less than 10 rooms total, popular riads or dars may get fully booked months in advance! So, a particular riad or dar in Morocco has caught your eye on Instagram, make sure to book it quickly and early!
- Quality establishments are limited in more rural areas. You will find the best range of accommodations, from simple to luxury, in the medinas of Fes and Marrakech. Other medinas, such as in Meknes or Chefchaouen, will have less of a choice overall which also means less availability, and especially for upscale riads.
- This special tip is for our guests with mobility challenges! When you book a riad or dar in Morocco, remember that these are traditional homes, often dating back centuries! This means that it is rare to find an elevator, there may be narrow hallways or staircases, and the stairs themselves may be of uneven or high step heights. This won’t prevent you from booking a riad or dar in Morocco, you’ll just need to do your research on whether they have ground-room floors, and where the dining facilities may be to ensure your comfort and safety during your stay.
- Location, location, location! This mantra doesn’t just concern buying real estate, it also applies to choosing a riad or dar in Moroco! Since riads or dars are located in the medinas, which are maze-like car-free zones, it may not always be easy to find your riad or dar on your own. You can request a walking escort from your riad or dar to not only help you locate where you’ll be staying but also assist with your luggage. With narrow, uneven and possibly hilly narrow walkways, it’s not always to get through on your own. For safety reasons, choose a riad or dar in a more populated and well-lit area, especially if you plan to be out at night on your own. You could also choose a riad or dar closer to the outer ring of the medina and near a “bab” or gate.
- A riad or dar in Morocco will rarely use “key cards” for room keys; please make sure to return any riad or dar room keys when checking-out.
- When leaving your riad or dar in Morocco, please verify that you’ve removed all of your belongings from the room or riad/dar safe, before you vacate the premises! A safe is obviously a great way to protect any valuables while you’re visiting the city or exploring nearby on a day trip, but you don’t want to realize that you forgot your passport and credit cards ONLY after when you arrive at your next destination!
- Hot water heaters in Morocco commonly rely on gas tanks, rather than electricity or underground gas lines. In an older riad or dar in Morocco, tanks may be a distance from the actual bathroom facilities. Please allow the hot water to run for several minutes to reach you. If the hot water does not come, the tank may have run out of gas; please notify the riad or dar staff.
Mint Tea Tours – Moroccan Hospitality at its Best! We specialize in private tours, excursions and shuttle services throughout Morocco. Contact us today to plan your own trip!