Our recent stay here was one of the most pleasurable we have had anywhere and as well travelled people we know a good thing when we see it. Uma, the Spanish owner, is a charismatic and charming hostess, overflowing with enthusiasm for Morocco and Africa. Ilyass, her right hand man, manages to combine genuine care and thoughtfulness for the needs of guests with calm efficiency at all hours. Fatima works tirelessly producing fabulous food that satisfies the heartiest of appetites. Uma and Ilyass speak Spanish, French & Arabic, hence the majority of their guests do too. Ilyass also speaks excellent English.
In addition to the particular qualities of the staff, Riad Ajebel is full of beautiful furniture, colours and scents. There is considerable attention to detail in the decoration of the Riad and how scents are used in different areas to enhance the visitors’ experience. The Riad's website gives a flavour of what to expect - www.riadajebel.com - and is a very accurate representation.
Turning to the practical aspects of our stay, Riad Ajebel has a particularly favourable location, being on the perimeter, and part of the actual wall, of the Medina. It therefore has two access doors, one of which is onto the Derb inside the Medina and the other which opens directly onto the road that passes the southern edge of the Medina, Bab Ighli. This greatly simplified access on arrival and departure as our taxis were able to stop outside the external door, avoiding a reliance on porters to navigate the Medina and reducing transfer times from the airport to a minimum, (15 minutes or so). The Riad had organized our transfer and the driver had waited in the arrivals area an hour longer than expected due to our flight being delayed. Despite this, he was courteous and welcoming, with no expectation of a tip despite carrying our bags from the terminal to the car park.
On arrival, Ilyass gave us a tour of the Riad and washed our hands with rose water before Fatima’s introductory lunch. We gave them a free hand in choosing the composition of all meals at the Riad and this lunch set the scene for a series of delightful and delicious meals during our 4 night stay. We were never disappointed or left hungry, and we simply felt it would be ridiculous to eat anywhere else for dinner after having been so impressed with lunch on the first day. Lunch and dinner, including bottled water, were charged at 18 euros each with wine being available as an extra if required. Marrakech food and accommodation prices we found generally to be good value compared to Western Europe, rather than bargain prices, and you would have to consider the street food options if you are on a very low budget.
The central courtyard of the Riad was covered when we first arrived but rapidly improving weather meant this was soon opened up. Our first floor room, (Suite Annar), was gorgeous and lived up to the excellent photography on Riad Ajebel’s website. Most noticeably, the scents of handmade toiletries permeated the room and the amazing ensuite bathroom. Moroccan plumbing made a small error in here and the cold / hot symbols on the bath taps had been reversed, plus they have yet to embrace thermostatic showers so be prepared to adjust the water flows yourself. We didn’t use the little courtyard pool or the room’s air conditioning as the weather was only just warming up.
Ilyass marked up the street map for us and explained how to navigate the Medina. He also gave us a card with address and telephone numbers should we get lost, we didn’t and we enjoyed walking through the Kasbah area populated by locals going about their everyday business rather than being in one of the more touristy areas. At no time did we feel threatened or uncomfortable, the area appeared safe even in quieter times of the day or night. The Riad Ajebel’s location also gave us the option of walking back by following the outside of the Medina wall, further reducing the chances of getting lost.
Breakfasts were generally taken on the attractive and comfortable rooftop terrace, which has clear views of the snow capped Atlas mountains due to the Riad’s Medina edge position. Breakfast was fresh fruit and orange juice, omelettes, two types of pancake and a lovely citrus cake plus coffee or mint tea. There is some traffic noise from the road outside when you are on the terrace but this soon becomes familiar background noise and it is more buzzy mopeds than heavy vehicles. These slow and sometimes ancient mopeds can be a bit smelly but traffic fumes are a regular feature of Marrakech as a whole so hard to escape wherever you are.
My wife and I both booked Hammams in the Riad, this being with some apprehension in my case. The favourable comments of our fellow, Belgian and French, guests encouraged me and I am very glad they did. The Hammam and subsequent massage were a great experience and left me completely relaxed, (I’m not known for achieving such states so it shows how good it is). It is a lovely space and again full of gorgeous scents.
Uma was keen to engage us in more genuine experiences and she arranged a special dinner for our last night with Gnawa musicians. All of the guests were consulted but we seemed to enjoy it rather more than the others, we attend World Music festivals so maybe it was a case of being more open minded. The lead musician has a kidney problem and is on dialysis so his performance was remarkable. Gnawa may not be everyone’s taste but it is an authentic sound of the region and worth hearing at least once.
We were travelling to Essaouira for the second part of our visit and the Riad arranged for our transfer at a cost of 110 euros. More expensive than using a Grand Taxi (circa 80 euros) or the bus but comfortable and with an English speaking driver who gave us a mini guided tour on the 3 hour drive. Before we left we bought some of the toiletries as gifts for friends and said a sad farewell to Uma, Ilyass and Fatima. Riad Ajebel has become a special place not only in our travel memories but in our hearts, we wish them well and hope many others will enjoy it as much as us. Tellingly, this Riad only has Excellent and Very Good scores in all of its reviews, so our very positive experience would seem to be consistent with all of the other reviewers.