Where to begin!? Words cannot convey the pleasures we experienced during our stay at Riad Ajebel. Perhaps you have always dreamt of a trip to Morocco, and perhaps Marrakech; then you start your research, as you dream. Maybe it is a bit overwhelming, the choices. A big hotel, or a Riad? And if a Riad, which one?! As someone who has travelled many continents and countries, and explored many cultures, I can, without a breath's hesitation recommend to you the Riad Ajebel. A true Oasis of calm and magic, run so smoothly by a caring, creative, intelligent, and sensitive staff, offering a truly authentic experience. Forget the big hotels – they are the same the world over.
First, Ajebel arranged for our transport from the Marrakech Airport to the Riad, which was a great relief and convenience. As we exited the baggage area, we were met by Fawad, who was holding a clear sign with our name on it. He greeted us with a warm smile and offered help with the baggage. He also explained things about exchanging money, and waited as we exchanged our cash there at the airport.
A brief 10 minutes drive and we had arrived at the Riad. The first thing you see is nothing. Just a mysterious ochre wall. And your heart beats faster. You see, Riad Ajebel is built into the ancient walls of the Medina of Marrakech. It is from the 11th century, and in the Kasbah! And also around the corner from the King's Palace. You walk through the heavy doors and there you are in the beautiful oasis that is Ajebel. A true Riad, with the courtyard, a lovely tiled fountain, and a grand palm tree growing up through the center into the Moroccan sky.
We were welcomed by a refined young man named Ilyas.
He speaks many languages, so there is no concern there if your Arabic studies are not up to snuff. Ilyas told us not to worry about our bags, so we left them in the foyer, and he then ushered us into the lush lounging area around the courtyard. Everything there is beautiful, the furniture, the lighting and fixtures, the fresh intoxicating smells. We were presented with a beautiful tea ceremony, where Ilyas explained Moroccan cultural and historical meanings to us. How lovely after a long journey, to be anointed with perfumed water, and to sip (the best!) Moroccan mint tea poured from a giant silver pot. He even explained how he makes it.
There, sitting inside this beautiful Riad (which incidentally, we also soon learned, once housed the extended family of the King, hundreds of years ago!), something then starts to click. About Morocco, about life in the Arabic world. This turning inward, where life was/is focused inward. The privacy. With no windows to the outside world. One starts to embrace this inward reflection in such a magical place.
After briefly retiring to our room, which by the way was just gorgeous (lovely bedding, antique tribal wall hanging, soft lighting), we found that our bags were there already. The room smelled deliciously of warm cedar, the colors warm and romantic.
We then met Fatimah, a gentle and blessed soul, with the face and calm of an angel. Fatimah is a genius when it comes to food. She made us an insanely delicious breakfast every morning (more on that soon!)
Then... the best for last, we meet Uma. How can one describe Uma with any other word than Goddess? The true meaning of the word. Uma is the proprietor of Riad Ajebel, and she is the reason why everything there is flawless. From the amazing staff, to her incredible taste, no detail is left unturned. The perfect marriage of Orient and Occident is channeled through her great attention to style and detail. But mostly it is her incredible warmth and her deep soul and spirit that come across, and you soon realize that she knows a thing or two about life. By the way, Uma's mother tongue is Spanish, so if you are able to speak Spanish, you will be lucky to speak with her. If not, she will still offer you her radiant smile and her tireless hospitality. There is always someone else on hand to communicate in English, btw, if that is your only language.
We ended up staying at Ajebel for seven nights. We hadn't initially planned on that, but after breaking from Marrakech for some time in Essaouira, and then not being nearly as enchanted with that town, we came back early, and lucky for us there was a room available at Ajebel. We stayed in two rooms there, that were both lovely, with great big bathtubs, and beautiful tadelakt work. I also got to peek into the other rooms, and can say that all the rooms are wonderful! Just pick your element! My favorite was Annar (fire!)
Every morning, whenever we chose to wake up, there would be the most incredible homemade breakfast for us, that Fatimah would make, with a beautiful table set for us either in the courtyard, or up on the lovely terrace where one can view the Atlas Mountains in the distance. Fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh fruits, or fruit salad, her homemade breads, honey and preserves, homemade butter, and these incredible Moroccan crepes that Anthony Bourdain would be peeing his pants over. And your choice of tea or coffee. She even had hot milk for the coffee. We were so spoiled!!!
Another highlight of Ajebel was getting the hammam and massage there. Of course Uma only has the best people work for her. Ajebel is really more of a family than anything, sharing the same warmth and sensibility. Before our treatments, we found two beautiful long white tunics folded on our bed, with the corresponding undergarments necessary, and pretty colorful babouches for our feet. The bed and tunics were also decorated with red rose petals. Another lovely touch. The women giving the hammam and massage were both named Ilham. It's no irony that the Arabic meaning of this name is "intuition," of which both these sweet and skilled practitioners were full, in their sensitive ministrations to us. They are great at what they do! My husband and I had our treatments in tandem, so it was nice to be sitting together later calm and relaxed, as we sipped the mint tea waiting for us after our massages. It is also divine to feel so clean and relaxed after a day exploring the intensity that is Marrakech!
Also on the staff is a lovely multilingual woman named Sophie, who tended to things when Uma wasn't around, and an enchanting man named Younes, who is a luminous and dear person, and a very fine musician. He was so very helpful and kind to us.
Because we felt so welcomed and at home at Ajebel, we also chose to have many of our dinners at Ajebel. Younes, or Uma, or Fatimah would cook amazing food, the table scattered with rose petals. Even wine was arranged (not easy to come by in this part of town). It was like being pampered in our own private palace. Everything they do is beautiful and delicious because it is done with love and generosity of spirit.
I could easily go on, because there seems so much more to mention and convey – the dozens of fresh roses stuffed in vases, the intoxicating, yet subtle scents softly wafting through the Riad, their great taste in music, that drifts softly through the sound system, the incredible natural bath products that Uma creates, Fatimah's outstanding eggplant salad, the private concert Younes arranged, featuring an exemplary young Gnawa named Adil who has a voice that will melt your heart... You must come explore and see for yourself! Oh, and there is wireless Internet, a great convenience, lest you need to reach out to the outside world.
We will never forget our honeymoon stay at Ajebel, and the beautiful gracious people we met, who now feel like our extended Moroccan family. It was an unforgettable stay, in an unpretentious, elegant, flawlessly clean, magical and inviting environment. One day we hope to return.