Went in April to Marrakech with DW and 1 other couple (4 of us total, early 30s with some traveling experience, mainly across Europe, Turkey, etc) and were really very surprised at Riad Princesse du desert. While we had read a bunch of good reviews prior to going, we didn't know what to expect and the initial impression was tempered by some of fatigue getting there, as well as the relatively small size of the riad (seems much bigger on the pictures). Turns out the reviews were totally legit. I think its appropriate to think of the riads as charming b&b's - these are not luxury hotels, nor are they meant to be. these are authentic, renovated palatial homes - and the personality of these riads is in the intimacy, the location, the staff, the food and as you walk through their doors the first time, the sense that you have indeed stepped back in time. Highlights below regarding why this place gets the ol' 5 circle rating from me - and i am a stingy circle giver...
1. Staff are world class: Youssef and his crew run a tight, fun ship. He's young but has the maturity, discretion, and anticipation you would expect from a very experienced luxury hotel manager. Coordinated with our tour guides, gave us a map of the area, and learned what we like to do immediately (drink!). Mint tea on arrival - sublime. Takes a real interest in his clients and learns what you like. His girls are always in the background and working their butts off with a huge smile on their faces. Invite him to have a glass of wine, or some tea and ask him a little about his backgorund - he loves to share and his English is impeccable. Really a playful personality - even breakdanced a little for our group one night. He loves local music and American music (loves the Beatles) and will play anything for you.
2. Location is primo. Heart of the medina. Two rights and a left and you are in the dizzying chaos of the big Square. Two rights and you are in the middle of the souks (just ask Youssef) - make sure you mentally make a trial of bread crumbs, as you haggle and start shopping with your eyes, its easy to lose your way. I found the best way was to stick to major landmarks and try to stay straight until you get more comfortable. The air conditioning works perfectly in the rooms and you are dead to the world until the birds wake you up int he morning - absolutely beautiful. The showers had no problems, and the rooms are super charming. Beds are kind of hard, which I like, but even the first night it was a little much for me. Breakfast served up when you want it - always ready nomatter what time your tour guide wants you ready.
3. Pay attention TA junkees: Food is stupid (good). EAT here. eat HERE. EAT HERE. At least one of the nights, whether or not you are staying here, do yourself a favor and eat here. My group and I (4 of us; two couples early thirties) ate here on our second night and immediately confirmed for the next night there (while we cursed ourselves for not eating there the night before). The girls shop for ingredients each day so you have to let them know in the morning. They cook amazing, authentic food. Very gentle on American stomachs! They will set the menu and decide based on what is available in the markets that day. Kefta, Pastilla...oh God. Make it go away, its all I see now in my dreams. Great breakfasts and as I've read in other reviews - I really wish we had set up time to do the cooking class. After meeting the girls and the type of experience they provided for other things, I think this would have been really memorable and the chances of you leaving Morocco without a tagine, are pretty low - so having an idea of how to use one woulda been pretty sweet. Next time, maybe.
Some other tips:
Water in the riad was ok for stomachs. Save the included bottle of water for drinking. Only DW was brave enough to sort of drink from the tap (very little though) but used her toothbrush etc all three days, and I braved it out for last two days without any issues whatsoever.
Key can be requested - if you are going to be out late and you are staying more than 1 night you can request a key, but I get the sense that they would prefer not to do this since Youssef will wait for you to get home in case you need anything - but we always felt bad and once they got to know us, they had no problem giving us a key. It was like our own little "home" amongst the controlled madness of Marrakech.
This Riad is top notch in its form. It is not a luxury hotel and is not the most impressive physical space. It is a boutique bed and breakfast, ancient and modern, austere and ornamental. The food is served lovingly, and is as authentic and inviting as the staff that serve it to you. Our group left after 3 nights to do 5 more scattered among the towns of Ouarzazat, Merzouga, Dades Valley, the Sahara, and Essaouira and despite the amazing things we saw and did along the way, no accomodations came close. Youssef and his staff deliver. You will be sated, you will be charmed, you will be transported back in time. Marrakech beckons.