Arriving in the Medina of Marrakech for the first time, you are immediately aware that you are in a world that, while not unwelcoming to visitors, operates according to its own map and rhythms. The old city is a labyrinthe of alleys (derbs), lanes, and courtyards, full of people selling everthing from bananas to leather bags. Pedestrians share this maze with donkey carts, the occasional brave motorist, and small scooters (often carrying an improbable number of passengers -- it's not unusual to see three fully-grown men zipping down an alleyway full of pedestrians on a moped, conducting an animated conversation). Not surprisingly, the buildings that line these alleys face inwards, away from the lively chaos. The traditional riad may show only a single door and a blank wall to the street, but inside that door there will be a richly decorated world, built around a central courtyard, usually topped with a roof garden. If you are staying in Marrakech, you owe it to yourself to stay in a riad; every city in the world has hotels. A riad, on the other hand, brings you into the otherwise hideen heart of the Medina.
Riad Dar Najat is located only a few minutes from the main Djema El-Fna square, by which you will orient yourself in Marrakech. The riad provided us with a reliable, cheerful shuttle from the airport (you wouldn't want to try to find it yourself the first time),with a driver who cheerfully waited the hour and half that our flight was late (immigration control in Morroco is also perhaps not the world's speediest). Likewise, we had booked a meal for our first night, and even though we arrived later than we had planned, our food meal was ready when we arrived, The meal was not cheap (by local standards), but it was a feast of multiple courses, And, the riad discreetly serves wine, even though it is based in the Medina, which contains several important Islamic sites.
The riad itself is made up of single ensuite rooms, all based a central courtyard. All the rooms are decorated with North African art, with a Sub-Saharan theme (reminding us that Marrakech existed originally as the market and meeting point of a number of cultures, including that of sub-Saharan Africa). The public area on the ground floor makes a tranquil (and cool) spot to read in the heat of the afternoon, or to play a game of chess on the marvellous hand-carved chess set. The roof garden (which is also the restaurant, and is where breakfast is served) is lush with plants and birds. The predominant colours are deep browns, cream, with flashes of brighter colours. In one respect, this is what makes the riad so magical. Marrakech itself (particularly the Medina) was originally built from a pink clay; when concrete was introduced as building material early in the twentieth century, the French colonial government introduced an ordinance requiring all buildings to be painted the original pink. In one sense, then, Marrakech is curiously monochrome; going into the riad is like entering into a world of colour.
As a place to stay, we found Riad Dar Najat clean (the rooms were immaculate), and the staff genuinely warm, and welcoming. On arrival, we were made to feel like expected guests; on our first morning, we were guided to Djema El-Fna, and when we were leaving (even though we had already checked out earlier in the day at that point), we were given classes of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and several members of staff walked with us out to our taxi to wave us off.
In summary; if you are going to Marrakech, and you really want to experience the Medina, you need to stay in the Medina in a riad. There may be other riads that are equally clean and attractively decorated; but you would be lucky to find one in which the staff (and the owner) take such obvious pride in making guests feel not just welcome, but at home. We could not recommend Riad Dar Najat highly enough.