Last updated: 11:00 AM ET, Wed March 04 2015

Dispatch: The Many Worlds of Marrakech

Destination & Tourism | Claudette Covey | March 04, 2015

Dispatch: The Many Worlds of Marrakech

Talk about a city of contrasts. Following an extremely civilized five-night stay at the Pearl, what has to be Marrakech’s trendiest boutique hotel in the fashionable Hivernage district, I hopped in a cab and made my way to the Medina, the city’s ancient walled city.

ASTA’s Destination Expo (ADE) had just concluded and I was ready to embark on a three-night adventure in an entirely different part of Marrakech, with a stay at a riad, an accommodation type unique to Morocco. Typically, riads, which are former residences or palaces, feature seven or eight guestrooms with interior gardens.

The driver dropped me off at Jemaa el Fna, the city’s largest and most famous square and marketplace, which serves as a kind of entrance into the Medina, where – somewhere in its labyrinth of souks – was the Riad Star, my home for the next three nights.

While the Hivernage district, part of Marrakech’s Ville Nouvelle (new town), is in walking distance of the Medina, I’m here to tell you it’s worlds away. In the span of a mere 10 to 20 blocks the Hivernage’s air of refinement is replaced by what I can only describe as an amiable chaos – something that became evident as soon as I stepped out of the cab.

Cars are not permitted in the Medina, whose streets are too narrow and winding to accommodate them. My cab driver called over a man with a huge wooden car, dropped my luggage in said cart, and told me the Riad Star was a three-minute walk from Jemaa el Fna. I wasn’t exactly keeping track, but it took us more like 20 or 25 minutes to get to the Riad Star, on a circuitous journey through streets packed with pedestrians, motor bikers and vendors.  

It turns out my guide wasn’t exactly sure where the Riad Star was, but after consulting two or three bystanders, he found it, on an unassuming street behind an unmarked door.

And here I was hit with yet another of Marrakech’s contrasts. I had entered into yet another world, from the high-energy streets of the Medina to the riad’s serene interior courtyard with its dipping pool and plush seating areas.

Like all riads, the Star has its own distinct and fascinating history. Most notably, it served as the residence of American-born jazz singer, dancer and actress Josephine Baker during her stay in the city during World War II as a guest of the Pasha of Marrakech

I was ushered into a guestroom bearing Baker’s name. Her presence is evidenced everywhere in the room, from the plush pillows bearing her image to the paintings and photographs on the wall.

The Josephine Baker room can be interconnected with the Star room to create a two-bedroom suite.

All told, the Riad Star boasts seven guestrooms. In addition to its interior courtyard and dipping pool, it also houses a dining room and rooftop patio.
Oh yeah. The riad is also equipped with a hammam and massage suite on the rooftop, where I’m scheduled for a traditional head-to-toe-cleansing in just a few hours.

But more on that later. Stay tuned.

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