Anyone planning a visit to Morocco must consider a stay in a riad as part of the experience in this stimulating part of the world where cosmopolitan cities, fascinating cultures, majestic mountains, and beautiful beaches have attracted visitors for decades. One of the quintessential Moroccan experiences for the visitor is a stay in a riad, a style of home where an austere exterior belies an interior of luxury and comfort. There are now hundreds of riads in Marrakesh alone, but the standard can vary just as much as it does in hotels. For travellers seeking the best in aesthetic surroundings, superb dining experiences, and tranquil surroundings, they need look no further than Riad Enija, a sublime property in the medina of Marrakesh that is one of the city’s most evocative places to stay as well as one of its most resplendent.
Though the word riad has come to mean guesthouse in contemporary parlance, it actually means garden in Arabic, as in a courtyard garden found within the walls of a traditional home. In both usages of the word, Riad Enija stands out as a place to stay without peer. Its 15 rooms and suites are as beautiful as they are sophisticated; with privacy and distancing especially important these days, Riad Enija can be hired in its entirety by families or groups of friends who wish to have Moroccan hospitality all to themselves. Of the four courtyards found within its discreet compound, one is a dense jungle of greenery where breakfast is served to guests who enjoy the lush vegetation as much as the wonderful cuisine. Even here, privacy is paramount; no table is visible from any other. Food is a point of pride at Riad Enija; in addition to the excellent culinary experiences at mealtimes, guests can enjoy a cooking class with the chef to learn about the subtleties of Moroccan cooking.
“I had EVERYTHING!”
This is the thought that crossed Ursula Haldimann’s mind as she sat in the middle of a muddy Marrakesh construction site, pondering both the mess that represented her future and the successful business she left behind to pursue a dream. Fifteen years later, that mess was transformed into one of the most charming, most stylish, and most desirable addresses in the city. It took eight long years of restoration, renovation, reconstruction, and revelation before Riad Enija was ready to receive its first guests; after all, perfection cannot be rushed. Ms Haldimann’s vision turned a typical Moroccan home into an impressively beautiful showcase of architectural excellence on par with the museums found around the city―except you can’t spend the night in the museums.
The few old palaces in Marrakesh open to the public are nearly as captivating, but why bother leaving the realm of Riad Enija at all when the essence of the city is right in front of your eyes? Better to spend every waking minute within the domain of this private world of splendid isolation, which sets itself apart from the competition by incorporating elements of other cultures into the riad’s decor; they include everything from Indian Mughal windows to avant garde European furniture blended perfectly with the fine zellij tilework that is part of traditional Moroccan architecture. For the spirited traveller who seeks to engage in Marrakesh beyond the beauty of Riad Enija, the phantasmagorical stalls and animated vendors of the medina are mere steps away, though the hustle and bustle of the medina and UNESCO World Heritage Site Jemaa El Fna remain worlds away from the exquisite seclusion of the riad. Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of Riad Enija is the absolute silence that prevails despite its location in the middle of the medina, the peace broken only by the occasional calls to prayer and the flowing of fountains in the various courtyards. The talented craftsmen whose leather, carpet, and woodwork items complement the wares of the other vendors in the medina do make for enticing outings in times when social engagement has become a luxury.
Back when Ms Haldimann arrived in Morocco with husband and daughter in tow, “the whole medina was for sale,” she says, as Moroccans abandoned their traditional residences in favour of modern apartment blocks built outside the centuries-old city centre. She knew immediately that the first place she saw was the right one for the realisation of her dream project. A former chocolatemaker who eventually owned a catering company with more than a hundred employees, Ms Haldimann traded a busy life in her native Switzerland for a busy life in Marrakesh at a time when foreign women were not exactly numerous as business owners in Morocco. That said, she never once experienced any kind of sexism or prejudice and today, she says, “I feel more comfortable walking in the medina alone at midnight than I would at Zurich train station at midnight”.
So beautiful is Riad Enija that several guests have beseeched Ms Haldimann to apply her decorative magic to the floors, walls, and ceilings of their own homes, allowing her to reexperience the creative process all over again. As anyone with an eye for beauty can confirm, exceptional good taste never goes out of style.
Riad Enija, Rahba Lakdima, Derb Mesfioui 9, Marrakech. Morocco