Home Uncategorized Riad Palais Sebban – Why You Must Stay at a Riad in Marrakesh

Riad Palais Sebban – Why You Must Stay at a Riad in Marrakesh

by Roberto
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Staying in a Riad is an essential part of any trip to Marrakesh or Morocco. An opportunity to feel Moroccan hospitality whilst immersing yourself in surroundings of Berber art and lavish stylings. It was truly a unique experience to stay in one on our recent trip.

What is a Riad?

A riad is a Moroccan traditional house enclosed around an Andalusian style courtyard. The courtyard often contains a fountain, along with plants such as lemon or orange trees. The word riad comes from the Arabic word for garden. Riads were the homes of merchants or affluent people. Because the riads were inward focusing it allowed for privacy, which was in keeping with the principles of the Muslim faith. They first appeared during the Saadian Dynasty of the 16th Century, but over the centuries many fell into ruin. They have seen a revival along with art and craftsmanship, that has seen many turned into hotels and restaurants.

There are more than 500 riads when the Medina of Marrakesh, which is the area within the old city walls. They give you walking access to the market at Jemaa el-Fna and the souks. There are a lot of competing Riads all vying for the opportunity to allow you to stay in an architectural and cultural gem. Naturally we took to blogs for some recommendations and finally settled on Riad Palais Sebban. It certainly wasn’t the cheapest amongst those found on booking.com but as time and our experience would attest, it was worth every penny.

Riad Palais Sebban

The Riad arranged for us to be collected from the airport by transfer which amounted to a charge of €15. We made our way into the Medina and had to transfer to our feet to make it down the alleys to where the Riad was located. It occured to us as the kind of place we perhaps wouldn’t go in other cities. We stopped outside a very innocuous building, which lo and behold turned out to be Riad Palais Sebban.

Riad Palais Sebban was originally owned and built by the Caid Sebban, who lived here during the 19th Century. The house was built around three patios. It was rescued from its state of ruin by French architect Rene Jean Pierre, and underwent a four-year renovation. It now houses 25 rooms around the three patios, all of them with differing designs. As a big fan of boutique hotels this sounded fairly great to me.

The Riad would cost us €394 for the three nights we stayed, and from the exterior it certainly seemed expensive. As we made our way inside a doorman with a red berber cape met us to assist us with our bags. It was the introduction we needed after the muted facade. As soon as we were taken from the hallway to the reception area all the disappointment evaporated and our anticipation was rewarded. It took us several minutes to even approach the desk to check-in. The reception rose three floors and the walls were decorated in stunning marble, all intricately carved and designed. Wooden balconies from higher floors peered down on us. A skylight opened up the area to the stars. However night-time photos did no justice to the area so naturally I returned the next day to capture it in the more complimentary light.

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Amazing marble walls of the reception area
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The fine detail extended to the sofas

The receptionist waited patiently for us to approach the desk. I’m guessing it’s not the first time he experienced such a dumbfounded reaction. When we eventually did he was super friendly, telling us all about the hotels features. We were distracted once more as a little cat came up to us. When the check-in was complete the receptionist and the cat showed us to our room. After an introduction to the room and its features the receptionist left us and the cat. We were delighted with our unexpected friendly little room-mate. As we learned cats are much-loved in Marrakesh and are seen all over the city.

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Our new-found feline friend

Bedroom

We would spend our three nights in the “Zagora” room, which is decorated in African style. It wasn’t huge and we realised after two days it didn’t have a TV (who goes to Marrakesh to watch TV though) but it was magnificent. A tall wooden ceiling clutched over the top colourful chandeliers. The walls were covered in intricate designs that was so perfectly Moroccan. Zellige mosaic tiles, all individually cut and laid surrounded the doors and windows, as well as the lower part of the wall. Stain glass windows looked out on to the patio.

The bathroom was mostly functional except for the shower which was enclosed in a cave like stall. Perhaps the most astounding feature was the door of the bathroom, it was a heavy double door that was carved top to bottom with African characters. It was difficult to look beyond the decoration but the room had the following features, fridge, safe, bidet and air conditioning. The king size bed proved more than comfortable. The minute detail continued to the unknown animal like coffee table, and the two turtles inside the door. We never were really sure what they were for but apparently turles bring good luck. We certainly felt we had it landing in Riad Palais Sebban.

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Our mind-blowing bedroom
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
When your bathroom door is a work of art

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Our mystery turtles

It’s not often that we are so captivated by our accommodation. We were so much so that we didn’t leave its confines that first night. We did take to exploring the whole of the riad, which wasn’t huge. The detail continued throughout and I wandered around it many times over our weekend stay. If there wasn’t such a wealth of beauty to be seen outside the riad, I could happily spend the entire time there.

Patios

Riad Palais Sebban is divided into three patios. I read online that this was on account of the Caid Sebban having three wives, whom he wanted to keep separate, so they all had their own rooms. However this seems to be unfounded and it seems closer to the truth that it is in fact four bourgeois houses assimilated together. Whatever the truth may be, the house is built around stunning patios.

Our bedroom Zagora, along with three others opened out on to the following one. The decoration was in keeping with that of our room Zagora, and the others around (I had a nosey whilst the housekeepers were cleaning them). The centre of the patio had an ornamental fountain and it was overshadowed by a couple of lavish lamps.

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The patio our room opened out to
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Is this not the coolest lampshade?

The second patio was accessed by passing through the reception area, and here the stylings were different. The walls and pillars of the patio seemed more oriental but using the same Moroccan techniques such as Zellige tiles. My eyes danced when in this area and it was probably the most attractive part of the whole Riad. Pictures will say so much more than words.

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Aerial view of the patio
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Beata endearing herself to one of the Riads cats

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Some of the extraordinary detail found throughout

Restaurant

The restaurant is the third and main patio of the Riad. It is situated around the aquamarine swimming pool. I’ll be honest I would be too modest to swim in that pool while others dine around me. My days of looking like The Rock are behind me (or more accurately I never did). But that shouldn’t deter others. As a restaurant though it is a tranquil setting. Lemon trees (a common feature of Riads) were full of fruit. The seating was comfortable and the lapping water of the pool put me at ease. For the chillier mornings gas heaters provide warmth.

Breakfast and dinner are served from here and all done so by friendly and accomodating staff. I never caught their names but they were all excellent. Again being Irish is always a good converstaion starter. As soon as they realised they shared their pain of the time Thierry Henry handled the ball to beat Ireland and deny us a place at the World Cup in 2009. The Moroccan nation were behind us that day apparently.

The breakfast was mostly continental in style with a selection of omelettes available from the kitchen as well as the most delicious pancakes. They are very popular in Morocco and the almond and syrup ones were the business. We dined one evening in the Riad and can safely say that the chefs were first rate. Nothing to do with the fact that we cooked our own food.

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Rustic balcony of the restaurant
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The swimming pool
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The breakfast spread
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Crepes with almond – our favourite

Cooking our own food

The Riad offers guests the opportuinity to undergo a cookery course in traditional Moroccan cuisine and we booked it for our third day in the city. They charge 400 Dirhams per person, which equats to roughly €40. We perhaps didn’t ask what language we preferred the course in, as when we met our cheg Jelil he was a French speaker. Perfect time to practice my school French which I’ve retained with the help of French cinema. Wouldn’t want a small thing such as language to stand in the way would we.

It didn’t prove to be an issue. Jelil was a gentleman, patient and well trained. We prepared a three course meal which we also had to pleasure of eating in the restaurant that evening. Despite my elementary French and Beata having none, we all got along well. For starters we prepared a Berber salad of tomato, cucumber, onion with cumin. For mains we put together that most Moroccan of dishes a chicken tagine. The Moroccan love of spices is so evident when you partake in their cooking. For dessert Jelil led us through the steps to make a pastilla with milk.

I’ll be honest I’m not the greatest of cooks but I’ll usually have a go. All things considered I think we did quite well. The food was delicious and the whole experience was so worth it. It was certainly new to be served food by waiters that you yourself had cooked.

Click to view slideshow.Hammam Massage

The Riad has a full range of spa treatments available, and on our second day there we decided to make use of the facility. Beata opted for a Palais Sebban massage, which was described as a relaxing and de-stressing massage, and I probably should have too. But intrigue got the better of me. I had heard of hammam massages before, but I knew little of them. I researched a little online, and the contrasting words relaxing and painful cropped up continuously. Could it be so bad?

I thought not. i opted for the body ritual “Dune de Sable Pureness”, which was described as a Hammam & eucalyptus black soap scrub followed by an ancestral shower gel of petals of almond trees, and a relaxing and de-stressing massage with argan oil. The words sounded so soothing surely it was just a case of exaggeration. Right?

I met Beata as she left her massage. Hers was wonderful. I stepped inside in my bathrobe and slippers and met Rashida the masseuse. She suggested I derobe and make my way into a room beyond the massage room. I was thankful I wore my Hugo Boss underwear. The floor was wet as I entered so i guess that gave me an idea of what was to come. I sat on a slab to the side of a flowing tap and sink.

Does anyone recall the song Shine by Aswad. With the lyrics “ooh aah ooh ooh ooh ooh aah”. If you interchange the words it was a perfect descriptor of how the massage would go.  Firstly very warm water was thrown all over me several times from head to toe. Aagh. Then black soap was lathered into my body. Oooh. Very relaxing. I was given five minutes to chill alone as the black soap did its work. Black soap is an African product containing plantain extract and is very good for people with skin problems.

What distinguishes the hammam massage, is the third part of the process. An exfoliating glove is used to remove dead skin from your body, leaving your skin revitalised and improving circulation. The glove feels like sandpaper to be honest, and as uncomfortable as it felt on my back, its was nearly unbearable on my thighs and calfs. Then I saw the process on my arms as the layers of skin simply shredded away. Aagh aagh aagh. By this point I was regretting my decision. Rashida washed the skin from my body before giving me time to dry. I assume if that was the end now, most people would never come back. Thankfully it wasn’t. All the pain was soon forgotten by the toe to head massage. It was fantastic and give me that final oooh that I needed.

So in conclusion, would I advise a Hammam massage. If you can forego a bit of pain, the end result is a great massage. No pain no gain. My skin has probably never felt as smooth since I was a chubby baby, and I felt completely revitalised after the whole process.

Rooftop

The top floors of the Riad are a maze of stairs and landings with great angles of the patios. The rooftop itself is the perfect place to relax after a mornings exploring. Besides the many sun bathing options the roof has some more of that astonishing architecture. The roof terrace is huge and meanders over the whole of the Riad, my favourite part being that overlooking the pool. You are also guaranteed excellent views over the city to Koutoubia Mosque. Which means it’s the place to head for that famed Marrakesh sunset.

Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
one of the landing seating areas
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Rooftop area
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The restaurant from the rooftop
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The swimming pool
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
Another of the Riad’s amazing doors
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The top of the sunlight that illuminates the reception area
Riad Palais Sebban, Marrakesh
The view across the city to Koutoubia Mosque

Attractions nearby

The Riad is located in the medina and within easy walking distance of many of the main attractions. The entrance to the souks is a mere few minutes walk, as is Le Jardin Secret. Five minutes away are the Koutoubia Mosque and Jemaa el-Fna.

The Riad is perfectly located within the city and is a brilliant base for a short city break. It’s ornate and luxurious interiors will astound you and provide you with the best possible introduction to a chaotic and endearing city.

If you enjoyed this blog, please like, share or pin. I welcome all comments and I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

This blog is not produced in conjunction with Riad Palais Sebban.

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