The entrance to Riad Star is an unprepossessing wooden door down an alley in the heart of Marrakech old town. But this simple exterior belies the treasure trove inside. This intimate thirteen room hotel, the former home of Jazz Age superstar Josephine Baker, is a quiet gem filled with surprises. Riad Star is the flagship property of Marrakech Riad which has four character hotels in the old medina district.
The Riad Star is attached to the palace that now houses The Marrakech Museum and was used to accommodate distinguished guests. In the 1940s Josephine Baker was invited to stay here while she was recovering from illness. Now lovingly restored by British owners Lucie and Mike Wood, Riad Star combines Art Deco and traditional Moroccan furnishings. The result is both welcoming and elegant. There is a classic Moroccan courtyard at the heart of the hotel with fountains, a dipping pool and places to sit, read or relax. In a side room there are rails of Josephine Baker’s costumes creating an unexpected dressing up box with other jazz age pieces collected by the owners from Parisian flea markets adding to the glamorous atmosphere.
The main courtyard was magically covered by a secret rolling roof when it began to rain one evening. This area is decorated in ice white with sumptuous comfortable seating around the walls. There is a lovely roof terrace with private seating areas, sun loungers and outdoor fireplace – a perfect spot to sip mint tea and look out over the dusty pink skyline of Marrakech’s mosques and palaces. The hotel has its own spa and Hamman which offers traditional scrub and massage treatments as well as beauty services.
Attentive English-speaking staff set this little property apart. Guests are offered loan of a local mobile phone which proved invaluable the day I got myself lost in the souk and endless useful advice on tours and best places to visit.
There are 13 rooms, each given names instead of numbers which adds to the charm. All rooms can be double or twin and even triple, making the hotel a good choice for groups or families. There are three sets of interconnecting rooms, and The Ebony and Ivory Suites sleeps up to six people. All the stylish rooms have silk duvets and individual touches including a red feathered headdress, sculptures and even a saxophone. Rooms have seating areas, safe, fridge, air conditioning and TV. En suite shower rooms have fragrant orange blossom toiletries. Two of the rooms (Grace and Peace) even have purpose-designed meditation pods.
Excellent home cooked evening meals are available. I enjoyed a traditional Moroccan lamb tagine with small dishes of vegetables and fragrant rice followed by sweet yoghurts and fruits. The hotel is not licensed and there is no bar, but guests are welcome to bring their own alcohol into the premises if desired.
Breakfast is served at a time to suit guests. Freshly squeezed orange juice, lovely coffee in a silver pot, fresh bread, pancakes, yoghurt and fruit are ideal for planning a serious day’s souk action. Breakfast can be served on the roof terrace or in the courtyard.
The Hotel has its own cookery school where local chefs share their love of traditional Moroccan dishes and local organic ingredients. Or book a session at the Hamman after a long day’s sightseeing. The Riad Star is perfectly located for walking around the old town. The Museum of Marrakech is a few minutes’ away and the Main Square and souks all nearby. The hotel can arrange trips to the Atlas Mountains and other destinations within Morocco.
Riad Star, Marrakech 40000, Morocco
Tel: UK: +44(0)20 7570 0336 / US: 1-800-845-0810
Riad Star is tucked away in the heart of the Marrakech old medina. As cars are not allowed in this part of the city, taxis drop guests at the old town entrance where they are met by a hotel representative who escorts them to the Riad (about 20 minutes’ walk). The medina is about a 30-minute drive from Marrakech International Airport which has direct flights from the UK with British Airways, Ryanair, easyJet and Tui.
Type of Hotel: Luxury Boutique Hotel with Hamman
Number of Rooms: 13 rooms ranging from doubles to suites, with complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
Price Band: Low to Medium
Insider Tip: Download the hotel’s Marrakech App for maps and guidance to take you around the city without roaming charges.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Judith Baker is a London-based freelance travel writer.
Photographs courtesy of Riad Star by Alan Keohane