The Riad Meriem is a superior example of the smaller niche hotel trend in Morocco. These smaller hotels are called riads and this one has only five bedrooms, although it boasts the facilities of much larger establishments. The hotel is run on a very personal basis; with only a small number of guests service is excellent, with nothing being too much trouble.
A riad is defined literally as a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden. The thick walls surround a central courtyard often with a fountain or pool to create a cooler environment. Recently there has been a large interest in this form of house after a new vogue of renovation in towns such as Marrakech or Essaouira. The style of riads lends itself for use as a hotel or restaurant and many now are used for this purpose in the burgeoning Moroccan tourist trade.
Riad Meriem is obviously tourist oriented and is well located in the heart of the ancient city of Medina, in the oldest quarter of Marrakech dating back to the 11th century. The hotel is close to many of the main attractions being five minutes away from the main square, the Jemaa el Fna, and one minute from the entrance to the souks.
Riad Meriem, as with many other riads, is centred around a patio, which is illuminated by a thousand lights at nightfall. The establishment has a small oriental plunge swimming pool with Jacuzzi facilities and which is perfect for refreshing the traveller in the heat of the day.
Access is through a large wooden door off one of the medina’s mysterious winding streets. The traveller steps into a different world with the hustle and bustle left behind and a quiet, cool oasis overflowing with flowers, birds and beautiful furnishings taking over.
The riad also contains several lounges including the Patio Lounge which opens on to the courtyard and is surrounded by bougainvillea and jasmine. The Chimney Lounge has an open fire and the Tent Lounge (Donghia fabric tent) on the roof terrace provides a quiet retreat where guests can relax while sipping local mint tea and gazing out over the rooftops of Marrakech.
The terrace is also ideal for sunbathing and lounging and offers excellent views of the Koutoubia mosque and the Atlas Mountains. The riad also has a private chef who creates superb Moroccan cuisine.
The riad was purchased by Thomas Hays in 2006 and has been renovated and designed around his specific design to give the establishment an authentic Moroccan atmosphere. Thomas Hays of Thomas Hays Interiors of Manhattan, New York now owns the hotel and during the renovation used only local craftsmen for the work.
The riad is small and with only five rooms so there were no large contractors used on the job. Hays used traditional builders and craftsman as much as possible to retain the building’s heritage.
Some of the finishes on the building, in particular the tadelakt plastering, is authentic to the area (plastering technique of hand applying an organic pigment and lime wash, followed by a vigorous rub with black olive soap). Colour schemes include aubergine, violet, sienna and ivory.
Although Hays used traditional Moroccan methods for the basis of the building, the fixtures and fittings are from far flung locations all over the globe and interspersed with modern art and photography from his travels.
Examples of the interiors include bathrooms with ornate Herbeau bath fittings imported from Lille and washbasins fashioned from bronze Indian cooking vessels, waterworks shower heads from the US, wall decorations including Moroccan bridal veils from the middle Atlas mountain, textiles from Java, Kurdistan, Sumatra (18th Century lawons from Sumatra) and from the Ndop people in Cameroon, wall lamps are fashioned from Philipino fish traps and the bronze lamps are made by a local craftsman who also supplies the royal palace.
All of the suites are individual and finished to the highest standard. The end result is a glorious mixture of traditional and modern, eastern and western to form a small ultra-luxurious boutique hotel.
Thomas Hays is an interior designer and fine art photographer who started his career in the financial world before turning to more creative ventures. His work has been featured in Design Times, The New York Times, Luxury Homes, Designing Interiors with Tile, Espaco D’Brazil, New York Living and on television featuring ‘The Most Romantic Bedrooms in America’. Hays’ work has been seen in the prestigious International Designers Showhouse and the Designers Showhouse at the Mount Vernon Museum, in Manhattan.