“Exquisite heritage riad in Essaouira's medina with a sea-view rooftop dining terrace, astonishingly beautiful rooms and a hammam”
British designer Helen Howat, passionate about Arabian design and Moroccan architecture (she worked in the Middle East for years), acquired an 18th-century riad - formerly a Jewish merchant house then a consulate - and spent 5 years on its ambitious transformation. Her contemporary reinvention of traditional crafts meant incorporating Islamic patterns, stunning vintage pieces, clashing yet sumptuous upholstery and dazzlingly intricate tilework. The ground floor has a bespoke 54-panel wall-hanging beside mid-century modern furniture and a sunken library in shades of flame. Ascend the staircase - each riser painted differently - to 2 blue floors housing a hammam and 11 fabulous rooms inspired by Moroccan cities. At the top is the romantic rooftop dining terrace with magnificent ocean views. Artwork ranges from note-perfect kitsch paintings to Berber wall art. And, this isn't just a design showcase, it all actually works! Rooms are supremely comfortable and calming, there's plentiful hot water for the signature copper bathtubs, the food is delicious, and the ambiance is delightful.
- Great location in Essaouira's Unesco-listed medina overlooking the Skala du Port (bastion) and the Atlantic
- Breathtaking and unique restoration, everything fashioned to a very high standard; interior design buffs will be in heaven
- Lovely helpful staff
- Extraordinarily beautiful bedrooms and bathrooms, each individually decorated; good value for the high quality
- Wonderful Moroccan fare in the rooftop restaurant with an emphasis on fresh fish and barbecued meat
- Most rooms are fairly compact; don't expect much by way of wardrobes or floor space for luggage
- Some showers splash over the bathtubs onto the floor
- Winding stairs up to the roof terrace; there's no lift (to be expected in an old riad)
- Ongoing construction work throughout Essaouira as they upgrade the town. We didn't hear any noise but you may experience some
- The alcohol licence has been applied for but has not yet arrived
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Boutique Hotel
- Restaurant open daily
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Steam Room
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Rooftop terrace, ground-floor reception
On the first and second floors, 11 rooms and suites dazzle and delight. All have signature copper bathtubs with overhead showers in ensuite bathrooms, blissful beds, one-off vintage pieces and high painted ceilings. Pricing is determined by size and view.
Malika (Arabic for princess) has a vibrant dancing girl mural above the bed. The green and white zellige tiles in Fez are inspired by roofs in that ancient city. The sunburst effect in Marrakesh pays homage to tannery leather dye vats. Palmeraie has art deco patterns evoking fairytale palm trees.
Berber has a wistful portrait of Princess Aisha plus tribal patterns in lamps and walls, while Maghreb has a stone-arched harem, now a small living area, and shocking pink fabrics. First-floor Safi, where we stayed, is a blues fantasy across bedroom and a salon.
For that coveted sea view, Mogador has an ocean and fishing boat-inspired design. Both Boudoir and Tangier have flamboyant Orientalist-style oil paintings; the latter also has a private sitting area. The biggest of all, Casablanca, overlooks the ramparts and showcases traditional Moroccan tilework across 2 rooms.
- Safe box
A relaxed affair, breakfast is taken on the roof terrace; if the weather less than clement you'll be in the adjacent dining room. We enjoyed mushroom one-pot omelettes, Moroccan pancakes, croissants, jams and honey, freshly squeezed juices, and excellent coffee (the best of our entire trip), gazing out over the ever-changing Atlantic.
For lunch or dinner head out to any number of eateries nearby. Or stay in for the freshest of fish (think monkfish skewers), barbecued meat, tasty tagines and Moroccan sides. We really liked the seafood pastilla, the special of the day when we stayed. Food and non-alcoholic drinks are available all day. Most evenings there are live musicians to add to the laid-back and stylish atmosphere.
- Children's meals
- Restaurants nearby
- Vegetarian menu
- Step out and you're in the souks; there's a nice wood carver and his wares diagonally across the laneway
- Stroll along the sea wall for ocean views, checking the dates of the cannons, and finish up at Skala du Port, Essaouira's much-photographed bastion
- The fish market is a feast for the senses
- Learn to kite- or windsurf on the main beach
- Bouchra and her team can arrange local tours and expeditions
- Back at the hotel there's a hammam (perfectly tiled, natch); you get a free 30-minute session for booking through i-escape. You can have a massage in-room, too
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Boat trips
- Cooking classes
- Historical sites
- Horse riding
- Museums / galleries
- Private guided tours
- Shopping / markets
- Traditional cultures
Children are welcome and ours enjoyed the novelty of the stunning decor and the signature copper baths. However, rooms are really set up for couples and there is not much for kids to do at the hotel.
Extra beds are only for children up to the age of 14; if travelling with teenagers 15 and over an additional room needs to be booked. Baby cots are free to borrow.
Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)
Family friendly accommodation:
Safi can take 2 additional beds or baby cots; 1 additional bed or baby cot can be placed in Maghreb. Marrakesh, Palmerie and Fez can each fit 1 baby cots.
Special requests accommodated with a little notice
Kids Activities nearby:
- Beach nearby
- The fish market
- Shopping in the souks
- Camel rides
Families Should Know:
There are lots of winding steps to reach the upper floors
- Airport: 20-30 minutes (Essaouira)
- Shops: 1 minute