If you’re planning on heading to Morocco anytime soon, you need to wrap your head around staying at independent hotels. Sure, you’ll find a Holiday Inn far removed from the center of Marrakech and a few locations to test out your free Accor status, but that won’t get you everywhere in the country. In Morocco, a lot of towns and cities have nothing but independent hotels to choose from – and that’s part of the charm!
- Booking Award Flights to Morocco
- Battle of the Business Class Flights
- Stopovers: Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?
- Morocco in a Nutshell
- The Best Aspects of my Hotel Stays
- A Suggested Two-Week Itinerary for Morocco
- Dar Seffarine: My New Favorite Hotel
- Giving Madrid a Second Chance
For years, I’ve been enjoying the individualized service and ambiance that come with smaller, independently-managed properties. I love it, but you have to be open to never knowing exactly what you’ll get. If you can roll with the punches, here’s the best aspects of where I’ve stayed on my trip through Morocco, London, and Madrid.
Best Consistency – Holiday Inn London Mayfair
London’s an expensive city, so I chose to stay where I could get a free night rather than paying out of pocket. The Holiday Inn Mayfair isn’t an interesting hotel in the slightest, but it has an amazing location right in the heart of things, which is always my #1 criteria. This Holiday Inn resembled basically every other Holiday Inn I’ve ever stayed at – and that was a good thing. Arriving exhausted after an overnight flight, I loved knowing there would be no problems storing my luggage until the room was ready, communicating with the front desk, or that there’d be an iron in the room to freshen up before heading out for the night. The room was a decent size and I had a comfortable stay, plus I loved walking everywhere in London rather than having to rely on the tube – a definite plus rather than staying at the Intercontinental, which was a bit out of the way for the attractions I was hoping to see.
Best Escape – Riad Abaka (Marrakech)
Yes, I’ll admit it. Marrakech is overwhelming. I don’t mean that in a bad way, and in fact, I loved it and wished I had an extra day there. However, you can soak up so much more of the culture when you’re rested and ready for the experience, helping me avoid the tourist traps of the souks and instead venture out to local neighborhoods. A riad is more than just a Moroccan guesthouse with excellent hospitality – it is also a building featuring an inner courtyard or garden. There is something so much more soothing about sitting outside in a quiet garden drinking mint tea and listening to a water wall rather than sitting in your room with a Coke and the TV blaring. Thirty minutes here was all I needed to recharge and get back out there (or quiet my thoughts to get ready for bed). Throw in a big, comfortable room and a delicious breakfast, and Riad Abaka was a treat.
Best Price – Hotel Azoul (Ouarzazate)
Usually I want a hotel with an experience I remember, but when my husband saw the hotel I “discovered” had mud walls, required crossing a stream on foot to get there, and had nothing to do for the remainder of the afternoon/evening, we moved on to Plan B. At this point, the new goal was simply to find a cheap place to spend the night. For those of you who think you have to spend a decent chunk of money to get a good night’s sleep, check out this room. A comfortable bed, desk, armoire, flat-screen with satellite TV channels, wi-fi, and substantial breakfast for two for 330 dirham, or about $40. That’s far from the cheapest hotel in town, but a very affordable option if you’re looking for western comforts, including a private space, heat, and hot water.
Best Ambiance – Auberge le Festival (Todra Gorge)
Have you ever stayed in a cave hotel? I wanted to, ever since first reading about them (though admittedly I expected to cross this item off my bucket list in Cappadocia, Turkey instead of Morocco). Yes, it was really as cool as it looks, and was the best night sleep I got on the entire trip (perhaps due to the fact the cave insulated all noises from the dawn call to prayer!). The cave was spacious, atmospheric, and had a really cool sink with fossils in the stonework. Best of all, the main lodge was a great place to talk with other travelers and the owner over a delicious meal. Rounding out my experience was the friendly dog greeting us and amazing stars at night. I’d return in a heartbeat.
Best View – Bivouac Camping (Merzouga Dunes)
One of the quintessential Moroccan-tourist experiences is heading by camel into the amazing desert, and Merzouga is the preferred place to do it because of the gorgeous surroundings. Riding a camel is overrated, an activity that is fun for about…ten minutes…but I would still recommend it to anyone going to Morocco. Getting into the expansive dunes is just that cool, and going by ATV would ruin the quiet and peaceful experience (just plan on a sore behind for awhile!). Put in the effort to climb a sand dune for sunset and work up an appetite for dinner and by all means, bring ear plugs so you can sleep despite the donkey braying the background. Maybe I just had bad luck assuming it would be quiet in the desert! However, it’s all worth it the next morning when you see the sun rising, which I found more beautiful than the sunset. Soak in the view and picture it in your head for the next two hours as you ride back to the village of Merzouga by camel. Trust me.
Best Service – Dar Seffarine (Fes)
Back in August, reader mg provided this advice: “Drop everything and try to get a room at Dar Seffarine in Fez. It is the most incredible place I have ever stayed, in one of the most amazing cities I have ever visited…Seriously though. Drop everything, rearrange plans if you have to, stay at Dar Seffarine.”
And mg was absolutely right.
Dar Seffarine is worth rearranging for, though with a perfect location and affordable price in a fabulous city, you shouldn’t have to work hard to rearrange. This guesthouse now holds the title of my favorite hotel and is deserving a full, dedicated review with lots of photos so I’ll expand on this later on. However, if I have to pick one “best of” for this property, it’s by far the service. Not only did the owners extend an invitation to go hiking in the foothills around Fes, but the other staff were fantastic also. We had a tour of the building along with a complete history of the property (and greater Fes), shared tea and cookies while exchanging stories, were given handdrawn maps for our exploration, and I even learned how to prepare a traditional Moroccan breakfast in the kitchen (and joke about starting a YouTube series). They took the time to learn our interests and then interweave those into our stay, providing a personalized visit at its best. Throw in a turndown service that included lighting candles in the sitting room of our suite, and we felt about as pampered as possible.
Best Shower – Casa Perleta (Chefchaouen)
Casa Perleta is a hotel that falls exactly into the adequate bucket. Enough service was provided to make sure I had everything I needed but nothing more. The room was just large enough for two people but with no space to spare. Breakfast was simple but meant I didn’t go hungry. So why is it such a popular choice for stays in Chefchaouen? I have to imagine it was for the shower, which had all sorts of little luxuries you never give a second thought to at home. The water temperature remained exactly where you set it with no fluctuations. The water pressure was spot on. There was a shower curtain. It was exactly the perfect way to end a trip to Morocco, and that alone would be reason enough for me to recommend this property. The location and price were right, too.
Best Bed – Westin Madrid
I had never stayed at a Westin before, but I had a free night certificate valid at category 1-5 hotels and I was determined to get maximum value out of that certificate. What better way to do that than redeem for an overpriced hotel room at an icon first opened by King Alfonso XIII? The room otherwise falls into the “consistent” category of most chain hotels, and I’m not really sure what the big deal is about staying here, but yes, the bed is deserving of its heavenly status. So much so, in fact, that my twenty-minute cat nap before a Real Madrid soccer game turned into a three hour snooze and a change of plans to instead partake in a tapas crawl (oops). I guess that mattress and high-end linens were calling to me. The room was entirely comfortable and had a stellar location in the heart of the city, but frankly, I’m not sure it was luxury and I’m glad I used a certificate rather than cash and/or points.
Overall, the trip was a success with recommended hotel accommodations all across the board, hitting quite a variety of styles and amenities. Wonder where I’ll stay next…