Bags in tow, we trudge down a coral-colored alleyway, past unmarked doors and little boys kicking soccer balls around us, until finally reaching the door marked with a charmingly tarnished silver plaque on the upper right hand side that reads DAR LALLA F’DILA. Next to it is the doorbell, which we rang, and it swings open to reveal an entryway leading into a calm, spacious interior and a petite French woman smiling at us. We introduce ourselves to Véronique, the owner, who leads us into the central courtyard, or cour as it is called in French- just one letter off from the word for heart, and the heart of this historic riad in Marrakech.
“Bienvenue à mon petit palais,” Véronique tells us, looking around with pride and fondness. Welcome to my little palace, and it is indeed, an oasis of calm in the middle of the chaos of the Marrakech medina.
She takes us on a tour of the riad, as her other guests are kind enough to let us go into the rooms they’re staying in so she can show us some of the most interesting details of the building. One of the downstairs bathrooms was once a hallway connecting the riad to the palace behind it, which is now the Marrakech Museum. The palace, originally constructed in the late 1800s by defense minister Mehdi Mnebhi, became the property of Mnebhi’s son-in-law Thami El Glaoui, Pasha of Marrakech, upon Mnebhi’s move to Tangier, where he remained until his death in 1941.
The riad was connected to the palace by this hallway and served as additional sleeping quarters for guests of the pasha. One room was used by famed entertainer Josephine Baker, a dancer who had gained worldwide fame headlining at the Folies Bergère cabaret in Paris, later renounced her American citizenship, and became an agent of the French Resistance during World War II, as a dressing room, though she was not permitted to stay in the riad, as women in those days had to stay in the women’s quarters, separate from the men. Her friendship with the pacha allowed her permissions that the Moroccan women couldn’t have.
After Morocco gained independence from the French in 1956, the palace became property of the state and various parts of it were broken up, including the riad. Mnebhi’s grandson’s private tutor became the owner of the riad, and remained as such until Veronique took ownership of it in 2000. In 2003, the riad opened its doors as a guesthouse named Dar Lalla F’dila after one of the girls who had lived in the palace under Mnebhi.
Dar is the Arabic word meaning chez in French, which has no direct translation in English but roughly means “my place” or “home”. It will truly become your home away from home while in Marrakech. The decor of the rooms is traditional without being stuffy, warm without feeling too hot (it IS Morocco after all!). There’s plenty of light in the communal spaces, while canvas covers the top of the opening in the center of the riad to keep it from heating up too much in the midday sun. On the roof, two separate cozy nooks are available for lounging, while a long dining table offers the perfect place for a sunset dinner overlooking the city. If you get hot trying to tan on one of the uncovered lounge chairs, you can take a dip in the rooftop pool!
Our room is one of the riad’s upstairs suites, which has a king size bed, two twin beds, and a sitting area with a TV and library. It’s bigger than our apartment in Paris! So big, in fact, that when our masseuse arrives, she has enough room to set up her table in the room. Didier gets a massage while I’m being scrubbed down in the hammam, and then he sits outside while I have a massage as well. It’s such a treat since it’s not something we do in Paris, and my skin feels baby soft after the scrub and the oils from the massage.
It’s our last night together, so after our massages, they arrange for us to have dinner on the rooftop. We emerge, hand-in-hand and incredibly relaxed, from the stairwell onto the roof to a beautiful sunset. After we finish our first course of dinner, we’re joined by a Belgian couple about our age who have just checked into the riad, turning our twosome into a lively foursome, and we chat and laugh late into the night.
The next day, I’m on my way to the airport when I receive a message from Didier with a photo from the riad he had just checked into. Suffice to say he was missing Dar Lalla F’dila already! Our stay in Véronique’s petit palais was far too short, and we can’t wait to go back to this historic riad in Marrakech.
Love this post? Pin it for your next trip to Marrakech!
Thank you to Riad Dar Lalla F’dila for hosting us for the purposes of this review. All opinions are, as always, my own.