Morocco offers the traveler an extremely appealing range of year-round accommodations, including trendy medina houses, world-class luxury hotels and beach resorts, desert and mountain kasbahs, and grand sultan palaces. Luxury options have increased considerably over recent years, but there are still plenty of mid- to lower-range accommodations as well. Advance reservations are recommended during the holiday season from June to September, as well as over the Easter and Christmas/New Year periods. This applies year-round in Marrakech. You'll also need to prebook if you want to stay in a medina maison d'hôte, where it's almost geographically impossible to simply arrive and ask for a room.
Hotels in Morocco are distinguished between those that are classified by the Moroccan tourist board and those that aren't. As in most countries, the government's hotel-rating system means that establishments are awarded stars for the presence of certain facilities -- pool, restaurant, elevator, and so on -- more than for standards of service and luxury. Thus, it is not always true that the accommodations with the most stars are necessarily the most comfortable or atmospheric. In Morocco, it's best not to rely too much on the star system, as inspections of classified hotels are erratic, and regardless of their star rating, hotels can charge whatever they wish. Unclassified hotels tend to be inexpensive places, usually with communal showers and toilets, few facilities, and in the cities are often located within the medina. Other unclassified hotels, such as those in central and southern Morocco, often offer mattresses on their roof terraces or under large Berber tents, and can be a bargain for budget travelers. Classified hotels in the cities are usually found in the ville nouvelle, and although most lack any great character with mainly Western-style rooms, they do offer value for money. During the cold winter and hot summer, these hotels -- usually in the moderate price bracket and upward -- come into their own, offering rooms with reverse-cycle air-conditioning and showers with a good supply of hot and cold water. Some hotels offer half board (demi pension, meaning breakfast and dinner are included), which can be a good deal, especially in the more isolated areas where there aren't too many alternative dining options.
Morocco's other major style of accommodations is the guesthouse, or maison d'hôte. Generally, maisons d'hôte are in the expensive and very expensive price range, offering services similar to what you would expect from a four-star hotel. Initially concentrated within Marrakech, but now found in great number throughout the country, Morocco's medina maisons d'hôte -- simply called riads in much travel literature -- have become one of the world's most chic accommodations styles. They are generally owner managed, and each has its own distinct soul that is a personal reflection of the owners themselves. Inside you're more than likely to find romantic bedrooms, personal service, fantastic rooftop terrace views, and delicious breakfasts (if not dinners as well), all in a relaxed, intimate setting amidst the hustle and commotion of the medina. On the flip side, however, your room may lack air-conditioning or heating; offer little privacy due to thin, echoing walls and curtained entrances with no locks; and only be accessible by climbing numerous flights of steep, narrow stairs.
Most medina maisons d'hôte can only be accessed by foot. Staying within the medina offers the benefit of being within walking distance of the majority of sights and attractions, and presents an authentic experience of medina life. If you are considering staying within the medina but are traveling with small children, take note that maisons d'hôte usually consist of two to three levels of rooms in close quarters, and noise carries easily from within. Many maisons d'hôte also have plunge or small swimming pools that aren't supervised or cordoned off, as well as stairways or roof terraces that aren't the safest places for crawling or investigative little ones. It is because of both these noise and safety concerns -- let alone any practical problems concerning bed space within the rooms -- that some maisons d'hôte simply refuse to accept children.
The popularity of this accommodations style has skyrocketed in recent years, bringing with it a few unscrupulous property developers who are merely looking to make some easy money through minimum investment. Although the website may look stunning, it's always worth checking out any recent online reviews on a maison d'hôte (such as www.tripadvisor.com) or, if possible, viewing the establishment before handing any money over.
Note: In your hotel or maison d'hôte bathroom, taps labeled C and F stand for chaude (hot) and froid (cold).
Throughout this guide, I've separated hotel listings into several broad categories, reflecting the rack rate for a double room: Very Expensive, 960dh and up; Expensive, 640dh to 960dh; Moderate, 360dh to 640dh; and Inexpensive, under 360dh. Unless otherwise noted, the room rates advised in accommodations' listings are for high season, and exclude all government taxes including a recently introduced Tourist Promotion Tax (TPT) of 10dh to 50dh per person per night, depending on the grade of accommodations. Although single room rates are not stated in the accommodations listings, most accommodations will offer a discounted rate to solo travelers. Tip: During the quieter months, many hotels and some maisons d'hôte will give room discounts or offer petit déjeuner (breakfast) if it's not already included. Most of the time you'll have to inquire first, though, as nothing will be automatically given to you. Also, don't be fooled by the lure of a "minibar." In Morocco, this generally means that there is a small -- and empty -- fridge in your room. However, I've made this distinction in the amenities where applicable (so minibar does indeed mean minibar).
Making advance reservations with many unclassified and inexpensive hotels is usually only achieved over phone, often with reception staff who speak only French, or at best a little English. Most other levels of accommodations will accept reservations by fax or e-mail, requiring a credit card number to confirm the room for you. Many maisons d'hôte and high-end hotels quote in euros but will accept cash payment in either euros or dirham. Most hotels and maisons d'hôte, except the inexpensive establishments within the medina, will accept payment by credit card, but some will add a 5% bank administration fee to your bill, and others will frustratingly advise you when checking out that their machine is broken and request you to draw large sums of cash from an ATM.
A few international chains operate in Morocco, most notably the Hilton in Rabat; the Hyatt and Sheraton in Casablanca; Le Méridien in Casablanca and Marrakech; and Sofitel, which among its seven Moroccan properties are those in Agadir, Essaouira, Fes, Marrakech, and Rabat. The Atlas Hospitality Group (www.hotelsatlas.com) is a Moroccan company with a number of resorts and hotels throughout Morocco. Most of their properties were existing hotels that have been bought by the group and refurbished. Like all chains, they have a certain similarity between them, but the rooms are fitted with quality finishings and are on the whole a very good value. Kenzi Hôtels (www.kenzi-hotels.com) operates 10 hotels in Morocco. The hotels are all four- or five-star, but are generally tired and overpriced, most not having been refurbished since they opened in the late 1980s or early 1990s. A lot of their business comes from large tour groups and Moroccan businessmen. The Ibis hotel chain (www.ibishotel.com) operates a string of midrange hotels throughout Morocco. Their hotels are usually found near transport centers, mainly train stations, and are all styled along similar lines, with compact, functional rooms.
Some websites worth checking out for accommodations in Morocco include www.hipmorocco.com, www.marrakech-medina.com, and www.riadomaroc.com.
Riads, Dars & Maisons d'Hôte -- Morocco's medinas are the ancient walled cities constructed through the ages by the country's various dynasties, protected from invaders by the imposing walls that now separate the medina from the rest of the city. The traditional dwellings within the medina are called riads or dars. The Arabic word riad translates to "garden," while dar simply means "house," and this is the main distinction between the two dwellings. Both typically have no windows onto the street outside, instead having all windows opening inward to an open-air central courtyard that is the heart of the house. The service areas -- kitchen, hammam, and laundry -- are normally on the entrance side near the street.
The courtyard in a true riad has both a fountain and garden, or at least some fruit trees. Riads tend to have many salons on multiple levels, often on all four sides but sometimes on only three sides, with the garden up against the fourth wall. A dar mirrors a riad in much of its design, but is generally smaller. While it might have a fountain, it lacks the central garden in the courtyard. The principal elevating characteristics of both dwellings are their sanctuary from the busy streets outside and their interior courtyards that are open toward the sky.
During the protectorate years, the French created new cities (ville nouveaux) outside the medinas, condemning the medinas to becoming the poor neighborhoods of contemporary Moroccan cities. Moroccan families abandoned their medina dwellings in favor of apartments or villas in the new neighborhoods outside. Rural families, sometimes up to a dozen, moved into the medina houses, paying rent to unscrupulous landlords who kept maintenance of the buildings to a minimum. Toward the end of the 1990s, however, and coinciding with a general surge of tourism interest toward Morocco, some Europeans and prosperous Moroccans began buying and restoring the medina's riads and dars, initially as holiday homes. While abroad, many of these foreign-based owners were faced with security and maintenance concerns of their medina dwellings, and some began to open them as guesthouses, called maisons d'hôte, as a way of paying for these additional year-round expenses.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.