The riads of Marrakech made North Africa über-trendy. Staying in a monumental, dusty old house, with your bedroom facing into a carpeted courtyard, became the only way to see Morocco in the 1990s.
Fez soon followed, rediscovering old riads in among the madrasas. Now Agadir on the Atlantic coast has joined in, not with the refurbishment of some old whitewashed property in the souk, but with newly built accommodation on a gently shelving hillside overlooking the broad golden sands of Agadir's beach. If taking the riad out of the city is the next big thing for Morocco, then Riad Villa Blanche is leading the way.
The building, designed by Nadia Wahabi Benchemsi, stands on four floors that tumble down towards the beach. The front entrance recalls Sebastian's villa in Hammamet, the 1920s pleasure-dome that first introduced Europe to the idea of Moorish chic.
Inside, designer Abdou Kholfi has used traditional Moroccan features – brick arches, intricately carved white plaster and painted wooden screens – mixed with eclectic touches, including mosaics that are more Roman than Moroccan, four tall palm trees, one in each corner of the open courtyard (not a traditional riad feature), and leather club-land armchairs in the bar. There are fireplaces on some of the exterior balconies for those who want to sit out and gaze at the stars.
Unlike the purist movement in Marrakech, which is now creating riads more authentic than anything produced since the 16th century, this is the riad revisited and reconceived for the 21st.
The hotel, which opened earlier this month, has 28 bedrooms spread across three of the four floors; most lead off balconies that overlook the courtyard. Despite the regularity of new-build, each manages to be different from its neighbours thanks to the individually sourced decorations, pictures, antique tables and objets d'art. Fifteen rooms offer splendid views of the Atlantic, others less than splendid views of nearby hotel developments. Many have private terraces. Bathrooms are large and so are the king-sized beds from Sochéal in Casablanca. More modern facilities include air conditioning, satellite television and minibars.
The food and drink
The Restaurant Villa Blanche aims to offers a familiar Moroccan fusion of French and North African cuisine. Seasonal specialities include aubergine blinis, fillet of sea bass from Agadir Bay itself, and ravioli served in spicy Asian-style broth. Fresh seafood is a matter of great pride to the hotel. A three-course meal without wines will cost anything between 210 and 450 dirhams (£16 to £35). You can also buy salads and sandwiches at the Pool Bar throughout the day.
There is a spa in the basement, decorated with Moorish columns and mosaics. Treatments give emphasis to flowers, fruits and herbs, as well as Atlantic Ocean products (seaweed peels and marine mud massages). Locally sourced argan oil from a women's co-operative is used as an antioxidant. There is a heated indoor spa pool as well as the hotel's own outdoor pool with Atlantic views. The spa's water bar offers a selection of mineral waters from around the world as well as Moroccan herbal teas. For a more active time, Villa Blanche's concierge will arrange excursions such as camel- and horse-riding, hunting (in season), Atlas mountain exploration, or 4x4 excursions into the desert.
Wheelchair access and one room with facilities for guests with disabilities. Children welcome at rate of 342 MAD (£26) per night for over fives. Pets welcome – nightly fee of 91 MAD (£7).
Bed and breakfast costs from 1,925 MAD (£148) per night. Exsus (020-7337 9010; exsus.com) offers three nights' B&B at Riad Villa Blanche, Agadir, in a classic room, from £630 per person, including return flights, and private airport transfers from Marrakech to Agadir (a journey of about two hours).
La Riad Villa Blanche, Baie des Palmiers, Secteur No 50 Cité Founty, Agadir, Morocco (00 212 528 211 313; riad villablanche.com).Reuse content