With over 900 riads nestled in the ancient winding streets of the Marrakech medina, how do you stand out from the crowd? Rose Marie Fournier & Leonard Degoy, the couple behind the very chic Riad de Tarabel have the answer. Their boutique, adult-only bolthole continually impresses and delights with its unique contemporary style, warmly attentive staff, and oasis-like tranquility. We sat down with Leonard and Rose to learn more about what inspired them to open this beautiful Chic Retreat.
‘It all started when I met her,’ Leonard tells us, gesturing towards his wife, Rose. Leonard was living in Marrakech at the time and Rose was visiting to play golf. ’A friend of ours had a dinner party that we both went to,’ Rose says, picking up the story, ‘When Leonard saw me, he told his friend that I was his absolute fantasy.’ The two struck up a conversation and Rose found herself as beguiled by Leonard as he was with her. ’He’s a very good dancer,’ she says, laughing. It wasn’t long before the couple began to think of a future together, or as Leonard puts it ‘We decided to have a child… this place! The house is our child!’ As they began to renovate the French colonial-style mansion, thoughts of owning a hotel were far from their mind. ‘Really we built it as a house for us in the beginning,’ Rose tells us, ‘The first three rooms were for us, but then we had a lot of people wanting to stay, so we decided to turn it into a hotel.’ Ten years later and the original three rooms have expanded, with the acquisition of neighbouring properties, to 10. Rose is adamant that there are no plans to expand further, however. ‘We won’t make it bigger, because the soul of the house would change and the atmosphere would change,’ she tells us. ‘With it being only 10 rooms, you don’t realise that there are other people in the riad – it’s like having your own home in Marrakech.’
Intimate and charming in equal measure, Riad de Tarabel certainly feels more like a private house than a hotel, thanks in a large part to the unique décor that is a refreshing change from more traditional Moroccan hotels. ‘The style is very different to the other riads,’ Rose tells us. ‘We’ve removed the heavy decorations and everything is lighter. The décor is a real mixture, with the Moroccan architecture but then art and furniture from all over the world. I wanted something different, not just ethnic like everyone else.’ More than anything, one gets a real sense of the personalities of Rose and Leonard in the little details throughout. ‘We did it all ourselves using our travel experiences as inspiration.’ Rose says, ‘We brought a lot of things from Leonard’s parents’ castle in France, and we buy a lot of antiques from all over the world – we didn’t want to just have new pieces made.’
The result is an abundance of bright, airy spaces which, as Rose points out, are a rarity in Marrakech. ‘Riads are small and don’t usually have big patios,’ she says, ‘because it’s really high and narrow, you can feel a bit claustrophobic. Here, because there’s more space, there are a lot of places where you can sit. It’s very rare to have such a big riad, with lots of space but so few rooms.’ This extra space is central to the couples’ commitment to provide a unique guest experience. ‘We wanted people to be able to enjoy the place and stay here all day long if they want to.’ Rose explains, ‘We wanted to create a very peaceful atmosphere.’ While the décor is a far cry from the traditional idea of a riad, Rose and Leonard see themselves as continuing in the ancient traditions of hospitality that the riad represents. ‘In Arabic philosophy and architecture, it’s about creating a peaceful effect inside, away from the crowded and busy outside,’ Rose says, ‘The windows don’t look out, they all look in, because inside the water and the trees are paradise. All riads have water and trees for a peaceful effect. It’s very private.’
Adding to the feeling of intimate privacy is the exclusivity of the retreat. ‘I didn’t want us to be that easy to find, not mainstream,’ Leonard tells us. ‘We want people to find us by word of mouth, like a secret.’ This certainly doesn’t mean that Riad de Tarabel has the haughtiness of other ‘exclusive’ boltholes, Leonard is quick to add. ‘We want our guests to become friends – it’s more interesting,’ he tells us. Rose agrees, and says that the team at the Riad help to establish the right ambience. ‘Our service is of a very high level,’ she says, ‘We don’t want it to be too formal, we want to be sophisticated but cool.’ Led by the capable concierge, Laurent, the hotel’s team dedicate themselves to providing unforgettable memories. ‘Our guests can spend a night in the desert,’ Rose tells us, ‘or Laurent sends them to special places in Marrakech. We have a special guide that takes guests out and we also give them a phone so they can call us wherever they are and we’ll send someone to help them.’ Leonard agrees, ‘I don’t sell the room, I sell the place. People need to live an experience, it’s about surprising the guest.’ He pauses, and suddenly the courtyard is silent except for the sound of the gently gurgling water feature. Although we’re in the heart of the medina, Riad de Tarabel is a blissful oasis of peace and quiet. ‘We want people to come here and dream,’ Leonard says, simply.