We first discovered the beautiful boutique hotel of Rebali Riads, Morocco in May 2015 (according to a quick search of my Google photos).
We were captivated by this little oasis located three hours drive from Marrakech, or a little hop from the local airport in Essaouira if you’re lucky enough to get a flight from Stansted.
Sidi Kaouki is a small fishing village that has been on the verge of being ‘up and coming’ since 2014 when plans for a 200 room hotel were submitted.
Thankfully eight years on it’s still on the verge with only the feintest signs of changing anytime soon. The one track road can now carry two vehicles in different directions.
Still a little rough around the edges here and there, all your basic needs and wants adequately catered for.
A little shop has opened a stone’s throw from the entrance to Rebali. Chocolate, fresh mangoes or Schweppes Tonic should you wish to dilute your duty free gin.
Talking of drinks Morocco is a Muslim country. Alcohol is available in Essaouira, but it’s relatively limited at Rebali to a choice of three local wines, one red, one white and one rosé. All more than drinkable.
Local beers are also available with sodas and water.
The kitchens in each Riad are well equipped, not that you’d ever need to cook yourself, but if you want to take chef Hazad up on his offer to go food shopping in Essaouira and then teach you how to make a tagine – you’ve got all the equipment to hand.
Or in my case help Fatima create one of her famous cakes for afternoon tea. Apple cake in case you’re wondering.
The surf bar up the beach has had a new mural or two added since our last visit, but is otherwise untouched. Burgers and fries are good.
The rather wonderful French restaurant the other direction – La Mouette et les Dromadaires – a 15 minute walk along the coast has added some new guest rooms. More about the food there in a moment. The local taxi there and back is by camel if you choose.
And at night the other option for food – Hôtel Le Kaouki – also French inspired is very much as wonderful today as it was back then on our first visit. A cute outdoor courtyard with fairy lights. Or inside a little cave, heated by an open fire.
I have a confession to make
On our last visit in August 2018 I was reluctant to review this magical place for BaldHiker, for fear of the floodgates opening and not being able to book and come back so easily.
Two years of Covid have put pay to that selfish notion.
Like other places that capture your heart when travelling what makes Rebali special, in addition to the immaculate gardens, inviting (and now heated to 28 degrees) pool, tennis court, table tennis table, hammocks, and family of tortoises, are the people.
The team of familiar faces, many of whom have been here since the beginning, make you feel so welcome. Nothing is too much bother. Breakfast is served to your individual garden or inside your spacious riad.
The fire is lit at 5pm on chillier evenings. The rooms cleaned and beds made every day.
Freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh coffee, bread and fruit. Eggs or pancakes or croissants.
Taxis called for day trips to Essaouira and return times arranged in advance for minimum stress.
Quad bikes on the beach to venture to the nearby waterfalls. Camel rides, henna, or if you’re feeling sporty why not have a surf board lesson or learn how to windsurf in the gusty Atlantic. Or you can be pampered with a massage or facial in Rebali’s on site hammam.
Afternoon cake and tea, plus popcorn served at 3.30pm on the dot. A communal ritual that gives guests the opportunity to informally meet one another and drink tea. Hosted by Mohammed – the ever-present manager at Rebali, cake expertly baked by assistant manager Fatima. It breaks the ice for new arrivals and those who have already settled in.
Evenings here are slow paced and relaxed. Dinner is served to your riad, options available for those with particular requirements, but if you’re happy to go with the flow you won’t be disappointed by tagines of chicken, new potatoes, or lamb, aubergine and prunes.
BBQ kebabs with salad another highlight. Always topped off with a little dessert such as chocolate mousse, strawberries or panna cotta.
The nearby eateries cater for simple takeaway lunches, there’s a few to choose from in the square by the beach. They are all grateful for your custom.
The hawkers who approach you here are as relaxed as the cats who sit in the doorways. The Essaouiran vibe is more chilled than Marrakech. They enquire if you’d like to see their jewellery or fancy a ride on a donkey, but are happy to take no for an answer.
The two restaurants mentioned above, are worthy of a footnote. Hotel Kaouki served us up a simple salad starter with bread and olives. A whole fish for main course expertly barbecued. With meatballs for the two girls who’d said in advance they’re not sure about fish.
They’re more sure now. Both ate more than their fair share.
The more fancy restaurant up the beach is open for lunches every day except Tuesdays. But only caters for their own guests after 6pm.
The menu all in French, but translated if required was a heady mix of seafood and fish. We tried sea urchins for the first time, octopus salad, fish red curry, and John Dory. Washed down with virgin mojitos and rosé wine.
The desserts were equally delightful, chocolate fondant, creme brulé, and lemon cheesecake. Topped off with an espresso. All in, including a tip less than £100. And unlike most places here, happy to take credit card.
For me, this spot is the perfect one week getaway. Even with a three hour transfer at each end, the bit in the middle is spot on. Time to read a book. No stress. And enough adventure to feel like you’ve travelled to a far away land full of mystique and wonder.