The old man manoeuvring our luggage in a large cart through a maze of tiny streets and alleys in the medina asks for directions several times along the way. I have to keep up a steady pace in order not to lose him, and am secretly relieved we haven’t gone off on our own searching for this hidden Hideaway. (Of course, I could have telephoned ahead to the Riad myself and have one of their porters pick us up, as they suggested in their email, …. But, having spent the last couple of days in Essaouira, I was foolhardy enough to believe I would be able to find the place by myself…) Finally, at the end of yet another small alley, a door looms up that I instantly recognize from the pictures: we have found Riad Baladin! As soon as the door closes behind us, we enter a different world: an oasis of tranquillity and serenity that makes us forget completely that, in fact, we are in quite a busy town. I am immediately struck by the natural décor, a welcome change from the many colourful Moroccan adornments that you see everywhere. What a wonderful hidden treasure this is!
Riad Baladin is made up of two interconnected townhouses with a total of ten rooms. It has the characteristic thick walls you often find in warm countries, perfect for keeping out the summer heat while providing warmth and comfort in the chillier winter months. Although I must say that the temperature in Essaouira is nice throughout the year. Both houses offer a beautiful patio (one of which has a private jacuzzi) and stylish lounges where you can sit down to read or, in the evening, warm yourself at the fireplace. All ten rooms are named after the colours used on the tadelakt (Moroccan stucco) in the bathrooms and, like the common rooms, they all radiate an atmosphere of natural quiet. The beds are real eye catchers; they were designed by Nicole, the manager, and are an extraordinary mix of Asian and African styles….beautiful and different! Wandering through Riad Baladin, I find that various stairways lead outside… to some wonderful roof terraces. For instance, one is perfect for enjoying a lovely breakfast out of the wind, another allows you to settle down after a visit to the medina or the beach and a third has deck chairs from which to enjoy the fabulous view of Essaouira.
The next morning, I meet Nicole. She is an enterprising and extrovert lady who has left behind an entirely different life in Switzerland, where she spent many successful years in front of and behind television cameras. After wandering around for some time, she met Teo Musso, a successful entrepreneur who brews organic beer in Italy, a wine producing country par excellence. He was looking for someone to help him develop the Baladin brand outside of Italy and together they started Riad Baladin. By now, they are working on several other extraordinary projects.
Essaouira is a lovely city to descend on for a couple of days. Nicole knows it like the back of her hand and can recommend all the best places to visit. And should you need medical attention, as did my daughter when she took a nasty fall, Nicole will prove a firm and admirable help!