With just six rooms, a rooftop spanning views of the mosque and a studio to host traveling artists, Riad Jardin Secret sings silent cues to those seeking a creative refuge in Morocco.
Written by Jacquelyn Lumley
here is a tropical jungle in the middle of the medina. Overgrown with palms and echoing with sweet little bird chirps, sounds of the souk are slowly drowned out as natural light dances in, diffused onto colorful tiled walls. After a long hot walk though dusty pathways, Riad Jardin Secret reveals itself behind a big, heavy wooden door. This is one of many riads in Marrakech but a standout in its serene energy and eccentric history. Originally built as a home for a rich Moroccan man’s mistress, the owners have transformed the space into a sanctuary for cultured travelers.
“One of the most important things when you arrive in Marrakech and when you arrive in Morocco in general– is that you have to take to time for everything,” says Julien, who owns the riad with his wife, Cyrille. “The city requests a lot of energy because of the maze, because of all the smells, the colors you will see, all the people you will have to meet.” To counter this, the couple wanted to create an inviting space to recharge and take rest while absorbing all that lives outside the walls.
The word Riad originates from the Arabian term for garden, and characterizes a traditional Moroccan home coined with a small fountain in a central atrium space. This design, with tall, unassuming walls, leaves a lot to the imagination from the outside and channels reflective, inward energy once inside.
Originally a private residence, the house was built at the same time as the Koutoubia Mosque, over 150 years ago. The first known owner was a rich man from the north of Morocco who constructed two identical riads next to each other and gifted one to his mistress, so that he could travel easily between the two.
A rumored friend of Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent renovated the house in the late 70’s. He mixed tadelakt plaster with a silky pink pigment (a combination historically reserved for use inside hammans) and heightened the walls on the roof for parties.
Three years ago, Cyrielle and Julien packed up and left their life in Paris, seeking something more simple in Morocco. They discovered a historic property in the city’s old medina, and began to cultivate a home.
“Between here and Paris, it’s really different. We have a lot of things to do here but we take more time to enjoy and feel everything.”
The couple worked with local artisans to restore the old-world charm of the riad. Bursts of life and color reflect an authentic Morocco, evident in every corner of Jardin Secret. “We’re not white walls and concrete guys,” Julien reveals with a smile, countering the recent trend in super simple interior design.
“We really wanted to support the artists,” says Cyrille, adding that the riad’s newly introduced artist residency is a way to connect, share and now inspire the the work of artists they admire.
Photographers, illustrators and artists from across the globe have spent mornings on the roof, enjoying a rare vegan menu at the café (which is open to the public for lunch) chatting with Inès Longevial, the most recent artist-in-residency.
Since the beginning, it’s been very important for Cyrille and Julien to host guests who appreciate both the intention and the way in which they open their home to travelers. “Everything is a reflection of both of us, of our work and our aesthetic, so we like to share our experience here with our guests and we hope they can recognize the way we live in Marrakech and the country in general.”
As for the name, “it’s always been Jardin Secret,” says Julien. “But everything is word-of-mouth. The whole history. When we arrived here, we tried to collect all of the stories behind the house but it’s difficult because some have fancy stories and the stories are always changing, always better. And so we don’t know when the name of the house arrived. But when we arrived, we thought the name was perfect.”