Although its very location in Marrakech can lend a riad an undercurrent of exotic luxury, few are actually branded as resorts. But then, few riad owners are as ambitious as Philippe Schwarz, a former banker from France who gutted two neighboring residences and combined them to build his eight-room, 3,200-square-foot Riad Olema & Spa in 2008. "It's a fusion, a mix of contemporary style and Moroccan touches," Schwarz says, a statement that applies to both the riad's look and its approach. The rooms skew modern, with Western amenities and services—there are flat-screen TVs, DVD players, fluffy robes, and a nightly turndown service. Still, for all the cosmopolitan trappings, the resort is built around a centuries-old ritual that couldn't be more Moroccan: steaming in a hammam, washing with savon noir (olive-grist soap), exfoliating the skin with a special glove, and applying a body mask made of ghassoul (ra-su-ul), a 1,400-year-old treatment that uses clay found only in the Atlas mountains. Olema's hammam is on the second floor, but other treatments (marjoram-oil massages, ylang-ylang-and-honey facials, and manicures, starting at $12) are offered in two on-site spa rooms or within the privacy of a guest's own suite. 32 Derb Sidi Ahmed ou Moussa, Bab Doukkala, riadolemaspa.com, from $130, breakfast included
Spring and fall are Marrakech's most appealing seasons, but check the timing of Ramadan, when the whole city slows down for a month.
Most flights to Marrakech pass through the Casablanca airport or a European hub. A recent round-trip flight from New York to Marrakech on Royal Air Maroc cost $1,300, but you can cobble together a cheaper fare with separate flights to Europe and then on to Morocco. (Try London as well as Mediterranean cities like Barcelona.) U.S. citizens don't need a visa.
If you don't read Arabic, don't rent a car. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, although prices rise a bit after dark. A typical ride from the airport to the medina should cost around $20.
WHAT TO CONSIDER
Morocco's culture is fairly progressive, but it's wise to pack some modest clothing options: pants, long skirts, and shirts with sleeves.