maroc-o-phile: Shona Lines

On the terrace at Riad Shaden
On the terrace at Riad Shaden (© Shona Lines)

Riad-owner, Shona Lines, is a civil servant from Scotland who is already on her second guest house in Marrakech. In an authentic Moroccan neighbourhood of the medina, Riad Shaden offers a tranquil oasis from which to plan your exploration of the city and of Morocco. Riad Shaden’s lovely staff are happy to help you – they are the friendliest and most helpful in town. Shona is offering all maroc-o-phile readers a complementary dinner when they book at Riad Shaden*, so don’t forget to mention you saw her interview here!

MoP: Shona, what first brought you to Morocco and why?

I first visited Morocco over 25 years ago, and completely fell in love with it. I returned many times over the years –travelling extensively around the whole of Morocco, but always being drawn back to Marrakech, until I finally took the plunge and bought my first riad in 2007.

MoP: You’ve been a maroc-o-phile for many years, then. What is it that keeps drawing you back?

I love so many things about Morocco but I especially love the people, and we have a lot of Moroccan friends, who have welcomed us into their families. I have always avoided the ex-pats, as to me the whole point of being in Morocco is about having Moroccan friends.

MoP: What is your most memorable Moroccan experience?

I have so many great memorable experiences, it’s hard to choose just one.

· Collecting the keys for my first riad from the notary, rushing round, unlocking the door, and standing in the courtyard thinking ‘This is mine, I really own a riad!’

· My friend Najat’s wedding in Ait Ourir was a special day, made even more memorable by the fact that we met Youssef there, and he has been our riad manager now for over 3 years.

· Our first visit to our friend Badr’s family home in Sidi Rahal, when after an enormous lunch his mum invited a henna lady round to the house who spent the next 2 hours applying the most amazing henna designs to my hands and feet.

henna tatttoos all round!
henna tatttoos all round! (© Shona Lines)

MoP: What are you most excited about for 2014 in Morocco?

I’m excited that 2014 is already looking like being our best year yet, at Riad Shaden. We had a couple of slow years, due in part to the economic downturn, and not helped by the recent Arab Spring (which didn’t affect Morocco, but definitely affected some people’s perception of the country as a tourist destination) but things are really picking up now, which is great.

MoP: What else is new for Riad Shaden in 2014?

We already run very popular cookery courses in Riad Shaden, and in 2014 we hope to develop these further, adding to our menus and we are also looking at developing food and cookery based holidays.

MoP: What are your favourite places in Morocco….

…. to sleep

Sleeping in the desert, under the stars, is a memorable experience, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone who has the time (you need a minimum of 3 days, from Marrakech). Starting with a 2 hour camel ride through the sand dunes as the sun sets, then eating dinner in a desert camp before spending the night in your tent and rising at 6.00am to watch the sun rise. The total peace and quiet in the desert is incredible – and when the lights in the camp go out, the total darkness gives you an amazing view of the stars.

…. to eat

Of course I am biased, but I am not alone in saying that the best food in Morocco is prepared by Saadia and Sanaa, our amazing Riad Shaden chefs. Everything they cook is wonderful, but the most popular dishes are our harira soup and our pastilla. Sanaa is also an extremely talented baker, and makes the best orange cake I have ever tasted.

When we want to eat out in Marrakech, our favourite restaurant is Dejeuner a Marrakech, the food there is beautifully presented and just a bit different, and it is one of the few places in Marrakech with a good choice of desserts.

…. to photograph

Marrakech is a great place to photograph. Place Djemaa al Fna must be one of the most photographed places in Morocco, and if you can get a table in Grand Café Glacier as the sun sets you’ll get some great photos. I also love the Majorelle Gardens, with the combination of the blue buildings, the colourful plant pots and the exotic cacti.

MoP: What advice would you give to someone planning their first trip to Morocco?

Start off in Marrakech, and stay in a riad to experience something completely authentic. Unlike staying in a hotel, in a riad you will receive personal service and attention, and the staff can help you get the most from your holiday, whether you just want to sit and relax, or you want to fit in as much as you can!

Moroccan Sahara Desert excursion
Sahara Desert excursion (© Shona Lines)

MoP: What are your hopes for Morocco and for Riad Shaden over the next 5-10 years?

Like everyone with a business in Morocco, I hope the country remains stable and welcoming to tourists. I hope that Riad Shaden continues to attract high numbers of visitors, allowing us to invest more money back into Morocco, as we continue to improve our accommodation and services.

MoP: What is the one thing you never travel without?

My iphone and ipad. Both are essential for running my business, keeping our availability up to date across all the websites we use and responding to enquiries.

MoP: Any last thoughts from one maroc-o-phile to the maroc-o-phile readers?

If you are interested in Morocco, and you haven’t yet managed to visit, why not make 2014 the year you book that trip? We look forward to welcoming some of you to Riad Shaden – tell us you are a maroc-o-phile when you book, and we’d be happy to offer you a complementary dinner during your stay (* valid for stays of 3 nights or more).

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