I have a difficult time choosing accommodations when I travel. I love staying in the heart of a popular big city, but I also enjoy being in a more remote location, far from the chaos and noise and hustle and bustle. When I am on vacation, I like to go sightseeing and to visit museums, mosques, and palaces, to check out art galleries, cool cafes, and restaurants, and to go shopping in souks.
I can’t decide between both types of accommodations because both are so appealing.
I would love to find the best of both worlds. Plus, part of my dream is to be pampered and catered to, treated like royalty, like a Dubai princess on holiday at a 7* hotel where the staff fully expects to be tipped more than what they usually earn in a year, bending over backward, tripping over themselves to give the highest level of treatment, even beyond the exceptional service expected at normal luxury accommodations.
So, of course, I dream of staying at high-end, famous fancy hotels in big cities around the world. But, I also love being surrounded by nature. I truly love getting away from the city to bask in the beauty of majestic mountains, green valleys, and rivers flowing by. And I want all of this in one pretty package. Who doesn’t?
It is not difficult to find excellent service and superior hospitality within the city walls of a cosmopolitan city like Marrakech. This pulsating city is filled with exciting discos and high-end shopping malls and fancy restaurants, where la Mamounia and Royal Monsour and Palais Blanc, and a thousand other exotic riads compete for customers who can afford to stay in these luxurious places.
However, it isn’t always easy to find that same high-quality standard outside of the city walls. Plus, the price can be a bit of a deterrent if you love luxury but have no desire to spend at least $1,000 a night.
Hence, my dilemma.
I’m a princess at heart, and I am a city girl who loves nature. When I travel, I need to be close to the action. I crave the big city lights and neon signs and the hustle and bustle of city life.
At the same time, I need to escape each evening. I dream of going shopping by day, dining at hot new restaurants where the creme de la creme of society don’t only go for the food, but to see and be seen. At night, I long to be chauffeured away by a team of bodyguards, taken far from the cameras and prying eyes, to a remote, secluded, super exclusive place where I can wake up to birds singing and having breakfast on a private terrace overlooking a lush rose garden. I want to watch the sunrise over the spectacular, and unbelievably not photo-shopped view of snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Okay, this is quite a fantasy for a small town Cinderella, but all girls have dreams. Mine just happens to be a bit fancy.
But where to go on a pauper’s paycheck to be a spoiled, indulged, pampered princess, and to have the customary luxury holiday in an exciting city while surrounded by nature? How can one feel the thrilling vibe the city, and yet be surrounded by stunning scenes of natural beauty, serenity & solitude?
It sounds impossible. But if you’ve ever read the story of the princess and the pea, or in fact, any fairy tale, you will learn that a true princess gets her dream in the end.
At Villa Diaf Johanne, I get the best of both worlds, and my dream finally came true.
I am so excited to give you a review of one of the most fabulous places I have found in Morocco, and in fact, in my journey around the world!
Villa Diaf Johanne is actually an oasis compound made up of a large, exclusive main villa, and two smaller, separate villas (or bungalows). From each, you have a breathtaking view of the Atlas mountains and the lush gardens around you.
Why should one have to choose between enjoying the exciting nightlife and trendy rooftop bars or hot live music venues where the who’s who elite of Marrakech hang out and the beauty and serenity of a room where your window opens up to a peaceful garden filled with thousands of flowers and fresh mint leaves just waiting to be picked and brewed for your morning tea?
I long to wake up late and enjoying breakfast by the pool as I post selfie after selfie posing in front of vivid, colorful roses that will surely make Instagram friends and followers believe I’m a baller.
Fancy hotels can be lovely. Riads tucked away in the medina can be filled with centuries-old tiles and arched doorways and antiques that would make a historian drool.
But staying at Villa Diaf Johanne takes luxury travel to a whole other level.
It’s rare that I set aside my inability to commit long enough to fall in love with a place. But I have been at Villa Diaf Johanne for less than a week, and already I’m dreaming of ways to stay forever.
Suddenly, dreams of exciting shopping trips in Dubai and trekking in Bhutan and going on a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia are fading away as I sink deeper into my fantasy of being a princess on holiday.
My dreams now are of mini shopping excursions in “The Red City”, and of the hours I’ll spend walking aimlessly, happily lost in the confusing, chaotic maze of alleys in Jemma al Fna Square, and evenings spent dining at rooftop restaurants overlooking the city before being whisked away from the madness and the end of each day where I sleep soundly at a private estate, safe, serene, and well looked after by the most attentive staff.
One thing to note, Marrakech-Menara Airport is only 35 minutes away, so this place is absolutely perfect.
Here is the best part. The price. Depending on when you’re planning to travel (be sure to check low season rates for even deeper discounts), I promise you, you’re going to be very pleasantly surprised by the rates for this shockingly affordable dream come true accommodation!
That you can afford these decadent, luxurious accommodations on a budget is insane. And yet, the cost is surprisingly the same (or even less than) what you will normally pay for a cheap chain hotel in America. Click here for rates.
The ambiance hits you before you even enter the compound of Villa Diaf Johanne. A large door at the center of the gate appears to protect a small castle, not quite visible from the road where a guard awaits to ensure the safety of the privileged guests, keeping out the touts and beggers that surround you in Marrakech.
The simple yet elegant main salon to your left as you enter feels homier than the typical cold hotel lobby. There’s an enormous movie screen style flat tv, but it never seems to be on. Perhaps because rooms have their own private tv for viewing pleasure (not that you’ll have time for that). If you like, you are welcome to lounge around on the fat, overstuffed sofas lining the walls, and lean back against the brocade covered cushions that look as if they belong in a 17th-century castle in England.
The art and furniture hint at Moroccan design, but are not overpowering or ostentatious. The décor merely accentuates in a soft, subtle way, luring you into to relax on the sofas as you wait to be checked in.
But don’t think you will want to rush this process. Unlike at most accommodations, check-in procedures here are different. Special.
From the moment you arrive, you are treated like a cross between visiting royalty and as a long lost family member. You won’t want to vacation here; you’ll dream of living here forever, searching your brain for ways you can leave behind the life you thought you loved, wishing you could simply start fresh, and call this kasbah-like villa your new palatial home.
Expect to be serenaded with Moroccan mint tea and sugary sweet pastries, to be bribed to return again and again by the exotic dishes of tagine that have been simmering with all day long. Tagines of roasted vegetables and a super moist, juicy, plump chicken have been prepared especially for you.
But lest you think your meal consists of one simple dish, be prepared to be stunned by all of the tiny little plates of aubergine, various types of hot, freshly baked bread and croissants, and indescribably delicious desserts that will have you longing for more.
Guests have the option to dine in the main dining room, seated at a beautiful wooden table, surrounded by lush plants and traditional artwork, in the private rooms or royal suites, or in the main living room in front of the fireplace. Personally, I prefer to have breakfast and lunch outside on the terrace by the pool as I enjoy my view of the pink, yellow, red, and purple flowers.
Once you’re signed in, you will experience your next gasp of surprise and unexpected delight.
The elegance of the room will have you wishing you were arriving on your honeymoon.
Whether you choose the most basic single room, a larger villa suite, or the entire bungalow on the other side of the compound, (which lures guests with a fabulous fireplace for you to cuddle up in front of during rare chilly nights,) you will absolutely love your accommodations.
Each room is spacious, with a huge, extravagant bed. The mattress will tempt you to never leave it. Hand-carved, elaborate headboard, perfect Moroccan style bedside table lamps, and a gorgeous brass chandelier ceiling fixture hangs in the center of the room, giving a soft, romantic glow. The crisp, white fat comforter and fluffy, overstuffed, down feather-filled pillows will make you think twice about leaving your room to do any sightseeing at all. You’ll seriously struggle with whether to sleep late, order breakfast in bed, and lounge around at the pool all day.
I love luxurious, spacious bathrooms, and if it’s extra clean and fabulous, I’ll forgive a room for not having a huge bathtub, something I absolutely love.
Rarely have I found a room with a tub anywhere in Morocco. Luckily, Villa Diaf Johanne makes up for its lack of a tub by giving you a simple, yet gorgeous space to bathe. The stunning shower and contemporary style sink, with its ultra-modern fixtures sleek design is impressive. Grey tiles and stones contradict the bamboo and wicker accessories, but they blend with the sleek, black and silver décor somehow works exceptionally well.
The complimentary toiletries are much nicer than the usual simple, basic containers of unmemorable soaps and shampoos hotels usually give. The extra special toiletries at Villa Riad Johanne are the kind you wish you could swipe a few extra, or at least find out where to buy your own to enjoy long after you’re back home.
The superior bath and beauty products here feature all-natural ingredients like lavender, rose, and almond oil. They seem to have been designed and created especially for me, to allow me to bring to life my visiting royal princess fantasy. The lovely fragrances and perfumes will soothe travelers with calming scents and powerful aromatherapy therapeutic qualities.
The blow dryer was lovely and not something I’ve found at every hotel in Morocco, but luckily it was here since I rarely bring my own.
Like most luxurious accommodations, there are plenty of plush towels. But almost never have I found a thick robe offered that actually fits me. The one in my room not only wraps around my voluptuousness perfectly, but it also has pockets to stow away my room key and phone as I sit outside soaking up the sun.
Of course one expects daily housekeeping to be done, and for the staff to be trustworthy and excellent at their job. But here, you will look forward to their bright smiles and greetings, whether you speak English, French, or Arabic. The small touches, like the extra, colorful pillows and daily turndown service did not go unnoticed by me during my stay here.
I tend to not like air conditioning or heat and prefer opening windows whenever possible, but it is nice to know ow there is a/c, and heat for those days when the weather is unpredictable.
I also love that there is 24/7 security, a cleaning woman, and a cook who made sure to prepare my meals exactly the way I like them.
There’s no gym here, so for those of you who are healthy gym rats you won’t find a weight room (yet), but fellow guests rave about being able to jog in the area with mountains and the stunning beauty of nature in the background as you run.
Personally, I prefer doing laps in the pool for a good five minutes before I rest, lounging poolside as I work on my tan. There are no pool chairs, but there are umbrellas and bistro-style, wrought iron tables with gorgeous tiled tabletops and matching, comfortable chairs for you to sit and read or enjoy your meals.
I was thrilled to hear from one of the staff that there is a spectacular hammam being built on the premises. If you come to Morocco, you absolutely must visit a hammam. A hammam is a wonderful Moroccan style spa, a must-do experience for all princess wannabes where you will be pampered and primped and possibly scrubbed until you’re pink and glowing.
Being so close to the center of Marrakech, you have many sightseeing options and activities to choose from, including renting quad bikes, golfing, taking a day trip to Agafay desert to ride camels, or even going to Ouzud Waterfalls or Essaouira.
You can also choose to visit Chez Ali, Palais des Congrès, Majorelle Garden, El Bahia Palace, El Badi Palace, Agdal Gardens, etc., all within 20-25 minutes away.
Overall Pros & Cons
You might consider the distance from the city a drawback, but I absolutely love the somewhat remote location that gives me the opportunity to relax and unwind each night after a hectic day of rushing around shopping and haggling and sightseeing and trying to get in as much as possible. It might take a half-hour or so to get into the city, but believe me, you will appreciate the peace and serenity of your exclusive, private surroundings at the end of each day.
The Summary/ Conclusion
I tend to get overstimulated easily, and many hotels and riads in Morocco tend to choose bright, bold colors and patterns that Moroccans are known to favor. My personal preference is for things to be subtle, soft, and muted. I love natural coffee and sand colors that blend in the background and allow the class and elegance of a place to be highlighted instead.
It usually drives me crazy when things do not match, but somehow, the burnt orange and gray walls, blue pillows, and patterned rug at the foot of my bed soothe me. Perhaps its because the perfect, tiny Moroccan rug at the foot of my bed brings all of the bold colors together in a simple, yet beautiful way, but this room relaxes me, lulling me into a peaceful serenity and calm state.
The arched double doors remind me of an ancient kasbah, in spite of the fact that they open to display a modern pool a few feet away, inviting me to take a plunge and forget the world outside the compound walls.
I love to think of myself as a simple, humble girl who longs to escape from the city and will one day grow old in a quiet village. But the truth is, I have become a bit accustomed to receiving VIP treatment when I travel, to be shown, even if only for a little while, what it feels like to be special, to be treated like a princess, to have staff attending to each and every desire and whim I might have.
When I am home and daily life becomes monotonous, I am fine with going to work and living my life like a “normal” person. But when I travel, secretly I seek out the places I know will cater to my every need. Whether that be to cook my eggs exactly as I like them, sunny side up and never broken, served with tiny little tomato and cucumber slices, to have my meals served on exquisite dishware with all of the unnecessary, but extra utensils and tiny little plates of hor oeuvres and side dishes, and to not feel guilty if I haven’t made my bed that morning. Or, maybe I want a midnight snack delivered via room service or to have an extra towel, or just to be called, “Maam” by the staff.
Although normally being treated like a celebrity is reserved for the rich and famous, exceptional VIP treatment that the upper crust of society receives IS possible, (and affordable) if you find the right place.
Villa Diaf Johanne is perfect; semi-secluded yet easily accessible spot so close to Marrakech, yet a world away. And the shockingly low prices make it possible for those with the budget of a peasant to be treated like a pampered princess where all your “Princess and the Pea” dreams of being treated like a long lost royal relative can come true.