Anayela, Marrakech

The beautiful riad of AnaYela is a small, 300-year-old city palace in the heart of the Marrakesh medina.  

Restored back in 2007 by Bernd Kolb and Andrea Bury, the building has been respectfully renovated using only traditional Moroccan craftsmanship, carried out by hand and by more than 100 artisans.

Literally translated as “I am Yela,” AnaYela has been inspired by the romantic story of Yela, a young girl who once lived in the house and had secret meetings with her lover on the roof of the tower. Here Yela’s lover would promise to take her with him on a flying carpet over the city, in exchange for a kiss. On her last night in the palace, before they were both to be married, she wrote the story of their love on a manuscript, and hid it away in a small casket. 

The manuscript was amazingly discovered in a hidden room during the re-construction of the palace, and the story became part of AnaYela, with one of the most renowned calligraphers of Morocco hammering the lovers’ tale in silver on doors throughout the riad.

With it’s beautifully crafted interiors, intimate setting, and romantic history, AnaYela is one of the most luxurious riads in Marrakech, and a true hidden gem in the city.

Located down a small backstreet of the medina, the door to AnaYela opens to reveal a private and secluded sanctuary away from the hustle, bustle and heat of Marrakech. We were welcomed by the with smiles and glasses of Moroccan milk and dates, which we happily accepted after our late night flight. Although tired, our evening arrival made for an impressive introduction to AnaYela – the riad looked incredibly romantic and exotic light by candlelight, with it’s small blue pool glowing in the centre. Like Yela on her flying carpet, we felt like we had entered another world. The feeling of being very far from home continued in our room, which was one of the most beautiful we had stayed in. Romantic low lighting, authentic Moroccan décor, and a large, luxurious bathroom and tub, and we truly felt like we had entered a palace.

The next morning, we awoke refreshed after such a quiet evening in the riad, with only the sounds of birds outside. AnaYela looked just as beautiful in the daylight and we couldn’t wait to sit by the pool and enjoy a relaxing breakfast on our first day of holiday. Ahmed came to greet us with a good morning and a smile, and served us a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast of mint tea, fruits, cheeses, honey, and Moroccan-style crepes. Everything was beautifully presented in stylish tagine pots, which had also been handcrafted by local artisans. We later found out that the tagines and other items could be bought at the riad as part of Andrea’s co-operative organisation Abury, which like AnaYela itself supports local people and traditional craftsmanship.

We had been concerned that being so small, with just three rooms and two suites, AnaYela would feel too intimate or perhaps too noisy, but the atmosphere was incredibly relaxed, and so few guests encouraged plenty of friendly hellos at breakfast. This friendliness also extended to the staff, who were not only friendly, but truly warm and genuine. The ethos at AnaYela is that every guest feels like it is home, and we really did. Nothing was too much trouble during our stay, and the staff thought of things for us before we even asked for it. That very morning, when we had planned to be picked up for a day out in the Atlas Mountains, Ahmed couldn’t help us enough, walking us to our pick up point, lending us a phone, and calling us to check we were safely on our way.

When we returned later that day, happy but exhausted, we decided to postpone going out to explore the medina, and instead opted for dinner at the riad. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made during our trip. The food was delicious, and of course the service was wonderful. You have to pre-order earlier that day, but just tell a member of staff your preferences – they also cater for vegetarians – and it will be prepared for you that night by the chef, who has been working with AnaYela since the very beginning. Due to all other guests going out that night we were also lucky enough to end up with a private dinner by the pool, under the twinkling lights of the riad. Guests can also dine upstairs on the roof terrace under the famous “flying carpet.” As one of the highest points in the city, the terrace offers a fantastic panoramic view over Marrakech, as well as the chance to follow in Yela’s footsteps for a romantic evening under the stars.

The next day we had planned to stay in Marrakech itself to begin to explore the city. AnaYela is located in the north of the medina rather than the centre, so you have to walk a little further to souks, the sights, and the famous Jamaa el Fna square. However, for us this was a good thing, and we were glad to be in a more authentic part of the medina to gain another view of the city, and with less tourists.

After a day in the crowds and the Moroccan heat, we were glad to be back at the oasis of AnaYela later that day. Since that evening would also be our last, we decided to take the opportunity to refresh and relax in the small pool, and enjoy one last mint tea. We felt truly sad to leave. AnaYela had given us one of those memorable holidays that you know will be hard to find again, not to mention a welcome break from reality. Even before leaving we had already spoken about another stay. Luckily, we don’t need a magic flying carpet to return there again.

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AnaYela is a member of Design Hotels.

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