The word hostel means different things to different people. If you’ve never stayed in one, but saw that movie then it’s unlikely you ever will. I imagine though, that if you’re under 30 and have ever travelled independently of a tour operator, you’ve probably stayed in one at some point. I won’t lie — they’re a mixed bag, hostels are, and everyone who stays in them has their limits. For me, that means avoiding sleeping in mixed dorms when I’m travelling alone, wherever possible.
If you’re on a budget though, you’ll end up in a situation every now and then in which you have no choice in the matter, and you’ll find yourself grateful you can afford a bed at all. I’ve been there — I’ve slept on rickety bunks under blood-stained mosquito nets crawling with spiders. But hey, all hostels have their quirks and their charms, and that one served cheap beer at an awesome al fresco bar overlooking the Nile. Who’s complaining?
Every now and then though, you’ll find youself in a place you can barely believe is a hostel at all. Equity Point in Marrakech, for example, is situated only a few hundred metres away from Djemaa el Fnaa Square, has a high rooftop terrace and is housed in a beautiful old riad. Oh, and it has its own spa.
The hostel can organise everything from a traditional hamman, to a manicure, to a henna tattoo for you. In fact, if you get a henna tattoo, it’s better to get one from the lady who comes to hostel. She uses red rather than the black henna they use in the main square, and it’s much less likely to give you an allergic reaction, or stain your clothes or sheets. Mine cost 60 Dh (£4.50) and I loved it. It’s not exactly traditional to get it all the way up your arm, but she said she could keep going if I wanted her to — so I said yes!
You can’t really examine the hostel building from outside, as the warrens of Marrakech are knitted together so tightly that when you reach the doorway you have no opportunity to gain any real persepctive or view of the architecture. Inside though, you’ll find a large, but peaceful and beautiful riad. Riads are Moroccan palaces built around courtyards, and Equity Point has two courtyards: one adorned with rugs and mosaic patterns and fountains, and one with a swimming pool and sun loungers.
On the first floor is large, airy room scattered with canopied day beds and sofas and cushions. It’s a cocoon of cool, a little bubble where guests can go to read and nap in dark corners, while taking a break from the relentless Moroccan sun.
Take another flight of stairs and you’ll find yourself suddenly gazing out across the haphazardly arranged Marrakech rooftops. Up here is a shaded terrace where you can order food while the resident cat slinks soothingly around your aching legs. It’s quite important to mention that while the city’s almost completely dry, there is a bar up here serving beer, and unlike most licensed places in Marrakech, it’s fairly priced too.
I didn’t eat lunch or dinner at Equity Point, but I did have breakfast there, and boy, were they special breakfasts! Rich coffee and endless pots of sweet mint tea played second fiddle to baghrir — glorious pancake-crumpet hybrid breakfast creations — served with yoghurt and jam. And all this while sitting outside with the morning sun shining through the trellis as you envisage the day of shopping and seriously chilled-out tea breaks ahead of you.
If you’re really determined to catch some rays while you’re in Africa and the roof still isn’t quite close enough to the sun for you, you can also head to an upper level and spread yourself out on a sun lounger with a beer in one hand and a book in the other. While the stars aren’t quite as bright as they are in the desert here, it’s also an ideal place to sit out in the evening after dinner and ponder stuff or chat to new friends. I wouldn’t usually associate a city hostel with this level of relaxation, but Unity Point seems to determined to give you the mellow riad experience you probably hoped for in Marrakech — and without costing you the earth.
So what’s the catch? There isn’t one really. It’s briefly worth mentioning that the hostel is pretty hard to find, and you will almost definitely have to pay someone to lead you there. Other than that, all the rooms except the superior room are very much hostel rooms. You’ll probably sleep in a wooden bunk with no ladder, and your bathroom will be average, but the rest of the hostel is so appealing you’ve no reason to spend longer than necessary in there anyway.
I stayed in two different private rooms for three people. The first, on the ground floor, was right next to swimming pool and basically fine. The second, which was on the first floor overlooking the smaller courtyard, felt cosier and quieter and had a slightly fancier bathroom.
Finally, I’d like to say that the staff were some of the friendliest I’ve come across in any accommodation and will happily organise cooking classes, a guide to the Medina (don’t do this — get lost and enjoy it!) or other activities for you too. If you’re looking for somewhere safe, cheap and central, but don’t want to sacrifice an experience in a proper riad, Equity Point in probably perfectly for you.