Meet Cyrielle and Julien, two Parisian lovers who moved to Morocco to follow their hearts and open a riad…
This is a story of two friends, turned lovers, turned business partners as they moved their lives from the busy streets of Paris to the soulful land of Morocco to open a riad (a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.) Hear their story below…
“We met each other a few years ago in Paris thanks to a mutual friend. At the very beginning we used to see each other like friends when one day something electric happened. Since that moment we became partners in crime, lovers, best friends, and now business partners. We both used to work in the fashion industry. Julien was a style expert for L’Eclaireur Paris before becoming one of the creative forces behind the biker brand Les Ateliers Ruby Paris, allowing him to combine his love of not only fashion and design, but also vintage motorcycles. I was a model for some luxury brands like D&G, Cavalli, Dsquared2…it never was a passion but it allowed me enough time to travel and do what I am really interested in — argentic photography.
“Last year after a short stay (in Morocco), we were so sad to leave Marrakech for a snowy Paris. We came up with this crazy idea: “lets move there!” without actually believing in it. We were caught in our respective jobs. But it was decided — we had to go back to Marrakech. We decided to stay a month, and rented an apartment in the new city to be on site to conduct surveys. We are a good pair — we got used to working as a real team, completing each other’s ideas. That was a precious time, for us to move there.
We are at an age where we know better who we are deeply inside, or where we want to go. Since the beginning we knew that Paris would be a step forward in our life. We had this strong need of space, of time. We wanted to be able to express ourselves and flourish.”
Describe a riad to someone who may not be familiar with it?
Riad means garden in Arabic — its architecture a tradition in Morocco. Riads are entirely closed to the outside by high walls…neutral, austere and secret, with minimal openings for protection from heat and noise of the street. Organized around a patio, generally with a fountain at the base of an architectural structure with balcony turned to the interior, they are inspired by traditional Arab-Andalusian and Persian heritage.
Where is your riad located? How would you describe it ?
Our Riad is ideally situated in the Bab Doukkala area, at the heart of the effervescent medina of Marrakech. An authentic, cool new riad in the Marrakech medina. A friendly place, with a little bit of magic and a lot of laid-back attitude. The spirit is simple, an anti-modern place that is rich in history. The Riad has been entirely restored, respecting local artisanal tradition. The spaces had to be redefined to create intimate niches so that each guest could find something that resembles them. We like to imagine things, find bargains, change the meaning of objects and create. The riad is a place of inspiration, exchanges and relaxation, a veritable haven of peace.
On the rooftop, we built a tipi, like a celebration of our indie culture past and a reminder of our biker road trips and tattoo culture, 1970s rock music, and free attitude to life. We can accomodate 11 people at the Riad Jardin Secret. We want our guests to be able to enjoy everything offered to them. When we started this adventure, we always kept in mind that we wanted a palace at a human scale. The riad offers 2 rooms and 2 suites featured with delicate hand-painted ceilings, tadelakt, Zelliges and fireplaces. A new room will be available soon!
From what is your décor inspiration rooted? How have you given the space your own special touch?
We draw our inspiration from the origins of our family, art, music, our past in the fashion industry, the world around us. We really love Bill Willis’ works, an interior designer who experienced one of the best periods called the “Marrakesh years”, influenced by people like Talitha and Paul Getty or Yves Saint Laurent. A blessed era that did not experience the 18-hole golf courses, heated pools on roof terraces of the riads. The Riad is the perfect mix of all of this. Both of us have a certain sensitivity to materials, fabrics. We both like to find the perfect objects from the souks, the flea markets. The souk is so energizing, we could easily stay there for hours! The intricate details, colorful mosaics and wood carved doors are juxtaposed with Cyrielle’s austere black and white prints on film.
Describe a typical day in your riad?
There’s no typical day at the Riad! Marrakech offers us every day its effervescence. One of our favorite moments was probably when we got our plants or our wood delivered by a donkey. This became almost normal to us!
What type of activities do you host?
Everything is possible here! That’s why we came to Morocco. We like to propose a lot of different activities depending on the interests of our guests. We usually suggest our cooking classes, city excursions with a private driver to discover a real and typical Morocco, henna tattoo, massage…we like to share all of our secret spots too!
Tell us about your menu?
We are so lucky! We found the perfect chef, her name is Ilham. She is passionate, and she always puts all of her love in her menu. There is no menu at the Riad. Ilham will cook for our guests absolutely everything to make them happy. Cyrielle is a vegetarian. She explained to Ilham how to cook vegetarian meals. Today we can say we are the first real vegan restaurant in Marrakech. With our homemade vegetal meat, Ilham can cook everyone her delicious tajine.
If you could invite anyone to dinner, dead or alive, who would you invite?
Led Zeppelin and William Eggleston — we are big fans of 70s rock music and photography. We would be so happy to invite them here in Morocco.
Who would you recommend this property to?
We would recommend to free spirits, nomads, artists and bohemian people. We would love to see some artists taking residence here to create amoung us.
Describe your riad in 3 words?
Authentic, antimodern and magical.
When was your first travel to Morocco and what made you fall in love with it?
I first traveled to Morocco in 2007 with my sister Alexandra. We were so excited to visit Marrakech. I really wanted to visit the Red city because my parents used to come here in the late 70s to recharge themselves. My mother used to bring back many amazing objects and also some jewelry she offered me. They are treasures to me that I still wear today. It was obviously a city Julien had to visit! We came back together and fell totally in love with the city, the atmosphere and all these colors we don’t find in Paris.
Tell us about the Moroccan vs Parisian way…are they similar…how have you had to adjust?
Our lifestyle changed totally. Life in Morocco is more quiet and more peaceful compared to the stressful Parisian way of life. One of the first things we learned here was, “the one who is in a hurry is already dead.” Here we learned to take time, work and chill out at the same time. People in Paris no longer talk — to the unknown or to their neighboors or local merchants. People in modern cities communicate a lot through social media, but don’t talk anymore in real life. Things here are less superficial and we can meet people naturally.
We were already accustomed to the Moroccan way of life after our many visits here. Moroccan lifestyle is simple — we seem to have lost 40 years of technological advances! It is totally normal to come across a carriage, thousands of mopeds carrying a family of 4, and cariole with a donkey. The donkey is called the Berber 4X4 here! It has an essential place in society –transportation of men and materials and brightly colored baskets. They even have their own parking spots on the outskirts of the main souks!
Life in Marrakech is extremely soft, the sky is always blue. Moroccans are extremely kind — they love their country, their king, their culture, and they love to talk about it! Here not everyone has access to school, but all have a real sense of culture, their country, their origin, all prone to essential values, and they all advocate for peace.
What was the inspiration behind this venture to open a riad?
My mom and aunt inspired me to open a Riad. They are two extraordinary women who have traveled a lot, and have a real lifestyle. Back in those days they used to have a beautiful stand in a Paris flea market. They both taught me to appreciate materials, beautiful things, decoration, art and how to keep a house and receive guests. I am of Polish origin and Julien, Lao — to mix our origins with Moroccan is just something exceptional. Julien is a creative character — he loves to interact with the community, receive guests, share his experience and knowledge. We both love to go to the souks and flea markets to find the perfect object, fabrics for inspiration. It seemed obvious to us that we wanted to find the perfect place to share this.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your line of work?
We found a neglected treasure, a palace in need of love. It took us a long time to dust it off, find the perfect dress, create new spaces and find people to give it a lot of love. The most important thing for us was to give soul back to this riad. This was the biggest challenge for us.
What advice would you give someone in pursuit of fulfilling their dreams?
Go for it! Be passionate and believe in yourself. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We are so happy to have believed in ourselves and to be able to say we are fully happy! We hope everyone gets to live that feeling one day. To live one’s passions. It is a precious freedom.
What does being free mean to you?
Freedom is something fundamental for us. First we are French and our motto is Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. France gave us the chance to grow up in a free country — to be free to think , to speak, to dress! Freedom for us today is to live our passion through creating and sharing with others. Freedom is one of the most beautiful things the world is offering.
Cyrielle and Julien, thank you for sharing your gorgeous Riad and words with us!
Photos by Cyrille and Julien. Interview by Tina Deleon.