Tangier. A Tantalizing Taste Of One Of Morocco’s Most Cosmopolitan Cities.
It’s a stifling hot day, the sun beating down from an azure blue sky as I make my way down the twisting, crooked passageways and lanes laid out like an intricate and confusing puzzle that make up Tangier’s old town. The heat immediately dissipates as I get ever deeper into the area along the impossibly narrow passageways that are permanently in shadow created by taller buildings that line both sides.
It’s been a few years since I was last in North Africa’s most alluring of cities and on first impressions I have to say that much has changed.
Tangier’s history has technically been a series of disruptive ups and downs but, right now it appears to be enjoying a somewhat of a rebirth. This is a city, situated so tantalizingly close to Europe that one feels almost able to reach out and touch it across the strategic, Strait of Gibraltar; that narrow gateway that separates Africa from Europe.
Tangier has, over the centuries been squabbled and fought over in turn by the British the Portuguese, Spanish, the French and the Moroccans themselves. Each of the conquering armies, intent on tearing down their predecessor’s architecture and then systematically abolishing its culture before recreating it once again in their own image with varying degrees of success.
This is a place that has always processed the ability to attract people from all walks of life from Kings and Queens to celebrities and a host of colourful vagabonds, drawn to its fleshpots like moths to a flame. During the late 40’s and 50’s, they headed to this freewheeling port city seeking the perfect climate and a more laid-back lifestyle to that in the west. Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress, along with Malcolm Forbes took their summer vacations here, building lavish mansions where they hosted legendary parties that went on for days.
The 1960’s saw swathes of hippies following the likes of Mick Jagger and his ragtag tribe of followers to drink at the well of extreme hedonism.
The Moroccan royal family became disenchanted by the influx of, what they referred to as undesirables and so retreated to the southern cities, turning their backs on the city, content to watch from afar as it crumbled into a state of seedy decay Today, however, King Mohammed VI has come to realize the enormous potential of this thriving metropolis, convinced it could rival the exotic locales of its French neighbour such as Cannes and St Tropez.
Everywhere one looks construction is racing ahead, fueled by the billions of dollars being spent on a huge new port, complete with a yacht marina to rival anything that locations such as Split, Montenegro, and Monaco have to offer.
Looking over the harbour one can see that work is almost complete on three new giant terminals that will cater for super fast ferries which will whizz travelers to and from Europe in just 2 hours. If that was not enough, a high-speed train project is in its final stages and, when finished will cut travel times between Tangier and Casablanca by half.
Most of the city’s huge monuments and many of its previously crumbling museums are undergoing a much- needed spruce up, bringing them back to their former glorious state. The boulevards and streets of the Medina have had lavish attention bestowed on them and, as if by magic, trendy boutique hotels, designer fashion emporiums, elegant coffee shops and restaurants have sprung up like mushrooms.
Wanting to revel in the city’s colonial past I chose as my digs The Grand Hotel Villa de France, conveniently situated on a lofty hill offering expansive views of the Medina and the legendary Kasbah.
After a twenty- seven – year renovation project, the hotel is looking absolutely splendid and one can see why artists such as Matisse spent so much time here, creating many of his masterpieces in the tranquil surrounds of the scented gardens.
It was time to revisit my old haunts.
My first stop was “Le Boulevard,” a street, famous for its Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings, which is lined with trendy cafes nestling cheek by jowl with major banks and boutiques. Several of the side streets leading off the boulevard, especially the Rue Khalid Ibn Oualidbeckon are filled with wonderful antique and souvenir shops. I, of course, had to visit the fabulous Librairie des Colonnes, owned by Pierre Bergé, the former partner of Yves Saint Laurent, where one can easily spend an entire afternoon browsing its impressive multilingual library.
Just a short stroll away is the classic Gran Café de Paris where they serve perhaps the best coffee in Tangiers. As you sip your latte you know that you are in good company as once the likes of Tennessee Williams and Claude Genet also took nourishment within its Gallic flavoured interior.
Not far from here is a rather famous bar, the Tangerinn, where William Burroughs wrote many of his eclectic novels. Many quotes from his books have been written on the walls alongside a rather sombre mural that dominates the room.
If you want to get lost there is no better way to do it than by wandering the myriad of lanes and skinny passageways of the Medina. When looking for Moroccan artifacts and souvenirs Rue Sebou and Rue Almohades are virtual Aladdin’s caves, bursting with traditional items.
Similarly, the Kasbah with its lanes which spread out like arteries and veins meander through the original walled fortress where many of the stores specialize in classic Moroccan inspired cushions, lamps and exotic arrays of scented wax candles., shoes and handbags.
The best way to see the old Tangier is on foot where getting lost is almost a rite of passage. So, put away your guidebook and follow your nose for it will lead you into a magical wonderland that will have you begging for more.
Where to stay:
The Grand Hotel Villa de France (Corner of Avenue Angleterre and Rue Hollande; 212-5-39-33-31-11; This recently renovated 58-room hotel is a treat. Doubles from 1,225 dirhams.
In the medina, traditional mansions have been converted into small boutique B&Bs. Dar Nour (20, rue Gourna, Kasbah; 212-6-62-11-27-24; darnour.com) are worth checking out.
On a Budget?
Petit Socco, Dar Nakhla Naciria (12w, rue Naciria; 212-6-07-21-69-56 is a simple, five-room B&B with a rather splendid rooftop terrace. Doubles from 50 euros.
Where to Eat.
Do try Café Hafa, A favourite of Moroccans and visitors alike. Over a century old, its blindingly white terraces seem to tumble down the hillside over the Mediterranean offering panoramic views of Spain.
The Le Saveur a short stroll from the Grand Hotel Villa de France is a must. There is no menu but the chef will deliver plates of seafood that is simply delicious!