After the last few years of sitting still it’s been so good for the soul to get back out on the road and explore some new places again this Summer.
One favourite from these last few months of travels was Tangier in the far north of Morocco, where the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans meet, en route to a Summer road trip in Spain. With the ferry from Morocco to Tarifa open again after border closures, and since it’s been a destination on my radar for years, it was great to finally have a reason to get here.
As a major trading port Tangier has been the gateway between Europe and the rest of Africa for centuries, having waves of colonisation by the Portuguese, French and Spanish, until Moroccan independence in the 50s. All leaving their own mark on the architecture, the types of trade done here and the fairly liberal lifestyle compared to other more conservative parts of Morocco.
The White City has both a reputation and a romance to it, made famous by the stories of spies, poets, writers and musicians that have landed and spent time here between the 20s and the 70s in search of the hedonistic lifestyle and easy access to drugs, sex and hash. Anthony Bordain did a great episode of Parts Unknown in Tangier that goes into a bit more of the seedy detail that’s worth a watch.
The trip from Marrakech is an easy and comfortable 5-6 hour train ride via Casablanca. I always love a good old fashion train trip. Time to sit and contemplate, watch the landscape go past, and usually an interesting character or two to sit next to. This trip it was a lovely older Moroccan couple. They were surprised to hear how much of the country I’d visited, were fascinated about why I’d be interested in old carpets, and loved giving me their recommendations for where to next.
TANGIER BY DAY
I really enjoyed the slower pace and fresh climate in Tangier. In June the sun was shining and a beautiful 30+ degrees every day. Apart from some steep hills it’s all a really walkable sized city which is what I love for exploring a new place.
Starting our days with a wander down the palm lined streets with the pretty white and lemon buildings, to the local markets of the old medina. Stopping in the central square near Cafe Tingis for coffee and some breakfast and a spot of good old people watching.
I’m of course always on the hunt for textiles and different artisan products on my travels, so it was nice to be able to wander around the medina and old kasbah without the same hustle of the bigger cities.
At times you’d think you were on a Greek island with all the beautiful bougainvillea out in bloom and the bright white buildings. With small fashion boutiques, cafes, antiques and book stores dotted through the cobbled streets, and a couple of lovely spots at the top of the kasbah for a mint tea with a view over the coast.
We stayed at Villa Zahia on the edge of the kasbah. I’d found it on Air BnB and loved this beautiful over sized and artistically renovated apartment for our 5 day stay. An historic old Portuguese building that's had a few different lives, with gorgeous tiles and heritage features that has a couple of apartments available. And a tricky to find but worth-the-climb rooftop with one of the best views over Tangier.
TANGIER BY NIGHT
One of my favourite ever food experiences in Morocco was the dinner we had at local favourite Le Saveur du Poisson. A small old school hole in the wall restaurant with vintage art and fisherman themed decor, smoke billowing out the front door from the grills, and a queue up the street for one of the 8 or so tables.
There’s no menu - you get what you’re given by the busy waiters who can speak to the foreigners in ten different languages. For 200 DH each we had a feast of flat bread, olives and harissa, fish soup, barbecued white fish skewers, a grilled whole sole, and a beautiful bubbling fish tagine. All served with fresh pressed prune juice and a desert of figs, yogurt and almonds.
Looking for a glass of wine with our meal one night we had a delicious fresh pasta dinner at Italian owned institution Anna e Paolo. I loved it’s virtually untouched mid century interior straight out of a Bond movie, and the eves-drop worthy clientele to match. At one table we had a group of French and Moroccan regulars, chain smoking while talking business. The other an elderly French lady who could have been dining with her son, or perhaps it was her lover - not sure. The other table a bunch of film producers passing through.
Anth my partner is a chef so the best local food spots and a visit to the fresh food markets is always on our to do list. The fish market behind the Grand Soco was awesome to see in action, stall holders yelling over the top of each other and the fisherman loading baskets of local catch onto the benches. So one night we bought some beautiful fresh local snapper and calamari to cook back at our Air BnB and sat and watched the sunset.
Speaking of sunsets - an end of day beer on the rooftop at the old colonial Nord Pinus hotel was a pretty spectacular spot looking out over the cannons on the kasbah walls, with views all the way to Spain.
Finding a beer or night life in Tangier isn’t as easy as I would have expected in a city known for it’s liberal lifestyle and expat community. You’ve really got to know where you’re going rather than stumbling onto anything. The venues are either international hotels, or fairly dive-bar-esque hang outs with late night bands and free tapas to keep you drinking. Take them or leave them, but good for a nightcap.
All in all the few days we spent here was a fascinating look into the intersection of old and new in Morocco and the periods of European influence the city has gone through. The ocean breeze and old part of the city was a lovely escape from Marrakech’s heat and dust storms that were passing through in June. Since I didn’t spend much time in the new city this time there’s still more to explore.
Hope to get back to lovely Tangier some time again soon!