At the crossroad of the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Europe, and Africa, Tangier’s allure has captivated bohemians for decades.
With a reputation of being loved by artists, writers, The Rolling Stones, and even George Orwell, Tangier’s tanginess is no secret.
Excited but with a slight apprehension to visit Tangier due to hearsay and what I read in the past, this did not stop me landing in Tangier.
I want to experience this city for myself.
If you travel from Moulay Bousselham, the one-hour taxi trip to Asilah takes you through a very arid and baked flat landscape, with sporadic green patches of farmed river-fed land.
Arriving in Asilah, the remaining fifty kilometres to Tangier is by train and an easy enough journey. Asilah would be a lovely stopover but as time is running out, then it is on to Tangier.
With only a couple of nights in this sprawling city, there is not enough time to explore properly or to absorb the ambience.
A little on Tangier
Carthaginian colonists founded the city in the 5th century BC. Since then, an ensuing flood of sieges and invaders – Romans, Byzantines, Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish have all wanted a piece of this strategic patch. And their legacy remains in the city’s architecture, language, food, and mannerisms.
Understandably so, due to its geographical position, Tangier boasts a history of trading. Today, there are two major Ports in Tangier: Port of Tangier (passenger terminal) and Tanger-Med (mostly cargo and is the biggest port in Africa).
A popular tourist destination, the headiness of Tangier confronts you on arrival, regardless of how you land.
Organised chaos within a fusion of nationalities meander the Old City, Kasbah, markets, and sporadic tiny stalls – all of this generates a certain je ne sais quoi vibe.
On the streets, western-style clothing intertwines effortlessly with the traditional Moroccan djellaba (mystical pointy-hooded robe), which represents a merging of cultures and mutual acceptances.
Have no expectations when you arrive. No pre-conceived ideas. Stay. And then, make up your own mind.
Tangier is a city that you either like or you don’t.
Meander the alleyways and you certainly stumble upon crumbled buildings in dismal condition. Though, around the very next corner, be surprised by an elegantly restored Riad or imposing Mosque.
Previous to the 1980s, Tangier’s character as the playground for the literary-minded and rich was no secret. This changed as the city was left alone to deteriorate for decades until recently, when modernisation is beginning to transform Tangier once more.
Stop long enough down an alleyway or shaded corner and you may be offered a little Hashish. There is no discreteness or pretence in this city.
Tangier is raw, seedy, without pompousness, and the realness is what I admire. Others may find it too tangy.
Grand Hotel Villa de France
A favourite stop for artists and writers in past centuries, this grand building retains a revered history. As the hotel was closed at the time of writing, the external facade had to suffice.
In 1832, Eugène Delacroix the French painter rested at this hotel. And just before WWI, Henri Matisse chose to live and work in Tangier, in this very hotel. Window at Tangier, was painted in 1912 from his room 35. Stay in this room if you wish as the hotel re-opened officially in 2014, after its closure for two decades.
Medina (Old City)
The lust for walking down antiquated narrow passages, crowded with locals vying for a space on ancient cobbles, and getting lost, is a favourite pastime.
Forget the GPS and just follow your nose.
Everyday life in Morocco unfolds before your eyes with each stone archway you ramble beneath, local you pass amidst the density of the crowded Medina, and in dodging the precariously-ladened motorbikes.
Leave your site checklist and phone behind. Instead, explore what awaits’ around each aged bend, through these timeworn surrounds.
You can be forgiven if feeling slightly overwhelmed when suffering from sensory overload, whilst wandering through huddled buildings, swarms of locals, and aromas that melt into the medina’s thick noisy air.
The effects and excitement from a city that seems perpetually awake, is intoxicating.
Side-trip to Chefchaouen
Have you heard of Chefchaouen, Morocco’s stunning Blue City, perched high in the Rif Mountains?
You must make time to see this incredibly serene part of Morocco, which is only a couple of hours from Tangier and one of the highlights of Morocco for me. Check out my Chefchaouen post, to come next.
Where to stay?
Around five minutes only from the Port of Tangier and medina, I absolutely love and recommend the Hotel Continental.
One of the oldest hotels in Morocco and a National heritage site, the interior is breathtaking.
Enjoy a cool refreshing beverage whilst watching the sun set from the terrace, overlooking panoramic Mediterranean bay views, across to Gibraltar and Spain in the near distance.
The hotel’s grandiose interior graced with intricate Zellige tiles is testament to an opulent era, from a past long gone in Tangier.
Savour the delicious buffet breakfast, whilst admiring splendid views from stained-glassed arches.
So many beautiful pieces to photograph lay hidden inside this hotel.
Returning to the Hotel Continental following the trip to Chefchaouen then Ceuta. The service and accommodation was just as good the second time.
The time has come to leave Morocco and head for an even longer journey through South America – for as long as it takes.
As the one-way flight to Buenos Aires (Argentina) leaves from Casablanca, the cheapest way from Tangier south once more, is on the five-hour comfortable train journey. I do enjoy Moroccan train trips.
What a shame the train arrives later in the afternoon and we are only spending one night in Casablanca’s Ibis Hotel, before flying out. There isn’t any time to explore this famous and exciting city. Just need to return one day…