Take a Trip to Tantalizing Tangier, tip of Morocco

Gateway of Tangier, medina

Take a trip to Tantalizing Tangier. Tangier is calling me.  It is my birthplace.  It is beautiful, It is exotic, historic, it is mysterious and magnificent. My camera is packed and I’m doing my recce for what will be a fantastic photography tour in 2021.

The name Tangier evokes so much. As a free zone It was once home to spies, travellers, business men, artists musicians and famous writers such as Paul Bowles and William Burroughs amongst others.  Even back in the early 19th century artists such as Matisse and Delacroix found inspiration there.  Thirty years ago the Rolling Stones made a recording so its notoriety continued although gradually since its heyday the city had fallen into decline but no longer.

The King, Mohammed the VI who owns a magnificent palace there that he visits regularly, decided that Tangier deserved to be rediscovered and hugely improved.   Masses of money was ploughed into it.  A new train station opened in 2003.  The old port and marina were replaced with a modern state of the art deep water port, then the marina and seafront were developed.  All this new infrastructure demanded a new airport which was inaugurated in 2008.  Meanwhile, the 17th century Medina was restored, new restaurants and boutique hotels began opening up and Tangier has been reborn.

I decided to stay at a riyad in the beautifully renovated medina near the Socco Chico as it was called back before independence.  Being driven from the new Tangier airport we pass many modern buildings along wide tree lined avenues and it’s a while before it becomes familiar to me again.  As we drop down towards the beach and pass the Rif hotel I see there is a new corniche and that the beach has been reduced to make room for the new marina.  There are signs to the port and there rising up in front of us is the Medina.  I just can’t wait for the car to stop!

Medina

The taxi lets me out by the grand renovated mosque, as it can’t navigate all those narrow lanes.  I am assured that I will find the riyad which is not that far away.  I ask some locals the way, the Tangerois (locals of tangier) I found to be very friendly.  Dar Souran turned out to be charming and very convenient, just around the corner from what was the market square once called the Socco Chico.

I check in to my gorgeous room and within minutes I’m taking pictures.  The café’s of my childhood are still there although of course it isn’t a market anymore.  Old photographs of the past hang on the walls and one large one drapes over a corner of the square leading to the lanes.  The medina has been brilliantly restored, it is so picturesque I barely know where to start.  There are few tourists compared to anywhere else in Morocco which surprised me.  The few there are, mainly French or Spanish.

I find a great place for lunch right by the museum and castle walls, LE SALON BLEU, I climb up the stairs to the top where there is an absolutely fabulous view of the whole of Tangier.  The food is delicious, the people charming and friendly and I end up there almost every day! It’s a fantastic spot to photograph the whole town.

After lunch I walk through the arch to the view point overlooking the port and the Mediterranean.   I walk back down again via back alleys taking more and more photographs and end up near the Continental Hotel.  It is time for me to meet up with a great friend who also has roots in Tangier.Medina

You can easily spend days walking through all the lanes of the Casbah, it is teaming with people in beautiful jellabas, there are leather, carpet and gold shops, craftsmen working outside their shops, food stalls, a large covered market, bars and restaurants.  The lanes are painted white, there are flowers, plants and street art to enjoy.  I marvelled and photographed the wonderfully restored and stunning heavy studded wooden doors.

One of the superb places to visit in Tangier is the old American Legation.  It has a particular appeal to me as my father was stationed there during the war and several of the post war years.  He talked about it his whole life.   It is indeed a beautiful building and the oldest overseas building owned by the United States.  A gift from Sultan Moulay Suliman presented as a symbol of the American-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship in 1786.  Part of the ground floor is dedicated to Paul Bowles with his old typewriter, objects and photos of him.

Tangier is not just the Medina.  It is a huge glorious part of it but not all.  Arriving at the Grand Socco, just up the hill is St Andrews English Church, a haven of peace and tranquillity.

On market days wonderfully photogenic Berber men and women with huge hats and tattooed faces  sit outside its walls and sell fresh produce from the hills.  If you take out your camera be discreet because they don’t like it! 

Just up the hill from the church is the stunning Hotel Villa de France where my mother boarded for a while when she arrived in Tangier before meeting my father in 1951.  Now we’re in La Ville Nouvelle,  so called as it was built by the Spanish and the French over the late 19th century and early 20th century.  A short walk and I arrive at the newly renovated Hotel Minzah, the Place de France with it’s embassy and then into the Spanish quarter where I lived as a child.  The whole of Tangier is about art and architecture anyway.

Cap Spartel and Cave of Hercules

Cap Spartel
Under the trees at Cap Spartel

No trip to Tangier would be complete without a visit to Cap Spartel and the Caves of Hercules.  The drive from the Grand Socco around the coast is absolutely spectacular and will have you drooling at the magnificent villas you pass on route including the Royal Palace.  There are pine forests up there and of course a picture must be taken at the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean, a classic spot for selfie. 

After Caves of Hercules we proceed to the stunning town of  Assilah, just under an hour away where we have lunch before venturing into the old town which is VERY photogenic.  I take a ton of photos and make a note that I must add it on the Tangier Photography Tour. You won’t want to miss this!  The medina has been beautifully restored and there is street art everywhere.  There are groups of Moroccan tourists as well as foreigners.  Tangier is more authentic but this is pretty stunning!

I’ve spent 5 whole days in Tangier including my trip to Assilah and enjoyed every second of it.  Early childhood memories have come flooding back.  I want to share this town, my town in a way, with others so join me on a photography tour to Tangier.  You will love it as I do and go home with some stunning images.