A long week end in Tangiers the Beautiful, Morocco

May 30, 2012 5 comments

I’m back from a long week end discovering Tangiers, and my head is still full of the light, the smells, the sense of getting lost in the Kasbah…It’s magic to go somewhere for the first time and fall under the spell. And it’s so special to have long time girlfriends with whom to share such special moments. Here’s a run down of what we particularly loved in Tanger La Blanche, Tanger La Belle.

I would not say it’s a particularly friendly destination with young children, unless of course you’re on a tour in Morocco checking out other wonderful places (I’ve been to Fes, Marrakech, Essaouira, Goulimine, Taroudant and Tafraoute on other trips and loved them all). First, because it’s a lot about wandering around, getting lost, going up and down the hills, bargaining for a carpet, seating at the many cafes for yet another fresh mint tea. So unless the children are already at a certain age where they can appreciate all of this, I am not sure i would go back soon with Marcelo (6) and Amalya (3). No, it’s more of a grown up destination, a romantic long week end, a place to bring papers & pens and scribble that novel, that sketch, that script, that song you’ve always wanted to finish (like Paul Bowles, Matisse, Eugene Delacroix, Mick Jagger, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac…). Facing the rising sun on the bay, from one of the rooftops in the Kasbah.

   

Inspired by the Tangiers of contemporary artist Yto Barrada, who is featured in several magazine this month to talk about her beloved city (check out Doolittle Mag here, l’Officiel mag here..), and by recommendations from a few friends who fell in love before me, here’s where we slept, ate, shopped and chitchatted like girlfriends do, with bursts of laughter every 1o minutes.

The man who stared at the ocean, infinitely, with Spain in the background…

SLEEP in Tangiers

You want to be based inside the Kasbah i.e. the very old part of town, where the Sultan had his palace, enclosed with walls and gates. That’s the Tangiers from the postcards, wonderfully well kept, surprisingly clean and incredibly charming. There are pretty much 2 options to choose from: Dar Nour Guest House and Hotel Nord Pinus.

   

The latter belongs to a French lady who also owns a very famous little hotel in Arles also called Nord Pinus (South of France) and is an art collector with a great eye for stylish interiors. That would be the luxurious option inside the Kasbah with 4 suites and just a few more rooms.

   

Dar Nour is where we stayed (photos above). It feels very much like staying at a friends’ home (J.O & Philippe, the owners, will put you at ease instantly), albeit a very tasteful friend, with incredible sense for creating ambiance and putting things together in such a charming manner. The rooms are on the small side, but they’re all different and inviting, some with a private terrace, You can tour them on their website. You’d wish you could pin each room. Book well in advance. Oh..and the breakfast on the roof top terrace is sooo good (try the little moroccan crepes with honey.)

      

CHILL, EAT, DRINK in Tangiers

We did a lot of that as you can imagine. Five girlfriends who rarely get to spend time together… Oh it was fun. We spent hours seating at the terraces so don’t ask me too much about places to visit because…when we wanted to go…it was always too late. Our best meal was at Saveur de Poissons, a little hole in the wall (literally) run by a delightfully funny old man where it’s all about grilled fish, seafood stews, fresh squeezed juices and roasted almonds. Fixed menu only, a feast for about US$20 per person. Right near the Soco market where you can then take a walk to the Marche des Tisserands (see below). Probably best for lunch time.

Another very good lunch in a beautiful setting was at the relatively new Salon Bleu, on place de la Kasbah. It belongs to Dar Nour and the crowd is a nice mix of locals and independent travellers. The terrace faces the Sultan Palace and is tucked away in a little street. It’s wonderful.

      

For couscous on a Friday, head to Darna, a restaurant owned and run by a local organisation of women. We’ve heard that the quality has come down over the years but still worth trying. Bar de la Cinematheque is a famous place to lunch or snack, do some people-watching, get a pulse for the city.

It’s an old cinema (and a cafe) which has been given a second life by Yto Barrada, and is now the cultural heart of Tanger. There is a great selection of movies every night (except Monday), and it’s so nice to see locals and curious tourists mix together. A must visit place.

   

Hotel Nord Pinus has a beautiful roof top terrace overlooking the city and the Atlantic. It’s particularly stunning to be there for cocktails at sun down, the light is intense and you feel like you’re floating on top of the city. Then you can come down in the small salons for an intimate dinner of tagines and grilled fish. And last, to travel in time and eat different, take a taxi to

SHOP TIL’ YOU DROP in Tangiers

Morocco is famous for the high quality of its artisans’ work. They still respect the ways things used to be done, from pottery to weaving to carpet making. Check out the Marche des Tisserands i.e. the weavers on the first floor, locally called Fondouk Chejra (ask if in need, everybody knows where they are).

Our favourite shop was Bleu de Fes inside the Medina, in the Petit Socco. The choice and quality is very good, especially the berbere carpets selection. Make sure you have time ahead as Abdul and Atil, the owners-brothers will do everything in their power to show you their full collection and give you reasons to buy. And we did. But you won’t regret it (if you bargain well!). Ps: this is where the owner of Caravane in Paris (a very famous home decor shop in le Marais) comes and gets her carpets when in Tangiers…it says it all.

You’ll also need to pay a visit to the Boutique Majid nearby Bleu de Fes, for jewellery, statues, fabrics and lots of beautiful pieces. Those two are inside the Medina. Outside the Medina, you should check out the Galerie Tindouf, but also the Bazar Tindouf across the street from Minzah Hotel. And right by the main gate of the Kasbah, there is Galerie Volubilis but beware, it;s closed on Mondays.

Here’s a longer list of shopping secrets, from Travel+Leisure.

          

BozAround tips: 

– Otman is the driver from the grand taxi mostly used by Dar Nour. Book him to/from the airport (150dirhams. about $15) and for any other trips inside or outside the city. He’s extremely kind and will do anything to help and take you around safely in his very old Mercedes (loved it that when you slam the door a bit too hard, the handle to open the windows fall! loved it so much!).

– Overall the city feels safe and comfortable, and when you’re used to Marrakech and the constant harassing of the fake guides, you think that Tanger is a different animal, much less touristy. It’s true, but do pay attention to pickpocket and also the many heroine-hooked fake guides who will want to take you around. They usually don’t insist much, but it’s best to ignore them and be warned. If lost (which never happened to us), and in need for someone to take you to your destination, ask a young boy in exchange for 30 dirhams or so. 

– Oh…and treat yourself to a relaxing $30 massage (300dirhams) with Khadija, in the heart of the Kasbah and literally next door to Dar Nour. She speaks perfect English as her daughter lives in LA and she regularly visits and works there too. Her hands are what you will call experts as she is 75 years old, but you would think she’s no more than 60. Incredible. And when you step into her living room for the massage, on a table set by the windows overlooking the city, don’t forget to look at the photos on the walls. You’ll recognize Mick Jagger, yep, wild dancing in Tangiers…with no less than Mme Khadija..back in the days. 32 rue Gourna, Kasbah. Tel: 05 39 94 71 18 / 06 69 58 22 80

To escape the city and jump in the waves of the Atlantic, hire Otman and spend half a day at the Plage du Roi (i.e. the beach of the king), when he’s not in town of course. The easiest way is to sneak in, or have a lunch / drinks at Hotel Le Mirage and then walk down to their private sandy beach.

Voila. 3 nights / 3 days was a good amount of time to discover the city. There are quite a few direct flights to Tangier airport from Paris, London and some other European cities, or you can easily connect from Casablanca and Marrakech. It’s really a perfect city escape, best visited over a long week end in May, or in September when the weather is not too hot.

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