72hrs in Tangier
Tangier is a city where eccentricity is celebrated, with a history of beatniks and bohemians making waves for their dreams to come true. Now the city is undergoing a cultural resurgence, as a new generation seeks to relive the past and praise the city for being the most cosmopolitan in North Africa. The city remains true to it's avant-garde, artistic reputation, with the literary scene celebrated by locals, visitors and expats alike. The International Literary and Arts Salon Festival is organised every year by the city with the help of the French Institute. The festival has its strong core in the young and upcoming Moroccan artists and writers alike; Abdellah Taia, Mahi Binebine, Fouad Laroui, Leila Alaoui, Youssef Fadel, all local artists to name a few. If you love the arts, this is highly recommended to check out.
The city is serenaded with bright colours, with a modern state of mind amongst almost ancient Arab monuments and scriptures. This is a place where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, and Africa endorses European customs. Burroughs, Joe Orton, Truman Capote, Francis Bacon, Paul Bowles (American writer who lived here for decades) among many others were attracted in part by the fact that the International Zone allowed homosexuality. Places that they roamed, such as the Café Central and Gran Café de Paris (as seen in The Bourne Ultimatum) are forever popular and hip hangouts. Another hot spot is Café Baba, historically famous for its hashish which attracted celebrities including The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, and Anthony Bourdain; who described it as "smelling like his dorm room in 1972." Bob Dylan's favourite hangout was Café Hafa, which we highly advise to go, is located along the cliff top overlooking the Bay of Tangier. Nothing like sipping on a mint tea with the sun shining down on you whilst taking in the breeze.
Our favourite sights and sounds of the old port city is watching the local's way of life in the Gran Socco. We enjoyed seeing the traders using weaving loom in the textile shops, Berber women selling goat cheese (Sundays fresh fruits and vegetables) and the vociferous fish market! If after seeing the markets you find yourself craving fish, just steps away you have the famous restaurant Le Saveur du Poison. The locale is superb and represents the city’s rawness; expect to eat a well rounded lunch that includes appetisers such as nuts, olives and homemade bread, a fish soup, fish tagine, shark kebabs, 2 desserts and juice.
At Place du 9 Avril, next to the Gran Socco you can find Cinéma Rif. This cultural hub is an art-house cinema that dominates the square. Have a drink here, watch films in its original language or rub shoulders with others. This place has Wi-Fi. If you have time, try to visit the Librairie des Colonnes. An Aladdin’s cave of treasures and curiosities for every bibliophile, the Librairie des Colonnes has been a Tangier institution since 1949, and was a favourite stomping ground of some of the 20th century’s greatest writers: Samuel Beckett, Truman Capote, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams. The exterior of the building is charming and old-fashioned, while the inside is lined with shelves upon shelves of books, few of them in English and all of them entirely fascinating.
For a fancy evening out, El Morocco Club packs enough entertainment to keep your nightly appetite up. Dress to impress, as this restaurant, piano bar and cafe terrace is split between three unique spaces for you to choose from. El Morocco Club was designed by Vincent Coppe and Oscar Badji, two lovers of the kasbah. The property is originally a historic house built by Stuart Church, a renowned painter and decorator who lived in the city.
Thanks to our private tour guide Aziz Saint Laurent, among many things that we have learned from him, he taught us the history of the Grand Hotel Villa de France. The property has hosted royals and celebrities such as his Highness the Duke of Guise, head of the French Royal House and many members of the British aristocracy such as Lord Bute. Room 35 is where the great painter Matisse created his famous work 'Window at Tangier', better known by its French name 'Paysage vu d'une fenêtre'.
For our top 3 boutique places to stay, we enjoyed Hotel Nord Pinus (aka treat yourself here) and the eclectic without being self-consciously boho Albarnous Maison d’Hotes. These two properties are quite private and away from the hustle and bustle of city life in the kasbah. Dar Nour is another sweet find, with a very laid-back chic style, serenaded with antiques and berber textiles on almost all pieces of furnitures. Breakfast at Dar Nour is one of the experiences you will remember the most!
You can not go to Tangier and not meet the incredible Abdelmajid Rais el Fenni. He is the mastermind behind the most incredible treasure trove of art in town, Boutique Majid. He was featured in Anthony Bourdain's Tangier episode of Parts Unknown and is a living connection to the city's heady past and its legendary residents and visitors. His endless collection of Berber goods are unique as he designs most of his merchandises himself. On Place du Tabor street, you can find Las Chicas. This eclectic mixture of a shop stocks handmade art pieces, homeware, cosmetics and some exquisite designer clothes, alongside a cafe upstairs.
Tangier is favoured by King Mohammed VI, who heavily promotes tourism in his country and sees it as a major boon for the country and Tangier as one of its most potent attractions. The new city and the former commercial harbor is being converted into a marina for cruise ships and luxury yachts. There is an agenda to revamp the city and attract a more rounded tourism.