I’ve always wanted to visit Tangier.
The city is at the meeting point of two continents and two seas, and it defies comparison with any other city in Morocco.
For the first half of the 20th
century, Tangier was an international city, with its own laws and its own administration.
It attracted a lot of writers, including Paul Bowles, the American novelist whose “The Sheltering Sky” is arguably considered the best travel novel ever written.
(After visiting the city, I read another book of his, “Let it Come Down”, which is set in Tangier, and which I really loved.)
William S. Burroughs spent much of the 1950s in Tangier, which he referred to as “Interzone” in his books.
He wrote Naked Lunch while living in Tangier.
Tangier was also the world’s first and most famous gay resort, favored by people like Joe Orton and Tennessee Williams.
The city’s tourism future wasn’t looking too rosy for a while, though. Over the years, the city gained a reputation as a place to avoid, due to lots of sleazy characters who liked to prey on tourists. The new king, King Mohammed VI, however, is a cool guy, and he promoted a bunch of renovation and building projects, including a new marina and remodeled port that aims to complete with some of the better known holiday ports along the Mediterranean.
Day tripping Spaniards are a big part of the tourist market, as Tangier is just across the Strait of Gibraltar. Other first time visitors, however, might be in for a rude awakening, as mobs of faux guides and bona fide hustlers greet the arriving ferries and immediately start figuring out how to separate these tourists from their money. I had done my reading, though, and I was prepared.
We left Fez early in the morning and caught the 10:30 train to Tangier.
Again, we had a first class ticket, and we had the travel compartment almost entirely to ourselves.
Before we knew it, it was 2:55 p.m. and we had arrived in Tangier.
The train station is located two miles west of town.
We grabbed a cab and were soon at the famous El Minzah Hotel.
Ah, the El Minzah.
Entire books have been written about the place.
(In fact, they were selling these books in the lobby!) The hotel was built in 1931 and it remains one of Morocco’s most prestigious hotels.
Much of that prestige is based on nostalgic ambience rather than true luxury.
I had earned one free night after booking ten nights with Hotels.com, so I chose the El Minzah.
As you can see, it’s hardly the stuff of luxury. But like all things in Tangier, much of the allure is based on a checkered past rather than an amazing present.
I thought after staying in riads in the medinas of Marrakech and Fes, I’d try an actual hotel outside the medina.
Not sure if staying in the medina would have been better.
The hotel was lovely, but riads are more authentic.
Here’s the lovely courtyard with out door seating for dining.
The lobby did have that old-timey feel and there were several pools on the premises, none of which we ended up using.
There was also an excellent restaurant and a spa.
With only one and a half days set aside for Tangier, there was no time to waste.
We unpacked quickly and set out to explore.
We headed a little south on Rue de la Liberte (the street our hotel was on) to the Place de France.
From the guidebooks, I expected this to be some kind of nice little plaza (the books call it one of Tangier’s main squares), but it really turned out to just be a traffic circle.
It is named Place de France for the French Consulate that takes up one corner of the plaza, behind a billboard.
Again, like most of Tangier, the place is prestigious for what it was, not what it is. It used to be famous for its café scene in the first half of the 20th century.
Just to the east of Place de France is a wide terrace-belvedere looking out over the straits to Spain.
The official name is Place de Faro, but it is known as Terrasse des Paresseux, which translates to “Terrace of the Lazy”, where cannons are still pointed toward Spain.
It is a primo spot for people-watching.
We went back down Rue de la Liberte, past our hotel, and headed toward the Grand Socco.
The name is a combination of French and Spanish, meaning “great souk”; it used to be the main market square.
The markets are long gone, but he square is a main meeting place, and the cafes around it are good spots to soak up the city’s life. The door to the medina, Bab el-Fahs, is at the bottom of the Grand Socco.
A main attraction in this plaza is the recently restored movie theater, the Cinema Rif.
With the sun starting to fade, we decided not to linger in the Grand Socco. Instead, we headed through Bab el-Fahs, but rather than duck into the medina, we headed north, up the Rue de Italie.
It was a steep climb, up many steps.
At the top was the entrance to the Kasbah on our right, but we didn’t go in. We turned left, along the waterfront, on Rue de Marshan, which turns into Avenue Mohammed Tazi, which eventually leads you to… Café Hafa.
Café Hafa is set up on seven levels that plunge toward the sea, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar.
Although it’s a bit of a ramshackle affair, it remains the favorite sunset-watching haunt of all Tangier glitterati.
Waiters carry metal holders that carry up to 16 glasses of mint tea.
and everyone just chills and watches the sunset.
On this night, I saw a guy there who I thought looked a lot like Adam Sandler
I also saw a cat strolling around the café, and I put him on my lap, and he seemed content to stay there.
It has been said that you can’t claim you’ve been to Tangier if you haven’t been to Café Hafa. We headed back to our hotel after the café, and prepared to see the rest of the major sites in Tangier tomorrow.
Continue to Day 10