By Ovidiu Palcu
Why I fell in love with Tangier and its simple beauty, I can’t remember. I have been visiting it since 2003 and seen it change from a dusty town to a modern city with International restaurants, beach bars and a summer influx of European tourists.
I first visited the white city, as it is known because of its white painted buildings and incredible superb light, on a day trip from Spain years ago, than I comeback.
It is hard to think of a better positioned town either. On a headland where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean and overlooking Cape Trafalgar, where Nelson lost his life, this city is a must for all people with passion for history.
It is built on so many hills that there will always be those tempting glimpses through the buildings to the sea. When I first visited, many of the women were veiled. Now I could see more freedom and easy to communicate, from the European sunbathe topless to the carpet sellers all speak perfect English. You can gamble in the casinos, drink in the restaurants, bike and surf on the beaches.
But one thing is quite different when you arrive in Tanger from an European city: the way people still know how to enjoy the moment. They love to sit around in cafes watching the world go by and not worrying what the next day will bring. It is such a cultural shift it makes for a very relaxing pleasant holiday, it remember me the Balkan region, where also you can have this feeling of being without thinking of tomorrow.
Tangier retains its powerful charm to this day… From the many small alleys in the Petit Socco area to the many old and new café terraces.
As any Moroccan town, the medina (old quarters) is almost a mandatory visit if you are interested in feeling the life of the city and being close to the locals is a reflection of the soul of the old city. Perhaps is not so impressive, with much less of the local environment of other historical cities of Morocco, the medina is one of the smallest of the Moroccan cities, but one of the best restored and maintained better.Nevertheless, probably exotic to the eyes of someone who has never been to a Muslim town.
Each street is the story of this place where you can hear French, Spanish and Arabic. The large souk (Grand Socco) with its permanent market, located between the Medina and the new town, is the heart of the city. This immersion awakens the senses, through the smells, sounds and colors. The Grand Socco is also very lively at night. Don’t expect to find easy a city map, or many street signs, just try to enjoy the environment and get lost. I was lost allways in the medina, last time I couldn’t find my hostel anymore, but friendly local people walked with me.
The area between the old English Church, the Grand and Petit Socco and the Kasbah make a nice stroll and are easily walkable, but be prepared to some climbing, Tangier is build on many hills.
Just up the Grand Socco, on the way to the English church, there is a real traditional market which is not too popular with tourists. Here you can find what appear to be the real peasants selling there goods, dressed in there colourful traditional clothes. The women hats are particulary striking, very tall and decorated with coloured wool.
Another interesting place to understand the town it’s the beach and it’s avenue, which is fully crowded at the summer evenings. It seems that after dinner, every Moroccan goes out to the street, in special the young couples, is like a parade of youth.
If you have some interest in urban architecture, probably you’ll find most quarters interesting and also be surprised how nicely arranged some of them are. Even if you haven’t hear anything about the popularity of Tangier in the 60-70’s for some European and American wealthy people, you cand find here many old rich houses. That is specially visible to the hilly Western part of the city, near the sea, on the way to Cap Spartel, where there is not only one Royal Palace, and another one owned by the Saudi Royal family, but plenty of other mansions with well kept gardens.
You can enjoy a pleasant walk in the Mendoubia Park situated north of Grand Socco Square. Some giant old interesting trees, highlight the visit. Take street de la Liberté, a shopping street, to the Place de France which is the heart of the modern town. There you will find the faimous Grand Café de Paris and the El Minzah Hotel which both were haunts of the famous names of arts and literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This spot is still very fashionable. You will have an amazing view of the medina and the port and bay of Tangier from Faro Square with its canons. The mythical Hafa café overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar from the top of the cliff.
In Tanger I allways used to stay in hostels, I recomand you Al Andalousi Hostel in 64, Ibn Battouta street (Medina) a hostel that gives an air of authenticity and they have a great traditional breakfast, plus from the roof you have great views of the Medina.
When I visit Tanger I have my coffee in Café Colon. Located just outside the old town on Rue de la Kasbah, it’s a nice place to recharge after a few hours in the medina.
If you love nature, adventure, scenic landscapes and multicultural environments, come to Tangier and discover this great place. This Muslim, Jewish and Christian city has been for many centuries a great cultural crossroads and a place where legends were born. Follow on the footsteps of Hercules, Matisse, the Rolling Stones…
Royal Air Maroc flies from Gibraltar to Tangier from £40 (www.royalairmaroc.com).
From Algeciras and Tarifa you have every 2 hrs a ferry to Tanger Med or Tanger Ville port.( prices between 22-35 Euro/ one way)
From Gibraltar port you have on Friday afternoon a ferry to Tanger Med, price £30
Read more about Tanger: http://wikitravel.org/en/Tangier