11 great experiences in beautiful Tangier

11 great experiences in beautiful Tangier

11 great experiences in beautiful Tangier

Talking about visiting Tangier evokes a sense of intrigue and the exotic. We were not disappointed as engines whined, cars honked and tantalizing smells wafted from the kitchens as we wandered the winding streets of this Moroccan port city. A brief idea of ​​being part of a film noir surfaced when we first heard the muezzin’s melodic call to prayer piercing the air of the medina.

Tangier cemented its reputation as a haven for the underworld and spies during World War II. The film industry has polished this image by using the city’s medina – a walled old city within it – as a destination for James Bond and Jason Bourne to evade the bad guys.

Long after it served as a Phoenician trading post, the Romans ruled Tangier. Arabs, Portuguese, British, French and Italians have all left their mark on Tangier, having taken turns controlling this port city over the centuries.

The mountains of Spain are clearly visible from the city, reaching for the clouds less than 27 miles from Tangier across the Strait of Gibraltar. Located along the narrow entrance from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, Tangier enjoys the most strategic position at the northern tip of Africa.

Tangier is served by multiple airlines and is a short ferry ride from Spain. An efficient train service connects Fes, Marrakech, Rabat and other cities with Tangier. A recently constructed highway system serves travelers from the south.

The Moroccan government has invested heavily in Tangier. International investment is encouraged and the new modern container port, Tanger Med, aims to be the most important port in the Mediterranean by 2025.

Here are ideas to consider when planning your trip to Tangier.

The US Embassy in Tangier
The US Embassy in Tangier
(Photo Credit: Kevin McGoff)

1. The American Legation

Morocco’s diplomatic relationship with the United States dates back to 1786, when the country was one of the first countries to recognize the United States. Sultan Moulay Slimane donated the building that housed the American legation to the United States in 1821. American diplomacy in Morocco and the region was practiced from this spot until after World War II and now serves as a museum. The American Legation is the only US National Historic Landmark outside of the United States.

Within the legation is the Paul Bowles wing. Artifacts from the author’s life The reception heaven and a longtime resident of Tangier are on display.

The American Legation is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm and Saturdays from 10am to 3pm

Cannon on the terrace of the Lazy
Cannon on the terrace of the Lazy
(Photo Credit: Kevin McGoff)

2. The terrace of the lazy

The Terrace of the Lazy offers expansive views over Tangier harbour, the Strait of Gibraltar and the European coast opposite. Between the benches decorated with idlers is a row of cannons pointing out to sea. This perch is perched on a high point on Boulevard Pasteur, a stone’s throw from the Gran Café de Paris, just above the souks. This is a popular place to photograph the hills of Spain not far across the strait.

3. Jewish History: The Moshe Nahon Synagogue

There is archaeological evidence of a Jewish presence in Tangier dating back to around 500 BC. Moshe Nahon, a prominent citizen of Tangier, built his temple in the medina in the 19e century. After falling into disrepair, the synagogue’s elaborate decorations were restored in the 1990s. It now serves as a museum and is open every day except Saturdays from 10am to 5pm.

Pro tip: The synagogue is tucked down an alley off Rue des Synagogues, close to the American Legation. Ask your guide to include this site on your tour.

Café Tingis on Petit Socco, a meeting place for several famous writers
Café Tingis on Petit Socco, a meeting place for several famous writers
(Glen Berlin/Shutterstock.com)

Tangier’s blend of cultures, proximity to the sea and the Mediterranean sun have attracted artists, writers and expats for centuries. 1950s beat writers Williams S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg found inspiration and an appealing lifestyle in Tangier. Henri Matisse made canvases in Tangier and took up residence in the Grand Hotel Villa de France.

Before the Beats discovered Tangier, Mark Twain paid a visit; after the Beats left town, Anthony Bourdain, the Rolling Stones and other rockers came to enjoy the sun and the Tangier lifestyle.

The former haunt of spies and literati, Café de Paris remains a fixture in Tangier, just outside the medina. You can also drink coffee where Burroughs, Kerouac and other famous visitors once gathered at the Gran Café Central or the Café Tingis, both in Petit Socco square.

The door to Caid's Bar at El-Minzah Hotel
The door to Caid’s Bar at El-Minzah Hotel
(Photo Credit: Kevin McGoff)

5. Caid’s Bar at El-Minzah Hotel

Downstairs in the El-Minzah Hotel is Caid’s Bar. This one-off artist hangout is known as the model for Rick’s Bar in the movie Casablanca

We found the waiters smartly dressed, and piano music accompanied wisps of cigarette smoke swirling around the old bar. There’s an outside deck overlooking the pool when idleness in a smoky bar isn’t alluring.

Photos of movie stars, directors and singers who walked through Hotel El-Minzah line the courtyard outside Caid’s.

A souk in Tangier
A souk in Tangier
(Gert-Jan van Vliet / Shutterstock.com)

Compared to the maze of the souks of Marrakesh, we found our way out of the souks of Tangier with relative ease. The merchants were friendly, some gently enticing us to look at their wares. Handwoven carpets, leather goods and handicrafts graced the narrow shops. Even when we passed by without entering, shop owners offered a friendly “shukran” – thank you – accentuated by a slight bow and touch of a fist on the heart.

Pro tip: In the morning, visit the fish market in the souk. The scene is lively. The countertops are overflowing with the day’s catch and the animated locals haggle loudly with the fishmongers.

Beit Hahayim, Tangier's Jewish Cemetery
Beit Hahayim
(Photo Credit: Kevin McGoff)

7. Beit Hahayim, Tangier’s Jewish Cemetery

According to our guide, the oldest grave in Tangier’s Jewish cemetery, Beit Hahayim, dates back to 1367. Set in a shady grove on the edge of the medina, the tombstones of more than 1,000 graves overlook the nearby harbour.

The cemetery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but is closed on Sundays.

Kasbah Museum in the Medina of Tangier
Kasbah Museum in the Medina of Tangier
(Color Chaser / Shutterstock.com)

8. The Kasbah Museum

The Kasbah Museum is housed in a former sultan’s palace on one of the highest points in Tangier. Artifacts from different periods of Morocco’s unique history are on display. The palace housed British and Portuguese governors during their respective reigns in Tangier. The museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm (closed Tuesdays) and the building itself is worth a visit.

Fortified walls of Asilah
Fortified walls of Asilah
(Photo Credit: Kevin McGoff)

9. West Day Trip from Tangier

Tangier is a convenient base from which to experience the scenery along the Atlantic coast. Taxis and tour operators will give you a lift, but it’s easy to hire a car and explore on your own. The roads are in excellent condition and the directions are easy to follow. Moroccans drive on the same side of the road as Americans and continental Europeans.

Asilah

Less than an hour south of Tangier is Asilah. The Portuguese fortified the old ramparts of this coastal city in the 15e century. Painted bright white, Asilah’s houses contrast sharply with the sky, and some houses have brilliantly colored shutters.

Pro tip: If you visit Asilah in August, you can enjoy the International Cultural Festival. Music and art, including murals on the walls of the houses of the medina, are part of the festivities.

Cave of Hercules

North along the coast of Asilah is the Cave of Hercules. According to legend, the mythical giant rested here while on his way to retrieve the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. Shaped in the shape of the African continent, the cave’s “window” faces the Atlantic Ocean.

The churning waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic collide at Cape Spartel. Sailors have been guided by the lighthouse from the cape to the Strait of Gibraltar since the 1860s.

These sites are located west of Tangier and are all easy to visit in a 1 day trip.

Professional tips: If you choose to rent a car, avoid the busy city traffic by collecting and returning the car at Ibn Battouta Airport in Tangier, a 20-minute taxi ride from the center of the city.

The famous
The famous “Blue City” of Chefchaouen
(Olena Znak/Shutterstock.com)

10. East, to the Rif

Leave Tangier east for the day and you’ll soon be in the Rif Mountains. A little off the beaten track, the mountain town of Chefchaouen is an easy 2 hour drive. Known as the Blue City, Chefchaouen is like no other, with its buildings cast in azure and white. The concierge gave us a pleasant tour of the interesting garden in the kasbah, or fortress.

La Saveur de Poisson
La Saveur de Poisson
(Photo Credit: Kevin McGoff)

11. Various eateries

Le Saveur de Poisson

The fish is fresh and served in a no-nonsense style on sturdy wooden tables at Le Saveur de Poisson. Le Saveur does not take reservations; the line forms at the front door of this seafood restaurant with a set menu, located on a staircase leading to the medina. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner every day except Friday.

El Morocco Club

Experience the feel of Tangier in the past with a visit to The El Morocco Club’s dimly lit, intimate piano bar Stop by for an aperitif before dining at El Morocco’s restaurant upstairs. Traditional Moroccan cuisine is served with a gastronomic touch

Medina of Tangier
Medina of Tangier
(Photo Credit: Kevin McGoff)

The soul of Tangier

Although Tangier evolves, once you enter the labyrinth of the souks and ancient walls of the medina, the soul of old Tangier remains. The spies may have gone with them, but the smells, noise and charm that have drawn expats and voyageurs through the ages still await curious travelers.

Pro tip: If you are approached and offer services as a guide, politely decline and keep walking. Hire only a licensed guide to take you through the sights of Tangier.

For more information about Morocco, visit: