City Slicker: Tangiers
Money is pouring into this gateway to Africa, helping the city to shake off its seedy past. Ian McCurrach offers a guide for new and returning visitors
Sunday 04 October 2009
King Mohammed VI's recent investment in northern Morocco, with Tangiers as its focus, has rescued the once fashionable resort from festering.
The city is now joined to the capital Rabat, Casablanca, and the rest of the country by motorway and in five years the population has grown from 550,000 to a million. There is even talk of a new high-speed rail link to Marrakech. This city, just across the water from Europe, has undergone changes that reflect its strategic importance.
In its heyday, Tangiers was home to a raffish, literary and eccentric rich set including the writers Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles, the artist Henri Matisse, and several Gettys. Later, it became synonymous with criminality, spies, drugs, and European men looking for cheap gay sex. Now the place is being brought up to date with deluxe new riads and chic hotels such as Le Mirage at Cap Spartel. The central waterfront area has been cleaned up as have historic areas such as the Kasbah, now home to numerous new restaurants, bars and clubs.
But, make no mistake, this city is still deeply rooted in the past – scams and petty crime abound in the medina – it still has an edge.
The Museum of Antiquities (maroc.net/museums) which houses treasures from prehistoric times to the 18th century in a former sultan's palace with peaceful inner courtyard.
The Tangier American Legation Museum (legation.org). The only US National Historical Landmark on foreign soil, this impressive five-storey mansion houses a collection cataloguing the city's past.
The newly renovated Grand Socco, with its palm-fringed plaza at the entrance to the medina. It is a focal point of the city, lined with cafés such as Al Mountazah.
The chance to sip tea in the 19th-century Gran Café, on Petit Socco. Soak up the atmosphere of the place, deep within the medina, where Tennessee Williams wrote Camino Real.
Seeing Cap Spartel, a windy promontory west of the city where the Atlantic meets the Med. The Grotto of Hercules, an impressive cave network, is close by.
Avenue Mohammed VI
The curving new corniche, Avenue Mohammed VI, runs uninterrupted alongside the city's expansive stretch of sandy beach. Having moved the once dominant central container port to a duty-free zone down the coast, the city's nautical focus is now the marina, for the yachting fraternity, and the busy ferry port, from which boats cross the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain and beyond. The beach side of the corniche is stacked with restaurants and bars that turn into discos after dark, such as Beach Club 555 (beachclub555.com) and Chellah Beach Club (chellahbeach club.com). The landside is a cluster of ritzy new apartments, cafés, bars and high-rise hotels such as the four-star Caesar. The forest of overhead cranes reveals the extent of construction work still planned.
Hotel Nord-Pinus Tanger
This design-savvy small riad boutique property opened last year and set a new Marrakech-style standard for Tangiers. The sprawling riad has an enviable position just inside the ramparts of the ancient sea wall in the Kasbah. It has just four guest suites and one double room spread across rue Riad Sultan, with plenty of public spaces for lounging. Big washes of contemporary colours are fused with traditional interiors packed with shiny chandeliers, rich wall hangings, arched doorways, Fez tiling, brass lamps and plenty of chic bric-a-brac. The upper-rooftop sun terraces are the highest in the Kasbah, affording great 360-degree views across the city and out to sea. The lower rooftop restaurant serves up a tasty mix of French and Moroccan fare and is open to non-residents for both lunch and dinner.
Just opened last summer, this new restaurant has a patio area, café, restaurant and rooftop cocktail bar. The theme is 1920s Tangiers, complete with waiters kitted out in smart white jackets, each wearing a traditional red fez. The walls are lined with old black and white photographs of the city and jazz music plays throughout. Dishes are a mix of French, Moroccan and Mediterranean cooking, served up with great flair.
Details: 3 rue Kachla, Kasbah (00 212 5 39 939676).
The former Cinéma Rif, on the Grand Socco, dates back to 1938. It was taken over by Cinémathèque de Tanger three years ago and refurbished as an arts complex. The centre is a hub for young artists, photographers, musicians, film makers, playwrights and lovers. There are two studios, a cinema and two theatres along with a rustic café and bar, which serves as a meeting place for the young. Much of the character of the original building such as the old ticket kiosks has been retained. Films with English subtitles are often shown on a big screen in the square to vast crowds.
Insider's secret: Annie Austin, owner of Secret Homes & Gardens
"Take tea at Madame Porte's, then stroll along the busy Boulevard Pasteur at dusk with glimpses of the ocean beyond. Visit the Librairie de Colonne (the best bookshop in town), and take coffee and gossip in the Moorish courtyard at Hotel El Minzah. Visit beautiful private houses and gardens owned by fascinating people, dip into the intriguing souks, stride out on walks by the wild ocean, and eat delicious fresh fish – sunshine and stunning light – jasmine on your pillow – wonderful people – magic!"
How to get there
Royal Air Maroc operated by Atlas Blue (atlas-blue.com) offers return flights from £175 per person. Hotel el Minzah (elminzah.com) offers doubles from £230 per night, including breakfast. The Moevenpick Hotel (moevenpick-hotels.com) offers double rooms from £230 per night, including breakfast.
Moroccan National Tourist Office (020-7437 0073; visitmorocco.com).
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