Tangier is at its most rewarding when you have the luxury of time to mooch around soaking up the atmosphere. If the residents and parties of Marrakech were gossiped about in high society circles all around the world, those of Tangier were no less louche or lavish. It's tempting to linger but that would be to miss out on some of Morocco's most sensational scenery where a deep blue Mediterranean sea licks up against the green cloak of the Rif, and towns and villages hidden in the cool, mountains of the region, offer an alternative slice of Moroccan life. Just under an hour from Tangier lies Tetouan, which was once the capital of the Spanish protectorate, which occupied the Mediterranean coast from 1912 until 1958. Like its Spanish neighbours across the water, the gleaming, sugar-cube white town is a neat little enclave of sparkling avenues fringed by the outrageously pink, purple and vermillion bougainvillea flowers that cascade over the snowy walls of European style villas while fountains cool the sunny plazas. Five kilometres away, the urban sprawl melts into a neverending arc of golden sand that sweeps southwards to the country's most promising new luxury resort, Tamouda Bay. Within the area, Oued Negro is home to the environmentally sensitive, sustainably driven Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay — a brand new property where cultural heritage and modernity are truly aligned. As a pitstop from your arts and culture meanderings, Tamouda Bay is the perfect focus for a relaxed getaway.
Shades of Morocco
It was more than 10 years ago I took my first trip to Morocco. The ferry crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from Algeciras to Tangier, a short ride of 14 kilometres, where we waited for what seemed like an eternity for Moroccan customs to let us enter the port. Finally disembarking at 3am, it seemed as though half the city had turned out, rushing hither and thither, shouting wildly about hotels, pushing us towards little powder-blue taxis and an even older mode of transport: donkeys. It was many years before I visited Tangier again, having got side-tracked into buying a house to restore in the old medina of Fès, but when I returned, it was almost unrecognisable as the dark and shadowy memory of my dreams. Tangier is a verging-on fantastical gateway wedged between Africa and Europe, North and South, East and West, where an almost blinding Mediterranean light shimmers above the spruced up, palm fringed boulevards swirling around the heart of the ancient medina. According to local legend, Tangier was founded by Antaeus, the son of Neptune, the god of the sea and Gaia, the goddess of earth. Navigating the traditional and modern with self-assured aplomb - and with the promise of so much myth and magic in the air, it's little wonder the place provided such a lure for artists, musicians, and writers.
Extending along the coast from M'diq to Fnideq over an area of 50 hectares, the wide, golden sand beach straddles the Mediterranean Sea. Dotted with its elegant sun umbrellas and bronzed bodies, its easy to mistake this idyllic spot for some of the Med's other famous beach spots. Indeed, the only problem that dedicated sun worshippers may have here, is choosing between a day on the beach, or one that mixes golf, scuba diving, fishing and seasports. Or, just choose them all. From nearby Tetouan again, it's an easy loop up into the Rif Mountains with their thick cedar forests and eyepopping views of the sea, along to the fabled blue town of Chefchaouen (referred to locally as Chaouen), with its magically milky blue-washed houses amid lush, mountainous countryside. Here you'll find an eclectic mix of international backpackers hanging out in its cafes, and more upwardly mobile trekkers revelling in the beauty and variety of its souks, a rainbow of shopping joy, piled high with buttery soft leather babouche (flat slippers), vibrant hand woven carpets and pretty glazed pottery. Indeed, it's a shopping experience amongst the most pleasant in Morocco.
Time to dig deeper and explore the exotic brew of Morocco culture: