Tangier, Morocco - Stein Travel

    • 16+ years

    • 12-15 years

    • 2-11 years

    • 0-23 months

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Welcome to Tangier

For decades, between 1920 and the late 1950s, Tangier was a playground for adventure-seekers and the rich and famous, attracting all those seeking a tax haven or a mystic destination, from authors to artists and spies to aristocrats. Regular visitors included the likes of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. When Spain relinquished Tangier back to Morocco in 1960, its duty-free status went with it, and the city lost a great deal of its flair. Tourism is slowly increasing once more, though: visitors succumbing to the city's proximity to Europe are discovering that its decayed grandeur still has much to offer; from its palm-treed promenade and sandy beach to the old town section, and its outlying villages and resorts. Seasoned Moroccan visitors, however, warn that it is best not to take on Tangier until you are acclimatised to the rest of the country, and to be vigilant as regards safety after dark. Despite its fall from glory, a stylish cafe society has once again begun to build up in modern day Tangier's boulevards, and the merchants in the medina (old quarter) are doing good trade with tourists exploring its maze of narrow streets, all of which are within sight of the Spanish coast across the straits of Gibraltar.


Tangier has a Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunny weather and hardly any rain in summer (June to August). In July and August temperatures can rise as high as 86°F (30°C). Tangier winters (December to February) can get quite cool with minimum temperatures falling to 48°F (9°C). The highest rainfall is generally in November and December.

Arabic is the official language, but eight other languages are also spoken including Berber, French and Spanish. English is generally understood in the tourist areas, but French is the most widely spoken.

The unit of currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD), which is divided into 100 centimes. ATMs are available in the larger towns, but can be unreliable; currency can be exchanged at banks or official bureaux de changes, which are also widespread in major towns. Dirhams cannot be obtained or exchanged outside Morocco and receipts must be retained as proof of legal currency exchange, as well as in order to re-exchange money when departing. Major credit cards are accepted in the larger shops, hotels and restaurants. Travellers cheques can be used in tourist areas, but are not prevalent; they are best taken in Euros or Pounds Stirling.

The fishing village of Asilah, south of Tangier, has become a popular seaside resort because of its nearby Paradise Beach, relaxing ambience, and picturesque 15th-century Andalusian medina, which extends to the sea wall. The town is small enough to explore on foot (donkey carts are also a fun option) and is renowned for its restaurants specialising in seafood. It is accessible from Tangier by train, which makes it a popular spot for young tourists to recuperate after seeing the sights of the city. Asilah is fairly quiet for most of the year, except when artists and performers descend for the Asilah Arts Festival each August.

This beautiful medieval town, a short drive from Tangier in the mountain region, has a distinctive Spanish character, having been settled by Spanish refugees in the middle ages. The medina of the town has become renowned as one of the most charming in Morocco, with whitewashed gabled houses and blue-rinsed buildings where craftsmen sit contentedly in their shops sewing caftans and embroidering jellabahs. The medina is dominated by a 17th-century Great Mosque, which fronts a picturesque square dotted with mulberry trees and inviting restaurants. The square is surrounded by souks selling carpets, leather goods, pottery and copper ware.

A collection of art from all over Morocco is housed in the imposing Dar el Makhzen, the former Sultan's palace dating from the 17th century, which dominates the Tangier kasbah. The art collections are sited in the prince's apartments, which are breathtaking with their frescoed ceilings, sculptured plasterwork and intricate mosaics. The art on display has been assembled from all regions of Morocco, and includes firearms decorated with marquetry; pottery; carpets from Rabat; silks; and bound manuscripts from Fez. The Dar el Makhzen palace is home, too, to a fascinating museum of antiquities relating to Morocco's pre-history, gathered from sites such as Lixus, Cotta and Volubilis. The museum includes a life-sized model of a Carthaginian tomb, and a reproduction of an ancient necropolis, which is sited in a peaceful Andalusian garden.

Tangier boasts many beautiful palatial residences of varying styles and variety in its Marshan villa district, about 15 minutes walk from the medina. One of the most attractive of these is on the Rue Muhammed Tazi, and used to belong to United States multi-millionaire media magnate, Malcolm Forbes. The house is open to the public and contains Forbes' collection of miniature soldiers, about 8,000 of them!

The word 'socco' is the Spanish version of 'souk', or market, which has stuck to this square in the heart of Tangier because of its Spanish heritage. The square is, however, no longer a marketplace, but rather a city crossroads and huge taxi rank, fronted by cafes, outside the walled in, old part of the city. The Grand Socco has developed something of a reputation for being a meeting place for criminals and drug dealers, but it is still an interesting spot to spend time watching the passing parade and the Rif women in colourful traditional costume touting vegetables and fresh mint. It is also the jumping off point for entry to the medina, and for admiring the luxurious Mendoubia Gardens on the north side, and the mosaic-studded minaret of the Sidi Bou Abid Mosque to the west.

Hiding in the hills outside the already tranquil town of Chefchaouen is the rarely reached village of Kalaa. From here one can relax in the remote serenity of rural Moroccan life that has changed little over the centuries. The village is also a wonderful base for exploring the Rif Mountains and hikes can be arranged to other local villages in the area and all the way to the Mediterranean. As tourism increases more villagers are opening their doors to the trade and new guest houses are springing up in the area. The easiest way to reach Kalaa is to ask one of the friendly locals in Chefchaouen.

Tangier's 17th century fortified residential quarter, or Kasbah, is a place of arcades, winding alleys and hidden terraces, where it is possible to wander among the wealthy homes and sometimes manage a peep behind the unprepossessing facades, enjoying views of the medina and the bay. The Kasbah mosque features an interesting octagonal minaret, and stands in the mechovar (parade ground). Visitors are welcomed at the Sultan's Gardens in the Rue Riad Sultan to the north of the mechovar, where they can watch local craftsmen at work and sit awhile on the terrace of the Moorish café Le Detroit. On a clear day it is possible to see the Spanish city of Tarifa about 18 miles (30km) away.

In the midst of the old medina in Tangier, America has provided a thriving cultural centre, museum, conference venue and library in the only historic landmark of the United States that is located abroad. The American Legation Museum is housed in the American Embassy, established in Tangier back in 1777 when Morocco became the first power that recognised the United States of America as an independent country. The museum houses art collections and restored rooms. Guided tours are offered.

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