We’ve all realized the importance of travel the last few months, and oh how we’ve missed it. When you travel you disconnect from habitual routines, recharge and spend quality time with those near and dear. Special places harbor powerful energy that rejuvenates mind and body and stimulates our creative spirit. So – why not get away to the most fabulous, exotic and colorful places on the planet.
One such place, Tangier, seduced me the moment I arrived, an aura of mystery and romance wafting in the air. Morocco’s legendary port city on the northern tip of Africa has long attracted artists, poets, spies and writers such as Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs to its free wheeling lifestyle and exotic ambiance. Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress, and billionaire Malcolm Forbes built palatial mansions and threw extravagant celeb filled parties here.
Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards hung out in local haunts like Café Baba, smoking hashish and drinking in the atmosphere. Since it opened in 1943, this fabled café also served punk rocker Patti Smith, the kings of both Spain and Sweden; filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, aristocrats, foreign dignitaries, artists and moi.
These days the city is undergoing a renaissance with restorations and new boutique hotels. Yet it still retains its enigmatic allure that permeates the atmospheric old town, hilltop Casbah and hip cafes where artists, musicians, novelists and eccentric expats gather today. Many consider Tangier to be the coolest place in Morocco. It’s so ‘in’ that Vogue’s celebrated International editor Hamish Bowles spent New Years Eve here and posted an instagram saying only ‘ Casbah’ with no hint of where he was holed up.
Tangier is a city with a multicultural edge where sophisticated Moroccans and Europeans walk alongside rural Berbers clad in vivid blankets. I could spend days in the medieval Moorish medina, a maze of serpentine passageways painted in a riot of colors, wandering the souk lined with stalls and shops filled with tunics, kaftans, embroidered shoes, artisanal goods, spices, dates and other delights. Boutique Majid, one of the finest antique shops in Morocco showcases an impressive collection of exquisite textiles, rugs, artifacts, Berber jewelry and tribal hats. Half the fun is chatting with entertaining proprietor Abdelmajid.
Head to Le Salon Bleu’s rooftop terrace for a lunch of tasty tagines paired with splendid city views. As I was relaxing in this outdoor oasis and relishing the best freshly squeezed orange juice, a musician with an oud suddenly appeared in the main Casbah square below playing gorgeous Andalusian music. Nearby, Hotel Nord Pinus Tanger, a seven-room gem featuring antique fabrics, handmade wall tiles, brass four poster beds and a scenic terrace overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, exudes a stylishly authentic Moroccan ambiance.
One sunny afternoon, I ambled over to the Petit Socco, a small square in the heart of the medina and alighted at Café Central amid the fashionable denizens. Sipping a mint tea and observing the interesting cast of characters, I fantasized what it would be like to escape here and write a novel or screenplay sitting under a shading palm, and live the bohemian life.
After all: this is the place Burroughs penned his cult classic Naked Lunch; the spot that inspired Bowles to write Sheltering Sky; and Tennessee Williams based his play ‘Camino Real’ with Esmeralda, the gypsy temptress, on this very square… Perhaps I’d prefer the clandestine lifestyle of a spy. Did I mention that Mata Hari, the film in which Greta Garbo portrays the famed spy who was an exotic dancer and courtesan is one of my favorite flicks? Tangier definitely stirs the imagination.
You feel like you’ve entered the movie ‘Casablanca’ in the atmospheric El Morocco Club. This chic lounge-restaurant with piano bar and walls adorned with photos of glam movie stars where guests savor French/Moroccan cuisine and proper cocktails is utterly romantic.
Café Hafa just outside the historic quarter with arguably the best mint tea around is the perfect spot to while away languid afternoons while gazing out at the blue Mediterranean. This almost century old icon with tiered outdoor seating on a cliff dramatically overlooking the sea is the favored sunset watching perch of the Tangier glitterati.
For a late night libation, swing by famous hangout Tanger Inn and hop a bar stool. You may be sitting at the very spot once occupied by painter Henri Matisse, playwright Jean Genet or the renowned Beats Alan Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs, whose portrait hangs on the wall.
Best of all I love strolling the medina evenings when it’s illuminated and hauntingly beautiful, taking in the special magic that is Tangier.
How To Go. Royal Air Maroc offers direct flights from US cities to Casablanca
How To Travel Within Morocco: The new stylish Al- Boraq high speed train features seamless service from Casablanca to Tangier in just two hours.
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