Pauline de Villiers Brettell, author of the longstanding blog ‘Tea in Tangier‘, and resident of Assilah, has written the following guest post about why you should make time to visit the North. Pauline shares some of her favourite places to visit.

We include Tangier and Assilah on our Essence of Morocco tour itinerary. Please click here for the full itinerary and for further details of the 16 days route. We can adapt the itinerary to offer this in reverse order, or to extend it.

Tangier and Assilah

 

Tea in Tangier and Atay in Assilah

Why Tangier and its neighbours should be included on your Moroccan itinerary

Tangier has quietly been undergoing a transformation over the past several years and is now emerging from its previously somewhat dissolute reputation. It is quite literally spreading its newly paved and painted wings. Historically Tangier has always stood a little apart from mainstream Morocco and it still, in my opinion, offers something a little different to the stereotypical image of Morocco. The obvious reasons for this being both its proximity to Europe, and Spain in particular, along with its distance from the desert. As a result, paellas are often on the menu, beach life is pretty laid back, and Spanish is more often than not a comfortable second language. This was one of the things that drew me to this part of northern Morocco in the first place. I felt like it was taking me back to a more exotic version of my South African roots, yet I was within touching distance of Spain (another country that is close to my heart). Tangier has always been a busy port city, but with the creation of the Tanger-Med port beyond the Tangier city boundaries, the medina port is now a more tranquil base for sea-bound tourism.

Tangier and Assilah

Tangier

Start your journey through Morocco in Tangier

Tangier is the perfect starting point to your Moroccan adventure if that is your point of entry.

The medina is a lot smaller than cities like Marrakech and Fez. It is also a lot easier to navigate because you have a clear sense of geography with the sea on one side and the city behind. Uphill takes you to the Kasbah, downhill you will end up in the port. Although there may be fewer of the “big-five” type of attractions here – no Majorelle gardens or Fez tannery or dunes of the Sahara – there is still a city to experience in a quieter way, which can in fact be more interesting.

A lot of my recommendations to people visiting Tangier seem to involve tea or coffee and generally a slower pace. e.g. take mint tea on the terrace of The Continental hotel admiring the view and taking in the Sheltering Sky hotel aesthetic; or coffee in Café Tingis in the Petit Socco in the middle of the medina simply watching the passers by and getting an idea of who’s in town. There is still a small town feel to Tangier despite its sprawling development.

Move up to the Grand Socco for again more tea or coffee, possibly a bit of cake at this point at the Cinema Rif. You will need the cake to fuel your journey up the Rue de la Kasbah – but make it a slow walk and stop off at various design studios on the way before reaching the top and turning right into the kasbah. I love the kasbah area as it is light and airy compared to the medina of Tangier and has wonderful views across the straits. Being thirsty after the climb, this is the spot I find a place for my favourite Tangeroise drink, lemon and mint juice. Explore the Tangier kasbah at your leisure and you will find a wonderful combination of museums, galleries and boutiques in which to peruse and purchase.

Tangier and Assilah

Tangier

Beaches are obviously something that sets this Moroccan city apart from its landlocked sisters. Tangier is spoilt for choice with the Atlantic on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. The beaches are the centre of all activity in the summer months with a melting pot of people and a cosmopolitan mix of costume. For the best beach experience my advice is to do a bit of research and find the more remote beaches with good summer chiringuitos for a great day out from Tangier.

Although I love Tangier, it is not where we base ourselves when we are in Morocco. My home from home is in fact the small seaside medina of Assilah, just a 40 minute drive up the coast. I am biased, but I love the quieter pace of life and the village feel of Assilah. Everything is within walking distance, such as markets, restaurants, and shops. The medina is tiny, yet full of wonderful quality artisanal crafts, some are made locally while others are brought in. Several people I know in Tangier travel to Assilah to do any carpet shopping. Feel free to contact me for some recommendations if you find yourself uncertain of where to turn when in pursuit of the perfect Moroccan carpet to wrap up and take home.

Tangier and Assilah

Assilah

Assilah is also a great place for independent travel – there are some beautiful riads to rent on platforms like Airbnb and recent years has seen a few more chambre d’hote type of accommodation opening in the medina itself. Stroll out of the medina in the evening and choose to eat at one of the restaurants serving fresh fish with a cold glass of Moroccan Gris. Find a café you like and make that part of your morning routine and you will soon be greeted like a local. A visit to Assilah is more about stepping down the pace and immersing yourself in medina life rather than a place to visit sites and tick off items in your guide book.

Again, do a little research and discover places hidden up and down the coast like Chez Mounir or Chez Abdou – both a little off the beaten track but well worth the visit. Find out about the local country markets (souks). These can be a bit of an eye-opener (I try and avoid the chicken section!) You will find a lot of utilitarian plastic for sale, but amongst it all are local olives, wonderful oils and cheeses and other seasonal produce. One of my favourite purchases at the Monday market were some donkey saddles, which like so many things in this part of the world come with an element of beauty alongside practicality.

And of course there are the paintings and murals in the Assilah medina, a result of the ongoing annual Art Moussem that takes place in the summer. Every year the walls are whitewashed in preparation and ladders bearing brush and paint-wielding artists are found unexpectedly around corners as they put their stamp on a corner of the medina. Until next year . . . when they will be painted over in preparation for the next artist.

Tangier

Tangier

So, put Tangier and Assilah on your itinerary, the walls are white rather than red, the closest you will get to the Sahara is the dreaded shawki winds that make everyone grumpy, but you will discover a laid back blue and white skyline punctuated with clear Tangier sunshine that will draw you into the north and maybe, like us, you will simply never leave!

 

Further images on Pauline’s Instagram feed. Details of Dar Ambrosia accommodation here. Local guide options with Pauline and Jonas in Tangier and Assilah here.