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Costa del Sol: from southern Spain, a visit to exotic Tangiers

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 29 March 2018
Related property: Bena Vista
Costa del Sol: from southern Spain, a visit to exotic Tangiers

The area around Marbella, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, may appear typically southern Spanish – hot and dry, sleepy but spectacular – but really there’s no such thing as typical. Or rather there is, but that appearance owes much to the Moors of North Africa, who for nigh on eight centuries occupied much of the Iberian peninsula, and whose influence, certainly on Spain’s architecture, remains pervasive.

Moorish rule over Spain was (more or less) benign; and its legacy (the Alhambra et al) is undeniable. But it was definitely an occupation, and an unwelcome one at that. A hostile takeover, one might say.

These days, however, travel between north-western Morocco and southern Spain is an altogether easier and more peaceful affair. Traffic goes in both directions; and for holidaymakers enjoying a sojourn on this part of the Costa, but perhaps in search of something a little different, a day trip to Tangiers may be just the ticket.

There are numerous coach-tour operators in the area, offering transport to the port of Tarifa – about an hour from Bena Vista. Thereafter it’s a 40-minute trip by fast ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar, and there you are!

Tangiers is properly exotic. Most folks wear djeballas – long, loose garments, with full sleeves and a conical hood – as they go about their business; and what business it is! If you’re lucky enough to visit on market day, you’ll see everywhere piled high, with everything you can imagine (and a bit more besides), amid a riot of colour and noise.

Tangiers is divided into an old walled city, or medina: a nest of medieval alleyways; and a new, modern city, the ville nouvelle. The medina contains a Kasbah, the walled fortress of the sultan, which forms its western corner; the Petit Socco, an historic plaza in the centre, and of course the souks, or markets. The much more impressive Grand Socco (officially the Place du Grand 9 Avril 1947), a pleasant square with a central fountain, links the two sides of town, and is the picture-postcard entrance to the medina.

You can’t do it all in a day, but if you concentrate on the old part: after an obligatory encounter with some camels, you might visit the old sultan’s palace, the American Legation and the Roman Necropolis. Then stop for lunch at any of Tangiers’s traditional Moroccan restaurants: we particularly recommend Le Nabab, or the Rif Kebdani.

And then? Well, and then it’s time for shopping, a full-on experience. In Tangiers the vendors are extremely proactive, much more than we’re used to. Some of the street sellers can be a mite pushy; but actually once you get used to it, the whole retail experience is really quite exhilarating. As long as you remember that you’re free to say no. Repeatedly!

After all that hustle and bustle, the Craft Emporium offers an oasis of calm. You can enjoy presentations of fine carpets and exotic spices and browse an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures, before heading back to the ferry. Possibly laden with trinkets and lighter of wallet, but full of satisfaction at after a day well spent. 

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Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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