An excellent hub for touring the north of Morocco is Marina Smir, where the Alawite elite like to enjoy the summer season. Marina Smir Thalasso & Spa is exceptional because it combines a breathtaking beachfront, spa, sea water pool, first class service, various restaurants and convenient proximity to major cities such as Tangier and Tetuan and smaller picturesque villages.
When visiting a Maghreb city, the first thing one does is to learn its history and ask for the Medina. The Medina is the old quarter in every Arab city or village, a maze in which one gets inevitably lost. Chances are that even if you have many hours to visit, it will not be enough to engage the people, sidetrack and later be surprised by a simple arch or a gorgeous carved wooden door around a corner, while you travel in time through intricate streets.
Almost everything in the Moroccan medinas clearly shows that the technological revolution hasn’t arrived there, nor is it expected in a near future. The artisans still perform almost forgotten trades in tiny stalls. You will find blacksmiths, sieve makers, spinners and esparto grass basketry. Close by you’ll smell the stench from a tannery, and just 6 feet beyond the pleasant aroma of dates and pistachio sweets welcomes you in this multiplicity of sensory experiences.
The medina of Tangier doesn’t look as authentic as the one in Fez, which is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat, the capital. Neither is it as respectable as the one in Marrakech, another important city in the south of the country. But a visit to this Tangier landmark requires two to three days because it has much to show. We’ll start in the most modern district with French, Spanish and English neighborhoods. As you climb its hills, with the Bay at your feet, Tangier offers a unique view of the Strait of Gibraltar. The mountain is home to the former Governor’s Palace—Dar el Makhzen—which today is a splendid museum of Moroccan art, as well as the palace of King Mohamed VI (one of many spread across the country) and the palaces of some Saudi princes.
The sea and the ocean come together in Tangier, and for that reason the city is known as “the fusion of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.” Ten miles from Tangier, a monument erected in the late 19th century in Cape Spartel reminds us that we are at the crossroads of two continents. The views over the cliffs of Gibraltar are unparalleled. You should not miss the caves of Hercules, with a natural window to the ocean. Two magnificent places stand out for food and lodging: the hotel and restaurant Nord-Pinus, a prestigious riad; and La Tangerina, with exclusive views of the Straits of Gibraltar from the terrace.
About three miles from Tangiers in white Tetouan, a motley crowd strolls through the colorful stalls of the souk, its famous market. The medina of this Moroccan city is overcrowded: when in the past one family lived in each house, now seven occupy the same space. But the tourists are scarce, and sellers show them the respect they will not get from traders in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, for example.
In 1913, Tetouan became the capital of the Spanish protectorate for the north of Morocco. The Andalusian-Islamic architecture and the Spanish references you see everywhere, such as the Spanish Theatre and the Cervantes Institute are clear influences of the time when Northern Morocco was administered by the Spaniards. Spanish is spoken in the north, although French is more ubiquitous.
Morocco´s charm is not limited to the big cities. Chefchaouen, the city, painted blue, is intended to welcome tourists. Even the souvenirs are neatly arranged. High on the hill and in the heart of the medina, the small but cozy hotel Casa Hassan will captivate your adventurous spirit. ■