By Robin Graham
The most interesting thing about one of the most interesting day trips that can be taken by a visitor to Spain is that it isn’t a day trip to anywhere in Spain. Let me run that by you again – it’s an opportunity that only arises on the country’s, and therefore Europe’s, southernmost coast: a day out in Africa.
More specifically, a day out in Tangier, and the chance to explore one of Morocco’s best preserved medinas.
FRS ferries operate out of Gibraltar and Algeciras, but the only route that docks in old Tangier itself is the Tarifa-Tangier line which will set you back just over 30 euros and as many minutes each way. Tarifa is a small town so if you’ve done the sensible thing and spent the night there before your crossing, then the journey from one continent and culture to another will consist of a few minute’s walk down to the port and a mere half hour on the boat.
Both the ferry company and any number of entrepreneurial Tarifeños offer inclusive excursions for just a few euros more (and sometimes less) than your 75 euro round-trip fare but unless you’re keen on a succession of “no pressure” visits to carpet shops, I would avoid them and simply get on the boat with your ticket and your own two feet. Passport control takes place on board, so disembarking is easy.
Be aware before you go that “experts” will line up around the block to warn you about all the hassle you’re going to get and about how Tangier isn’t the “real” Morocco anyway. They’re wrong about the real Morocco thing but when it comes to the hassle they may have a point. While it isn’t illegal to swagger into town in branded designer clothing and sporting the silly hats and fanny packs of ruise ship inmates on day release, it is foolish. Group travel will also make you a target.
If you can manage to get off the ferry, bypass the ranked taxis and stroll across the street and up into the old city without raising local blood pressure with your outfit or the girth of your wallet, you will find yourself in a very special place. With roots going back as far as the Phoenicians, today’s Tangier still wears its mid-20th century history on its sleeve. This was the International Zone that attracted cold war spies, tycoons and artists of all types, from Paul Bowles to William Burroughs.
The souks (lanes with dozens of small shops) are fittingly disorientating and the shopkeepers much more inviting than the fake guides who will approach you on the street. The medina and its walled Kasbah are shabby and crumbling but very beautiful – a far cry from the horror stories often told on the other side of the Straits.
Wander past the market stalls of the Rue as-Siaghin and sip a coffee in the Zoco Chico. Look out over the Atlantic from the Kasbah walls. Find a chic riad up there and make it an overnight, or spend less down near the port in the Hotel Continental with its faded grandeur and insanely ornate breakfast area.
Eat at Le Nabab on Rue al-Kadiria but leave the hotel a long time before you’re hungry – finding anything in this medieval warren is an adventure in itself and getting lost, as you will do, is the best reason for coming here.
The ferry: http://www.frs.es/
Robin Graham, from Tarifa in southern Spain, writes stories. Some of them are about places and some of them are just made up. A lot of them can be found, with accompanying photography, at www.alotofwind.com. He’s a private person but, strangely, doesn’t mind being followed on Twitter: @robinjgraham or liked on Facebook: alotofwind.com.