Many travelers don’t realize that Africa is 35 minutes by ferry from Spain. Morocco has its snake charmers, mounds of exotic spices, meandering donkeys, and beautiful leather goods. The undulating Sahara desert is mysterious and unique. And, no car needed from Tarifa.
By Robin Graham
The ferry ports in Tarifa, at the very southern tip of Spain, and in nearby Algeciras, make a day trip to Africa a very real possibility for the tourist or resident in Andalucia. A taste of another culture in the hooded djellabas and trinkets of the souks, the spiced fruit flavours of steaming tagines and the call to prayer of the muezzin from the minaret.
An excellent train service in Tangier, the ‘white city’, means that, if you’re happy to include an overnight or two, you can travel further afield and take in more of what this spectacular country has to offer. Five hours from Tangier in the comfort of a clean compartment (hint – if you bring food along to eat on the train journey, it’s considered bad manners not to share it) will bring you to the Morocco’s holy city of Fes: home to the largest preserved medieval city in the Islamic world.
Old city gates, palaces, madrasas and mosques- blues and greens are the colours of this city, displayed everywhere in its ornate ceramics, redolent of the same culture that built the Alhambra in Spain. The souks are endless and can be overpowering, as can the smell of the 14th century leather tanneries the city is famous for, but the experience, so exotic yet so near European soil, is unforgettable.
When some bright spark decided to dub Marrakech ‘The Red City’, they weren’t fooling around. This southern city is also accessible from Tangier via an overnight train which, at around €35 per person for a bed in the sleeper carriage, makes for a very cheap alternative to a hotel for the night. The medina here is the colour of rust, top to bottom, and the city is home to the famous Jemma el Fna, the Unesco listed central square that seethes with snake charmers by day and smokes with barbecued meat by night, not to mention the Saharan musicians that fill it with Berber music.
Marrakech is overlooked by another reminder of the Andalucian connection – the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque, one of three great towers built by the Almohad dynasty. There is another in Rabat and the third has become a symbol of Spain and stands in Seville where it is known as the Giralda.
All of this without setting foot on a plane or stepping into a car. You’d be silly not to.
-To get there by ferry, only 35 minutes to Morocco, check this out.
Where have you traveled in Southern Spain?
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.