The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel (In Tangier)

hotel ,Tangier
A hotel can make or break your vacation. We’ve all heard stories about crappy dives ruining someone’s trip. Hey, we’ve written about plenty of them here on Gadling. But every once in a while we come across a hotel that exceeds our expectations.

Hoteliers, take note. This is how to do it right.

While fleeing the Spanish Christmas to Tangier, we took a relative’s recommendation and booked a room at La Tangerina Guest Home in the Casbah. The first good impression came before we got there with their detailed website where you can view all ten rooms – a big help in deciding which one to take. We selected Room 3 for 65 euros ($86), one of the cheapest. There is also a smaller, cheaper room, and some larger suites suitable for a whole family. The price includes breakfast.

Since we assumed there would be the usual hassle at the North African airport, we booked a taxi through the hotel. We later found out they didn’t overcharge us like a lot of hotels would – another point in their favor.

La Tangerina is located on the northern edge of the Casbah overlooking the protective wall facing north to the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s part of an old private residence. Only the Sultan’s family and hangers-on were allowed to live in the Casbah, so the building has a good pedigree. There are four floors built around an inner courtyard. The ground floor has a couple of lounges opening onto the courtyard and the dining room is also on this level.

%Gallery-175868%We got to sample the kitchen the first night. I had an excellent tagine. Breakfast the next day included bread, cake and msemen, a sweet flatbread popular here in Morocco that quickly became my favorite. Service was fast and the food consistently good.

The rooms are tastefully decorated with bright walls and old prints of Tangier and Morocco. Bathrooms are modern and everything was cleaned daily. In a cage outside our door was a happy little canary I nicknamed Parsley. That’s an inside joke between the Spanish and the Moroccans. They don’t think it’s funny; I think it’s hilarious.

We didn’t spend much time in the room, though, because the rooftop terrace was where we really wanted to be. The terrace offers sweeping views of the Strait of Gibraltar. There’s a covered divan if you want to take a nap, chairs and tables if you want to sit and read, and an upper sun deck for tanning. We spent a lot of time lazing around up there, drinking mint tea and eating amazing little Moroccan sweets. We had a nice surprise when we checked out and discovered they were free!

The terrace really makes this hotel and induces a certain laziness that cuts into sightseeing time. That was fine by us because we wanted a relaxed holiday. It also served well for a New Year’s Eve party with some of the other guests. While Spain is due north of Tangier, it’s in the next time zone and so we got to watch the distant flare of fireworks at 11 p.m., and then have a second celebration at midnight.

Luckily for us, this hotel serves alcohol, which isn’t always the case in this Muslim nation. The Moroccans make some fine white wine, although the red we tried was too young for our taste. There was also French champagne on hand for New Year’s Eve.

All in all, La Tangerina is one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had in 33 countries of travel. The management gets everything right, from the beautiful terrace to little touches such as the bowl of free tangerines in the courtyard. The one thing I didn’t try was the hammam and massage service. I suspect those are excellent as well.

Would you like to give a shout out to your favorite hotel? Tell us about it in the comments section!

For more on what goes on behind the scenes in a hotel, check out McLean Robbins’ series “The Birth of a Hotel.”

[Photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

Escaping Christmas In Tangier

Tangier
The Christmas holiday in Spain is a classic case of too much of a good thing. Stretching from before Christmas to after Epiphany, it’s a long haul of eating, drinking, socializing and getting nothing done. I have no problem with that except it goes on for way too long. My Spanish wife agrees, so we decided to escape for five days, a sort of holiday from the holidays.

She wanted to go to Tangier, Morocco. I was skeptical. We’d been to Marrakech a few years before and found it a huckster’s paradise. While the tagines were tasty and the mosques marvelous, the constant pestering by touts made it a hassle. Everywhere else turned out to be too expensive, though, and so we hopped on the flight from Madrid and an hour later found ourselves in Tangier.

The difference from Marrakech was immediately noticeable. There was a chilled-out vibe that the more southern city lacked. I’d heard that the authorities had wisely cleared out the most annoying touts in order to encourage tourism. Walking around we had numerous young men offer us a tour but they took no for an answer, at least after two or three nos. In Marrakech it generally took ten or 12 nos. Tangier is also a remarkably clean city, with a fresh sea breeze coming off the bay and streets that lack the minefields of dog shit that I’m used to in Spanish cities.

There are two main neighborhoods in Tangier of interest to visitors. The Casbah is the old sultan’s palace complex and stands on high ground surrounded by a wall and overlooking the bay. The medina is the old city and includes a sprawling marketplace. Beyond these lies the modern city, stretching along the bay and further inland. While pleasant enough, it lacks any real distinctiveness except for some fine old cafes.

%Gallery-174508%The Casbah is the most popular place for foreigners to stay. In fact, many have bought second homes there and the population is now 60% foreign. Situated on Tangier’s highest point and surrounded by an old wall, it was here that the Sultan lived with his family and staff. Ornately carved wooden doors and window lattices decorate the whitewashed buildings. Some have rooftop terraces offering fine views of the bay and the Strait of Gibraltar. Many of the better hotels and restaurants are in this neighborhood.

A little rougher and far more lively is the medina, the old city that includes the marketplace. Here labyrinthine alleyways lead past rows of stalls selling everything from heaps of spices and fresh produce to local handmade leather and cheap Chinese imports. Bustling crowds of shoppers fill these narrow lanes. Old men in burnooses stand to one side having quiet conversations, or sip tea and play checkers in dark cafes. There are also tranquil residential side streets that are almost abandoned, the only sound being the conversation of women and laughter of children filtering out from behind closed doors.

It’s easy to get lost in the medina, but being fairly small it’s hard to stay lost for long. One trick I’ve learned in Middle Eastern cities is to think of the streets as a circulation system. The alleys are the capillaries. If you want to get out, take the biggest one you can find. This will eventually lead to a wider artery, which will take you to the heart or lungs (one of the main squares) or the eyes and mouth (the gates to the new city). When you come to a branch in the road, always pick the wider path and you’ll be out soon.

The medina has the highest amount of public drug use I’ve seen in any city, Amsterdam included. The smell of kif (hash) mingles with the turmeric of the spice stalls and in some cafes people smoke quite openly. There are plenty of junkies around too. In the main square one guy was staggering around in filthy rags, drooling as he sniffed glue from a plastic bag. Ever seen a hardcore glue sniffer on a binge? It ain’t pretty.

Like many ports, Tangier has an international feel. Arabic is the native language, and French is the default foreign tongue. Spanish and English are also widely spoken. At times they all get jumbled up and something as simple as ordering a tea can involve all four languages. It’s great fun.

Tangier is an easy flight from Madrid and many other European cities and makes a great short holiday or the starting point for a longer exploration of Africa. One bit of advice: don’t use the American Express currency exchange office in Madrid’s Barajas Airport. They ripped us off on the exchange rate. You’ll get a much better rate in the Tangier airport or from one of the numerous licensed money changers in the medina.

This is the first in a short series on Tangier. Coming up next: “The Tangier Art and Cafe Scene!”

[Top photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero, that cool wife I mentioned. Bottom photo by Sean McLachlan]

Tangier