Kenza Bennani, Founder and Creative Director of handbag label New Tangier, shares her insider guide to the Moroccan port city’s hidden gems.
Aug 19, 2020
Kenza Bennani, a third generation Tanjawi, is the founder and creative director of New Tangier, a luxury accessories and ready to wear brand whose goal is to reinterpret traditional Moroccan craftsmanship in a contemporary and sustainable manner. The New Tangier showroom and atelier, in the city’s Marchan quarter, can be visited by appointment. To reserve, call (+212) 615 83 69 82.
It is often said that Tangier is a city of passions; it rarely leaves its visitors indifferent. Those who are not ensorcelled by the magic of Tangier never return; there is nothing more to say of them. I am here to share the impressions of those who do fall in (frequently lifelong) love with Tangier. I will guide you through bewitching intricacies of my city, revealing the details of everyday life in our almost 3000-year-old port city.
Tangier sits at the crossroads of Africa and Europe, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and boasts a history whose protagonists span from Olympian Gods to Phoenician settlers and Arab travelers. The city’s past had shaped its deeply multicultural human and architectural landscapes long before the common stories told of the city—magnifying hedonistic tales of spies, sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll—took hold of the global imagination.
“The resulting salad of cultures and languages and food and music has become intrinsically tied to Tanjawi culture. The Tanjawi is either native of Tangier or inhabits the city and is many things at once.”
I apologize in advance for not delving into the realms of nostalgia, the literary past, and what I believe to be a narrative that leaves this city stuck in the past. Yes, Tangier is defined, in many ways, by the events, characters, and legends of its past; What often gets left out of the narrative, however, is that Tangier has always reinvented itself, integrating that past with the present to become something new. Its desirable strategic location has meant several cycles of the city being fought over, handed over as a gift, and then re-built to suit its new inhabitants. The resulting salad of cultures and languages and food and music has become intrinsically tied to Tanjawi culture. The Tanjawi is either native of Tangier or inhabits the city and is many things at once. In a world that is more polarized by the day, we could all do with a bit more Tanjawi spirit. If you agree, do come along on this journey through Tangier with me. Here’s your weekend Itinerary, New Tangier style:
Photo: Cape Spartel Road. By Sarah Charpentier
1 PM: Couscous Time and The Hotel Charf
A couscous lunch at home on a Friday is a Moroccan religious tradition that follows the Friday prayers at the mosque. In the last few years, more and more restaurants are offering the meal on their menu. The Hotel Charf’s penthouse restaurant hosts one of the most delicious Friday couscous experiences. You will find many Tanjawis dining at this unpretentious, family run spot that offers a choice of three couscous recipes (vegetarian, chicken or meat) that are as good as homemade. The penthouse bar’s vast vista of Tangier’s new port also makes it a prime venue to have a beer or a glass of wine.
3 PM: Saunter through the Perdicaris Forest
The Perdicaris Forest is one of Tangier’s most breathtaking locations and definitely not to be missed. This forest, 4 kms from Tangier’s center, is home to a variety of botanical wonders (marked in three languages) and boasts some of North Africa’s most beautiful views of the Atlantic. Walk its several well-kept stone paths and visit the Perdicaris Castle, built in 1887 by Ion Perdicaris, a wealthy Greek-American philanthropist who moved to Tangier with his ailing wife suffering from Tuberculosis: she allegedly benefited from the eucalyptus trees that can still be found in the forest to this day…
5 PM: Go Swimming at Cape Spartel
Proceed 8 kms west from Perdicaris, further along the same coastline, and you will arrive at Cape Spartel, the north-western most point of mainland Africa. The cape is famously home to a lighthouse that is 300m above sea level and overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar. On your drive, you will encounter some of the coast’s most beautiful white sand beaches—a personal favorite is Ba Kassem beach. Be sure to pull over and have a refreshing swim and maybe a cup of sweet Moroccan mint tea from one of the small cafes on the shore.
7 PM: Sunset Aperitivo at Le Mirage.
If Tangier has been attractive to many world-renowned artists, photographers and writers it is largely because of its light, which will arrest your sight when you sit on the terrace of the cliff-top Hotel Le Mirage and order a Negroni and some pickled olives. The legendary luxury hotel and restaurant are lodged on top of the renowned Hercules caves (also worth visiting during your stay) and that overlooks the Atlantic. From this vantage point, you’ll observe, arguably, one of the most stunning sunsets in the world.
9.30 PM: Dinner at La Casa d’Italia
Food at La Casa d’Italia is simple and pleasing. Think grilled sole, fried calamari, and fresh salads. Wedged in the courtyard of the old Italian Consulate in Tangier, the restaurant is housed in a building that is a Moroccan style palace formerly owned by king Moulay Hfid, a true lover of Andalusian art and design. Casa d’Italia’s al-fresco dining option draws a loyal following of locals and visitors alike.
11.30 PM: After hour drinks at Le Number One
Not unlike most of Tangier’s signature spots, this low-key, late-night bar in downtown Tangier plays jazz, blues, and soul. Thanks to its kitsch-esque vibe, this address tends to be brimming with local artists and intellectuals, and many tables end up mixing by the end of the evening, and spilling into intriguing conversation.
Photo: Cinémathèque de Tanger. Via @valere_le_vagabond
10 AM: Stroll through Downtown Tangiers to Cinémathèque de Tanger
Downtown Tangier is a mix of architectural styles from the International era, when many western architects fled to Tangier during World War II. A singular style of architecture was born from the bridge between the western schools of that moment and Moroccan traditional elements and crafts. A morning walk is the best way and time to take in the unique architectural elements of the city. Head down the rue de la Liberté, which starts at the legendary Gran Café de Paris and hosts the amazing Bazaar Tindouf, a cavern of arts and crafts from the kingdom and beyond that you can spend hours looking through. Continue to the Place du Grand Socco, a sprawling piazza that is the heartbeat of the city. Here you’ll find the cafe terrace of the Cinémathèque de Tanger, a hub for Tangier’s up-and-coming progressive youth and one of Africa’s best art-house cinemas, where acclaimed independent films, operas, ballets, and live concerts are regularly screened.
1 PM: Lunch at Darna’s Community Home for Women
Tangier’s Darna Charity—an association that works to empower marginalized women and children through education and craft—is one of New Tangier’s collaborators and has set up a Community Home with a restaurant that teaches some of these women to cook and serve in the restaurant business. Sit in the shade of a fig tree in the home’s courtyard terrace and order from their daily-changing menu. Your hearty, homemade meal will be twice as sating, knowing that all proceeds go to the charity. After lunch, be sure to stop by their craft shop where you can purchase handmade homewares, handwoven scarves, and other mementos to take back home with you.
Photo: The Kasbah. Via @iynereh
3 PM: Explore the Old Medina and Kasbah
The old city, Tangier’s historic epicenter, is divided into two parts: the old medina, which is connected to the port, and the Kasbah, a citadel that is above sea level and overlooks the rest of the city. The two halves are connected by a staircase that you will encounter as you meander through the old city’s serpentine streets, marveling at the wares of artisans and peeking into cafes. With so many nooks and crannies worth excavating, allow yourself to be guided by your instincts; If you get lost, just ask for the kasbah.
6 PM: Teatime and Tunes chez Les Fils du Detroit
When you get up to the Place du Mechouar, the main piazza in the Kasbah, you will see the Kasbah Museum (which houses a detailed account of Tangier’s history). Close by sits a tiny social club run by a group of sextua and septuagenarians that have been playing Andalusian music together for the last 40 years. They welcome all visitors with a glass of mint tea, a few songs, and an attempt to sell them a CD on the spot. The group’s mission is more than entertainment; these artists are preserving an ancient musical tradition, passing it down to the next generations through a chorus group they have started.
9 PM: Dinner and After-hours Delight at El Morocco Club
Cap off your stay in Tangiers with dinner at the jewel in Tangiers’ gastronomic crown, El Morocco Club. The chef here, Noureddin Zaoujal, excels at spinning local produce and the bases of traditional Moroccan cooking into a contemporary experience. A must-try is his Rezzat el Kadi, a modern twist on a traditional crispy angel-hair tagine. The restaurant boasts several levels which vary in ambiance, so reservations are necessary. The basement has been transformed into an intimate, chic piano bar that is reminiscent of Tangier’s golden era, when the city was teeming with celebrities and artists.
Where to Stay in Tangier
In the new town:
Villa Mimi Calpe
Mimi Calpe is a guest villa in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw away from the Grand Socco with an enchantingly lush hidden garden and swimming pool. It is a haven in the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest corners in town, has direct access to the new marina and seaside, and is very reasonably priced: A top recommendation if you want to disconnect.
Rooms start at $81 per night, breakfast and Wi-Fi inclusive.
Hotel Le Mirage
All 45 spacious rooms—each with a private terrace—at this modern, cliff-top hotel boast a 180 degree view of the Atlantic. A stay here gives you access to the hotel’s private beach. Not just a place to lay one’s head, indulge in seafood while gazing at the Atlantic from the hotel’s restaurant terrace, or be transported to another world by melodies to be heard in the hotel’s scarlet piano room. Better still, head down to the Le Mirage’s beach restaurant, open exclusively to hotel guests, for an afternoon treat . Le Mirage also offers the option to book private yoga classes and in-room spa treatments.
Rooms start at $291 per night, breakfast and Wi-Fi inclusive.
On the mountain:
Villa Lalla Yenou
This 4-bedroom villa, privately owned by vintage photography dealer Sarah Wheeler, was featured in the artful coffee table book “Inside Tangier” by Nicolo Castellini Baldissera and Guido Taroni, with foreword by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles. (It also happens to be the glorious location at which New Tangier’s SS‘20 campaign was shot). The house, which sleeps up to 9 guests, boasts a swimming pool, luscious gardens, and comes fully staffed (including a cook that will spoil you). The complex is comprised of two lime-washed villas: the upper house is a mid-century Tangerine hide away, while the lower house is a new build designed by architect Cosimo Sesti with garden terraces by Umberto Pasti. Lalla Yenou is situated approximately 10 minutes from the centre of town and 15 minutes from the Atlantic beaches of Cape Spartel.
Book each house for $150 per night (low season); 3 nights minimum stay.
For bookings, contact Sarah Wheeler directly on (+44) 7932 735 829 (WhatsApp) or via email at email@example.com.
In the Kasbah:
On the first line of houses behind the citadel walls is perched a stylish boutique hotel, Nord Pinus—not to be confused with its sister property in Arles, France, also owned by Anne Igou. Each room in this former pasha’s townhouse combines nostalgia with varying cultural elements that Igou has picked up from the world over. The chinoiserie themed room is a dream, with a little window that opens up to a view of crashing Atlantic waves. Meals at Nord Pinus are delicious and on very clear days, one can see Spain so easily from its roof terrace that it becomes quite obvious why Spanish culture has influenced Tangier over the decades in such a substantial way. From here, one truly senses that Tangier is a place in between worlds.
Double Rooms start at $205 per night (dependent on season), breakfast and Wi-Fi inclusive.
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