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7 Café Terraces in Tangier

Truman Capote wrote of Tangier: “Almost everything in Tangier is unusual. Before coming here you should do three things – be inoculated for typhoid, withdraw your savings from the bank, say goodbye to your friends…” Capote was there in the summer of 1949, but Tangier still holds out that invisible but very real lure which the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965) observed. “Tangier is a basin that holds you, a timeless place; the days slide by less noticed than foam in a waterfall.” That is how the celebrated American writer accounts for so many travellers – artists, writers, bohemians – landing in Tangier for a short holiday and then deciding to settle there indefinitely, simply “letting the years go by”. That is what today’s route is about – sitting back on one of the terraces and watching the city bustle unfold.

At the Top of the Kasbah

1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but at La Maison Blanche Riad-Hotel

We can’t think of any better way to start the day in Tangier than by breakfasting on the panoramic terrace of La Maison Blanche Riad-Hotel, located at the top of the Kasbah, alongside the main gate to the erstwhile fortress. After spending a peaceful night in one of their nine rooms – each one with its own décor, dedicated to artists who helped turn Tangier into a fascinating, cosmopolitan place (Paul Bowles, Juan Goytisolo, etc.) – you will witness first-hand the leisurely awakening of the city. Enjoy the light that so impressed Matisse, the sea and the multi-coloured rooftops. Price per room: from 100 to 150 euros, breakfast included.

The Heart of the Medina

Once you feel rested and well fed, it’s time to wander through the Medina. Whichever way you enter, within two minutes you get hopelessly lost in the chaotic maze of alleyways, those tunnels with coloured walls where no shaft of sunlight ever penetrates but which are always filled with light. Both sides of the pleasant grotto are lined with all kinds of workshops and businesses. Cobblers, basket-makers, jewellers, dairies, barber shops, spiceries… The toing and froing of people and goods is constant. Everything gets conveyed in hand-carts, as cars wouldn’t fit in these narrow streets. The agreeable chaos is augmented by hawkers of fruit, fish, mint, potatoes, broad beans, nougat, brick-a-brac, etc. But, the Medina is also peopled by leisurely Tangerines who practise the healthy pastime of sitting at a terrace or in the bright interior salon of a café, and letting time go by.

2, 3 & 4. Tingis, Central and Fuentes… in the Warmth of the Petit Socco

The small but crowded Petit Socco square is ideal for observing one of the nerve centres of Tangier’s Medina. There are various options, but the most typical and recommendable ones include the airy salon and terrace of the Café Tingis, where the time-worn sign claims “everything always fast and fresh”. Similarly, the Café Central, located just opposite, or the balconies of the Café Fuentes, on the upper floor. To get there, your best reference point is the Petit Socco square – officially known as the 9 April 1947 – which is a two minutes’ walk along the Rue Siaghine. On your way, you will catch sight of the facade of the Spanish Catholic Mission, next to the Alcalá department store – “fabrics, novelties…”. This is followed by numerous money-changing booths, shop windows plastered with vintage cameras and a host of jewellery stores.

5. Café Ibn Batouta, in the Heart of the Medina

Somewhat more hidden, but more authentic, is the Café Ibn Batouta, located in the heart of the Medina. It takes up several floors, although regulars hang out on the first floor where they often watch football matches on the television. At the top of the narrow staircase you suddenly come onto a split-level terrace where the youngsters of Tangier meet to drink tea, chat and smoke, with the sky as their only witness. From here, the sea is not visible, but you do look out over a beehive of rooftops and roof terraces bedecked with satellite dishes and laundry hanging on the lines. Neither is it one of the city’s most comfortable joints, but indeed one of the most genuine. The affordable prices – a large glass of mint tea costs just 6 dh – draw many students to the city. Next to the small bar counter where the tea is made hangs a photo of the actor, Matt Damon, of The Bourne Ultimatum fame. Regulars enjoy telling new customers how the scenes where the star jumps between buildings, from one balcony to the next, was filmed here.

Atlantic Views

6. Café Hafa, Paul Bowles’ Favourite

The staggered terrace of the Café Hafa is unique. Overlooking the ocean, on the top of a cliff, it is absolutely always jam-packed with youngsters drinking tea, smoking and playing table games. Opened in 1921, it was the favourite of Paul Bowles, and the Rolling Stones also came here, among other celebrities. The tea is tasty and cheap – less than 1 euro – and, although the plastic furniture detracts from the café’s charm, it is ideal for having a restful break, reading, chatting and gazing out over the blue horizon.

Getting there is a cinch – you leave the Kasbah by the main gate next to La Maison Blanche and take the street that goes up to the Phoenician necropolis, a popular spot among Tangerines, who often spend the afternoon there. Just beyond it, a bright alleyway where young men mill around buying and selling loose cigarettes leads to the Café Hafa, where you can also grab a bite of one of the local snacks.

In the Coolth of the Kasbah

7. Morocco Café – Peace in the Shade of a Centenary Rubber Plant

Located just 20 metres from the main gate into the Kasbah, the quiet terrace of the Morocco Café is ideal for having some tea or any drink and even ordering the dish of the day, a salad, a quiche, etc. All the food is home made. The café is somewhat more upscale than average and prices are more like those on the opposite side of the Gibraltar Strait. For instance tea – served in a small teapot – costs 18 dh. It opens at 9 in the morning, except on Mondays, which is their day off. The building also houses the Morocco Club, a piano bar where by night you can enjoy good music and excellent cocktails in a pleasant atmosphere.

Text and images by Sergio Fernández Tolosa (Con un par de ruedas) for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS