In Spectre, James Bond hops across the Strait of Gibraltar for a trademark intercontinental jaunt. And his destination, Tangier, is one well worth exploring – if rich cultural and artistic diversity, without the long-haul flight, stirs your creative yen…
We first saw James Bond visit Tangier, on the northern tip of Morocco, as he stalked KGB head General Pushkin in 1987’s The Living Daylights. Now, 007 is revisiting the sweltering port city (as well as Erfoud, near the wild Erg Chebbi dunes, and taking the Oriental Desert Express linking Oujda with Bouarfa, should dedicated fans fancy making the journey) in the franchise’s latest outing. While Bond is too busy engaged in two-wheeled parkour escapes as he flees from sophisticated global terrorists to spend time truly soaking up Tangier’s cultural offerings, ordinary visitors are likely to be enthralled by a city which has fired the souls of creative luminaries from Eugène Delacroix to Tennessee Williams via Henri Matisse and Paul Bowles.
Tangier, the continental link
Northern Morocco is perhaps the only destination where Brits can take a flight of just three hours and yet, on arrival, feel like they’ve been teleported to another world (day trippers come here from southern Spain). And a stroll down the rue Almohades in the medina, or old city – with its merchants selling Berber carpets, mosaic tables, ceramics and various antiques – will certainly bring home the fact that you’re on a different continent, as will the architecture, an eclectic mix of Andalucían, Moorish, colonial and Moroccan.
Spread over seven hills, each strewn with whitewashed houses overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, Tangier is a junction linking Africa and Europe, as well as the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Shortly after it was decreed an international zone in 1923, to be governed by France, Spain and Britain, it gained a reputation as a bustling hub for diplomats, writers and beatniks. Now, though, thanks to the rise of budget air travel to Morocco’s attractions south of here, it’s far less busy than when it was the entry point for ferries arriving from Europe.
A tour of beauty
Those wanting to bask in Morocco’s rich cultural nuances should make their first port of call Petit Socco – focal point of the former capital of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana, and a perfect place to kick-start the day with a traditional mint tea. Another must-visit in the old city is the huge white villa, formerly the British consulate, which now houses the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Tanger.
Any visitors to Tangier making a Bond pilgrimage will surely know by now that the city is the setting for the lair of Christoph Waltz’s dastardly character, Franz Oberhauser. Filming required a great deal of redecorating of the medina, with one scene taking place nearby outside the Hotel Minzah on rue de La Liberté. Daniel Craig himself reportedly stayed at the Hôtel Villa Joséphine on rue Sidi Mesmoudi.
Moving to the newer part of town, Mendoubia Park, north of Grand Socco Square, features a dragon tree said to be 800 years old. Rue de la Liberté leads visitors to the heart of the modern town, Place de France, where they’ll find Grand Café de Paris and the El Minzah Hotel – favoured hangouts of those aforementioned artistic and literary luminaries. From either of these, you can enjoy a view over the medina and the port and bay of Tangier (go to Café Hafa for a sweeping view of the Strait of Gibraltar from the top of a cliff).
As for a comfortable bolthole between these exploits, accommodation in Tangier doesn’t come better than Hôtel Nord- Pinus Tanger, a riad-style guesthouse found within a hilltop kasbah whose narrow alleys, souks and tiny squares seduced the Beat Poets and the Rolling Stones, among others, into sticking around for some inspiration.
A former 18th-century pasha’s palace which was given a 16-month restoration by French hotelier Anne Igou, the hotel has four suites, a double room as well as a self-contained two-bedroom house. There’s also a bar and a restaurant which specialises in fresh fish sourced from the Mediterranean and Atlantic and vegetables brought down daily from the Riff Mountains, all either grilled or cooked in a tagine over a wood fire.
But it’s the hotel’s décor – think bronze beds, marble floors, handmade tiles and North African fabrics and antiques, with a smattering of contemporary European items – along with the sweet smell of cedar, sea and exotic antiquity that’ll make you feel the revitalising effects of having escaped your own normality.
When it comes to heady escapism, this glamorous haven is certainly a match for the outlandish feats of a fictional secret service agent.
Source: The Director