Tangier to Tetouan, Morocco

It may sound very charming… Almost romantic to take your breakfast out on the patio, sitting under the purple Bougainvillea…..
But the reality is different here in Morocco.

It was pleasant enough to sit outdoors with a cup of coffee or tea, but the minute the food arrived, out of nowhere clouds of flys and bees started flying into our food, suicidally soaking in the soft butter, and diving into our juice.

Lines of hard working ants came to join the festivities and to observe the Kamikaze bees which drowned themselves to death in our boiling teas or fresh squeezed orange juice….

This morning we gave up on the romantic idea that ended in emptying our drinks into the potted plants and leaving the food untouched, and took our breakfast inside.

After a leisurely morning, we put on our heavy backpacks and walked the hundreds of steps up into the Kasbah, where we had parked our car.

We took the country road from Tangier, along the northern coast of Morocco along the Mediterranean Sea, and later, took the southern route into the city of Tetouan.

The country road was totally neglected, since they completed the new highway to Tetouan.
Nobody but local traffic drives on it, and it is full of potholes and is torn on both sides.
The drive was scenic though….

The villages we passed seemed windswept and basic.
There were plenty of fruit trees and some sheep and goats.
We saw some women wearing traditional clothing, and I was struck by how similar to Mexican clothing they were.
They have a wide brimmed straw hat that resembles a sombrero.
A shawl very similar to the one that traditional Mexican women wear, and striped skirts in white and red, that are also similar to the weaving Mexican women do.

The facial structure of many of these women is wide and round.
They are not very tall and their skin is reddish in tone.

We arrived in Tetouan and waited for Fatima, from Riad Dalia, to meet us and guide us to their Riad B&B.

Most boutique hotels in Riads and Dars are situated inside the ancient Medinas, where cars are not allowed access.

This means that we have to park our car outside the Medina, strap on our backpacks, and walk into the Medina on foot.
Some guest houses are a LONG walk from the parking…

We decided to take less when we check into places in the Medinas, and to take with us just enough for two nights, and to leave the rest locked in the car.
This means that we have to find secure parking, which is not a problem because most Riads guide you to secure parking and it costs very little. (about $3- $4 a night)

After many twists and turns, Fatima stood before a huge wooden door and knocked on the door.
We entered into an amazing Moroccan Riad.

I want to stop here for a moment, and share an observation I had about the effect of Moroccan aesthetics.

It stands in the exact opposite spectrum of modern architecture and design, which favor clean empty surfaces and spaces.

While modern architecture and design favors the quiet of subdued colors and patterns, Moroccan design favors color, rich patterns, ornate textiles, gilded finishes, arches, carvings, oriental rugs and bold colors.

You may think that the two design sensibilities have nothing in common…. But this is not true….

In fact, the Moroccan rich design is so engaging, that the eye of the observer has SO MUCH to take in…. The eye finally lets go and accepts it as it is…. All the patterns merge into one harmonious pulsating field.

The result is that the effects of both the modern empty spaces, AND the overly ornate design, end up bringing a calm feeling to the observer.

Riad Dalia is one such place.
There are decorated columns, arches and ancient mosaics that are jaw dropping.
The floors are lined with oriental rugs and the curtains and sitting area with richly ornate cushions.

The suite we reserved is HUGE.
It is 150 Meter square with unbelievably tall ceilings, that in today’s space efficient world, would have been two stories.

There is a faded grandeur to the place.
The amazing decoration and the spaciousness of our room, make it feel palatial.
The last time I remember staying in a suite like this, was in a real converted castle in Ireland, in the Connemara region.

It is funny, but despite the palatial feeling, it does not feel very luxurious…. Perhaps it is the lack of attention to cleanliness, and a clear sense that you can pin point the place where the cost of renovations got to be too much for this project…

This Riad is not run by expats.
It is owned by a Moroccan family and it is one of the most ornate places I have seen since we came here….. It is beautiful!

We strolled into the Ancient Medina, which recently became a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Medina feels ancient…. Almost medieval.
There are low arched alleys and narrow lanes with obvious Moorish influence.
The people living in this town, are a total surprise… They are most obviously Spanish.

Tetouan like Tangier, is situated a short boat ride from Spain’s Andalusia region.
In ancient times, Spain expelled many people into this area, and they brought with them their culture, architecture, customs and language.

In this Medina, most people speak Arabic-Darija, and Spanish.
Not many speak French, not even a little… Not even the numbers, “thank you” or “where is”.

In the local bakeries’ display glass cases, you can see Spanish Flan, or Cream Caramel, as it is called elsewhere, along with many Spanish specialities.

A young girl with a shirt dress and brown braids, runs to me and with a sweet voice welcomed me, saying:”Ola!”

People speak in Spanish first, and the architecture is distinctively Moorish.

We got lost in the Medina, taking in the sights, smells, the sounds…..
We saw merchants selling herbs and potions, natural dyes, home made goat cheeses, colorful olives, the fresh fish of the day, cow’s head, cow’s stomach, coffee, crafts, clothing and everything else you’d expect to find in a bustling Medina.

Somehow… And with the help of two people, we made our way back to our beautiful Riad in time for dinner.

They made us a dinner of a Moroccan salad, with fresh vegetables, olives and goat cheese, with lemon and olive oil.
A Couscous with root vegetables, some fresh red grapes for dessert and some mint tea.
Everything tasted fresh and very very yummy.

We took hot showers and retired to bed, ready to explore this wonderful city some more.

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