Hop across to Morocco in half an hour
In reality, the new Ryanair flight across the Western Mediterranean from Málaga to Tetuan, Morocco, takes just 20 minutes – and that includes taking off and landing, which means you’re in the air for little more than ten minutes!
It’s that easy to hop across the two continents that almost touch and open the door to an exciting and exotic world. There are long historical linkages between Andalucía and the Mediterranean part of Morocco, such as centuries of cultural exchange during the Muslim rule of Spain, and over 40 years of Spanish colonial rule that has left its mark in architecture, cuisine, names and also the fact that so many people speak Spanish in northern Morocco. But for all the similarities this is a very different world whose impact on the senses belies the fact that it is so close by.
I had the good fortune of being invited on a press trip to Tetuan, a region of Morocco I had not visited before, and in the early morning hours took the route from the airport westwards towards the resort area that stretches between Ceuta and Tetuan. It includes such areas as Marina Smir and Tamuda Bay, reaching the seaside town of Mdiq and the cape of Cabo Negro, close to which our excellent Sofitel Tamouda Bay Hotel is located.
Sofitel Tamouda Bay
This spa and resort hotel right by the beach enjoys wonderful sea and shoreline views all the way to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from within the stylish luxury of its modern Moroccan-inspired architecture. While the rooms and suites – which include expansive penthouse suites – are modern, appealing and luxurious, it is the large pool deck and terrace area that forms the focal point from cosy terraces furnished with hanging chairs and inviting round sunbeds. The views include the sleek pool and selection of sunken fire pits, bars and lounge areas, which flow onto a stylish beach club complete with outdoor dining area, sunbeds and nightclub.
The hotel also has a first-class spa, professional conference centre, a manned kids’ play centre and a selection of luxurious on-site villas and stylish beach bungalow suites that naturally come with full concierge service. Good food and excellent, attentive service complete what is both a fantastic place to relax and recharge the batteries, as well as the ideal base from which to explore the surroundings.
An attractive boulevard lined by parklike greenery runs along the full length of this coastal area, making it easy to get around. The nearby town of Mdiq is a good place to start and savour some of the local ambiance, but head out to Tetuan – just 20 minutes away – and you reach a bustling modern city with a historic heart that takes you into the real, authentic Morocco. Like Andalucía, its buildings are white-plastered, but here characteristically in combination with green detailing, and as you make your way into the centre you’ll want to explore the Spanish colonial area with its boulevards and squares, as well as delve into the labyrinthine medina, whose busy alleyways and quaint little hole-in-the-wall shops make a deep and exotic impression.
Add the call of the muezzin and you feel like you’re in an exotic land, a sensation that grows stronger if you take the one hour-plus journey into the hills beyond Tetuan. En route you’ll pass farmland, wooded hills, large mountain ranges, dispersed villages and dams, but the destination is that famous blue town, Chefchaouen. To be fair, it doesn’t even look all that blue from a distance, but once inside and past the modern and Spanish-colonial areas, you enter a historic centre that is, indeed, awash in natural blue pigmentation.
It all began when the women of the town – who invariably do most of the hard work in these parts – swopped from white to blue. And you know, it has a very calming effect on the senses as you stroll through Chefchaouen’s beautiful little winding streets. Dotted with crafts and curio shops, as well as little local ones, it is an area that offers shade amid creepers, sleeping cats and a coming and going of locals entwined with groups of wondrous tourists. Chefchaouen is understandably popular among the latter, but not spoiled, for its little Riad boutique hotels are charming and its beauty has not faded under the weight of stomping feed and flashing lenses.
The dry heat keeps the sky as blue as the walls, and the temperatures bearable, even invigorating, so by the time you walk back down to the main square you’re satisfied rather than exhausted, and just ready to enjoy some delicious mint tea or lunch before heading out for some gift shopping.
For those who enjoy luxury combined with romantic allure, the Banyan Tree Tamuda Bay is a superlative experience that welcomes royalty, tycoons and international celebrities but off-season is actually within reach of many with a bit of a budget. The complex is simply stunning, with delicate Arabic-inspired architecture evoking the magic of a 1001 nights setting, and the spa, fine dining, concierge service and beach club are well in excess of six stars. The accommodation, meanwhile, is made up of exquisite one and two-bedroom villas complete with private pool, jacuzzi and, if you want, your own butler.
Whichever way you want to travel to this part of Morocco – be it backpack treks and cosy Riad stays, the relaxing modern luxury of the Sofitel or the superlative elegance of the Banyan Tree – make sure you hop across a 20-minute flight, a one-hour ferry or even a yacht, and experience a play on the senses that is at once familiar and also very exotic.