Source: Daily Mail Travel
On Ahmad’s country walks we see mountain women wearing wide-brimmed hats festooned with pom-poms. One minute we’re clambering through gorgeous terraces of onions and fruit, the next we’re in a paddock of cannabis (or kif).
‘Just for the farmers,’ says Ahmad airily. ‘The long-haired ones don’t come any more.’
But strangest of all is our first town, Chefchaouen. The old parts are all a bluey-purple, as if the entire medina has been flushed with ink.
To my daughter Lucy, aged ten, this is enchanting, and we tour every alley and knobbly passage, poking our heads into all the old caravanserais. There are no cars in this beautiful labyrinth of mauve, and in the mornings everyone rushes out to the public taps.
We stay at the Lina Ryad, a little bit of the 21st century dropped in among these dreamy scenes. It even has a modest swimming pool, in a town where most people think a traffic jam has hooves.
This is not a place for ordinary shopping. We somehow end up with an old pair of slave’s manacles (£7), a large flag (£6) and a very battered silver headdress (£30).
Most of the time it is enough just to wander.
From the kasbah (or citadel) we can peer down into people’s lives. As the day warms, housewives head out to the stream to rinse out their carpets.
After a few days, we head north.
The Rif may not be Morocco’s tallest range, but it’s thrillingly wild. Great rivers burst through the boulders, and we can just make out tiny villages perched high up in the valley walls.
Then, suddenly, we tumble out into Tangier. This fabulous antique city feels only half-African. For a long time, it was ‘The International Zone’ (1923-1956), and Europeans appeared in droves. They left cafes, cannon, art deco, a long corniche and a whole cemetery of kind hearts and baronets.
Some came for the view, and we tour the celebrity roosts.
There’s still a piano bar at The El-Minzah (Churchill and Rex Harrison), although the Hotel Cecil (Tennessee Williams) now has palm trees growing through the roof.
Meanwhile, at Grand Hotel Villa de France, you can visit Matisse’s bedroom (Number 35) and gaze out at the scenes he painted. Others came to misbehave, particularly the Beat poets.
It’s fun trying to find their old haunts around the medina. Although Dean’s Bar was wreathed in dust and padlocks, you can still get a whiff of the Fifties at Cafe Baba.
However, for Lucy, the best moments are when we head for the souk.
One stall sells huge blocks of nougat (which have to be chopped with a cleaver); another has only magic charms and musket balls.
Deep in the medina, little alleyways turn into grand Arabian palaces (like Al-Makhzen), or perhaps the house of Barbara Hutton, once the richest woman in the world.
My favourite is the old American legation of 1821. From the outside, it looks typically dusty and medieval, but step inside and a glorious Georgian residence appears.
Such excitement requires a cosy bolthole, and we have La Tangerina. Hidden in the ramparts, this tiny hotel has been lovingly restored. There are log fires and almond cake for tea, and time seems to have paused at 1956.
Enjoy this mad city, walk everywhere, do everything and then retreat to the hotel’s roof.
In one direction lies Spain (only eight miles away, across the Med) and in the other lies the Rif, now looking pink and mysterious and deceptively tame.
I can heartily recommend the stunning Grand Hotel Villa de France and gorgeous El Minzah – I’ve stayed at both. These historic Tangier properties are part of the General Mediterranean Holding group owned by Iraqi-born British businessman and philanthropist Sir Nadhmi Auchi