As the heavy studded wooden door swung open, I was greeted with enthusiasm by Aziz Begdouri, owner of the exquisite boutique hotel Riad La Maison Blanche. The fresh sweet aroma of orange blossom, and the sound of the fountain embraced me with calm as I entered the elegant courtyard of the house, writes Andrew Forbes.
This is probably one of the best locations in Tangiers. Charming La Maison Blanche is secluded in the heart of the ancient Kasbah, close to the elegant Morocco Club restaurant and bar, and within easy walking distance to all the city’s sights.
The 14th century house has nine individually designed and decorated guest rooms, a charming ground floor patio with fountain, and two intimate seating areas (a mezzanine sitting room, and an extravagantly appointed snug).
La Maison Blanche was a private home that had been in Aziz’s family for generations but had sadly fallen into disrepair. It became a personal passion for Aziz to restore the riad to its former greatness, a project that took over 6 years and was punctuated by many challenges. It was a project that took time, energy and many resources, but now the riad is one of the architectural gems of the Kasbah and a place where guests can feel immersed not only in comfort but in the magic of the Tangier’s old town.
The bohemian port of Tangiers, on Morocco’s northern coast is almost within touching distance of Spain and the European continent. Yet this city, still known for the bohemian community of Beat generation of creatives, feels worlds away. Morocco delivers an intoxicating experience to the traveller and Tangiers is no exception.
The fortified old town, built on an outcrop overlooking the sea, now surrounded by landscaped gardens and a new access road, retains its exotic appeal. At the heart of the labyrinthine citadel is the Kasbah, and here is where one finds the boutique hotel, Raid La Maison Blanche Tangiers.
This exceptional riad (a traditional Moroccan mansion house, with courtyard atrium that runs up through all the floors) is the result of years of painstaking restoration and beautiful interior design.
French designer, Regis Milcent, worked closely with owner Aziz to create interiors that avoid the all-to-common pastiche of Moroccan arts & crafts, but instead celebrates and showcases the diverse cultural influences in Tangiers. The house captures the essence of Tangiers – a vibrant Moroccan city with deep historical and contemporary international influences. This energy and creativity is echoed in the sophisticated design of La Maison Blanche Tangiers.
Aziz is a natural host. He worked for many years as an international guide, so he loves to share the best of his city, nd also show his home. He draws my attention to the many beautifully crafted details throughout the property. Walls look as if dressed in fine wallpapers, yet in fact many are hand painted with beautiful designs, some geometric, others depicting coral or flowers. The ceiling of the ground floor snug, with its rich red velvet seating, has been exquisitely painted with flowers and leaves of oriental-style garden scenes; creating a wonderful piece of art.
Other spaces have walls covered with the finest fabrics by French designer Pierre Fray. These European design elements make for the perfect complement to the traditional Moroccan features like the handmade floor tiles, the handcrafted wooden window screens (made from hundreds of pieces of individually turned wood).
The Guest Rooms
As you climb the stairs to the landings that overlook the fountain below, one finds the guest rooms. Each with an individual identity, reflected in their names, each a homage to a well-known person who lived, or spent time in, Tangiers.
Choose for example the exceptional Moulay Ismail suite (named after the Sultan whose palace is now the Kasbah museum, a few minutes’ walk away). This luxurious room, with its high ceilings has striking red and green foliage print fabric covered walls, again by Pierre Frey.
I particularly liked the intimate Régis Milcent room, named after the hotel’s interior designer. The room’s walls are hand painted with a coral design that looks almost 3D, you want to reach out and touch it.
The Paul Bowles room (named after the famous US writer and Tangiers long-term resident) also has a hand-painted coral design, this time in white on calming aqua green walls.
Each of the nine guests’ rooms has their own beautifully designed private bathrooms, antique furniture and amenities like TV, and free wi-fi. I really like the details like fresh roses in the room.
There’s no better way to start your day in this fascinating city, then with breakfast on the Maison Blanche roof terrace. Tables are set with white linens and the spread includes Moroccan breads including raif flatbread, and French favourites like Pain au chocolat and croissants. Try the authentic Moroccan mint tea, or a freshly made coffee.
Over the years, I have been a frequent visitor to Tangiers, and each time the city continues to surprise me. On this recent visit I was amazed at how the city has changed. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI seems to have a particular interest in the north of his kingdom and has helped stimulate development beyond Marrakech. Tangiers has benefited hugely from significant investment. The city now boasts a sparkling new port (making arrival from Spain on the fast ferry a real pleasure); and stylish new marina; and also a world-class train station that is served by the recently opened high speed trainline that links Tangiers with Casablanca in just over 2 hours.
Despite the growing economy and sweeping infrastructure improvements, there is still plenty of old-world Moroccan charm to be experienced. The Kasbah museum is a must, with its gardens and beautifully tiled courtyard.
The American Legation Museum is fascinating too. Morocco was the first country to recognise US independence, and the US opened its first Embassy in Tangiers. The historic building is now a cultural centre and well worth a visit.
The souks are of course compelling too. Each year they become more modern yet there are still plenty of remarkable sights and sounds to be enjoyed.
Hotel La Maison Blanche Tangier
Kasbah at Rue Ahmed Ben Ajiba 2
Tel: +212 661 63 93 32