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Cones of orange- and gold-colored spices. Squawking chickens. Mounds of aubergine and tomatoes and lemons. And uh oh, what’s that over there? Sheep and goat heads!
It’s market day in Tetouan, and we’re strolling the get-lost labyrinth of narrow alleys and streets in the Tetouan Medina (also known as the Antigua Medina).
Touring the Tetouan Medina
We’ve been cruising the Canary Islands and Morocco on the deluxe Seabourn Odyssey; today our ship has docked in Tangier about an hour’s drive away.
When we looked at what to do in Tangier on a shore excursion, we picked this Tangier day trip to Tetouan.
Tetouan is one of the oldest cities in Morocco, found at the base of the Rif Mountains.
The Medina of Tetouan (medina means the old part of a city) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most Arabic medinas are surrounded by a wall; the Tetouan Medina is encircled by a thick stone wall accessed through seven gates.
Originally settled by the Romans way back when, Tetouan was resettled by Andalusian refugees around 1492, and has been continuously lived in ever since.
Today, Tetouan is home to about 321,000 inhabitants from a melange of races and religions – Spanish, Jewish, Arabic.
What makes this medina special is that unlike, say, Marrakesh (where honeymooners lounge by deluxe riad pools before strolling its medina at night with its snake charmers and souvenirs), Tetouan sees very few international visitors.
As we gawk and gape, we don’t notice any other Western faces among the Moroccan people. (How rare is that when you travel now!)
The Tetouan Medina feels very authentic and real – a place where locals live and mingle and bargain, not a contrived attraction trying to look exotic for tourists.
An authentic Morocco souk
Stuffed with some 40,000 shops (so our guide tells us), the Tetouan Medina is one of the oldest souks in the world.
As it’s market day, workers from nearby farms are in town. Berber women wear big hats, like Mexican sombreros, decorated with flowers and pom-poms.
With instructions to follow our guide one-after-the-other so we don’t get lost, we squeeze through jostling shoppers, past a scrolling filmstrip of traditional scenes – carpet sellers, a cobbler hammering a shoe, stalls with leather bags and ladies’ long dresses, weavers, sardines and other silvery fish displayed on ice, spice merchants…
Cats slink around our feet.
A woman tries to sell us blankets.
A butcher shouts at us for trying to take his picture, but a tailor calls out “Welcome! Welcome!”
Alleys, arches and surprising angles
Every which way we turn, the crumbling white buildings of the medina yield a different Instagram-worthy view – an alley here, an archway there.
There doesn’t seem to be any prescribed “route.”
It’s all about soaking up the atmosphere.
Dar Sana: The school of arts and crafts
Outside the medina, we visit Dar Sana, the area’s renowned school of arts and crafts, which teaches and preserves the traditional Moorish arts of wood carving, painting, copper work, embroidery, etc.
Exploring this Morocco souk and medina (with a side-visit to Dar Sana) is definitely one of the best things to do in Tetouan – and perhaps our favorite experience in Morocco.
Admittedly, our Morocco visit is short (two days) – but we’re grateful we get a “taste” of Morocco on our cruise!
What’s it like to have unlimited champagne and caviar on a Seabourn cruise? Find out in our review of Seabourn Cruises!
Tetouan hotels: Blanco Riad
If your Tetouan visit is longer than ours, and you’re researching Tetouan hotels, check out the Blanco Riad.
It’s a small, 18th century riad (house with a garden courtyard in the middle) with eight clean and attractive rooms – we know because we peeked into some of them! (We suspect Blanco Riad is the best Tetouan hotel; it’s rated the best Tetouan accommodation on TripAdvisor.)
Our shore excursion group ate a delightful lunch here, starting with an array of healthy salads, then lamb tagine with apricots and couscous, followed by traditional sweet pastries and Moroccan mint tea. And the proprietor was very friendly and welcoming.
Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase.