Best city for autumn 2011: Tangier, Morocco
A family arrives in Tangier by ferry. (Philip and Karen Smith/LPI)
Tangier is a different world, yet barely a stone’s throw from Europe. Year’s end is the ideal time to explore the city, an evocative place full of faded glories and devoid of tourist gloss. After the oven-heat of summer, the North African climate reaches the perfect balance in autumn. There’s guaranteed warmth without having to change time zones, and the city positively invites languorous basking outside cafés and sun-splashed ambles along the beach.
- Best city for spring 2011: Lucca, Italy
- Best city for Summer 2011: Valencia, Spain
- Best city for winter 2011: Tallinn, Estonia
Time a trip here for September, when the 12th Tanjazz festival sees the city fill with international and local musicians, providing the ideal soundtrack to a visit. There will be ballroom dancing classes, free concerts at the port and gigs in cafés, restaurants and hotels.
Royal Air Maroc and Iberia fly from London to Tangier, with one stop in Casablanca or Madrid (from £220 return). Alternatively, you could make your way to Algeciras in Spain, and take the ferry across to Tangier (£70 return).
Place to stay: La Tangerina
La Tangerina is a 10-room guesthouse just inside the medina. It's a beautifully restored, whitewashed colonial house set around a courtyard. Rooms are decorated with simple flair and feature antique furniture and vintage radios. There are stupendous sea and medina views from the roof terrace (doubles from £40; latangerina. com).
Book for dinner: Riad Tanja
The elegant restaurant at Riad Tanja has French windows opening on to its balconies, with views across to the Ville Nouvelle (New Town) on the hill opposite. Creative cuisine combines modern Moroccan and international flavours (meals around £25; riadtanja.com).
Coffee stop: Al Mountazah
The rooftop terrace of Al Mountazah, overlooking Grand Socco, Tangier's main square, is the city's best location for morning coffee. The square is a focus of general hubbub, watched over by the historic Cinema Rif (now Cinémathèque Tanger). Breakfast on café au lait and pastries (coffee £1; Grand Socco).
Seaside stroll: Tangier's beach
For fresh air, wide-open blue horizons, and escape from the inner-city hustle, head for Tangier's beach - it has a long corniche and an extensive swathe of pale sand. Take a waterfront walk or watch locals play football. But do resist the urge to plunge into the waters, which are not clean enough for swimming.
In the rare event it rains: The Tangier American Legation Museum
The Tangier American Legation Museum occupies a five-storey mansion. It's a treasure trove of Tangerine arts and artefacts, including a room dedicated to Paul Bowles (sometime Tangier resident, author of The Sheltering Sky) and the Beat Generation. There's also a map room lined with ancient parchments (admission free; legation.org).
Hammam retreat: Hotel El Minzah
It's possible to combine the traditional hammam experience with some 20th-century splendour at the spa in historic Spanish- Moorish El Minzah Hotel. Built by French architects in 1933, it has a gym with a view out to sea, sauna, hot tub, swimming pool and Turkish bath, and offers treatments such as massages and facials (massage from £12; elminzah.com).
Souvenir stop: Ensemble Artisanal
To get an idea of the wealth of Moroccan art and crafts available, and to suss out prices before heading into the souqs, visit the government-backed arts and crafts centre Ensemble Artisanal - a relaxed place to start a day's shopping. Artisans can also be seen at work here on everything from leather to copper and pottery to wood (corner of Rue Belgique and Rue M'sallah).
Best place for a sundowner: Caid's Bar
Still the best place for a drink in Tangier is the 1930s classic Caid's Bar, an inspiration for Casablanca. It's a relic of the city's grander days: drink in the atmosphere and wallow in the sense of if-these-walls-could-talk, plastered as they are with photos of the famous and infamous who have had a tipple here (drinks around £2.50; elminzah.com).
Leisurely lunch: Le Saveur de Poisson
Expect hearty meals at this family-run fish restaurant with a fantastic fixed-price menu. Start with olives and almonds served with different breads, move on to a fish soup, followed by an aromatic fish tagine, before finishing with a honey, nut and cinnamon couscous seffa. You'll need a refreshing fruit cocktail to wash it all down (fixed-price menu £11.50; 2 Escalier Waller).