Days of Fantasy – Under the Sun in Dazzling Tangier

Where writers like Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote traveled and luxuriated in the 1950s and 1960s. If you haven’t completed your pandemic tome on The Art of Living, you may want to contemplate a sojourn at Villa Mabrouka next spring.

High above the Bay of Tangier sits Villa Mabrouka, an oasis of calm and ravishing beauty looking out across the wide Strait of Gibraltar to Andalucía.  Now owned by hotelier Jasper Conran and set to open to guests in spring 2023.

Villa Mabrouka has a fascinating and illustrious past. Once home to Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé it was described by The New York Times as ‘the visual incarnation of a breath of fresh air.’ Built in the 1940’s, it is a haven of privacy set in a lush expansive landscape within close walking distance of the ancient bustling Kasbah and Medina of Tangier – ‘The White City.’ It was the property that Laurent curated to be his most “restful, open, and happy environment.”

Why put it off any longer, this is the time to pack the trunk with yellow lined tablets, leather bound journals, or your trusty laptop to begin or finish your treatise on The Art of Living Your Life at Its Best. Tangier remains a hotbed of culture, a haven for artists and writers. Striped t-shirts, floppy leather sandals, linen trousers, or flowered frocks, embrace the adaptable lifestyle.

Villa Mabrouka

Do you know how many men it took to make your leather bag? Chouara Tannery, Fez.

The punishing labor required to create leather handbags and shoes is accomplished in one of the most well-known tanneries in Fez, Morocco. The city is Morocco’s third largest city and home to one of the most interesting medinas in the country. Workers stretch hides and dye leather in 95 F heat to ultimately produce coats, handbags, babouche, and other leather goods such as poufs, belts, and hats. Goat skins more readily absorb dyes than sheep or cowhides, which is why the colors of Moroccan leather are richer and more saturated.

Chouara Tannery, Fez.

Many of the items will be exported to France, Spain, and India; much will end up in the local souks to tempt travelers. Fez is home to three ancient tanneries, but the most famous is Chouara which is almost a thousand years old.

With over 9,000 maze like alleyways filled to the brim with shops selling just about everything, one needs a guide to lead you to the hidden tannery. We walked through narrow crowded path to enter a leather shop and climbed the stairs to an outdoor terrace overlooking the vats. A sprig of mint under my Pandemic mask camouflaged the strong acrid stench. The tannery consists of a honeycomb layout stretching across a huge courtyard of sorts, stone vats filled with various dyes and foul-smelling fluid.

Centuries old technique requires workers to soak the skins in cow urine for several days; later, workers use pigeon excrement to smooth the leather. Workers stand barefoot in vats kneading and soaking the skins, the kneading softens the skins. Three days of treatment includes skinning any leftover hair and fat on the skins.

Standing in the vats, the workers go about their duties, ending up with their own skin dyed in various colors as a result.

Chouara Tannery, Fez.

Various fresh products are used to produce the different hues. Mint, for example, is used to achieve a green color; cedar wood for brown; henna for orange; saffron for yellow; indigo for blue; and poppy flower for red. Olive oil is also sometimes used to give the leather a shiny gloss.

Afterwards, the products are dried on the roofs of the Medina – and then, to market.

The hard work, all done manually, is carried out by men only – a skill that is passed down from generation to generation.

Chouara Tannery, Fez.

The ancient tannery is one of three in the Old Medina, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.