Tangier’s Secret Hideaway

Cathryn Collins

Two undiscovered oceanfront paradises to explore.

It’s a breezy, blue-and-white morning looking out from the roof of the Hotel Nord-Pinus Tanger (rooms from $213; 11 Rue Riad Sultan, Casbah; 212-661/228-140; nord-pinus-tanger.com) in Tangier, Morocco. I have a design business, and my eyes and soul are always seeking the most aesthetically enticing and soothing hotel. It’s Ramadan, and the serpentine lanes of the town’s Casbah are quiet, as it’s after Fajr and before the next prayer. Spain teases from the north across the whitecaps on the Strait of Gibraltar. What’s a girl to do with this heaven-sent day? “Go to Briech beach’s Da Renzo restaurant,” says Khadija Lakhlifi, the hotel’s general manager. She tells me Da Renzo (212-661/665-435) is a seaside shack of the highest order about a 90-minute drive southwest of Tangier, down the Atlantic coast not far from the bijou that is the town of Asilah.

Renzo Zardini, a seventy-something northern Italian who retired here with his wife, has set up a tiny trattoria in a shaded garden beside the long coast. Think pizza, simple spaghetti al pomodoro, tangy granita al limone (I got the recipe), crisp vino bianco, chaises on the sand, and no other guests. I understand why American author Paul Bowles titled his book The Sheltering Sky. It does that here.

The next day there is a stiffer breeze, more blue and white, and more sheltering sky. This time Lakhlifi says, “You must go to Hermès beach.” Also known as Sidi Mghait, it’s where French fashion house heir Patrick Guerrand-Hermès has a home. A hired SUV as a carriage is hard to find on a Sunday during Ramadan, but Lakhlifi pulls it off. The driver takes me two hours along the coast, past Briech, past Asilah, and into hilly fields. The Atlantic is waving at me intermittently from the right as we tack south. Off the paving, we bump onto dirt tracks, zigzagging, looping up and down, through sunflower fields, past women and children on the tiniest donkeys, until we finally see it from a ridge: miles of untouched beach, rising dunes, and not a soul in sight. We head to Chez Mounir (212-651/823-029) on Rada beach, an endless strip of sand that was there long before Hermès.

There is a house that could be on Cape Cod and chaises beneath straw shades. The ambience that Mounir El Majdoubi has created is cooler than too cool for school. Here, less is more, and nature trumps all. Lazy lounging turns into lunch from the restaurant—under a mother ship palapa—of veggie tagine and crunchy salad, all from the garden out back, and rosé.

It is all kind of a hallucination. I’ve spent decades trying to find the perfect, untainted beach that is remote but accessible, exotic and sexy, wild yet has access to simple, good food—and I stumbled upon it twice in a week, thanks to Lakhlifi. May Renzo and Mounir keep on keeping on, and may the Hermès clan let it be.