Photo of Ceuta by Darksein

In the north of Morocco lies two chunks of Spanish soil well known in North Africa but less known by mainland Spaniards or the rest of the world.
Almost like islands, the areas of Melilla and Ceuta sit jutting off into the Mediterranean from North Africa’s coastline awaiting visitors for their historical, hidden, and some might suggest, tax-free gems. Getting to either Melilla or Ceuta from Spain takes two to three hours by ferry. The most common port of departure is from Algeciras in Spain and both fast and standard ferries operate from here.

One of the most renowned companies is FRS, operating year-round, daily departures to Ceuta. Another good company also connecting Algeciras to Ceuta and additionally Malaga to Melilla is Acciona. If you find yourself on the Moroccan side of these autonomous Spanish lands, crossing the border isn’t that tough and walking across is one of the best and quickest ways to cross over into these little slices of Europe.

Located just about one and a half hours from Tangier, Ceuta is a quick trip away.
Journey Beyond Travel, a company offering holidays to Morocco, suggests that travellers can easily hop in a shared taxi (often referred to as a “Grand Taxi”) from Tangier and head eastbound taking them to the border. The border itself isn’t picturesque by any means, but as soon as you walk (or drive) across, a path of palm trees welcomes your entry, as do taxis, restaurants, shops selling their wares, and eventually a ferry port at its outer edge.

Inhabited by people of Spanish, Moorish, Berber, and Arab ancestry, both Ceuta and Melilla are melting pots of culture, diversity, and an amalgamation of language, food, and even rituals. You’ll spot both western-dressed and traditionally dressed Moroccans walking about the beautiful promenade, and simply enjoying the days and evenings.

For a scenic stroll, head out north towards a distant hill called Monte Hecho. From this hillock’s vantage point, you can catch glimpses on a clear day of Gibraltar and the city behind you. Here also stands the Francisco Franco monument; the man turned dictator who started the Spanish Civil War with his command of the Spanish Army of Africa.

Continuing back into town, you’ll happen upon the Plaza de Africa as well as the Our Lady of Africa church. Melilla is a lesser-visited region of Spain in Northern Africa and has some of its own claims to fame. The area is inhabited by both Spaniards and Moroccans and does house a decent amount of soldiers protecting its sovereignty. With an area larger than Ceuta, Melilla has a sizeable port, numerous restaurants and bars, along with streets worthy of a jog.

The main information point for visitors is located in the Plaza de Espana where during opening hours you can grab some tourist brochures on the history and sites of Melilla. The town is divided into the old and new town. The old part of town houses the Museum of Archaeology (housing rare coins collected from the ocean floor of the port) as well as a military history museum displaying titbits of its armed past. Also in this town are some old caves known as the Caves of the Convent where you can meet up with a guide for a quick visit of this former military hideout.

Another interesting stopping point is the GASELEC Foundation which has ancient Egyptian artefacts on display. Both Ceuta and Melilla offer decent nightlife venues. The traditional evening-time dish of tapas and beer or wine are easily accessible and make for a fun way to meet locals from the region. You’ll have a chance to gain an insider’s view regarding what’s good and what could be better. Both regions are worthy of a visit to truly discover and feel the diverse vibe from these lands stuck between Africa and Europe.