A Guide to Visiting Chefchaouen: The Jewel of North Morocco

 A brief guide to Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen, close to the popular port of Tangier is named as such because a mountain range above the city that looks like two chaouen or goat’s ‘horns’. The city lies between the horns.

Chefchaouen was built by Spanish exiles as a fortress against in Portuguese in 1471, who were as you will know still ruthless, powerful kings of the sea at the time.

Picture perfect Chefchaouen

With its pale blue houses and buildings (painted as such as a result of a pact we were told, between Arab- white and Jew- dark blue, the buildings are painted in this hue twice a year), Andalusian style red terracotta roof tiles and rugged mountainous landscapes, Chefchaouen is unique, more than it is typical. Perhaps it’s the Moroccan city as we see depicted in Disney animations and in our dreams.

It’s more than pretty. It’s perfect, in fact.

Hashish, anyone?

Chefchaouen is an easy city to visit. Relaxed. Some of the young local men wear short pants, the vivid red stripes of the berber cloths worn by the mountain women draw and hold the gaze. The city is hilly and the pace is slow. A thin river snakes through it.

Oh, and it’s a well known fact that visitors come here to smoke a special kind of marijuana and ‘think about life’ in the words of our guide.

A holiday feeling when visiting Chefchaouen

Because you can see the expanse of the city when you hike up the nearby hills or from various steep-sloped streets, you get the feeling of knowing and understanding the breadth of it, more easily. Opposed to say, Fes or flat as a straight-hair-on-a-limp-day Marrakech where the medina is a labyrinth and you can not see beyond one narrow alley at a time and certainly have no readily available vantage point to scope out the extent of the city.

Sitting by a brook, sipping the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea, I smiled at Jelle who was dressed in shorts (and not feeling like a pesky tourist, as many locals dressed in the same manner) and I knew what he would say when asked “Is this your favourite?”

The Blue City gives you the calm holiday feeling a visit to Kerala (or Cape Town) would after a visit to Mumbai/New Delhi (or Johannesburg). No roadside vendors lopping the top off fresh coconuts, but you get the idea.

Simply put, I loved visiting Chefchaouen.

Visiting Chefchaouen: where to stay, eat and shop

1. Three days would be nice, longer would be better as you can visit the mountain villages or nearby forests with a guide and sleep out.

2. We stayed at Casa Hassan, well at the sister riad a few meters down. It’s quieter but service is not the friendliest we encountered in Morocco. But, sometimes you don’t want to have to go through the motions of long greetings exchanged with staff, especially after a few weeks on the go. So we weren’t too bothered by the silence. It is quite well appointed and if you ask why it isn’t number 1 or 2 on TripAdvisor, well…. Chefchaouen is a frequented by a slew backpackers, the cheaper spots will find a higher ranking, naturally.

3. The restaurant Tissemlal at the hotel is well acquainted with foreigners and while there are not many locals eating here you will be spoken to in English. I was even asked if I’d like hot sauce. “Indians always want hot sauce”, the waiter said to me, as I tried to figure out how he read my mind. I always want hot sauce, good man! (Good English is not always spoken by all hotel/riad staff across Morocco, menus in Chefchaouen are hardly ever in English, a great thing to an extent).

4. Explore the medina and visit the traders. It’s much easier to do than the bigger cities and harder to get lost. If you’re looking for the Berber cloths the women from the mountains wear as skirts, buy these from the Women’s Cooperative store at the market – not expensive (around 50 dirham each) and the quality is good. Or buy from a variety of vendors, your choice. Use as tablecloths, or in my case: food styling props. Check out our tips for bargaining in Marrakech for some shopping advice.

5. Have tea and a snack or dinner at one of the cafes along the river. A trickle of water, really. (Below the spot where the women wash clothes).

6. You will want to climb the hill to the old mosque for views over the city. It’s not far but wear sunscreen  and take a cap and water. There is a well along the way and a vendor selling refreshments at the top.

7. For all the reports about abundant pot/hashish/Mary-Jane, I  have no clue where you can find any when visiting Chefchaouen. Sorry, friends.

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