Isolated in the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is one of Morocco’s great treasures. This small mountain village sweeps you away into a state of calm with its color scheme that embraces every imaginable shade of blue. Bold splashes of cobalt, turquoise, teal, white and starlit blue surround each corner and cobbled alley. Dreamlike and peaceful, the days and nights pass slowly in this intriguing city. Chefchaouen offers plenty of time to explore its laid-back Medina (old city), drink mint tea or freshly squeezed orange juice, and watch the world go by from one of the cafes in the main square.
Chefchaouen is also a great place for long walks and hikes. Must-see destinations include the Central Mosque and the wonderful Kasbah, built by the legendary ruler Moulay Ismail near Place Outa el Hammam in the early 18th century. The Kasbah encloses a quiet garden and houses a small museum of ancient pottery and photographs of the traditional dress of Berber tribes.
Although this lovely haven is less than 100 km from Europe, until 1920 Chefchaouen received only three European guests. It was founded in the 15th century and populated by Jewish and Muslim refugees from the Inquisition in Spain. Isolated until the early 20th century, Chefchaouen has preserved a way of life that flourished in Moorish Spain more than 500 years ago. While the locals are far more reserved then those in larger cities, they are quite friendly and warm. Chefchaouen is one of the main producers of cannabis in Morocco, and the weed is sold all over town. It is essentially legal and smoked by many of the locals, which helps account for this village’s slow pace. It is an intrinsic part of the city life and sold together with herbs, spices and vegetables in the local markets.
During my four-day trip I had an opportunity to explore the Medina in great detail. The entire Medina comes alive in the evening when everybody is shopping or selling goods in the narrow winding streets. On a leisurely stroll throughout the Medina the first thing that caught my eyes was a man selling pigment in shades of blue, yellow, pink and orange. The pigment is the same that is used on the walls of the city. I also saw cobblers hand making the white and yellow fine leather pointed slippers worn by the locals, many beautiful jalabbas sewn with finely embroidered seams and carpenters carving tables and chairs made of fragrant cedar wood. There are beautifully ordained mirrors with hand-painted flowers and a wide variety of furniture displaying delicate Islamic designs.
One of my favorite moments was watching a Berber weaver at his loom producing a local style of red and white blanket. I also felt nostalgic as I secretly caught a glimpse of women washing laundry in an area which resembled a Japanese garden. It was filled with a variety of stones and pebbles as well as miniature white open structures surrounded by a number of wide stairs that led to a dam.
For a panoramic view, you can hike to the top of Chefchaouen and, as you glide along the small streets, peer downward in search of the stone-carved Hand of Fatima that seems to reappear again and again throughout.
PLACES TO STAY
Casa Hassan 22 rue Targhi, Chefchaouen. There are seven individually decorated rooms with en-suite bathrooms and an excellent restaurant; it is a gem. Phone: 212 (0)39 98 61 53 Fax:+212 (0)39 98 81 96 ($60-$100 a day for dinner, bed and breakfast.
The Casbah Operates as a pension and restaurant located north of the main gate of the Medina. ($10 for a single & $20 for a double)
Dar Terrae Av Hassan I, 070-75-86-87
PLACES TO EAT
Restaurant Aladin at Casa Hassan (which also houses an art gallery. A three-course menu will run you $6.00.)
Patisserie Magou Excellent French croissants and pain au chocolat. Located outside the Medina just below the gate to Bab el Ain.
Restaurant Alladin, Zenkat el Targui.
Restaurant el Baraka Rue Sidi Salem
Chefchaouen can be reached by bus or a taxi from Tetuan and Fez. The bus station is at the lower edge of the town, a half-hour uphill walk to the Medina.