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, with it being sold discretely in the old 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 to Chefchaouen 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.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHEFCHAOUEN
Ryad Lina is an upmarket and elegant Riad centrally located in the blue washed city of Chefchaouen. It’s roof top terrace has magnificent views and the on site spa center features and indoor private pool, hammam and Jacuzzi hot tub. With views of the Rif Mountains and the medina Ryad Lina is a hotel of suites that are elegantly decorated with Moroccan modern touch.
Property Amenities: Private Swimming Pool (Heated) Spa/ Hammam, Roof top Terrace, Traditional Moroccan cuisine, Lounge, Laundry Service, Wifi
Dar Cherifa is a new riad located in a quiet side street in Chefchaouen, at one of the main intersections of the old Medina, which connects Bab Souk and Bab Onsar. The name of the Riad is a tribute to a famous woman, Saida Horra, who played a major part in the history of Chefchaouen. The Riad combines two traditional Chefchaouen houses and has retained its original Andalusian-Moroccan architecture. The tradition atmosphere of the Riad preserves and maintains its cultural heritage, while seamlessly combined with modern luxuries.
Dar Eschaouen is situated in front of the medina near the River “Ras El Ma” this is one of the funkiest riads in Chefcahouen. A blend of traditional Moroccan architecture and modern comforts Dar Eschaouen offers 12 rooms and suites that are decorated in a Arabo-Hispanic flavor. Fully decked in bright colors, colors fabrics and furnished with paintings the local touches of Moroccan culture come alive.
Property Amenities: Swimming Pool, Spa, Roof top Terrace, Restaurant, Lounge, Laundry Service, Wifi
Casa Perleta is a traditional Chaouen guesthouse tucked in a small corner not far from the Bab Souk entrance of the Medina. While the rooms are small they are comfortable and decorated with local textiles, paintings and furniture. There is a small roof top terrace that makes for a great place for reading a book.
WHERE TO EAT IN CHEFCHAOUEN
Bab Souk – Specializing in excellent local fare. The cuisine is inspired by a Moroccan’s time abroad in Japan. Dishes ranging from Moroccan bissara to zalouk, local truffles and many more delightful gastronomic style, farm to table cuisine. A must place dine at when in Chefchaouen.
Restaurant Morisco – Located in Outa el Hammam square and offers regional fare. The restaurant offers local breakfast of Chefchaouen goat cheese, eggs, and olive oil along with fresh bread. This is the perfect place for people watching.
Dar Com – Vegetarians will be delighted to find a place where choices abound. Start off with a Moroccan salad, typically three to four veggie dishes – olives, split pea soup, and aubergine puree are serves here. The couscous with seven vegetables, caramelized onion and topped with peanuts will satisfy any hunger before finishing off with a light dessert of sliced orange sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
Casa Hassan – The restaurant inside the Casa Hassan is divided into several dining rooms painted in a light blue with a cheerful and bright atmosphere.and welcoming on a chilly evening, when a fire roars and warms the bones. The staff are very hospitable and the open kitchen allows guests to see the chefs at work. The menu includes the traditional Moroccan fare with a few twists. The fresh goat-cheese salad, a local Rif speciality and a traditional pastilla are just a couple of delights found on the menu here. There is also a fixed price daily special including a starter salad and soup, main and dessert.
La Lampe Magique – Perched atop the kasbah offering stunning 360 views of the medina and beyond. With 6 floors of seating to choose from, a fireplace on each for the chillier winter evenings there is plenty of space – the terrace being the obvious first choice. Cut out archways, brightly painted floors and banquette style seating give it an Arabian Nights feel.
Choose from a set 3 course meal or try the aubergine with garlic appetizer before chicken tagine with prunes and almonds. Pastilla and other traditional Moroccan dishes such as couscous are also served by friendly wait staff decked out in Aladdin costumes to suit the festive atmosphere.
Chefchaouen can be reached by private vehicle when taking a Morocco Private Tour from Casblanca, Rabat, Tangier or Tetouan or if you are traveling independently by a taxi. The bus station is at the lower edge of the town, a half-hour uphill walk to the Medina.