Part 2 of 6
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If you’ve ever gone on Pinterest or Instagram, then you know about Morocco’s famous blue city, Chefchaouen, nicknamed the “blue pearl of Morocco.” The entirety of the small city is painted in vivid shades of blue, and, really, it has to be seen to be believed (because yes, it’s even more dazzling than Instagram makes it appear)! When it comes to Chefchaouen, Chaouen for short, it really is no exaggeration to say that every street and alleyway is majestic. Wandering through them, you’ll find that taking a bad photo or forgetting to feel in awe is an impossibility.
Morocco itself has become a hot destination for travellers, because it offers so much in the way of great sights, fascinating history & culture, beautiful scenery, and delicious cuisine. However, most tourists hit Morocco’s “big name” destinations like Marrakesh, Fes, Tangier and Casablanca. Since Chefchaouen is more “off the beaten path,” it’s not quite so overrun with tourists – yet! However, this small mountain town is really coming into its own as a highly desirable travel destination. So, it’s no longer a well-kept secret – partly because of people like me sharing its many charms.
In my case, I was in Morocco as I had booked through Take a Break Travel who are still organising tours for brave souls like me despite the pandemic. Although I was a bit apprehensive about travelling in such difficult times, Joan of Take a Break Travel organised everything in a really professional manner and our Moroccan driver Khalid was fantastic as he drove us practically all over the country! As regards my travel companions, I was not to worry at all as they were all fantastic and I can’t thank them enough for their companionship and discussions about all sorts of topics including which tajines we preferred!
Chefchaouen’s insanely picturesque medina is where you will spend most of your time. The old city is a fascinating mix of Moroccan and Andalucian-style architecture with red-tiled roofs, bright-blue buildings, narrow lanes and colourful flower pots. Plus, the town cascades down the hillside. Since the city is nestled into a steep hillside, you are often walking up and down steep staircases that trace the topography so I recommend good walking shoes and a fit heart. You’ll certainly get your exercise as you trek up and down the different hilly sections.
Like many other medinas (old towns) in Morocco, it can be difficult to navigate and find your way through the twisted streets, up and down staircases and under arches. However, I was lucky enough to meet Mohammed, a thoroughly fascinating young man who acted as my guide around the medina and gave me tips on how to pose for my photos. Thanks to him, I took tons of photos and loved every minute of it. In fact, every corner you turn is a photo opportunity in this absolutely gorgeous place. Instagram moments galore!
I heard a lot of different (some quite unbelievable) theories about why Chefchaouen is blue. Some say it was painted blue by the Jews who settled there after fleeing Hitler while the charming young man who guided me around the city told me it was to keep the mosquitos away! I’m not sure which version is true, but it seems to have worked out well for Chefchaouen, as it sure looks good in blue! And Berber tribespeople can be seen wearing distinctive cotton clothing paired with woven hats, which are decorated with brightly coloured threads.
The old medina is a maze of well-kept streets and white and blue painted houses. As you wander round you’ll find shops making and selling artisan products. Carpets, paintings, leather goods and novelty hats worn by often local, rural women. The shops sit alongside convenience stores selling food and daily household products. Despite feeling you’re on the filmset of a fantasy movie, Chefchaouen’s medina is a residential area and you’re going to love it!
It’s so much fun to explore and see what cool sights you can discover just around the next corner. And a special treat for cat lovers as the town is awash in adorable kitties who practically “own the streets!” Luckily, the medina is compact enough that you’ll never get too lost. This is in stark contrast to the huge, labyrinthine medinas of Fes & Marrakesh, where getting hopelessly lost is the norm!
Quaint and colourful, Chefchaouen’s medina is like stepping into another world. Yes, Marrakech has some impressive souks, but Morocco’s blue city has some of the most unique and more-often-than-not truly local items for sale. However, the bartering culture in Chefchaouen is different. You can still barter a little to get the best deal, but the prices didn’t seem to be as outrageously gouged, so they’re not going to budge too much. I also found, that in many shops prices were set, but they were also fair. In fact, I bought most of my souvenirs from here and also the Berber outfit that I wore in the desert!
You’ll often see photos of Morocco’s blue city from above. In a world full of drone photography, it’s easy to assume that these are taken by drone. While some are, there is a beautiful overlook that’s incredibly popular, especially at sunset. Sitting atop a mountain just south of Chefchaouen, there’s an old abandoned Spanish Mosque. There’s a steep, but short footpath from the eastern most side of the city that leads up the mountain for a spectacular view. The path up isn’t marked or anything but it’s the only one leading up. You just follow it up to the top. It’s lined with cacti and yucca plants. When you get to the top, it’s the best view of the city AND the sunset.
And if you’re get tired of all that blue, head to the middle of the medina to find the Kasbah. It was previously a prison but has been converted to an art gallery and museum. This red walled building is easy to find among the blue buildings. The Kasbah fortress and dungeon was built to defend against attacks from the Spanish and Portuguese. Climb the towers for a panoramic view of the blue city.
Of all the places I wanted to visit in Morocco, Chefchaouen topped my list. Morocco’s blue city captivated me in photos that I had seen across social media, but I have to say that what I found there was greater than any photo – and the photos were pretty great! Chefchaouen is so unique from the other cities we visited in Morocco not only because of its striking colours but also because it has a completely different feel to it.
So now you can see why the “Blue City” enchants all its visitors with its picturesque medina and the many interesting things to see & do. If you are planning a visit to Morocco anytime soon, I hope you’ll include Chefchaouen in your itinerary. Unfortunately, in my case, I was in Chefchaouen for just one night and that is simply not enough time. Aim for two nights if you have the flexibility so that you can enjoy all of its charms. I wish I could have cut out Fes and stayed an extra night in Chefchaouen!