The first view of Chefchaouen is a stunner — pale blue structures with terra cotta tiled roofs situated at the base of the Rif mountain range. And once you’re in this otherworldly town, walking around narrow streets and up uneven stairs, you’ll find it to be just as stunning. Old men dressed in wizard robes amble up stairways and kids kicking balls dart into impossibly tiny doorways of crumbling blue homes. This town really shows you what a coat of paint can do. But even without the bluewashed facade, it’s a charmer of a town and very much worth a visit, especially if you’re into taking gorgeous photos.
The story behind the blue: When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many of them fled to Morocco, establishing an enclave in Chefchaouen, which feels remote, but is situated near plenty of fresh water. (The water flowing down from the mountain is still so pure, you can drink the icy freshness from any tap in the town). According to the story, it was the Sephardic Jews who painted the town blue, because it’s the color of the sky and reminds them of God. Nowadays, Chefchaouen is a mix of Muslims, many of whom are descendants of Moors from Spain, who were also forced out during the time of Inquisition, and Berbers, who mostly live in the nearby mountains. We were told that most of the Jews moved to Israel or the United States.
I had a friend visiting recently so she and I drove the four hours from Rabat to spend a night in Chefchaouen. The distance isn’t all that far, but the drive was almost entirely not on a highway. It took us through a few bustling villages, lots of farm land, and then windy mountains roads closer to Chefchaouen. (A moment of kudos for me: I went from being not-the-most-confident driver a few years ago, back when we first arrived in Jerusalem, to navigating a new country with only the smallest amount of trepidation). Anyways, we had packed a lunch for the road, because we weren’t sure if there’d be a place to stop, and ended up picnicking under a tree across from some farmland, while donkey-drawn carts rolled by.
We arrived to Chefchaouen a little before sunset, and met the owner of our AirBnb, a delightful guy who’d moved from Spain to live full-time in Chefchaouen a number of years before. I really love arriving somewhere, meeting a local right off the bat, and getting the insider tips. He suggested we hike to a mountaintop mosque to watch the sunset. Alas, we couldn’t find the path to take us there, but I could see how it would have been a pretty view.
Instead we strolled up and down stairs and steep streets. It’s so, so pretty. And quiet.
After a mediocre dinner – have I mentioned I am beyond sick of vegetable tagine? – it was dark and we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. There is no “nightlife” in Chefchaoun. Perfect time for a glass of wine, you know? But Chefchouen serves basically no alcohol and I had, not for the first time, ventured out for an overnight trip and forgot to pack a bottle or two. We heard that one hotel in town, the Parador, served alcohol, so away we went. Turns out, in order to get wine, you had to order a meal and we had just eaten. We were offered two conciliary bottles of Heineken that we drank on the freezing cold patio like high schoolers. After, we returned to our cavelike Airbnb and our host stoked a fragrant fire in the potbellied stove. Supes cozy.
The next morning after a really lovely breakfast on the terrace of our AirBnb, we continued to stroll and take photos. Have I mentioned how pretty this town is?
Chefchouen is not particularly known for its shopping (for that, you go to Fez) but we, shockingly, still managed to buy a few pretties in several quiet and quaint shops. There’s a soap and perfume store that is gorgeous, a little shop selling rustic wooden cooking utensils and more, an artisan co-op selling woven-on-site blankets, and a store called Art Marocain, in which I bought a little rug and was taken up to the rooftop of the store by Abdenbi who showed us a great view of the town.
We were lucky enough to be there on a Thursday, one of two days a week the Berbers who live in the mountains come down to sell their produce in Chefchaouen. All the food they were selling looked so fresh, but I was most excited that they had sweet potatoes. More southern parts of Morocco sell what they call sweet potatoes, but they have starchy white flesh. Orange-fleshed sweet taters are normally a big part of my diet, so I’ve been missing them since arriving in Morocco. I bought an armload.
We peeked into the Kasbah Museum, which was pretty but didn’t have a whole lot to see. At 70 dirham or $7, this seemed like a steep admission. (That is how inexpensive Morocco is – that $7 feels like a lot to me).
After, we drove the four hours back to Rabat, our trunks full of rugs, blankets, and sweet potatoes, and my camera card full of gorgeous images.
Next trip to Chefchaouen: I’ll hike in the Rif mountains, and likely check out a spa/hamman that is supposed to be pretty good.