Chefchaouen – The Blue City
Chefchaouen has to be the most photographed city in Morocco. It lies nestled in the Rif Mountains in the north west of the country, a brilliant blue and white splash against the starkness of the hills. The walls, streets, stairs, alleyways are all painted in various shades of blue from duck egg, through turquoise to a rich shade between royal and marjorelle that is unique to the town. It is an absolutely beautiful place.
When you arrive in Chefchaouen, you immediately fall for its magic. You can feel yourself shifting down a gear and relaxing. Apart from its colour, it is famous for being the centre of the Kif (hashish) growing region. No wonder it is so chilled out. But as well as taking time out to wander and wonder, there are some great things to do and here are our top three.
1. Take a short hike out of the city up to the Spanish Mosque. It sits halfway up the hillside and gives you the best view of the town. You leave the median through the old gate, cross through the orange juice sellers and up to the steps cut into the wall. It takes about twenty minutes and the path is shaded by cedars and cherry trees. You’ll share it with women carrying big baskets of supplies down to town and the occasional worshipper. It is called the Spanish Mosque because it is actually a converted church, something that is clear to see when you get there. After the final flight of steps, you are rewarded with a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains and plains.
2. Stop at Volubilis on your way. If you are lucky enough to get to this ancient Roman site before the crowds, take a moment to enjoy the early sun glowing on the magnificent archways and watch the storks who have taken up squatters rights on the tops of the columns, converting them into handy bases for their enormous nests. The setting for Volubilis is a jewel green range of hills and valleys where apparently elephants, bears and lions used to live in abundance. They were trapped and shipped off to die in Rome’s circuses and are now extinct, remembered only in the magnificent mosaic floors of the site.
3. Stay at Casa Perleta, a gorgeous Riad in the heart of the old town. Concha and her husband came to Chefchaouen on holiday and never really left. They bought and renovated the Riad, filling it with hand carved furniture, pretty fabrics and old and new artwork, including works by Javier Reta, who combines photography and paint, and sometimes straw!, in his pictures of Moroccan women. The roof terrace lets you spy on your neighbours and also gives you a sweeping view to the mountains and is the ideal place for a long, lazy breakfast. Concha and her team can also advise you on where to go and what to do in the town. It’s like having your own personal tour guide.
We stayed for just two days in the town, but you can easily make it your base for longer and combine it with a more intense hike into the mountains or day trips to Tangier and the coast. However long you decide to spend in Chefchaouen, it will reward you with its beauty and tranquillity.