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June 19, 2017 / oneworld82

The Blu City of Chefchaouen

Northern Africa is associated with many images: palm trees, deserts, kasbahs… yet, one of the most enduring images of the Maghreb is the one of the blue doors and houses found around the region.

There are various explanations of why Northern African homes are painted blue; the most sound tells out that the particular blue used here is despised by mosquitoes, making for a great natural repellant. Call it collective wisdom.

But there is one city that made of being blue its chief attraction. We are talking, of course, of Chefchaouen.

Chaouen is a lovely city set at the feet of the Rif Mountains, a couple hours drive from Tangier. It’s not big, and it’s medina is compact enough to be explored in a couple of hours.

The city has an interesting interesting, including a long period were Christians were banned under pain of death (but not Jews, that made up a sizable portion of the local population for a long time). Then the Spanish came, and they opened the city up, bringing along their traditional tiling techniques. The result was a very Andalusian city, and in the 1920’s the traditional Islamic green was replaced by blue, giving the town its characteristic aspect.

What also makes Chaouen unique is its natural setting – look at the landscape surrounding it and we’ll forgive you for thinking to be in the Alps instead of Morocco. The Rif has some incredible hiking, and being there clearly showed us why! The peaks around are perfect for hiking – the are rocky, not too steep, bouldery. The town is surrounded by Berber tribes living in the mountains and countryside around the city, and Berbers make up the largest part of the local populace – if you want to buy Berber carpets, this is the place!

Also, Chaouen sits at the center of the lucrative hashish industry. Hashish – a concentrated form of marijuana – is smuggled from here to most of Europe, and the town is obviously famous with backpackers looking for some cheap thrills.

While we stayed only one night, we decided to stay at what’s likely the best Riad in town – Lina. For those who don’t know, Riads are traditional Moroccan houses (often built around a central courtyard) that have been restored in opulent ways and that serve as guest houses. They only have few rooms each, and service is highly personalized.

Lina Riad & Spa sits at the core of Chefchaouen’s medina. The house is really beautifully maintained and decorated, while pretty tiles and mosaics everywhere. The staff is courteous and friendly, and they really make their best effort to make you feel home. We booked the best suite in the house (first night of the honeymoon, after all!), and we weren’t disappointed. The room was well-furnished and very comfortable, and most importantly it had its own terrace overlooking the blue roofs of the town, offering a wonderful panorama that included the rugged, tall Rif mountains.

Series of views from our room terrace

Two features of the hotel stood out though:

  1. The breakfast. It was simply magnificent. We ate it in the lobby/dining area, and both the quality of the food and the warmth of the service were phenomenal. Pancakes, pastries, yogurts, eggs, bread, honey… nothing was missing and everything was delicious. It was a great introduction to how much Moroccans love eating.

  1. The spa. Situated on the ground floor, the spa features a Romanesque indoor swimming pool in the original basements of the building. The pool is heated, and the ceiling is made of glass, which means light shines in. Quite spectacular.

Aside from the hotel, Chefchaouen is as nice as backpackers recount. It’s cobble-stoned, narrow streets bustle with life, and while the medina is compact it’s certainly a great place to wonder around for a few hours. Several areas and items make up for fantastic photos:

  1. Doors


2. Staiways

3. Alleyways and small squares

Plaza Uta el-Hammam is the center of old town’s life. The cafe-lined square was the entrance to the kasbah, and today it’s a bustling open area where tourists do people-watching and locals sell trinkets. Overall, it’s a chill place – one of the positives of Morocco is that hawkers are not aggressive in the least, making it easy to enjoy life.

The kasbah (literally: fortification; it refers to the palace where the rulers used to leave) across the square is very well-preserved. It houses a decent museum highlighting the history of Moroccan pottery (and the town’s history) and the tower offers a nice view over the city and the surrounding valley. Also, the kasbah gardens are well-kept and provide a nice area where to relax.

Given the size of the city (and the fact that most tourists are backpackers here), there aren’t too many decent dining options in town. One of the best restaurants ought to be Morisco, on the main square. This was our very first meal in Morocco. Thuy had her first harira – a chickpea soup and a real staple of Moroccan households – while I tried the tahliya, a dish of sizzling goat, almonds, and honey that was a real surprise given the mix of sweet and sour.

The day after for lunch we sat in one of the few restaurants with a terrace overlooking the main square. While the view was gorgeous, the food was regrettable (especially this anchovies tagine).

Great view…

…not so great food

As you can see, Chefchaouen is a very unique, photogenic town that certainly deserves a stop – especially if you are into hiking, as the Rif Montains provide excellent opportunities for that. You will find not much history here; nonetheless, this town will remain with you for a long time given its unique, fairytale-like flavor.

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