Built in 1471 by Moulay Ali Ben Moussa Ben Rached El Alami to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco, the fortress town of Chefchaouen is now one of Morocco’s best-kept secrets – and a relaxing place for a breather after the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh and Fes.
Chefchaouen is awash in pastel blue, mirroring the cloudless Moroccan sky, in solid contrast with its arid surroundings. But it wasn’t a design mind behind this choice – rather it was the result of religious belief: Jewish teachings suggest that by colouring threads in prayer shawls with the ancient, natural blue dye named tekhelet, it would remind people of God’s power. Chefchaouen houses were painted blue in the 1930s by the Jewish inhabitants of the town and this tradition now lives on in the regularly repainted blue buildings.
Besides the general beauty of the city, Chefchaouen has a lot to offer the intrepid traveller.
Hike the Rif Mountains
Valleys, gorges and picturesque peaks abound in the Africa’s northernmost mountain range, and multi-day treks or day trips from Chefchaouen are a great way to experience the surrounding arid landscapes (they’re interspersed with mountain streams, so fear not!). There are more than enough hiking trails around the city to meet your pace, whether you’re a fitness fanatic or a casual stroller. If you’re up for a refreshing swim outdoors, include a visit to the crystal clear waterfalls at Cascades d’Akchour, about 40 minutes away from the town by taxi.
Taste the local cuisine
Traditional Moroccan cuisine is rich in spices and aromatic herbs – your tastebuds won’t know what hit them. Must-trys are freshly-baked bread for breakfast, Chefchaouen’s signature tagine for lunch and kefta and couscous for dinner. Make sure to end off each meal with some mint tea – aside from its health benefits, it’s an important part of Moroccan culture. Chefchaouen’s Plaza Uta el-Hammam offers a variety of cafes, restaurants and street fare.
Shop Moroccan style
The colourful and charming Old City or medina (the historic part of town that is divided into quarters) can quickly become an addictive place for those looking to invest in some local wares. From brass teapots and plates, silver jewellery and handmade, intricately decorated tagine clay pots, to handwoven blankets and shawls, Aztec-patterned bags, Moroccan slippers and a myriad spices, the medina has it all. And don’t panic – unlike Marrakesh and Fes, shopping in Chefchaouen is very leisurely.
Experience the culture
After shopping in the medina, take a stroll through the Andalusian Gardens – a tranquil, green oasis that complements the abundance of blue in the town. Inside the gardens is the Ethnographic or Kasbah Museum which is host to an unrivalled collection of artefacts that relay the story of the town, from pottery to musical instruments. A small art gallery also shows off the rich culture of Chefchaouen. Add the Grand Mosque to your to-do list as well: its unusual octagonalal minaret and surrounding architecture date back to the 15th century and it is one of the most significant buildings in the town (keep in mind, however, that entry is restricted to those of the Muslim faith).