The Perfect Remedy for the Daily Grind.
Are you feeling blue? Then perhaps you should immerse yourself in the azure washed alleys and stairways of Chefchaouen, Morocco’s most unique and charming town nestling among the craggy Rif Mountains. It could be the perfect remedy for anyone looking to get away from the daily grind. My ulterior motive to visit Chefchaouen, were the countless photo opportunities and the mesmerizing townscape the blue hued passages had created but it is also a great place to chill and relax.
Why is the Town Painted Blue?
No one quite knows who and why Chefchaouen is painted in 50000 shades of blue, some say it was brought in by the Jews that arrived after the Spanish inquisition, while others seem to ponder that the blue keeps the mosquitoes away. Whatever the real history its striking colour sets an impressive contrast to the earthen hillside of the mountainscape and the town has started to attract growing numbers of tourists from all over the globe.
I had wanted to explore this beautiful town for some time and planned our third family trip especially around an overnight stay in Chefchaouen. The drive from Marrakesh can be quite tedious and we certainly would not recommend a day trip from there or any of the larger centres in fact. We had split the long drive by car into two, by taking an overnight in Rabat it also meant we had somewhere to stay after an evening arrival in Marrakesh. Driving from Rabat still took around four hours to Chefchaouen, but the drive was interesting, we passed through many villages where the locals were just picking olives, with mountains of green and black fruits along the roadside.
The Blue Pearl
Crossing a small hill of the Rif Mountains, we finally laid our eyes onto the famous blue pearl, Chefchaouen. I was quite surprised to find that from further afield it did not quite look as blue as anticipated, a large number of the houses were white and some earthen coloured on the higher stories. After parking our hire car, we walked through the gate, to be immediately engulfed by the calming blue of the buildings, the floor and the azure sky.
Immerse Yourself in Deep Blue
Winding through the alleys and up a multitude of steps we initially had trouble locating our small riad, Dar Zambra, but thankfully with the help of some friendly locals we arrived to a warm welcome of the family, having turned too early and missed the sign-posted route. After a hot mint tea and some homemade biscuits on the roof terrace, with sweeping views across the blue town below and the enclosing mountainscape we headed straight out to immerse ourselves in the deep blue. Walking along the many paths it felt like floating along the bottom of the crystal clear ocean. The remote location of our hotel provided us with an off the beaten track position, away from the crowds of tourists where rarely anyone ventured apart from the locals.
Countless Discoveries at Every Corner
Zigzagging through the many pathways there were countless discoveries to be made on every corner and almost everything created a perfect motive for a photo. Doors, men in their hooded Berber cloaks, women with kids strapped across their back and even everyday objects looked like gold dust against the blue hued walls. Jerome was besotted by the countless cats and kittens luring him at every corner, luckily keeping him busy, while I took pictures.
Shopping in the Medina
Strolling downhill we reached the main arteries of Chefchaouen’s medina, here shops offered their variety of crafts and goods. Few sold useful items to the residents while most of the souk’s stalls were aimed at tourists a multitude of vibrant wares including all the usual souvenirs. Anything from carpets to lanterns, to leather bags or metalwork could be purchased for those prepared to haggle. It was surprising and refreshing to find the vendors refrained from any pestering and pushy sales tactics we had experienced throughout our travels in Morocco, especially in Marrakesh and the number of tourists at this time of year (we visited just before Christmas time) were limited to a selected few.
Although we were not interested in buying anything we still enjoyed admiring some of the beautiful, Moroccan handicraft. Weaving randomly through the lanes we stumbled onto a few selected shop, that stood out from the others. Among the hidden gems, was an antique bookstore its novels and magazines spilling out onto the pavement, a cat lazily sleeping on a pile of musty books. Another shop offered colourful powder for painting walls, stored in sacks, like ice cream in the tubs of an Italian gelateria. A vendor had covered his wall in knitted caps, his tanned and wrinkled face peeking out of a small window in between.
Avoid the Busy Main Square
At some point we reached the busier main square just outside the Kasbah, where numerous Moroccan restaurant staff were trying to capture tourists to eat and drink in their eateries. We immediately turned back into the narrow lanes, avoiding what is most likely Chefchaouen’s possible main tourist trap. However, our stomachs craved some food and we soon found the small eatery Bab Ssour, perched above some steps, that had been highly recommended to us by our host in Rabat. We chose to eat our first tajines of this trip, sadly although good they did not quite make up to the her high praise.
Extending Our Stay
By the time we had finished dinner, the blue alleys had darkened into a more indigo hue and this time we found our route back to Dar Zambra easily through Chefchaouen’s labyrinth. Over dinner we had immediately decided to extend our stay another night, it would have really been too sad to depart the following afternoon for Fes. After a few hours we felt this charming place deserved further exploring and I was glad the boys had fallen in love with the blue pearl just as much as me and did not mind feeling blue…
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