Chefchaouen, the blue heart of Morocco
January 1, 1970
Blue walls, blue streets, blue doors, blue windows, blue dresses and even blue taxis! Different shades of blue animate the small and curvy streets uphill and downhill, cats around the streets looking for food and peace far from the tourists, colourful flowers inside the blue vases in the streets, colourful carpets outside the locals shops. This is Chefchouen, the blue city.
We are in northeastern Morocco in the Rif Mountains, four hours and a half by bus from Fes and three hours from Tanger, the white city on the Mediterranean Sea. Chefchaouen is a mixture of Arabic and Spanish culture due to the past historical domintations. The colour that characterizes the city was introduced in the ’30.
From the terrace of my hostal, la Joya, the view is simply amazing: green mountains and a Spanish mosque on top of the front hill. It’s March but the air is still fresh, cold during the night. Omar, the host, offers to all the guests typical Moroccoan tea on the terrace or in the living room, depending on the weather. The typical moroccoan minth tea is of of the main part of the culture and hospitaly. The classic version is made by fresh mint leaves and green tea and served in small glasses, usually with sugar. Then many other variations can be prepared depending on your tastes: with sauge, orange blossom, lemon, olive leaves..
The main square is animated until late night: restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops; ladies offering hennas tattoos and selling buiscuits. From the rooftops of the restaurants ans cafes you can have a nice view of the square with the Grande Mosquee and the kasbah, the old fortress of the city, today headquarter of an art gallery and a museum.
The prices to eat are quite honest everywhere and you can eat a simple quick meal like a soup for 5 dirhams or a three courses meal for 50 dirhams. The most typical Moroccoan dish is called tajine, a meal cooked and served in a typical earthen pot. There are many variations like vegetables, fish, meat, almonds, plums with the addiction of a mixture of spices. Very delicious are also the omelette, prepared in different version, from the classic berber one to the European tortilla or a plate of the traditional couscous. In Morocco the production of olives and other derivate products is really common due to the great amount of olive trees so it will be common to find them to accompany the dish or just as a started while you are waiting for your course.
The Spanish mosque on top of the hill right in front of the city is one of the most visited places in town. From there in fact you can see the whole stunning blue medina surrounded by mountains. The walk is uphill but not that long, a little bit more than one hour back and forward. It starts outside the old city walls near the waterfalls Ras el-Maa. The mosque was built by the Spanish during the ’20 and never been used.
The souk, the local market situated in the medina, is smaller compared to Marrakech or Fes, but there is plenty of small shops selling leather bags, luggage, wallets and jackets, wool clothes, carpets, bracelets, rings, necklaces, argan oil (pure or with the addiction of aromes such as orange, musk, rose and gardenia to make more pleasant), pigments to paint, hand made soap, solid perfumes and spices, herbs and much more.
Due to the presence of one of the biggest cannabis plantations in the world, Chefchaouen and the area around were and are still nowadays famous to be an easy access to hash and marjiuana. In fact it will be very common that people in the street will try to sell some to locals and above all tourists.
La ciudad nueva, the new city outside the medina, is not blue as blue as the old city, the streets are brider and modern. In this part of the city is located the main bus station of the city. The majority of hotels and hostel are in the medina so you can either get a taxi or walking 20/25 minutes to reach the destination.
Some practical information about the city and how to get there:
- There is no train station so you have to reach the city by bus (the easiest accesses are from Fes or Tanger). The bus company CTM has connections everyday. Other local companies offer a daily service. As I said, the bus station is around 20/25 minutes far from the medina, where most of the hostel and hotels are located. The normal price to get into the old town should be 10/15 dirhams.
- Alway double check the real price of a taxi with your hostel and try to obtain that one. Taxi drivers will probably give you a higher ammount. Never get in without knowing the price of you ride. Alternatevly, you can ask to turn on the meter that will calculate the real price of your ride.
- You can easily find shared rooms in hostels from 50/60 dirhams each night. Private rooms are also available at good prices. If the breakfast is not included in the price you can usually have it around the city for 20 dirhams (fox exemple a typical one consists in tea and/or fresh orange juice, omelette and msemmen, moroccoan crepes to eat with honey, marmelade, cheese, butter..)
- In the souk and in the shops around you have to haggle for the prices. They will try to take much more money than the real price so when they make an offer you have to answer offering the half or even a third of the ammount they asked. Anyway, after a little walk through the shops you will start to undestand the real a d fair price for the products
- Don’t trust people in the streets that offer spountaneously and insistently to help you find the way. In many cases it could be that they just wanna show you their shops to sell something or just have a tip for the guide service
- Since the city is situated on the Rif Mountains, the temperature could be quite colder comparing to other cities in Morocco; for this reason take a look at the weather and get dressed proprerly if you are planning a visit