Chefchaouen is Morocco’s unforgettable, sapphire-tinged city. Located in the north of this north-east African nation, Chefchaouen is nestled high up in Morocco’s Rif Mountains. For the last few centuries, the local people have painted the buildings and pathways in a beautiful blue hue, which the city has become renowned for.
The tradition stems from the Jewish community who settled in this paradisiacal place in the 15th century after being expelled from Spain. They believed that weaving dyed blue thread into prayer shawls would remind people of God’s power. So began the ritual of coating the entirety of Chefchaouen in vivid shades of blue.
Nowadays, the city is inhabited by the Berber people and Muslims. In addition to descendants of the original Jews, all of whom now live in picturesque harmony. The walled city is regularly repainted to retain its dazzling charm. And it really is no exaggeration to say that every street and alleyway in Chefchaouen is utterly majestic.
The blue city stands out proudly amongst the plethora of tan-coloured towns and mountains surrounding it. If you fancy venturing to any of the charming locales nearby, choose the whitewashed town of Tetouan. A place touched even less by tourism, featuring a UNESCO-approved ancient medina and acclaimed archaeological museum.
Travellers have plastered pics of the place all over Instagram. Yet despite this, the city is free from tourist crowds and is able to retain a spellbinding sense of calm. In fact, some people say Chefchaouen is Morocco’s ‘best-kept secret,’ and maybe they’re right (for now, at least!). Perhaps this is because it’s pretty remote – the biggest cities nearby, Tangier and Fez, take two and four hours to get to. Therefore, Chefchaouen is often skipped by travellers who focus on ticking off Marrakech and the Sahara.
Many other sizable Moroccan towns are stressful, chaotic, humid, and hot. Chefchaouen, in contrast, offers the freshest mountain air, the purest spring water, and a beauty and pace more comparable to the Greek Islands than that of North Africa.
First, start your trip perfectly with an activity which is sure to help you get to grips with the infamous blue city. Take a short hike to the nearby Spanish Mosque. Built in the 1920s and recently restored, the mosque itself isn’t actually the star of the show. However, the half-an-hour walk uphill from the eastern medina gate is worth it for the awe-inspiring views you will observe from the top. The sight is most beautiful at sunrise or sunset for the ultimate bucket list pinch-me moment.
Alternatively, one of the best things to do in Chefchaouen is to join a day tour led by a local guide so you can really understand the town better and uncover its history. Your guide will also help you find the best photo spots in Chefchaouen, as many are tucked away and hard to find in the labyrinth of the medina.
Chaouen – as the locals call it – owes part of its abundant charm to the quaint medina. By no means Morocco’s largest, the vendors and crammed antique shops still sell everything from brass teapots and leather goods, to musical instruments and colourful powder-paint dyes. Chefchaouen is known for its weaving, particularly the blue, white, and red-striped Riffi blankets. These are worn by most rural women in the Rif and can be bought throughout the medina too.
Next, seek out the line of small shops on Place el Makhzen which sell jewellery, trinkets (including the sebsi, or kif-smoking pipe), and the usual selections of lanterns, lamps, and carpets. For something a bit different, head to Aladin the Herboriste, the go-to store for spices, incense, and beautifully scented soaps. There is also a selection of herbal blends said to “cure” a variety of illnesses. Additionally, you can find Chefchaouen’s Ensemble Artisanal on Place el Makhzen. Riffi blankets and other crafts are sold here for fixed prices. If you’re shopping anywhere else, be prepared to haggle!
The blue city’s authenticity is also evident in its cuisine. Tagine is the main dish here; it’s Morocco at its most Moroccan, without the dining diversity you’d find in the country’s more cosmopolitan hubs. Thankfully, any slow-cooked North African stew you go for will be absolutely delicious, but the lamb and chicken tagine at Restaurant Tissemlal is an elite contender.
Alternatively, hit up Restaurant Aladdin for the best couscous around. The restaurant’s decor is enchanting and romantic, with dimmed lights, pretty cushions, and rooftop views. It’s common to finish your meal with a hot cup of sweet mint tea, which is sold all over the city.
Keen to try something new? Grab a chicken pastilla – chicken flavoured with cinnamon and almonds, wrapped in flakey pastry, and topped with icing sugar. The best ones in Chefchaouen are served up at Chez Hicham.
Having spent all your Dirham at the city’s medina, why not adventure out to explore some of the area’s endless natural attractions? Talassemtane National Park is on the city’s doorstep. It was initially established to protect the last of Morocco’s threatened fir forests, but has now become a hiker’s paradise.
Moreover, make it the perfect day trip by reaching ‘God’s Bridge’, a natural stone arch 25 metres above the river. Also worth exploring are the gorgeous waterfalls, Cascades d’Akchour, and the deepest cave in Morocco, Kef Toghobeit.
Relax and Unwind
All this hiking, haggling, and eating is fun, but sometimes you just need a time-out. You’re on holiday after all! Take a break at a hammam and enjoy a quintessential Moroccan steam room session.
For a glamorous hammam experience, treat yourself with a visit to Lina Ryad & Spa. Here you can unwind with an hour-long Moroccan scrub down and spend some time in the oriental baths or dreamy pool. Of course this is the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate yourself before the next leg of your trip!
Is it time to tick this enchanting blue city off your bucket list? Check out our Morocco tours and prepare to be charmed by Morocco’s Blue Pearl.