High in the Rif Mountains is the blue-walled town of Chefchaouen, where you can find a sandstone kasbah, shop for leather goods and go hiking...
Located 120 km (75 miles) from Tangier is one of Morocco's most delightful towns. Chefchaouen is a popular stop in the Rif region, famous for its achingly pretty bright-blue-washed medina, with narrow winding cobbled streets punctuated by artisanal shops, miniature cafés, little pensions and festooned with trailing clematis and bougainvillea. Women wear the white, rather than black, haik (unless they are in mourning, when the reverse is true). In the summer Chefchaouen is cool and in winter it can be blanketed with snow.
The N2 road from Tetouan leading to the town arrives just below the old walls. By climbing up through the marketplace you reach a gate called Bab el Ain, overhung by a wrought-iron lantern. This leads to the main square, the cobbled Plaza Uta el Hamman, shaded by trees, strung with lights and lined by bowed cafés, which is an excellent place to sit, appreciate the light and inhale the mountain air (not to be confused with the scent of kif drifting from the cafés’ upper storeys).
Built of glowing sandstone on the opposite side of the square, in vivid contrast to the tiled-roofed, sugar-cube housing, is the unpainted walled kasbah, which also houses a museum and art gallery, the Ethnographic Museum, with a collection illustrating the culture of the region. Next door is the 15th-century Grand Mosque, with its distinctive octagonal minaret.
By following the main thoroughfare to the back of the town, through the Place du Makhzen with the Hotel Parador and a cluster of pottery and gemstone stalls and past the succession of tiny shops opening directly on to the steep, cobbled street, you reach the point under the mountains where a waterfall hits the river. Here women wash clothes and also sheep’s wool, which they will then card and spin into yarn for home weaving.
Just outside the medina walls to the east are the waterfalls of the Ras el Maa, with a ruined mosque, the Jemaa Bouzafar, a little further on. There is a good little café by the bridge.
The shopping in Chefchaouen is a big draw for many visitors. The souks are a more relaxed affair than in Marrakech or Fez and sell the leather goods for which the town is known.
Outside Chefchaouen is the peak of Jebel el Kelâa, which can be climbed. Chefchaouen is where most treks and hikes into the surrounding region, the Talassemtane National Park and the Bab Taza circuit, begin. Ask at the Preference Voyages Travel Agency (Avenue Hassan II) or at your hotel for a guide or directions; if trekking independently, be sure to stick to well-used trails.
tel: 0539 98 92 44
A stunning and excellent-value riad with seven gorgeous bedrooms, a sitting room with open fire and a roof terrace with chill-out area and views over to the Rif Mountains. Welcoming hosts and delicious Moroccan food.
Outa el Hamam
tel: 0539 98 63 24
A large, old-fashioned Spanish parador with pool (open in summer only), restaurant, bar and sweeping views over the town and mountains. Located in the heart of the medina, just off the main square.
17 Rue Targui
tel: 0539-98 90 71
Purple walls, red cushions, low tables, candles everywhere - this is definitely one of the most colourful and exotic places to eat in town. The food isn't amazing, but the views are great and the prices very cheap.
22 Rue Targui
tel: 0539-98 61 53
A pleasant Moroccan restaurant in a street off the northern corner of the main square. Tissemlal serves tasty Moroccan staples at reasonable prices.
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