Chefchaouen city guide: what to see and do in the blue pearl of Morocco

A beguiling blue pearl in Morocco’s crown, the city of Chefchaouen in the country’s north makes an ideal destination for those seeking a mellowed venture into the vibrant tapestry of Moroccan life. Its cyan streets are nestled amidst the Rif Mountains that stretch between Tangier and Berkane, and the city enjoys year-round balmy temperatures – it’s a relatively mild 15 degrees on average in December and January, and reaches highs of 35 degrees in August. Here, you’ll find yourself away from the bright lights and bustling medinas of the bigger cities, but still among many a riveted tourist, enchanted by the charming alleyways and blend of Berber, Muslim and Jewish influences. Heading to the so-called ‘city of dreams’? Be sure to tick the following off your must-do list.

Chefchaouen, Morocoo. Image: iStock/stockstudioX

Get lost in the medina

Medinas are synonymous with Morocco and the walled old town of Chefchaouen is no different. As you cross Bab El Ain gate, though, you’ll find that the souk – much like the hues in which it is painted – is a relatively calm and muted affair, especially when compared to the hustle and bustle of Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech and the 19,000 alleyways of Fes. The whole city is a photo shoot waiting to happen, as it provides the ideal backdrop for an Instagram-worthy picture at every turn. Seek out one particularly famous staircase, lined with colourful flower pots and snapped time and again by many an avid photographer, but take the time to enjoy an aimless wander through Chefchaouen’s cobblestone streets – you’ll wind up finding even more vibrant and unique secret pathways. As the call to prayer rings out, the souks spark to life at night, and transform from a bright blue to a mystical pale purple; Plaza Outa el-Hammam, the main square just outside the Kasbah, becomes filled with twinkling lights, traditional music, beckoning restauranteers and live entertainment.

Main square in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Image: iStock/Elena-studio

Take a hike to catch the spellbinding sunset

It’s not just the city that enchants; the mountainous landscape that surrounds Chefchaouen is truly a sight to behold. The Rif Mountains stretch right across the north of Morocco, with Chefchaouen providing the ideal hiking base. A scenic walk will take you through Berber villages and green forest flora and fauna (including agave cacti, olive trees and even marijuana plants), and many a goat, dog and donkey will cross your path –  you may even get the chance to refuel with figs picked along your way. If you’d prefer something a little less strenuous, head for the northeastern gate of the medina to find the small yet beautiful Oued Ras El Maa waterfall, or opt for the half-hour climb to the Spanish Mosque that sits overlooking Chefchaouen: each evening, crowds line its walls to look down on the cityscape – a kaleidoscopic sight of blue, orange, pink and purple as the sun sets for another day.

Chefchaouen, Morocco. Image: iStock/Zzvet

Kick back at a traditional hammam

Soothe hike-weary limbs – or tired feet from all the medina stairways – by retreating into a local hammam. For a truly authentic experience, forget notions of sumptuous treatments with luxurious massage tables and extensive spa facilities; instead, seek out a public bathhouse. Some hammams have two sections for men and women, while others offer a communal space but separate bathing times. Once you’ve changed, you’ll enter a warm tiled room and arm yourself with black olive soap and a mitt to scrub dead skin away, followed by a splash of cold water (seek out the help of a professional if you’re looking to be pampered). You’ll leave feeling humbled, but equally baby-soft and rejuvenated. Take note of the dress code in these parts: women can usually opt to wear a bathing suit, go topless or entirely forgo clothes, while men are expected to keep their underwear on.

Chefchaouen, Morocco. Image: iStock/juanorihuela

Dine like a local

Morocco is renowned for its exquisite spices, and its food and drink are pretty affordable, so there’s no excuse not to try a bit of everything. Locally produced Chefchaouen goats’ cheese is a must-try – head to TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence-winning Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour for lunch to sample the velvety-soft and sweet cheese, as well as creamy bean soup, cactus juice and, of course, a staple glass of sweet mint tea. Come dinner, an array of restaurants offer al fresco or terrace dining, so you can soak up the city’s buzz and warm air. Aladdin Restaurant is another firm favourite, serving delicious tajines, couscous dishes and Pastella – a local treat of aromatic vegetables or chicken wrapped in a thin, crispy pastry and dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon, for the ideal balance of sweet and savoury flavours.

An alleyway in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Image: iStock/stockstudioX

Enjoy a spot of retail therapy

A shopper’s paradise, the alleyways in Chefchaouen abound with silk scarves, kaftans, books, ceramics, tajines and so much more. Many items sold here are native to the city, such as the woollen djellaba worn in the cooler months by those who work and live in the rural mountainscape, and replicas of traditional Berber hats topped with colourful pom-poms. A word of warning, though: locals are well versed in selling to tourists and may even spin you a story, so stay wise and always be prepared to haggle! You can often try going as low as half of the offered price and make a compromise from there – whether your haggling attempts fail or you wind up with a trinket to take home with you, a small shukran (thank you) goes a long way.

Words by Tamsin Salfrais

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