The new year arrived in Morocco and whilst the weather is mild for winter to say the least, the winds have been having a bit of a blow so we decided to stay for an extra couple of weeks before heading into the Mediterranean.
During an exceptionally social evening on board Red Roo (3 bottles of champagne before the multiple bottles of red were opened), celebrating a certain Captains birthday with an international contingent made up of Australians, Canadians, Americans and Dutch folk a plan was hatched to visit Chefchaouen a town nicknamed the “Blue Pearl”.
Chefchaouen is located 120 km away and a grand taxi costs just 70 dirham (€7) per person for a seat from Tangier to Chefchaouen (the taxi fills all seats before departing) but our group of 6 sailors filled the taxi – perfect. We had the pleasure of sharing this adventure with two other crews from boats in Tangier; Jean & Yolène of Caffe Latte and Tony & Shannon of Sweetie.
It was a two night adventure and the best of Morocco we have seen so far. Beautifully perched beneath the raw peaks of the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is one of the prettiest towns in Morocco, an artsy, blue-washed mountain village that feels like its own world. While tourism has definitely taken hold, the balance between ease and authenticity is just right.
Chefchaouen is much quieter than any other Moroccan towns we have visited. Instead of vendors inviting you to their shops, you’ll find quiet men waiting for you to ask them about a price. Streets are be filled with locals enjoying their days and echoing laughter from the children playing ball.
No-one really talks about why is the Medina blue. What we do know is that Chefchaouen was established in 1471 by Mulay Alí Ben Rachid, however in 1492, during the Reconquista of Spain the Jews were expelled from Spain with many of them fleeing to Morocco and establishing their own enclave in Chefchaouen. Apparently the Sephardi Jewish community that settled in Chefchaouen brought along their tradition of painting buildings blue. They believed the blue is the colour of the sky and divinity, so it would remind them of the presence of God. The tradition is also actually present in other places, such as Safed in Israel.
Others however believe that the colour repels flies and mosquitos well, so it was a practical solution as well. Whatever the origin the effect is very special.
The city was actually closed to all the foreigners especially Christians under the threat of death, until the beginning of the Spanish occupation in 1920. The town had remained so closed off from the rest of the world that when visitors actually got in they reportedly found its Jewish inhabitants were still speaking a 15th-century version of Spanish.
After the WWII, most of the Jewish families left for Israel, but Moroccan Berbers continue the blue tradition despite the blue washing off the walls quite easily. The local government supplies special paint brushes to assist in efforts to keep Chefchaouen’s history alive.
This all blue town is a photographer’s dream and you can wander here for hours and just be in awe the whole time. It’s a little out-of-the-way compared to the big draw cards of Morocco making it less touristy than other spots but it’s very much worth a visit.
What we really liked about Chefchaouen was its location in the Rif Mountains. The air felt clean, and as soon as we arrived we felt relaxed.
This tranquil, beautiful region also holds a surprising secret; it produces half the world’s hashish! There is more ‘kiff’ or marijuana here than you can poke a pipe at. Phil was offered a buying opportunity at least three times each day we were there.
Being in the Rif Mountains meant that day 2 of our visit saw us huff and puff over two hiking tracks nearby at Akchour.
Being winter we had the place virtually to ourselves, but the temperate was perfect and a lovely bright clear day, we declined the offer of a local guide and set out alone enjoying spectacular scenery especially during the climb to God’s Bridge and the crystal clear water pools on our way to the Grand Cascades.