Child of the universe in Chefchaouen

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Africa » Morocco » Tangier-Tétouan » Chefchaouen
April 7th 2019
Published: September 8th 2019
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Though each path is different, there is only one way ~ Moroccan Proverb

Today we were travelling north from Fes to Chefchaouen.

We enjoyed a late breakfast in the ground floor restaurant of Hotel Olympic, which comprised baguettes, boiled eggs, croissants, jam, orange juice and tea. It was a fairly basic affair, but it was nice enough. With an hour or so up our sleeve, we headed out in the brisk morning air and made our way to nearby Avenue Hassan II, which is affectionately (and somewhat overzealously) known as Fes’ Avenue des Champs-Elysees. We used the morning sun to capture a few photos of Fes in light – the city had been shrouded in cloud the day before, and it had been pouring with rain on the night we arrived. There weren’t many locals out and about, which allowed us to be quintessentially pesky tourists (i.e. standing in the middle of walkways and taking photos) without annoying anyone. After capturing a few shots with blue sky backgrounds, we ambled back to the hotel, prepared our packs and headed down to the hotel lobby at 11am.

We’d really enjoyed our time in Fes, but it was time to leave. We jumped into a minibus and headed to the bus station, where we weighed in our packs and waited in a bustling departure lounge until midday. We boarded our comfortable bus and drove through the main city centre, then slowly made our way through the outskirts of Fes, where row upon row of apartment buildings dominated the landscape – some complete, some under construction. It wasn’t long before we were travelling on an open road with sparse agricultural plains stretching to the horizon, dotted here and there with carefully manicured olive groves and the occasional row of pine trees.

After about 45 minutes the road started to wind upwards – we were beginning our ascent into the hills surrounding Fes. Olive groves spread further and became more prolific, and man-made lakes began to appear. We could have been in Spain or Italy – this landscape was beautiful. It wasn’t long before we were driving through sweeping plains of wheat and other crops, with ubiquitous olive groves always in our line of vision. Farmers and donkeys were working hard in the fields, but there appeared to be an underlying level of poverty despite their hard work.

We eventually pulled into a service station about 100kms from Fes, having been on the road for just under two hours. We refreshed with mint tea, and it was one of the best we’d had since arriving in the country – and by far the cheapest. Never underestimate the quality of servo beverages, but beware the toilet guards. The male toilet block had a female attendant, and she was sitting right outside the door – which she kept open at all times to keep an eye on what was going on inside. It was a little disconcerting to say the least!

We left the servo in the mid-afternoon and continued our comfortable bus journey to Chefchaouen. Agave and cactus plants grew wildly along the roadside, dogs roamed freely, children played soccer on dusty soil, tethered donkeys stood alone in open fields and two men prepared a grave in an old cemetery. The temperature was much warmer than it had been in Fes, so we were living in hope for the remainder of our travels. However, as we began our ascent into the Rif Mountains, we were greeted by rain and heavy fog – we had been way too optimistic about the weather. The road was narrow and wet, and there were very steep (sheer) drops to the right side. Luckily for me, Ren had taken the window seat since the servo stop.

We arrived in Chefchaouen in the late afternoon. I initially thought we’d walk to our hotel, but it was raining and the roads in this picturesque mountain village were steep. We transferred from the bus station to our hotel (Dar Ech-Chaouen) in a minibus, dropped our packs at reception and waited in a dark cold dining area to receive our keys. The hotel complex was sprawling, so we needed a guide to show us to our room. While the room itself was a little basic, the view from the balcony was literally breathtaking. I could have settled in and soaked in the blue and white vista of Chefchaouen until the sun set over the village, but there were simply too many things to do and see. We headed out for an orientation walk of the medina (the old town), which to our surprise was jam-packed with locals enjoying a Sunday evening stroll – in spite of the rain! In typical risk-adverse fashion I didn’t take any photos, because I didn’t want rain on my lens…

We decided to stay in the medina for dinner, and what a decision it turned out to be. We clambered up many stairs through the bustling levels of Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour until we found ourselves on the rooftop. The view of the medina and surrounding village from our open-air rooftop table was fantastic, although the rain and clouds shrouded the vista a little. The restaurant’s set menu was too good to refuse, so option anxiety went out the window. We were going to sample everything.

Where do I start? Maybe I should start with our waiter. The kitchen was on the ground floor and we were on the roof, which meant he had to carry plates and plates of food up four flights of stairs over a two hour period. He did such an incredible job. And the food? It was extraordinary. Without doubt the best meal we’d had so far in Morocco. We started with goat’s cheese and then grazed on khobz (traditional round bread) with a selection of salad plates, including eggplant, spinach leaves, spinach stalks, pumpkin, mixed peppers and tomato. We sampled two different soups (fava bean and lentil) before three tagines were placed on the table – lamb with prunes, beef, and seafood. There are just no words to describe the taste sensation that had been captured within these earthenware pots. We also sampled pastilla (chicken pie with honey) before ending the meal with mint tea and an exquisite dessert – yoghurt with prune syrup, apricot jam and bee pollen. A truly, truly remarkable meal.

After descending from the rooftop of Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour, we navigated our way out of the medina and arrived back at our hotel around 10pm. I managed to pick up a few bottles of beer from a tiny shop opposite the hotel entrance, only to discover they had a 0% alcohol content. Not really a beer as such, just a yeasty soft drink. I enjoyed one of these yeasty soft drinks as I sat on our balcony and admired the nocturnal view of Chefchaouen, but exhaustion was setting in. It wasn’t long before we were in bed.

Unfortunately I woke with a sore throat. We rugged up and headed down to the dark and cold hotel restaurant for an early breakfast, where I enjoyed cornflakes with banana and yoghurt, msemen (flaky Moroccan flatbread) and goat’s cheese, and harcha (semolina muffins) with jam and honey. We had no intention of settling in for a slow breakfast, because we wanted to explore the medina without having to contend with hordes of people. We walked the short distance from our hotel to the medina entrance and took advantage of the empty lanes to snap a few photos of Chefchaouen’s incredible blue-washed buildings.

Having captured some great shots in the early morning light, we made our way back to the hotel just in time for a guided walk of the medina (scheduled for 9:30am). Our guide was Mohammed – he was a man of few words and great patience, which he undoubtedly needed! We followed Mohammed up to the Spanish Mosque, which sat just behind our hotel. It was a great climb, and one which afforded an excellent panoramic vista of Chefchaouen. The track was muddy in places from the previous day’s rain, so it was a bit sticky and slippery underfoot.

After capturing the sprawling village in panoramic photos, we descended from the Spanish Mosque, walked past the waterfall (Ras el-Maa) where locals do their washing and headed into the medina, meandering through the narrow winding lanes and marvelling at the blue hues on nearly every wall and door. The medina is an Instagram favourite, and narcissistic people were posing to their hearts content in what can only be described as fabricated settings. Some were carrying costume changes, lining up to capture the perfect travel-hardened pose that they will edit, colour saturate and upload to an Instagram account with the intent of wooing worldwide viewers into a dreamy holiday fantasy. If only the worldwide viewers could see the reality of this façade…

At one stage we stopped at a small shop selling traditional Moroccan clothing, and Ren bargained a good price on a grey djellaba (traditional Moroccan long hooded robe) that I’d shown interest in. I didn’t buy it straight away, but later in the afternoon we returned and further negotiated an even better price. I’d been keeping an eye out for a djellaba since arriving in the country, and this was perfect. The only problem was finding room in my pack to carry it for the duration of our Moroccan travels. I also picked up a wooden bracelet from a young wood turner in a tiny shop next to the clothing store.

Anyway, back to the walking tour. We continued winding our way through the labyrinth of lanes that snaked through the medina, with Mohammed occasionally stopping and sharing his knowledge with anyone close enough (and interested enough) to listen. Along the way we walked through a bustling produce market, dropped into a bakery and tried some freshly made bread, and found ourselves side-tracked by countless cats.

We ended the tour in Plaza Uta el-Hammam (the heart of the medina), where we collapsed into chairs at the nearest cafe and ordered mint teas and cafe lattes. Ren tried a plant tea (basically a bunch of local herbs steeped in hot water) which was natural and earthy in taste, but not terribly refreshing.

We continued to explore the medina, eventually ending up at the coveted third floor middle window table of Aladdin Restaurant which overlooked the bustling Plaza Uta el-Hammam below. The vista of distant hills surrounding the village was spectacular, and it provided an incredible backdrop for our late lunch. I ordered the harira (Moroccan tomato soup) which was perfect for my increasingly sore throat, while Ren went for the tfaya chicken couscous, which was possibly the best couscous we’d tasted to-date in Morocco. Chefchaouen had become our gastronomic benchmark, and I wondered how the food in this country could possibly get any better. I refreshed with a mint tea, while Ren went for a diet Coke. We also ordered dessert – crème caramel for Ren and tea with biscuits for me. It was a fantastic meal with a fantastic view, and we both felt incredibly refreshed.

We left the restaurant and slowly meandered back to the hotel, picking up a handful of local throat lozenges on the way. My throat was really starting to feel uncomfortable, so we relaxed in our room in the late afternoon – enjoying the sun that had started to appear from behind the clouds. The view from our balcony was amazing, and it was an incredible experience hearing numerous calls to prayer drifting from the medina and merging into a discordant mixture of sound.

After a cold and flu capsule and a couple of paracetamol tablets I began to feel OK, so we prepared our packs for the following day and caught up on our travel writing. I was exhausted by 9:30pm, so I decided to call it a night. We had an early start to Tangier in the morning, and I wanted to be ready. I wasn’t going to let this sore throat ruin my Moroccan travels.

Today we were travelling from Fes to Chefchaouen (pronounced Chef-sha-wan), by bus.

The 5:30am call to prayer woke us up again, a more preferable wakeup call to the alarm on my iPad. I had slept really well, which I put down to not having a heavy dinner (as had been the norm since the trip started). The breakfast at Hotel Olympic was the same light continental breakfast as the day before, but with the addition of msemen (flaky Moroccan flatbread) – which I love with butter and honey!

We weren’t leaving Fes until late morning, so we took advantage of the sunny but brisk morning to walk the length of Hassan II Avenue. We enjoyed the quiet Sunday morning streets, watching locals walking their dogs and council workers pruning trees along the way. After the madness of the old medina the day before, I relished the well planned Ville Nouvelle, with traffic lights and beautiful airy light-filled architecture.

We gathered at 11am to catch a five hour public bus to Chefchaouen. Khalid (our group leader) surprised me when he asked us to draw lots for our allocated seats on the bus. For a young guy, he was clearly very astute and had tactfully avoided a situation where people could demand the front seats. With the exception of two or three, all our other trips have had multiple people with motion / car sickness issues, and others who feigned sickness to get a better view or better seats… and it really does get ‘interesting’ when there are multiple people vying for the front seat, regardless of the needs or wants of anyone else! 😊

A minibus transferred us to the bus station in good time. Our 12pm bus left very promptly and it was a very comfortable intercity bus. I was happy to settle in and watch the scenery scroll past. The outskirts of Fes were full of new suburbs being built. Like elsewhere in the world, the massive billboards touted a luxury lifestyle for families. As far as I could see, they were trying to entice people into these artificial neighbourhoods in the middle of nowhere before they invested in the infrastructure needed to deliver the promised wholesome dream. McMansions are truly a global phenomenon. 😄

The landscape soon changed to acres and acres of olive groves on small hills, with small pockets of houses clustered together by the road. The olive trees were old and large (much larger than the olive trees we have in Australia), and cows and donkeys grazed among the olive trees. It was a beautiful sight and we could have been anywhere in southern Spain or Italy.

Before long that picture postcard scenery changed to larger rugged hills, and valleys with flashes of red poppies and large agave cacti. As we advanced towards the mountains, we passed a large lakes cradled among the hills.

After two hours we had a lunch stop at a highway bus station. The first sight that greeted us was a butchers shop with animal carcasses hanging in the breeze… not the normal intercity bus lunch stop we are used to! People pointed to the meat of their choice, then got it grilled at the bbq shop next door. We didn’t really feel like a meaty lunch, so we walked across to the cafe for a mint tea – which was one of the best and cheapest we’ve had on the trip so far.

After that reviving stop, the vista changed to orange groves, donkeys ploughing fields and small vegetable plots of mainly onion-like plants. The villages got more basic and ramshackle as we headed into the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. I fell asleep at some point and woke up to heavy rain.

My first glimpse of the ‘blue pearl of Morocco’ – an isolated town on the side of the mountain – was through a steamy bus window, but it still looked amazing and was really as BLUE as they claimed! Chefchaouen is settled between two peaks in the stunning Rif Mountains and its name literally means ‘Look at the Horns’ – referencing the jagged mountain the settlement nestles into. The town also looks over a wide and open valley.

As we pulled into the open-air bus stop at 5pm, the rain was falling hard and we got drenched while trying to get our luggage out of the undercarriage. Thankfully, there was a small shelter we could all cram under until our minibus arrived. The minibus drove us up the hill to our hotel, and even arriving in rain didn’t dampen our joy at seeing the charming Dar Ech-Chaouen nestled into the hills directly under the Spanish Mosque.

Dar Ech-Chaouen was a sprawling complex with a multi-storey main building and various bungalows set into the hillside. We got one of the furthest and highest bungalows in the complex, but the seriously steep climb to our room was fully worth it for the gorgeous views of the whole town from our balcony.

I loved our delightful but small room, but didn’t have much time to settle in as we had to regroup at 6pm for an orientation walk around the medina (the old town). We were also supposed to hike to the Spanish Mosque, but the rain caused a change of plans.

As we left the hotel and stepped into the madness of literally busloads of local tourists on our road, we realised that our hotel was near a waterfall and a viewpoint that looked out over the town and valley below. I really hoped it was only this crowded because it was a Sunday, as it would be very tiring fighting these crowds every time we exited or entered our hotel!

To make it even more difficult, there were buses trying to park, cars trying to use the road and small makeshift stalls blocking the pavements and encroaching onto the road. They were selling all manner of sweets and drinks, and also renting traditional costumes for tourists to dress up in. To add to the carnival, there was a clearly traumatised baby ostrich people could pose with for a few dirhams. To my amazement, nothing was said by our group leader when certain group members chose to support this trade (Intrepid has a strong stance on encouraging responsible travel and not supporting animal cruelty). 😞

We finally battled our way into the old medina and despite having seen so many photos of the town, I was astounded at how beautiful and really really blue it was – even in such rainy overcast weather! The medina was quite well maintained and very few buildings were in disrepair. We walked through the twisting lanes and up and down steep steps, trying to get our bearings. It seemed like an impossible task, but just as dusk started setting in, I started to get the hang of how the town was laid out (I think!).

Khalid had booked us a table at Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour, and we were directed to the tiny rooftop on the fourth level. Most of us opted for the set menu which included starters, mains and a dessert. We started with an amazing serve of the local creamy fresh goat’s cheese, sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with prune molasses – it was sensational and set the bar quite high for the rest of the dishes. Next came five cooked salads of native spinach leaves, spinach stalks, eggplant (aubergine), pumpkin, and mixed capsicums (bell peppers) with tomato; followed by a lentil soup and a beserra (fava bean and chickpeas) soup. I loved all the entrees apart from the rather bitter spinach leaves and the stodgy beserra soup which smelled of old socks! 😞

For the multi-dish main course, we started with a pastilla (chicken pie encased in werqa dough), but curiously the traditional icing sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top had been replaced with a drizzle of honey. I’ve tried variations of the pastilla three times now, and while I enjoyed the one in Fes, I don’t think I’ll be ordering it again. Then came three tagines of beef, lamb and prunes, and seafood (squid and shrimps). This was my first seafood tagine, and I loved it very much! We were quite full by now, but still totally devoured the dessert of freshly made yoghurt with bee pollen, prune syrup and apricot jam. I’m not a fan of natural yoghurt, so it says a lot that I LOVED this dessert.

Andrew and I love the notion of ordering many dishes and sharing them. However, this can a bit dicey when sharing with people you don’t really know very well. Fortunately, Sue stepped up and assumed a leadership/Mum role for our table – which we all appreciated very much.

I was totally blown away by our first meal in Chefchaouen. Oh my goodness! What a revelation of tastes and textures! And the service was extraordinary considering the waiter had to carry all our food up to the rooftop on trays, and he did so with great energy and a keen sense of humour. Happily full, we walked back to our hotel via the shops in front of our hotel to buy water and drinks.

I set the alarm to wake up in time to record the 5:30am call to prayer, but the call to prayer started at 5:15am and woke me up before the alarm could. I struggled out to the balcony and managed to record three minutes of it before the cold drove me back inside. There were numerous mosques in this town and their competing (and loud) calls to prayer made for a jarring but impressive way to wake up.

Andrew woke up with a sore throat, which was a bummer but wasn’t surprising given the range of cold/hot temperatures we’d been experiencing, plus getting drenched almost every day since Rabat. We wandered down to breakfast in the near-dark (at 7am), as we wanted to get an early start and explore the old medina before the crowds got there (but we didn’t want to be too early as we needed enough light for photography).

We rushed through breakfast and opted to skip the hot offerings (it was made to order and would have delayed us). The bread on offer were pieces of khobz (traditional round leavened bread), msemen (flaky Moroccan flatbread), and dense round harcha (pan friend semolina bread that looked like English muffins but tasted liked corn bread). This was accompanied by a tray of condiments with goat cheese, goat cheese spread, olives, olive tapenade, butter, apricot jam and strawberry jam. The sweetened mint tea helped to hydrate me. There were also cereal choices, and plenty of orange juice and coffee.

We were eager to walk through the medina before it got crowded with shop keepers and tourists. When we got there at 7:30am, we were rewarded with a quiet medina which was still waking up. The empty blue streets were a joy after the jostling crowds we’d endured the evening before. The only people we occasionally saw were a few tourists who had the same idea as us, and locals going to work.

The medina is almost completely drenched in blue walls, the uniformity only broken by brightly coloured flower pots and striking artistic doorways. Walking down the small empty alleys of Chefchaouen was akin to walking through a blue tunnel, and it was quite trippy. The entire spectrum of blue was on mesmerising display… sky, pastel, cornflower, blue bell, aqua, turquoise, cobalt… I lost count of the different hues of blue! And whenever we came upon a newly painted lane or alley, it was so brilliantly blue that it actually looked photoshopped!

We also enjoyed the company of a few early-rising street cats. The cats were highly territorial and very assured of themselves in their streets. Even though most of them were badly battle-scarred, they all looked well fed. We witnessed a few cat fights, and therefore understood at once when we saw a small juvenile male who was clearly out of his territory and very nervous and jumpy. He tried to follow us and it broke my heart that I couldn’t find him a safe place to settle (or better still, take him back home)! While I wish the street cat population was managed better by the authorities, it also said a lot about the locals that the cats were well fed and weren’t scared of humans.

Eventually, the empty blue streets started to fill with locals walking to the cafes and shops that were gradually opening. Stallholders started setting up for the day, spilling their wares into the laneways. It was very interesting to watch the streets come alive. By this time it was quite clear that I had fallen very much in love with Chefchaouen!

We returned to the hotel and got ready for a walking tour with a local guide. Mohammed was amiable and knowledgeable, but far too polite to manage a slightly rowdy group. A few times we had to step in and yell out an ‘oi, listen up guys’ so he could speak.

He first took us to a viewpoint at the Spanish Mosque in the hills behind our hotel. Because it had rained so heavily the day before, the path uphill was a muddy mess and had to be navigated with care. The mosque itself was a very modest white building which was made far more notable and beautiful by its setting.

The view over Chefchaouen was quite stunning – blue and white houses with red-tiled roofs cascaded down the mountainside, and in the middle of the sea of blue, stood the high ochre red walls of the Kasbah (a fortified section of a medina). It had the only real clump of trees in the whole medina. The sun came out briefly, but it also started to drizzle so we made our way down before it rained again.

We walked back into the old medina, navigating many different lanes of the laidback town. I recognised some areas from the night before, and some from our walk that morning, but many of the winding streets were new and disorientating (in the best possible way).

Mohammed briefly explained the history of the area to us… much of Chefchaouen was settled by Moors and Jewish Andalusian refugees escaping Spain in the 15th century. That Spanish influence can be seen in the architecture and design of the buildings – with small wrought iron balconies and the neighbourhood squares. Spanish is also still spoken by some locals, and the menus contain more than a few Spanish influenced items.

Mohammed also described the many theories on why the city was painted blue – the colour scheme was apparently introduced to the town by Jewish refugees in the early 20th century and has since become its most defining feature. Some believe it was to symbolise heaven and the sky, or that it represented the sea they’d just crossed; and another theory suggests that the blue helps to deter mosquitoes. Mohammed favoured the anti-mosquito theory, but specified that it had to be a particular hue of blue for it to work. It didn’t really matter that I was highly sceptical about the mosquito theory… because regardless of why it was blue, it was a very bold and stunning choice. Traditionally, a natural indigo dye was added to the lime wash, and even though many buildings still use this traditional method, blue paints are increasingly being used for their durability.

Chefchaouen really is incredibly photogenic in the brighter light of day – a blue world of curving narrow alleys and eye-catching doorways, flashes of greens from potted plants, and content cats napping in the tiniest patches of sun. I had to force myself to stop taking so many photographs… not only was I running down my camera at an alarming rate, but it was taking us an absolute age to walk down each street! 😄

While many of the streets were set up with stalls full of plastic tourist crap on the main routes, there were also many beautiful artisan shops that I loved. And in the higher more local streets, there were tiny corner shops, bakeries and cafes frequented by locals. We walked through a street full of woodworking artisans, and wanted to come back to look at a bracelet Andrew liked. It also wasn’t far from a stall that sold djellabas (traditional Moroccan long hooded robes) which Andrew was also interested in purchasing. Fingers crossed we’d be able to find the street again.

The street were packed by now, and quite often we’d come upon a bottleneck in the small lanes where tourists were lining up to take an Instagram-worthy shot. We succumbed to this once – at some particularly beautiful steps lined with plants – but really, almost every street and lane had a stunning photo waiting to be taken, so there was no need to further contribute to the bottlenecks.

Passing a pre-school that displayed the Berber alphabet chart (written in the neo-Tifinagh script), Mohammed took the opportunity to explain a few characters to us… especially the ⵣ character (Z in the English pronunciation equivalent) that has come to symbolise the Berber ‘Free Man’. The Moroccan Berbers are the indigenous people, but are far from one homogenous group – they’re made up of different tribes based on geographic regions. The Riffian Berbers in Chefchaouen (north) who speak Tarafit are distinct from the Tamazight speaking Zayanes of the Middle Atlas, or theTashlheit speaking Shilhah Berbers in the southern areas and Anti-Atlas Mountains.

We then meandered to a small open air market square that sold fresh produce. It was full of vividly coloured fruit and vegetables, and I loved watching old locals doing their daily shopping. Of all the stalls, not surprisingly, the mint stalls were doing the best trade. I was fascinated that people would buy such small quantities of produce – just enough for each meal or pot of tea – and then shop again later. This was in stark contrast to our weekly grocery shop!

Most of the older homes in Morocco don’t have ovens, so we headed into a bakery to see the massive communal oven that bakes the bread and other goods brought from various homes (and they also bake commercial orders). The massive wood fired oven was almost bigger than the small shop front, but the baker really didn’t seem to mind having a bunch of us crowd into his space. He even passed around a hot-out-of-the-oven bread roll for us to sample!

Continuing through small lanes and tiny neighbourhood squares, we walked downhill to the main town square – Plaza Uta el-Hammam, and ended the walking tour in front of the imposing red walled old Kasbah. The sun was making a valiant effort to shine, so after saying goodbye to Mohammed, we sat outside at a small cafe in the square. The waiter spoke a little English but couldn’t quite tell me what the ‘special herbs’ in the ‘plant tea’ were. He merely said they were from the mountains and will make me feel good!

We jumped to the obvious conclusion about what the herbs were… especially as the mountains are very well known for harbouring plantations of marijuana and the sale of kif (hashish). However, curiosity got the better of me, and I ordered it. Andrew chuckled as he voiced that if it was indeed marijuana, he would most likely have to carry me back to the hotel! Luckily, the ‘special herbs’ turned out to be thyme, rosemary and wild mountain mint. It was quite herby but tasty. 😊

We continued walking around the medina in an effort to find a place for lunch, and we got lucky and found the street with the woodworking artisan’s shop. After watching the young guy skilfully working his woodworking lathe, Andrew bought a wooden bracelet from him before we proceeded to the djellaba shop next door to do some hard bargaining. We had an idea of the prices charged in the shops outside our hotel, so even though I detest bargaining, we got the price down to 50% of his original asking price. The djellabas come in rough wool or a thick heavy cotton, and Andrew chose the cotton version as he found the woollen ones too warm.

After climbing up and down a mountain’s worth of steps to check out a couple of Lonely Planet restaurant options, we settled on Restaurant Aladdin. It was already late afternoon, which worked in our favour as the restaurant had been pretty much booked out. We scored an upper level window table just as a couple were leaving, and had a fabulous view over the square and into the fortressed Kasbah. Andrew’s sore throat looked like it was going to morph into a cold and flu, so he opted for the warming harira soup (a minestrone-like hearty soup of tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas and noodles), and I had the tfaya chicken couscous. It was the best couscous (tiny steamed balls of rolled semolina) I’d ever eaten and the chicken was full of flavour and topped with delicious spicy caramelised onions and chickpeas. For dessert I had the crème caramel flan (the Spanish influence seemed to be mostly in the desserts and pastries), while Andrew had mint tea with lovely Moroccan biscuits.

We walked back to the hotel to regroup for a meeting at 6pm to discuss our onwards plans to Tangier and Marrakesh the next day. We were still full from our late lunch, so we opted for an early night in. We relaxed in our room, caught up on some travel notes and packed for the next day.

It was beautiful watching the evening light change over the town and surrounding valley from our balcony. Our stay at Dar Ech-Chaouen had been immensely enjoyable – the location was great; our room and balcony were very cute; the breakfast was lovely; and not to mention that we had super strong wifi in our room that was half way up a mountain! Not only was I in love with Chefchaouen, I had fallen in love with the relaxed pace of life in this beautiful retreat too.

Despite the so-so weather, Chefchaouen had been the perfect place to get lost in for a couple of days – both literally and figuratively. Its isolation and unique look and ambience made it feel like we’d wandered into a different world. Even though quite touristy in parts, the town has maintained a lovely authentic balance between local life and tourism.

The town didn’t have any major sights (apart from the Kasbah), but it was a fabulous place to absorb everyday Moroccan life by meandering through the winding streets of the beautiful medina. We enjoyed observing the artisans working in their shops, watching women hanging washing from window to window, walking with hooded djellaba wearing men heading to their cafes, and being assailed by the call to prayer echoing all around us. I especially loved our time unwinding on rooftop terraces and enjoying the fabulous food that Chefchaouen plated up for us.

Next we travel northwest to Tangier, that enigmatic port city on the edge of Morocco and the tip of North Africa.


8th September 2019
streets of chefchaouen

We really want to go there
When we were in Morocco we read about Chefchaouen, we saw photos, and knew that we would love to go there one day. We were then roaming around in other parts of the country so it wasn't on the agenda then. But now that I see your photos I guess we have to plan another trip to Morocco. I especially love the photos with the cats. /Ake
8th September 2019
streets of chefchaouen

Re: We really want to go there
Seeing as you love exploring medinas, you will really enjoy Chefchaouen. It was one of the most unique places we roamed through, and the fabulous food was a huge bonus. I took far far far too many cat photos... it was difficult picking just a few for the blog :)
8th September 2019

Similar journeys
I'm very pleased to have found your blog earlier this week. We travel with Intrepid /Peregrine and I have been smiling, laughing and grimacing while reading of your journeys that have been the same or very similar to those we did (India / Turkey / Thailand). We have Morocco down for next year. Thank you and Happy Journeys.
8th September 2019

Re: Similar journeys
Hello Brodie, and thanks for your lovely comment. I find it very enjoyable reading about similar styled travels too, and I hope you find our Morocco blog posts helpful. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have :)
8th September 2019

Marathon blog reading
I have spent some time today reading your blogs in a marathon session. I like to do that , immerse myself in your travelling world and I felt as if I was going along with you all the way from Tassie to Morocco. Wonderful description and photos , I have done a couple of Intrepid tours so it’s also interesting to get your take on group travel. Tips about train travel and toilets are always useful !! I am sorry we didn’t get to meet after all in Hobart .
9th September 2019

Re: Marathon blog reading
Hi Lynne, thanks for your lovely comment. I do love a good marathon binge read of trip blogs too! I think the first blogs of yours I read was while you were on your Vietnam and Cambodia trip. One can never have enough toilet and train travel tips :)
9th September 2019

Fabulous stuff!
I most thoroughly enjoyed this missive from the blue city. Keep it up. All the best, Chris
9th September 2019

Re: Fabulous stuff!
Thank you Chris. It's really nice to know you enjoyed this blog! And thanks for the encouragement :)
11th September 2019

That’s one very blue looking place. Looks stunning. Marrakech was entirely a dirty red as I remember it. I wonder if all their cities are colour coded?
12th September 2019

Re: Blue
Yes it was VERY blue. Before the trip, I had assumed that the photos I'd seen on social media etc had been photoshopped (as they usually tend to be!)… but it really is a very blue city. I think you're onto the colour coding thing - so far we've seen coastal cities painted white, religious cities painted green, blue Chefchaouen and old medinas - and we'll soon be heading towards that big dirty red city! :)
11th September 2019

Spectacular Photos
What spectacular photos of Chefchaouen! We weren't able to get to Chef when we were in Morocco, but it's definitely on the list for the future, even more so after reading you blog. I just love your photos, especially with the cats!
12th September 2019

Re: Spectacular Photos
Thanks Lori. It was such a pleasure to photograph this beautiful place. We had predominantly overcast lighting and the blue was still so brilliant... I can only imagine how lovely it would look on bright blue sky days :)
15th September 2019

Thank you for the wonderful word pictures that describe these lands and entice one to return. Love the vibrant colors.
16th September 2019

Re: Chefchaouen
That's a lovely comment - thanks. Chefchaouen was a very easy place to fall in love with... the colours were so dramatic, yet so intimate! :)
16th September 2019

This may be my favorite blog you have written so far! Your descriptions of the places, people and food of Chefchaouen are incredibly vivid which is marvelous because for most of the blog your photos couldn't be seen thanks to the ongoing problem with this site. Then, when least expected, far down into the blog, the last six photos were actually visible and as always they were wonderful! I hope all the meals that we experience in Morocco will be as good as the ones you enjoyed here. I have made some notes to take with me so I have an idea what to order if given a choice! Thanks you two!
16th September 2019

Re: Fabulous!
Wow Sylvia, you've made my day :) I'm sorry the photos weren't showing when you read this - I think the problem has been fixed - so hopefully all the photos are now displaying as they should. When do you leave on your trip? We only had one or two bad meals on the whole trip... and that was only because we succumbed to the tourist trap restaurants at some point :D

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