Chefchaouen: The Blue Pearl of Morocco
I feel conflicted as I stand before my CTM bus, Morocco’s national charter line, on the Route de Tetouan in Tangier. I am reluctant to leave behind the old world charms of this frenetic city, yet excited to explore the gems of Chefchaouen. With a heavy heart, I climb the steps of my bus and embark on a 3 hour journey across the winding mountainous roads to my next destination.
As I disembark from the bus in Chefchaouen, I am spellbound by the majestic limestone peaks of the Rif mountains, a dramatic backdrop against Morocco’s Blue City. Each home in this charming medieval town is painted a shade of blue by the Moors and Jews who seeked refuge here when they were expelled by the Catholic Monarchs in Spain in the 15th century. The blue served as a symbol of heaven, and as a reminder of God. As I wander the narrow alleyways in search of my riad for the night, I revel in the calm and relaxing pace of life here.
Feeling adventurous emerging from my accommodation and onto the streets of Chefchaouen, I fold up my map and set it aside for the day, allowing my curiosity to guide me. However, I quickly discover that it’s seemingly difficult to lose myself in this quaint mountain town, as the slender alleyways always lead me back to the main square of Plaza Uta El Hammam. Displaying both Arab and Spanish influences in architecture and ambience, this striking medina is lined with outdoor cafes and enticing eateries, overlooked by the unusual octagonal tower of the Grand Mosque. As I sip on a steaming cup of mint tea under the cooling shade of patio umbrellas at a cafe, I observe hard working donkeys haul gas canisters and a range of goods into town across the cobblestone lanes.
I find myself in a nearby souvenir shop, stocked to the brim with leather goods and woven carpets. Engaging in conversation with the friendly shopkeeper over my journey in Morocco and first impression of Chefchaouen, I point to a large cushion resembling a cat bed, commenting on the extreme comfort cats get to experience. The shopkeeper chuckled at my vivid imagination as he explained the cat beds are actually poufs, cushions for people to sit on.
In the late afternoon, I embark on a trail from the medina’s eastern gate of Bab al Ansar, and complete a leisurely 45 minute hike to a lone Spanish Mosque on top of a hill. Built in the 1920s, it was never used, and fell into disrepair over the years. From the hilltop lookout, puffy white clouds lay delicately above the peaks of the Rif, all overlooking the blue washed town below. An enthusiastic local approaches while I admire the view, and proudly explains that “Chefchaouen” translates to “two horns” in Arabic, which refers to the twin peaks of the Rif that loom over the Blue City.
As night falls, I retreat to the terrace of my riad and sink into a pouf, joining fellow travelers in a conversation of our day in enchanting Chefchaouen. While exchanging stories, I learn the town is surrounded by natural beauty, as a half an hour taxi ride will lead me to the trailhead of Cascades d’Akchour for a rewarding hike to a set of stunning waterfalls.
By Vivian Chung
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