Discovering Chefchaouen, the blue pearl of Morocco

Chefchaouen is a pretty mountain village located in northern Morocco. The blue and azure colour painted on the walls of the houses gives the town a magical atmosphere.

Its beauty may mislead explorers who expect a town stormed by tourists: in fact, it is not yet well known as a destination. The city has preserved a balance between tourism and tranquillity that allows people to enjoy a relaxing vacation.

History and past of the city

Originally called Chaouen meaning “peaks,” in 1975 it was later renamed Chefchaouen meaning “look at the peaks.”

It was founded in 1471 by Moulay Ali ben Rachid, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad. The city served as a base for the Berber tribes of the Rif area struggling with the Portuguese. It was initially inhabited by Andalusian exiles, Muslims and Jews, who fled from Granada and brought a Spanish imprint to the architecture of the houses.

For several centuries, entry was forbidden to foreigners because the city was considered sacred. It opened in 1920 with the Spanish occupation. It then became independent in 1956 with Morocco’s declaration of independence.

The distinctive blue colour was probably introduced in the 1930s. Originally the main colour was green, a typical colour in the Muslim culture. However, the real reason behind the blue colour of the buildings remains a mystery to this day.

What to see in Chefchaouen

The city is divided into two main parts:

  • the Eastern part represented by the medina
  • the Western part also called the new town

The medina is a walled quarter composed of irregular and very narrow streets. Within it, there is the main square of Uta el-Hammam, a great place for a snack or mint tea. We then encounter a fortress surrounded by salmon-coloured walls, the Kasbah. Today it houses the ethnographic museum and a local art gallery.

Ave Hassan II is the main street of the new town. The open-air market that comes alive along this street on Mondays and Thursdays is a must. Here you can taste delicacies prepared by local merchants.

Nature in the surroundings

For those who prefer a walk in the green to shopping on the streets of the new town, however, you are in the right place. Just a few kilometres from the centre you can reach many hiking trails.

Talassemtane National Park, located just outside the city, is the ideal place for both day walks and multi-day itineraries.

Another destination for trekking enthusiasts is the Bou Hachem Regional Nature Reserve. Particularly suitable for multi-day routes given the presence of campsites and hostels for tourists in the interior.

How to get to Chefchaouen

The city does not have an airport; the nearest one is in Tangier. From the city centre of Tangier, one can take either a grand cab or a bus to reach the destination. Grand cabs are more expensive and often require a change for long trips. Being located in the mountains, the city is not served by rail service.

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