Greece is not the only place where you will find white-walled cities trimmed with blue. Nestled in the Rif Mountains of Morocco, not far from Tangier and Tetouan, Chefchaouen is a hidden gem that is becoming more popular with off-the-beaten-path visitors. Not serviced by the train system, renting a car or taking the bus are the main ways to make it to ‘Chaouen’ (as the locals call it).
When I lived in Morocco, I was in the decidedly diplomatic capital of the country, Rabat. Chaouen was my place of Zen, where I would retreat on long weekends to relax and hang out on rooftops overlooking the valley.
Even though I love spending time in this laid back city, here are a few reasons why I think any visitor to Morocco should add Chefchaouen to the travel itinerary.
The rhythm of life is a mellow one here. On any given weekend, you will see families hanging out and enjoying a picnic across the bridge by the river (which is also a hiking trailhead). Go with the flow and join them with your own picnic, picking up local bites at nearby shops and stalls.
Chaeouen is also an artsy place, and you’ll see many artists around town creating their own works of art. If you want to try your own hand at creating a personal keepsake, consider taking an art class at one of the many art shops around town.
Once the sun sets, nightlife in town is just as mellow as the daytime. The main square fills up at night with locals just hanging out and a steady flow of long-term travelers from around the globe. I felt safe wandering around old town at night, both alone and on other occasions with my wife. While I found it to be safe, it is always a good idea to insure any vacation with traveler’s insurance before you leave home.
If you’re a nature lover, there are many opportunities to get out and enjoy a day of hiking. Be sure to start early and make your way to the Spanish-styled mosque on the hill. Make sure your camera has fresh batteries; the views are fantastic.
This area is also famous for its delicate soaps and lotions, which also make for fantastic souvenirs and gifts. Soaps are amongst the most popular item to take home, they’re locally made with almond, argan oil, shea butter (beurre de karité) and more. There’s also a special local soap known as Savon ‘Beldi,’which resembles tar; think of it as Moroccan body wash. You can buy a whole sack of Savon Beldi for next to nothing; it will vary from city to city, so try samples in different locations across the country.
Although this important ingredient has made its way into any number of Western beauty products, Argan lotion is a natural wonder found mostly in southern Morocco. You won’t find this beauty regime must-have for better prices than here, so be sure to stock up.
Food is also an important part of life in Morocco and right away you’ll notice the frequent use of another commonly found ingredient – saffron. The most expensive spice in the world can be bought at bulk prices in Morocco, so be sure to stock up before you head back home.
A Few More Things You Should Know About Chefchaouen:
- The locals are more likely to speak Spanish here than French given its proximity to Spain.
- Because ‘Chaouen is in the mountains, the nights are decidedly chilly in the winter. Forgot your winter coat? Not to worry - you can suit up with a locally made, toasty warm poncho.
- With the exception of carpet buying, there is no need to haggle here. Prices are decidedly reasonable, unlike more touristy places like Fes and especially Marrakesh, where haggling is a sport. The price they give is typically a fair one; haggling is frowned upon and will get you dirty looks.
- You can sample a bit of everything in Morocco from beaches to deserts and cozy little mountain towns like Chefchaouen. If you have the opportunity, I would definitely choose ‘Chaouen over some larger cities like Casablanca or Rabat for a feel of true Morocco.
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