Chefchaouen or Chaouen, as it is often called by Moroccans, is a charming little town nestled beneath two mountain peaks known as Ech-Chaoua (the horns) in the heart of Riff mountains, just a 2.5 hours drive from Tanger.
The name “Chefchaouen” simply refers to the shapes of the mountaintops that tower over the town, that look like the two horns (chaoua) of a goat. “Chef Chaouen” literally means, “look at the horns”.
Chefchaouen, with its blue-rinsed houses and buildings – a tradition that comes from the town’s former Jewish population – and doors as blue as the sky above you, is simply beautiful. Every street is better taken care of and cleaner than any other city in Morocco.
Everything here is dramatically set climbing up the two mountain slopes, until the city ends at the point where the mountain walls become too steep for any settlements, and the fabulous waterfalls – the source that feeds all of Chefchaouen’s inhabitants with water. The surroundings are lovely, with big trees with flowers and a system of passageways and small bridges, paths and pools where the locals meet to cool off or do their laundry, and the children swim – simply idyllic!
Chefchaouen is an excellent shopping destination as well, as it offers many native handicrafts that are not available elsewhere in Morocco, such as wool garments and woven blankets. The goat cheese native to the area is also popular with tourists.
Chefchaouen must be the safest place in Morocco and there will be no warnings against walking around in the streets even in the middle of the night.
NB: Chefchaouen is ‘dry’, so if you like alcohol with your meal you will need to visit a supermarket in one of the major towns on your way to Chefchaouen. You may ask discretely for your wine to be opened by the restaurant, and they will decant into a jug to save offending the locals. Please take your empties with you whenever possible to dispose of in a larger town.
Start out at Plaza Uta el-Hamman, where you can find the Kasbah and Grand Mosque, and walk northwards into the small streets. Here you are immediately met with heavy wooden doors – studded or carved, glorious tiled entranceways and vines trailing from one building to the next, trying to shade the cobbles below. The aromas of spices sneak through from the cool blue houses and shops spill out onto the pavement with their flat, round bread, sweet pastries and bowls of olives. Ornate wrought-iron lamps hang outside and arches hold the houses together, framing the streets.
Brightly coloured dyes stand outside in sacks, woven rugs cover the walls, children play football in squares, and photo opportunities are around every corner.
The Kasbah of Chefchaouen belongs to the early 18th century, and was built by the legendary ruler Moulay Ismail. It is fairly simple without architectural surprises, but the rich vegetation both inside and around it certainly helps.