Moving from the big Moroccan city to the small towns always makes me let out a sigh of relief, although I do acknowledge the chaos of big cities only when I take off. I do not feel the need to escape when I’m getting lost in the streets of Medine, there is nothing more delicious and confusing of life in Moroccan medinas, but it becomes a certainty as soon as I go away.
This country unleashed in me sensations clashing with each other. I am attracted in a visceral way to its souks, in particular the one in Fez where time seems to stand still and where it is useless to try to orientate because it is a labyrinth, but as soon as I leave these places filled with life and chaos I realize the blaze left behind and I appreciate the peace and quiet of small towns and the desert.
I am in the northern mountains of Morocco, in the Rif, just 600 meters above sea level in a city with a funny name: Chefchaouen, known as the blue city, but also the holy city, renowned for being in the heart of the area where the notorious hashish is produced. It is useless to make a mystery of this fact, here this reality exists same as the ganja in Jamaica.
As opposed to the red of Marrakech this mountain pearl, blue in color, lies gently in a valley.
A postcard, perhaps the most beautiful that you could send from Morocco. Small alleys and colored doors, a sense of cleanliness and quiet, people do not seem to walk, they rather seem to float through the narrow streets and then suddenly disappear at the end of a flight of stairs and into an archway that hides the doors of houses.
The cafe in the square are all for tourists except for one, right on the corner and with the best view. It almost seems that they kept the best place for themselves, to do something in which I believe they all excel at: watching what happens in the town, and the square is a privileged place in every village, in a silent way but omnipresent. You can feel their eyes.
In the local cafe, remember that the bars where they serve alcohol are places reserved to foreigners or where my friends have advised me not to go, the population is exclusively composed of men and in these places it seems as is either out of fear or sense of not belonging, no tourist wants to get in, as if they’d rather keep at a safe distance. Everybody of course, but me, who draw their attention.
A number of men sitting at the tables who see in me not only a foreigner but above all, easy to notice, a woman.
I never really understood if this fact makes the curious or annoys them, but the gentle manner in which I have always been treated leads me to believe that the first option is the correct one.
Almost everyone wears the typical clothing, many the one with a pointed hood, so as to have earned the nickname of elves, that here actually have an air of fairytale.
Chefchaouen more than in other tourist destinations I feel the difference: tourist / local.
I feel a little awkward with my hot pink jacket surrounded by many curious men, on the other hand I would not like to be sitting at the table of the bar opposite looking out like an absent mere spectator a scene of everyday life and important, this meeting reserved to men only, to drink coffee or tea, in this Maghreb world.
The strange feeling that accompanied me in the days I spent in Chefchaouen was to be in one of the most beautiful and unique cities in Morocco, very touristy but still charming, much less vexing than the larger centers but where I found it the hardest to integrate with locals. Or was it perhaps the automatic mechanism of self-defense you learn during the first days when you find yourself out in the melee, lost in the gigantic and nagging souks?
What makes this city extremely attractive is not only the color of the walls of the walls of the Medina, but the joyful fusion of the Andalusian world on the one hand, evident from the shape of the city and the streets of the old centre, and on the other hand the Moroccan world, made of its inhabitants and their peculiarities that I still find hard to describe with just a few words.
A happy compromise that gives a vision of Morocco utterly different from the one we are familiar with at the great imperial cities. A tassel that completes the country in its complex and varied offer.
Although today Chefchaouen is a tourist center of great attraction it is also true that the myth of hashish cannot really be considered a legend
In fact, if you believe you have left behind the “naggers” of the souk, here you will find some more, only they do not want to sell a carpet, or a pouf made of camel skin, nor lead you to some restaurant, or have you try all the spices of their shops or smell incense (which unless you are a true lover of church smell is likely to make you run away rather than stay in the now impregnated little shop.
Here you are stopped because you must certainly be interested in their craft products ( this is their belief and they catch you as soon as you step off the bus ) and then, as a logical consequence, a walk in the mountains where you can attend a practical explanation about the production of “Moroccan nectar” as they define it themselves.
There is not much to be done in Chefchaouen except walking around the medina, small and, for the first time, easy to explore ( getting lost is impossible ), drinking tea, shopping, eating and taking pictures of these elves that appear and then disappear, almost fleeting, lost in silence.
You go up and down the stairs, and same as in all cities of the country the scenes in front of you more or less follow the same dynamics.
Strings of men sitting at the bar drinking tea or coffee. Women always looking busy who seem never to stop. Two separate worlds, male and female, but in a very picturesque and quiet setting where it’s easy wanting to extend your stay even with nothing special to do.
And it is easy to be captured by the Moroccan way of life, curious and alert about what’s happening around but without really interfere, apart from the sellers of hashish.
Chefchaouen the “sacred” city, where the entrance was forbidden to the tourists for many years, lies in a valley protected by the mountain whose summit is the source of Ras al -Ma, it is a small and colorful center winding along narrow streets which would never lead you to lose your way, life scenes that make you the viewer in a theater where it is easy to lose the sense of what is fictional and what is real, and if you have enough time, it would a shame to miss this small, well- preserved blue pearl.
Even for one single day it is worth taking the sickening bus.
How to get to Chefchaouen from Fes
Getting to Chefchaouen from Fez is easy by bus (CTM is the company more comfortable for those who want to travel by bus in Morocco). The trip takes about 4 hours and the last stretch of the road could affect even the strongest and resilient ones due to the road bends.
Buses depart from the station CTM, it is advisable to book ahead, going to the station, because the bus fills up quickly. Cost per person is 70D.
Where to stay in Chefchaouen
Books and Guides about Morocco
I travel independently taking mainly public transport. A world trip began in 2011 is not yet finished, my mission is to explore the world and write about it. Travel consultant Galapagos, Argentina, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia.