Chefchaouen, also called Chaouen, is a town located in the north of Morocco in the Rif Mountains (شفشاون/الشاون in Arabic). It has become a popular tourist destination as it is one of its kind, with the houses painted in shades of blue.
Chefchaouen has an old town, the maze-like medina, and a new city, to its western side. It has presently around 35,000 inhabitants. The narrow streets of the old medina appear like a blue ocean. The shades of blue in this artsy urban setting range from indigo to turquoise and caress your senses like a requiem for a blue dream.
The name of the town originates from the Berber word for horns, which is ‘Ichawen’. The mountain above the town appears like two horns (‘chaoua’) of a goat. The use of blue to paint the walls was apparently introduced by Jewish refugees in the early 20th century. In earlier times the town was primarily white in appearance.
The blue and white washed buildings contrast with the red-tiled roofs and paved lanes. The Plaza Uta el-Hammam is located in the centre of the medina and borders the historic Kasbah.
The countryside in the Rif region are known for the ‘traditional’ (and prolific) produce of kif or kief (cannabis, marijuana) and you’ll certainly bump into travellers here that are blowing out their minds in the surreal lanes. Hashish is plenty sold in the streets, and for those who can’t resist the temptation or habit, a high will certainly provide an unusual indigo trip.
Chefchaouen is a mesmerising place to enjoy some days or weeks of slowing down, of drifting or floating in this architectural sea of blue. The town retains plentiful of integrity and authenticity, especially in the low season when it is still remarkably quiet, and not overrun by tourists.
If time allows, try to explore the hills and countryside of the Rif region, or undertake some walks to the nearby hills. Keep in mind that the Summer can be sweltering hot in Morocco, while the heart of Winter is really pleasant here during day time, with chilly nights.
Chefchaouen is well connected by public transportation to Tangier and Tétouan. The Medina of Tétouan is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and worthwhile to visit too. It is smaller in scale then the medinas of Fez and Marrakech, and has still much historic integrity. As mentioned on the UNESCO listing page: ‘Although one of the smallest of the Moroccan medinas, Tétouan is unquestionably the most complete and it has been largely untouched by subsequent outside influences.’
But before heading to Tétouan, go and inhale the blue air of Chefchaouen.
Text and Photographs by Jan Haenraets
Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada