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Legend has it that Chefchaouen was founded in 1471 by a Muslim lord who sought to appease his Spanish wife, Zhora. After the Moors were expelled from Spain in the late 15th century, Mulay Ali Ben Rachid whisked Zhora off to Morocco where he created the city in the likeness of her Spanish hometown, Vejer de la Frontera. Chefchaouen’s charm immediately captures the spirit. The town is small enough to accommodate a short visit, but it compensates with unparalleled vibrancy and culture.
Begin your journey at the foot of the stairs winding up into the Old Town, or the medina. The narrow, maze-like streets climb continuously and every keyhole, arch, and stonewall is painted azure, cerulean, and powder blue. With a clear, bright sky overhead, it is at times difficult to distinguish the walls from the horizon. This striking blue color was added by the town’s Jewish refugees in the 1930s.
At the center of the main Plaza Uta-el-Hammam stands the city’s Kasbah, a medieval fortress that is now a museum. The plaza is bordered with what you might immediately pass off as the usual touristy spots. Premature judgments aside, you might enjoy a splendid meal at one of those restaurants, and then stumble upon some unique pieces at the shops. From the main plaza, you can wind your way downhill through the souks that sell anything from leather slippers and ceramic bowls to fresh tea leaves and spices. Eventually, the trail leads to a busy street, and you will find yourself on the main avenue of the city’s more modern New Town.
As the afternoon winds down, head up the mountain toward the waterfall to watch the sunset. It is easy enough to find – just keep walking uphill through the medina and follow the tourists through the winding blue streets. Once you reach the waterfall, you might catch a glimpse of the local women washing their clothes in the stream. For the more active adventurer, the Rif Mountains offer plenty of hiking trails as well.
For an inexpensive but authentic place to rest your feet, try Casa Amina, which costs about 7 euros per night. For a more luxurious accommodation in New Town, try Résidence Hoteliére Chez Aziz, amounting to 50 euros per night or Riad Assilah right in the medina, from 35 euros per night. Whatever you choose, close proximity to the medina is highly recommended.
Sample authentic Moroccan pastries at any of the bakeries in New Town, just outside the medina walls. Don’t miss the fresh goat cheese at the souks in the morning, and definitely have breakfast at one of the restaurants on the main plaza. For only 35 dirhams (3.5 euros), you can enjoy a Moroccan crepe with a side of fresh honey, goat cheese, jam and butter, toast, a fried egg, orange juice, and Moroccan mint tea. For lunch or dinner, the restaurant at Casa Hassan comes highly recommended – but wherever you eat, try any kind of tagine with fish or meat of your choice.
Because of its mountainous location, Chefchaouen is best reached by car, bus, or a strange phenomenon called ‘grand taxi’. The latter is simply an old Mercedes cab that will seat four people in the back and two in the passenger seat; for more room, purchase two seats. At 30 dirhams per person (3 euros) for an hour-long ride, this unconventional means of transport makes for a fascinating experience.
To travel to the city from Spain take the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier, which takes about 35 minutes to an hour. From there, choose between a two-hour bus journey for about 40 dirhams (4 euros), or find the grand taxis at the bus station. You will have to take a grand taxi from Tangier to Tetouan, and from Tetouan travel to Chefchaouen – a total of two hours and 6 euros. The grand taxis leave every hour, whereas the bus might only run twice a day. For the official Moroccan bus line, visit here. Tickets can only be purchased at the station.