In 1471, Moulay Ali ben Rachid founded a village high in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco—a fortress to launch attacks against the Portuguese in nearby Ceuta. In the centuries that followed, this secluded town would provide refuge for the Moors expelled from Spain, for the Jews fleeing the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, and for weary travelers in search of peace and tranquility.
Welcome to Chefchaouen, the “Blue Pearl” of Morocco known for the powdery hue that colors its buildings. A tradition begun by its Jewish inhabitants—either to symbolize the heavens or to repel mosquitoes, depending on who you ask—this blue wash adorns nearly every surface in the centuries-old medina. It’s a place to wander, to photograph, and to enjoy the quiet charm that so often eludes Morocco’s bustling city centers.
So hop on a bus and head for the hills—we’re tangled up in blue for the next three days.
Girl With A Pearl Earring
In a cultural crossroads where residents are just as likely to converse in Spanish as they are in Arabic, Berber, or French, the Andalusian style of Casa Perleta makes perfect sense. With seven rooms, one suite, and a series of charming terraces, this intimate guesthouse enjoys panoramic views of Chefchaouen from its perch atop the medina. The stunningly low prices even include a homemade breakfast of omelets, bread, fruit, and cheeses, served each morning on the sun-splashed rooftop.
Splendor In The Brass
If you’ve spent any time in Fes or Marrakech (or seen my previous posts on the subjects), you’ll know that shopping in Morocco is an experience of relentless salesmanship. But not so in Chefchaouen, where visitors can peruse brass antiques and Berber carpets without the aggressive tactics that disrupt the process elsewhere. So feel free to spend the morning at Ensemble Artisanal, where hand-painted boxes and beautiful woven blankets are sold by the very people who created them (Place el Makhzen).
I’ve Got A Meeting With The Babs
As unsuspecting tourists sit down for mediocre fare at the cafés on Place Uta el Hammam, you’ll find a lunchtime crowd of locals packing the doorway of Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour. Tucked away down a small staircase, this local institution is known for its welcoming staff and its menu of traditional, flavor-packed dishes. The meats, served on sizzling cast iron, are especially delicious, and the kefta are among the best you’ll taste in Morocco (5 Rue El Kharazine).
Everyone Is Helpful, Everyone Is So Kind On The Road To Mandala
The beauty of Chefchaouen’s medina is not only its color, but its size—just big enough for a day of aimless strolling but small enough to ensure you never get lost. Walking these atmospheric streets will also help build your appetite for dinner at Pizzeria Mandala, an unexpected haven of pizza and pasta just beyond the medina walls. For there comes a time in every trip when even the most dedicated traveler needs a break from couscous and tagine (Avenue Hassan II).
Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls
On the hillside east of the medina are the ruins of an abandoned mosque—a gift from Spain that failed to gain favor with the local population. No longer a place of worship, the Spanish Mosque is now a viewpoint that overlooks the city, as well as the scenic endpoint of a short hike from the medina’s eastern gate. Care to venture a bit further? Hire a guide or take a 40-minute taxi ride northeast to Akchour, where you’ll find hiking trails to two waterfalls and the rock formation known as God’s Bridge.
Home Is Where The Hearth Is
Watch the sunset from the terrace at Casa Perleta before settling in for dinner at Casa Hassan, a centuries-old riad and restaurant full of warmth and historic character. You’ll escape the evening mist with a seat by the hearth, enjoy a meal of comforting harissa and sweet-and-savory pastilla, and bid farewell to the Blue Pearl in one of its most iconic dining rooms (Rue Targui 22).
A Few Notes
CTM buses service Chefchaouen daily from Tangier (three hours), Fes (four hours), and Casablanca (six hours), and tickets should be purchased one day in advance. The good news? The buses are cheap and comfortable and the scenery is beautiful and varied.
TITLE: The roof terrace at Casa Perleta | FRIDAY: The view from the terrace; sunset at Casa Perleta; sunset at Casa Perleta | SATURDAY: The breakfast area at Casa Perleta; the blue alleys of the medina; a beautiful blue door; a narrow lane in the medina; laundry hangs in the medina; a pair of blue doors | SUNDAY: The quiet streets of the medina; bougainvillea grows on a medina street; shades of blue in Chefchaouen; the view from the Spanish Mosque.