Monthly Archives: October 2016

When you come in Morocco

These are all worthwhile destinations in their own right, but there’s a whole host of better-kept secrets to be discovered in Morocco, and Chefchaouen (often shortened to Chaouen) remains one of the most alluring of the lot.

Hidden in the Rif Mountains, half a day’s drive away from the nearest cities of Fez or Tangier, Chefchaouen is as impossible to pronounce (“shef-sha-wen”) as it is to get your head around.

Everything about it is a bit off-beat: the locals here speak Spanish, not the French or Arabic that the guidebooks prepare you for; the town has a long history of hippie-culture and hashish that is still present today; and, perhaps most extraordinary of all, the entire medina is washed in a thousand magnificent shades of blue.

 

Time-travelling in the medina

In The Rough Guide to Morocco we describe Chaouen’s medina as “surely the prettiest in the country”, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making a compelling argument against this.

Getting lost in the old town’s narrow and uncrowded streets is a photographer’s dream, with stray cats posing in front of ornate indigo doorways – many still wet from the morning’s lick of paint – and impossibly old men shuffling up and down blue staircases in conical hooded cloaks.

There are aspects of the old town that make you feel like you could have travelled back in time: the furn, or communal bakery, still delivers warm circular loaves of bread to locals every morning, while on market day hunched-over women descend from the mountain farms to sell vats of milk. It is only when you peek into a dark room full of kids gathered around a games console, or pass a carpet store blasting out Bruno Mars, that you will be politely reminded of the century you’re in.

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Hippies and hashish

Chefchaouen is notable for the absence of serious hasslers and hustlers, but anyone wearing a backpack will still probably be asked “do you smoke hashish?” a few times a day. The Rif Mountains that surround Chaouen form the epicentre of Morocco’s kif-growing industry, creating a unique atmosphere in the medina where formal Islam and bohemian stoner cultures seem to coexist in harmony.

Chefchaouen attracted pilgrims in search of its legendary marijuana long before tour operators started to include the town in their itineraries, and even today you’re likely to see the occasional dreadlocked backpacker, joint hanging from mouth, who could well have walked all the way from Tarifa.