From Tangier we are about a 4-5 hour transit to the small town of Chefchaoeun,which is most famous for its blue-washed Medina. As soon as you reach one of its modest gates, you are hit from floor to ceiling with every shade of blue/indigo you can imagine.
The vibe here is definitely more laid back than Marrakech and there is a tangible coolness to the air. In fact, in the evenings it is downright cold! But either way, the narrow walls, cobblestone streets, and closely packed Medina evokes a glimpse of what Morocco might have been like 50 years ago.
Like Tangier I am hopeless as far as finding my way around the Medina’s labyrinthine streets. And yes even though they are narrow you can call them streets because both man, vehicle, and animals will use them! It took me about 30 minutes with our bags to find our hotel, and I barely got a hang of the place before we left.
I found that the best thing to do was to give yourself plenty of time to get somewhere, and explore the lesser known streets if you got lost. Many times, tourists stick to the familiar routes because they don’t want to deal with getting lost. However, the outskirts of the tourist areas tend to house the bigger shops, which actually have craftsman in their shops working. Plus, in those areas there are more residential units and less hotels, so you get a chance to see what real life in the communities is like. Carrie and I were walking along a narrow path in the northern part of the Medina, and saw two very well groomed horses being walked along the path, with the inevitable hoard of kids running behind them. I mean these horses are clearly not beats of labour. Perhaps practice for a parade or celebration? Another more popular walk called the Ras El Riverside walk, takes you tiring a small river ending roughly in the southern edge of the Medina. Not many tourists were here and we chanced on a man in a humble bakery (literally a small closet with a state built oven). We bought some local treats and it didn’t cost a fortune!
I’m not sure what Chefchaoeun had going for it prior to the decision to blue-wash its medina. I wondered if this was an arbitrary decision by the local government without input or consideration from the residents. Does the city pay for maintenance of the blue wash? The city clearly has a claim to fame now, and a means to draw tourists and money into what assume is an otherwise quiet community. However, the residents of the Medina do pay the biggest price in this arrangement. With tourists flooding their streets, maybe businesses hotels and restaurants bumping poor residents out of their homes, and the overall tourism machine taking over the vast majority of their medina, these residents presumably have to out up with this in order for all the city to benefit. Then again maybe I’m overthinking in that the decision was arbitrary and final and the whole concept of community input is something more valued in the west?
Either way, come down to Chefchaoeun. Explore the alleyways, and relax. Bring a sweater if it’s not summer!
- From Tangier, you can easily catch a bus from the Routiere to take you to Chefchaoeun. They usually stop in Tetuan and the trip can take 4-5 hours with traffic.
- From the bus station in Chefchaoeun, unless you’re looking for a good physical challenge, opt to get a taxi to the Medina walls. Otherwise it is a very steep climb to the closest gate.
- The main square by the Kasbah is where most of the restaurants are. They’re pretty much all the same so give them all a try. Or wander further in to find smaller restaurants.
- If you like hand-woven blankets and rugs, the wool the best shops in my opinion are further away from the main square. Bring an empty suitcase because they can be heavy!