Our next adventure into the mountains was to Chefchouen, which is nestled in the Rif mountains. Chefchouen is also known as the blue pearl due to the tradition of villagers painting their houses blue. This is rumoured to be from a time when jewish people used blue cloth to remind them of God. In order to get to Chefchouen we took a CTM bus from Fès. This cost 75 Dirham per person with an additional 5 Dirham per checked-in bag. The air conditiomed bus took approximately 4.5 hours and passed through beautiful countryside and what seems like the rather large bread basket of Morocco; we have never eaten so much bread before we came here.
At first glance Chefchouen was not blue enough but as we wandered up hill and through the gate to the medina we became surrounded by blue houses and doors. Our hostel for the next two nights was Hostel Maritiania, and even inside the rooms are painted blue. After a quick pit stop we headed out to explore the medina with some friends we had met. After the initial disappointment we were impressed by the blueness and found ourselves taking photos of blue alleyways left, right and centre.
The vibe of Chefchouen is somewhat more relaxed than the big cities. Here, people often welcome you in spanish, and unbelievably, they aren’t trying to sell you anything! We quickly fell back into the habit of being able to browse in shops and look around town without any hassle. We were even invited into a communal oven where one villager explained how they were preparing ingredients, which would be used to make cakes and pastries for upcoming Ramadan.
The next day we got up early and took a taxi to Akchour falls within the national park. The taxi wasn’t cheap, costing 150 Dirham for up to 6 people each way, but we recommend it. One way to ensure you have a ride home is to ask the taxi driver to collect you at a certain time. This didn’t cost us any extra but there were also plenty of taxis waiting to collect weary walkers at the end of the day. We had planned to walk from Akchour up to the petite and grande cascades. Unfortunately, we missed a fork in the path and walked up a steep craggy hillside for 45 minutes before coming across the other main attraction, the pont de dieux. The bridge of God is a natural stone arch formed high above the gorge. It was amazing to see, but we didn’t linger long in the baking sun as we really wanted to see the waterfalls before we caught the taxi back that afternoon. On the way down we stopped for a quick mint tea and a late pick-nick breakfast of bread and goats cheese.
With fuel on board, we set off up the path to the waterfalls. The path is a pretty good gravel and rock footpath but in places it is a little steep and slippery. We bypassed the collection of cafés around the small waterfalls and carried on straight up the path. Somehow we managed to turn right upstream and miss the main footpath. Instead we ended up crisscrossing the river and ducking under low branches through the forest. We found the path again after around 30 minutes of pretending to be intrepid explorers, and the walk became much easier. We reached the big waterfall in time for a very refreshing swim in the freezing cold plunge pool beneath it. We dried in the sun before walking back down to the road just in time to catch our taxi and wait for our travelling companions. We had read about rip off cafés and large amounts of litter but actually we were pleasantly surprised by the abundance of bins and many of the cafés were a little pricey but offered good quality food in a tricky location.
When we arrived back in Chefchouen we freshened up and watched the sunset from our roof terrace.
Later, we went for an evening wonder around the medina and got chatting to a shopkeeper who had been to Glasgow and Edinburgh. We agreed to have a look at his rug shop, where we stayed for about half an hour. Usually we don’t spend this long in shops, but we had mint tea to enjoy and met a lovely crazy Irish lady too. The shopkeeper did his best to sell us a rug but eventually he gave up and went for a smoke. Chefchouens position on the edge of the Rif mountains makes it perfect from hash tourism. The rif mountains are famous for marujuana plantations and it’s legal to grow the plants as long as you aren’t selling the products. Obviously mountain areas are near impossible to police, and much of the marujauna ends up on the streets of Morocco and Europe. We were offered hash by lots of people and saw the plants growing less than 100m away from the footpath in Akchour. To us at least it seems that marujuana has given the people another income and therefore a slightly higher standard of living.
On our final day in Chefchouen we followed the crazy Irish lady’s advice and walked to see the Raas el ma. This is a waterfall just outside the medina and felt like a place where locals gathered. The women of Chefchouen bring their clothes and carpets here to wash them and dry them in the sun. The riverside has been developed and has signs in arabic and Spanish explaining how the river was vital for producing flour and that the mill buildings are still there today. It’s a lovely place to relax in a café or wander along the river. From here we walked up to the Spanish Mosque where many tourists go to watch the sun set over the blue pearl. Next we had a quick lunch and boarded a bus back to Fès and waved goodbye to the beautiful blue village.