Travelers to Morocco usually check out the typical attractions: the ancient alleys of Fez, the snake charmers of Marrakesh, the dunes of the Sahara. But on my visit, my friends and I were fortunate enough to discover a relatively little-known escape: the charming, blue-tinged village of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains about four hours from Fez.
After a few hectic days getting lost in Casablanca and dodging donkeys in Fez, this relaxing retreat was just what we were looking for. The tiny town is known for its stunning medina, bathed in breathtaking shades of blue. It’s the kind of magical place you plan as a 12-hour detour and wind up staying for three days.
Chefchaouen was settled in the 1500’s by refugees from Spain, and surprisingly, it’s retained a lot of its Spanish heritage. This means that, unlike in the rest of Morocco, my high-school Spanish skills were more than adequate to get me through my bargaining adventures.
The gray, drizzly day only enhanced Chefchaouen’s unique beauty, and we spent our day navigating the winding lanes and alleys, all drenched in vivid aqua paint. We chatted with the locals at cafés, feasted on couscous and chicken pastilla at the elegant restaurant at Casa Hassan, and flirted in a hodgepodge of broken Arabic, Spanish, and French with the adorable (but non-English-speaking) staff at our enchanting little hotel, Dar Echchaouen —rooms are done up with regional fabrics and accents, and the traditional Moroccan breakfast (cheeses, honey, olive spread, puffy fresh-from-the-oven breads) is delicious.
Based on all our conversations with people at the hotel, restaurants, and souks, it sounds like while Chefchaouen is becoming more and more popular with in-the-know Moroccans and Spanish visitors, tourism is still pretty new, and few Americans ever make it up to the area. So do yourself a favor and add this fairy-tale village to your Moroccan itinerary before the masses discover it!
Sarah Khan is a copy writer at Travel + Leisure.