In Photos: The Morocco Less Traveled
I booked tickets to Morocco to visit Chefchaouen, the city of blue. Nestled in the Rif Mountains, just inland from Tangier, the city is painted a thousand different shades of cobalt and indigo, making it a photographer’s dream. The region—its relaxing vibe and lively centers—proved to be way more than scenery alone.
The winding streets lead you through a city far more at ease than more traditional Moroccan destinations. The main square of the medina provides a restful spot to people watch, but as soon as you require more action, you can wander through the shops selling locally crafted woven rugs, blankets, and clothing. It’s a city that begs to be included on any Moroccan itinerary.
The journey to Chefchaouen began in Fez, a city whose buzzy atmosphere complements the quieter city of blue. My husband and I often travel off the beaten path, but to navigate the maze-like streets of Fez we turned to a local guide. Because of religious, cultural, and language barriers, we benefited from having someone who could reveal the history and the traditions that would be otherwise difficult to spot.
The sights and smells of the medina seem timeless: bread and spices from the markets, donkeys transporting goods on their backs through the narrow alleyways, and sheep skins lying in the streets as a reminder of the recent Eid al Adha religious festival. Even harder to forget is the sound of the call to prayer.
Together, Chefchaouen and Fez made for a satisfying dive into Moroccan sights and culture. Travelers to these cities should prepare to have their senses flooded; it’s not an experience soon forgotten.
Fes El Bali
The walled medina of Fez, known as Fes El Bali, was founded in the 8th century and remains one of the most well-preserved old towns in the Arab-Muslim world. The imperial city of Fez is considered Morocco’s cultural center, and it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Zaouia Sidi Ahmed Tijani Mosque
Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter Zaouia Sidi Ahmed Tijani Mosque, but the beautiful architecture merits a peek inside the door as you walk by.
Fez is home to one of the world’s largest car-free urban areas. Within the medina, the most common form of transporting goods is by donkey. Note: The labyrinth of streets in Fez rarely have street signs, so it is important to remember visual landmarks in order to find your way back to your riad.
The Ancient Pharmacy
The ancient pharmacy in the heart of the Fez medina is perfect for picking up loose-leaf tea, soaps, and medicinal herbs and spices.
Fragrances and Argan Oil
The pharmacy stocks a range of fragrances, including mixtures of musk and oud. The shop also sells Morocco’s famous argan oil. The oil is produced from the argan tree and is widely used for culinary and cosmetic purposes.
Wandering through the streets of Fez, you might pass a few candy vendors selling nougat, a chewy treat that can be made with sesame seeds, peanuts, and almonds.
Restaurant Dar Hatim
Restaurant Dar Hatim is a beautiful, family-owned place, sits inside the owners’ home inside the medina. While in Fez, try traditional dishes like tagine, chicken pastille, and a salad course that includes olives and a variety of vegetables.
Several tanneries dot the Fez medina. The most well-known is the Chouara Tannery, which dates back almost one thousand years. Pictured here, tanners soak cow, goat, sheep, and camel skins in vats. Some contain mixtures of cow urine to clean the skins, while others contain pigeon dung to soften the hides. To soften the hides, the tanners stand in the vats to knead the skins with their feet.
City by the Sea
Surrounded by mountains and located near the Mediterranean Sea, Chefchaouen stays much cooler than Morocco's desert cities further south.
A Blue City
Chefchaouen was founded in 1471 and painted blue in the 1930s by Jewish refugees living in Morocco. The blue is believed to symbolize heaven and the sky.
Moroccan green tea, or mint tea, is served with every meal and often comes in small, decorative glasses.
Msemen bread, or rghaif, is a square pancake often served for breakfast. The dough is fried in a pan and can be served with butter, jam, or syrup.
Streets are lined with native handicrafts, including textiles made in the local Berber style. Merchants often start the prices high, so make sure to bring your bartering skills.
Woven Blankets and Rugs
Many shops house their own looms, and visitors can purchase brightly colored woven blankets and rugs.
Babouche are traditional Moroccan leather slippers with no heel. Visitors can purchase these slippers at tanneries in Fez or souks in Chefchaouen.
It is not unusual to walk down back streets and see dozens of men sitting in local cafes at all hours of the day. Arabic coffee is strong like espresso, and spices like cinnamon are frequently added.
Potted plants hang on the walls of Chefchaouen, accenting the city’s vibrant blue walls.
For religious reasons, many Moroccans do not consume alcohol. Instead, fresh juices are a common drink readily available in souks and restaurants. Here, a man squeezes fresh orange juice at his stand just outside Bab al Anser, the east gate of the medina.
You can still find communal ovens in Morocco. Here, for a small fee, locals can have their dough baked into Khubz.
Dried nuts, raisins, and figs are sold at small food stands throughout the medina.
Spices are prevalent in many Moroccan dishes, like tagines, stews, and couscous. Some of the most common spices found in markets are turmeric, ginger, saffron, paprika, pepper, cumin, and cinnamon.
The sites and smells of a local Moroccan market cannot be missed. Pictured here is a van load of yellow melon being sold outside the western gate Bab el-Ain.
Powdered pigments are sold along the side of the road. When mixed with water, they become the vibrant paints that cover the outside of the buildings of Chefchaouen.
The Peaceful Streets of Chefcaouen
Chefcaouen is becoming a popular European tourist destination because of its close proximity to Spain. However, once you wander away from the main square, the streets are quiet and peaceful.