Nestled amongst the ridges and valleys of the Rif Mountains in Morocco is a city that’s bound to end up on your bucket list. Known to many as “the worlds most beautiful city”, Chefchaouen, or Chaouen, has become a travel destination for people from all reaches of the world. Picture a mountainous town alive with the culture, beauty, and other captivating qualities associated with Mediterranean towns….and then turn the entire village blue. Yes, blue.
The blue found on the doorways, windows, balconies, walls, tiles, and flower pots of Chefchaouen ranges anywhere from an indigo tint to a pale sky blue. The exception to the blue-ness of the city are the bright red rooftops and the vibrantly colorful market places, brimming with spices, dyed wool, elaborate rugs, and local flowers.
With a population of less than 40,000 today, Chefchaouen has managed to keep it’s culture and beauty alive and remained charmingly authentic since its founding in 1471. Though Chefchaouen started out as mostly a green city (following Muslim tradition), Jewish refugees fleeing Europe painted the city blue in the 1930′s. For them, blue represents the sky, which in turn represents Heaven. They had managed to find a sanctuary during times of trouble, and used the indigo pigment made from Murex shells to paint the city blue to show their gratitude.
Until the 1900′s all foreigners, especially Christians, were denied entry into Chefchaouen. Apparently only 3 outsiders were ever able to make it in during the late 1800′s, one disguised as a rabbi, and one an American missionary who was poisoned and killed shortly after arriving. Lucky for those of us with wanderlust, Chefchaouen locals are much more open to tourists wandering their blue-rinsed streets these days. This isolation has led to a very unique atmosphere that still feels far away from Western influence.
The only way to get into the city is by catching a bus from a nearby, larger city, such as Fez or Casablanca. Hiking in the mountains around the city is a popular tourist activity, and the hikes vary from peaceful strolls to 9 hour excursions to the top of the nearest mountain peak.
The main draw for travelers, however, is simply the charming and picturesque corners and cobblestones of Chefchaouen. To get lost among the winding azure and cerulean corridors and stumble upon a vibrant market place with bags of bright yellow, green and pink powder, and intricately woven wool. To walk into small shops smelling of fresh, handmade leather, mixed with mint tea and earthy spices of nearby cafes. To pass by speckled olive trees and underneath twisted grapevines stretched out in the space between buildings.
To witness the deep indigo glow the city gets when the last light of the sun draws new depths out of the intoxicating shades of blue. A sapphire hidden in the rugged terrain of northern Morocco, Chefchaouen will satisfy even the most well-travelled adventurer’s appetite.
Ayja is a recent Santa Clara University graduate who double majored in Environmental Studies and Music and minored in Creative Writing. She grew up in Sandy, Utah, and spent her childhood skiing, rock climbing and hiking in the Wasatch Mountains. Now living in Palo Alto, California, Ayja spends her free time reading, writing, running, and researching sustainable efforts around the world. She’s passionate about sustainable agriculture, international development, and environmental education, and hopes to combine her passion for writing with her love of nature and travel.