Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Morocco: Chefchouen Is for Tourists

Hats and other handicrafts are for sale along a street/stairway in Chefchouen's medina. Buildings
in Chefchouen are traditionally painted blue or white, and the town is known as the Blue City.

Chefchouen gets a good bit of publicity in the travel press, and that publicity seems to be working. When we were there in late March 2017 the city's medina, built on the side of a steep hill, was crowded with tourists, many of them college age, from Europe, Asia and the Americas. I'm pretty sure that among pedestrians in the medina, tourists greatly out-numbered the local inhabitants. We saw more Asian tour groups here than anywhere else in Morocco. Chefchouen is known as the Blue City because so many of its buildings are painted blue. The only other color used is white. Flower pots adorn the exteriors of many residential and commercial buildings, but a close look reveals that many of the flowers are plastic.
      Chefchouen's medina seemed more like a theme park than a place where people live and work, though we did find quiet residential streets along the highest part. Almost all commercial activity in the medina is directed at tourists -- handicraft vendors, Berber textile shops, restaurants and hotels. It's not unpleasant, but it's not the Morocco experience that I think most tourists want.  I'd recommend skipping Chefchouen for another day in Fez, Meknes or the Sahara.
    In the center of the medina is the Kasbah, which in this case is something like an old stone castle. In front of it is a square lined with restaurants, all of them with people out front brandishing menus at passers-by. A nice uphill walk from the square will take you to what is called a waterfall, though really it's a fast-moving cascade with covered platforms on either side where laundry can be washed using built-in washboards. Several cafes overlook the scene. Those are the sights.
     The medina itself is fairly small and, once you learn a couple of landmarks, easy to navigate. Some of the streets are really stairways and it's easy to circle back to where you started. Handicraft shops and vendors offer largely the same wares we saw in Marrakesh and elsewhere -- though some vendors said they made knitted goods themselves. We bought a couple of baby hats.
     We stayed two nights at Lina Ryad, just outside the center of the action in the medina but still on a lively-enough street.  A couple of doors away is Lala Mesouda restaurant, worth a visit for its unusual cave-like decor as well as its traditional Moroccan food. The owner operates another restaurant, in the medina but further down the hill, with the same menu but without the distinctive setting.
     Lina Ryad has a nice hamman, spa and indoor pool. If you're visiting Chefchouen, you might as well book a hammam/spa visit because the medina and other sights will not fill an entire day.

The Chefchouen Kasbar as seen from its garden.

The sitting area in our room at Lina Ryad. The city's
blue theme is continued inside many buildings.

View from our window at Lina Ryad. Note the steps in the street to the right. 

An alley leads to the doors of
three homes in the medina. Here
even the pavement is painted blue.

Blue is the color. These buildings face a rare open space in the medina.

Laundry is done at public washboards along the
cascades in Chefchouen, a short walk from the medina.

Sneakers, dresses and other goods for sale along a street in the
medina. In addition to western tourists, Chefchouen also draws
visitors from elsewhere in Morocco.

Heavy chairs carved from the trunks of trees and elaborate brick arches create a cozy ambiance
at the restaurant Lala Mesouda, which seemed to attract a few locals along with the tourists.

When all else fails, drink, drink again. This is the view from one
of the rooftop terraces at Lina Ryad.