Enjoy the video tour of this perfect little Moroccan hotel.
Sometimes, despite having a perfectly servicable tent, Wally and I feel the need for a little comfort. With a hot shower to the forefront of our thoughts, we sought a traditional Moroccan house, a riad, that would accept a couple of grungy bikers.
You know the kind of place, it should have an unassuming entrance that opens onto a light, courtyard, with a central fountain, and rooms on three sides. Looking up there should be a first, and possibly a second and a third, floor balcony around the wall of the courtyard, with more rooms. And looking up even higher there should be no roof, the courtyard should be open to the sky. The whole effect must be of cool, blue light, with the sound of tinkling water in the background.
These days the courtyards usually sport a glazed roof to protect against the occasional storms. These properties always have a roof terrace which should be available to us guests.
Here is the little hotel that we stumbled across on a leading trip advising website. £35+ per night is the going rate including a traditional breakfast and lovely hosts, both local people and the French owners. It ticked everything on the list above.
Time: 3 – 6 hours, depending how young and fit you are.
This is a proper mountain walk, with crags and scree slopes, eagles and ravens. It has the feel of some of the walks in the Snowdon Range in Wales, UK. At a starting height of about 500m and a topping-out height of about 2000m, it feels like exercise; steep, but not quite a scramble and short enough to enjoy without the fear of running out of daylight.
From the Medina, look for the pure white ‘Spanish Mosque’, which is high on a hill at one end of the valley that runs along the base of the mountain. The walk will begin by heading towards this beautiful Mosque. Follow the signs, or ask directions, to the popular ‘cascades walk’. Just outside the Medina, cross the river; using the bridge provided, walk through the car parking area and bear right, up a flight of steps. You are now on route to the Spanish Mosque. The path is a well made-up track, with the town on your right and the Rif mountain ridge rising steeply on your left.
Keep on this path until you see the large rock that has been painted blue, it will be on your left. This rock marks your moment to turn left and get your walking legs going.
Head straight into the cleave between the two mountain tops and make your way up to the top. The path is quite well trodden and stays close to the left hand wall of this wide gulley. Other paths are available and all head to the top, with the odd branch to the left and right. It is very hard to go wrong here.
Once at the top, turn right and follow your nose. Your aim is to keep the Spanish Mosque in view, as much as possible, on your right-hand side, and to walk the ridge at the top and then follow the path down the gentle slope of the mountain’s flank, back to the ‘Cascades’ stream.
A good finish to the walk is to carry on to the Spanish Mosque to watch the sun go down.
Don’t miss the 3 and 2 minute videos towards the end of this page.
Morocco is different to England. For some visitors, it can feel alien and intimidating, to others it’s more like a warm and welcoming bath. Often, the difference is down to your first real stop over. With any new country, you’ll want to ease yourself in gently and walk away with happy memories and Chefchaouen, the Blue City, lets you do this in spades.
As the town is in the north of the country, a shortish road trip from the ferry port of Tangier Med, it made sense for us to try it as our first encounter with an African way of life.
Why is the ‘Blue City’ blue? Some say the mosquitoes do not like the colour, or that it was to do with the Jewish population here? We were given these and any number of reasons, which means that nobody really knows. I reckon a local simply painted their place blue and everyone thought it looked nice and copied it. Now the whole effect is a remarkable spectacle.
After three days here, we felt this place had slid under our skin. It’s quiet serenity and lack of grasping touts and guides who, elsewhere won’t leave you alone for a moment, makes it a rarity as a Moroccan tourist trap. There were other visitors here, a mass of Chinese people, who were making the most of the Chinese new year break and heading to a country that welcomes them and their money with open arms. Chefchaouen’s main square had been decked out with Chinese lanterns to honour these high rollers. It made for a fascinating juxtaposition of cultures.
If, like us, you like nothing more than a bracing jog up a mountain, step right up, because this area is bounded on one side by he Rift Mountain range, which tops out at a respectable 2000m. The rugged peaks that run alongside the town are somewhat lower, similar in height and feel to the Snowdon range. We did not actually jog, but we did hike up one of the many obvious paths and admire the town as it snuggled in tight to the lower slopes.
We can’t recommend this town and the French owners of our gorgeous, simple hotel highly enough.
Start your Moroccan journey here and you’ll want to keep going and see much more of this country.
We finally crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, after a long delay, and landed in Morocco in late afternoon. Next the dreaded customs formalities, endless queueing for the inevitable paperchase…..or maybe not? We breezed through in half an hour, including exchanging money and arranging motor insurance (900 dirham or about £75). We felt our luck had just changed.
The original plan was to ride to Chefchaouen, about 2½ hrs from the port, and find a campsite. It was however, already 4 p.m. and we didn’t want to arrive in the dark. We decided to wing it and stop as soon as we saw something suitable. Apart from Jen getting blown off her bike, we arrived at an hotel about an hour later without a major problem.
Up early the next day, or as early as Jen could cope with, we packed and set off towards Chefchaouen, about 50 miles away. We were feeling quite smug that we had survived our first day in Morocco. Too smug, too soon I think. The next town, Tetouan, was meant to be a dot on the route; a dot that we hadn’t planned to visit. We had momentarily got off route and pulled over to check the map. A motor scooter pulled up alongside. The spiel is generic, someone must have written a guide for Moroccan touts.
“Hello my friend, I have a brother/sister/cousin/son who lives in London/New York/Paris.”
Insert the relative and capital city of your choice.
“You are in luck my friend, it is a special Berber market in Tetouan today, only once a month.”
I faltered and was easily hooked.
“Follow me, safe parking”
We didn’t buy a ‘one of a kind’ Berber carpet or a white metal teapot, nor did we get away scot-free. We just about left with our dignity intact, our guide less friendly and decidedly grumpier than when we first met. His tip was a bit lower than he had hoped for and he had no sales commission either.
We had pre-booked an Hotel in Chefchaouen, the Dar Dalia. When we arrived, probably looking lost and confused, we were again accosted by another chancer. Mohammed directed us to a secure parking and after some explanation, offered to show us to our hotel. Mohammed was a much less pushy and a more endearing character than Abdul in Tetouan. We wandered through passageways and climbed numerous steps and were eventually deposited in front of a small and unprepossessing, blue painted building, sporting a sign announcing the Dar Dalia Hotel.
We were a little earlier than had been planned and a knock on the door produced no response from within. Miraculously a tall, imposing man with an official looking ‘maillot jaune’ appeared and proceeded to phone the hotel manager. He handed the phone to me. The voice on the other end said,
“You’re a little early, I’ll be there in 9 minutes.”
The hotel was a gem, 5 minutes from the medina and beautifully appointed. For the duration of our stay, the ‘maillot jaune’ guarded the bikes around the clock and even disguised them with local drapery.
Chefchaouen, ‘The Blue City’ was, possibly, the best of introductions to Marocco. The town was both tranquil and busily welcoming. Simple food could be found throughout, with a variety of small restaurants clustered around the main square of the medina. To the east the mountains reared up a thousand metres above the city. In celebration of the Chinese New Year bright red lanterns decked the palace walls.
After 2 restful days, in Chefchaouen it was time to move on, to Fes. We had coordinates logged into the phone, the route mapped out and fuel in the tanks.
The north of Morocco is verdant with crop production everywhere and a seemingly endless supply of water. The road was in a good state, mostly, which meant that we could relax and enjoy the ride in sunshine and perfect temperatures.
When we arrived at the Fes campsite, we were in for a disappointment, ‘closed for the winter’, we were informed by a young man guarding the entrance. A quick search on booking.com found the ‘Hotel Agapanthe’ some ten minutes away. About an hour later, after some too-ing and fro-ing we found it. At the end of an unpromising dirt road a modern hotel presented itself. Tired and aching we were relieved and grateful and, after an acceptable meal, we slid between the sheets of a king sized bed.
The plan for the following day was to find another campsite, this turned out to be the simplest of tasks. At the end of the dirt road from Agapanthe turn right and then turn right again, voilla, the Camping International, Fes and it was only 10.30 in the morning.
The guy running the campsite organised a guide for us for 1.00 p.m.. At the appointed time he arrived; by scooter. Abbi flagged down a ‘Petite Taxi’ and we were off. Fes is difficult to describe and for this part of the blog a short vignette will suffice. The centre (medina) is an innumerable series of tight lanes and passageways bounded by brown plastered walls rising vertically. The walls often stretched three or four stories above our heads, blocking out all direct light. Reach out your arms and your hands are able to touch the buildings on either side of the street. The walls are punctuated by stout doors, wooden for the grand entrances, metal for the kitchens, and few windows to be seen. The view from any window would be muddy brown, due to the proximity of the walls of adjacent buildings and would afford little light to the interior, rendering them redundant. Most buildings have an inner courtyard open to the sky, letting light flood the interior.
The medina is a place of numerous artisanal activities. Raw materials are brought in on donkey carts or small wheeled push carts. Carpets, leatherwork, metal household goods and numerous other products are created within the secretive walls of Fes. The smallest nook would house a tiny workshop, large courtyards within a building may contain a complete production line. All done by hand, without the aid of powered machinery.
After two nights at the Campsite International Fes, we finally turned toward the coast and the capital city of Rabat.