Discover Chefchaouen, Morocco
By Candyce H. Stapen
Chefchaouen, one of Morocco’s jewels, gains fame for three things: its scenic setting in the Rif Mountains, its picturesque sky blue entranceways and its laissez-faire attitude toward selling and smoking marijuana.
Located 119 miles north of Fes, Chefchaouen, called “Chaouen” by locals, rates as one of Morocco’s prettiest towns. Many of Chaouen’s white-washed buildings feature sky-blue doorways and stairs, making the buildings seem fanciful.
The setting, along with the local’s welcoming attitude, makes Chefchaouen, a popular spot. The old medina dates to the 15th century and starts at a plaza lined with cafes shaded by mulberry trees and winds uphill.
In the medina our guide Achmed Azempt points out the shops selling the town’s distinctive woven cotton blankets with varying sized blue stripes. We bargain for several. In another shop, we watch two brothers, one blind, work their loom in a rhythm they’ve established over decades.
At the public baker’s shop, we purchase two of the distinctive jobz, wheat and barley round loaves, baked the centuries- old way in arched stone, wood burning ovens.
Friends we met told us to visit the Hatman. Fanciful knit caps, some with braids, or pig tails, or pompoms, in combinations of blue, red, white, green and yellow stripes hang outside his shop, #75 Granada Street, across from the Granada restaurant. The Hatman slowly gets out of his chair to help us. Obviously stoned, he’s pleasant and not much into bargaining—we think that just now he can’t kept track of the numbers. We buy three
creations as baby gifts.
As we continue our walk, Achmed explains Chefchaouen’s tolerance for cannibas, known locally as kif, and for “cannabis growing.” He says “It’s not allowed by law, but the townspeople shut one eye and keep one eye open.”
En route to the hilltop ruins of the old mosque, we pass some white stones that Achmed explains actually denote graves. Following tradition, most do not have names or markers. We also walk by a centuries-old grindstone turned by donkeys. The local farmer uses it to press olives to make oil for the traditional bean soup.
Achmed also explains how various marijuana dealers give the farmers in the surrounding towns much more money for growing marijuana than for growing wheat. As a result, in the countryside surrounding Chaouen you can, if it’s planting season, see patches of the green leafy plant.
Although no one approached us, asking if we wanted to buy hashish, it can be found locally. Don’t buy or use any. Undercover police patrol the town and Moroccan jails are
Nonetheless, maybe it’s the prevalence of affluence of the local farmers, but Chefchaouen has a decidedly laid-back and friendly air. Of all the towns we visited in Morocco, this one proved the most mellow.
Another bonus: hotels are relatively inexpensive. Our comfortable, but basic room with a private bath and television at the Riad Atlas Chaouen costs about $70 U.S.