May 2009

Part 1: Northern Morocco

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This was a three-week vacation with Lotte. Since flights of Morocco are short and cheap it's easy to go back there, so we weren't going to try to see everything, but in the end we got to see almost all the major sights anyway. We didn't get to trek in the Atlas mountains though, so that's something for a future trip perhaps.

The trip starts in the very north of Morocco from where we worked our way south to Marrakesh.

Flight (April 27th, day 0)

In the evening we flew from Brussels to Tangier, which lies at the Atlantic coast near Gibraltar. While landing we got nice views on the city and the Strait of Gibraltar.

Preparing to land in Tangier. Spain is still visible across the Strait of Gibraltar.

During my quick preparation of this trip I'd concluded there's nothing to see in Tangier, so we wanted to get to Tetouan immediately. The taxi drivers at the airport asked too much to take us there, so instead we took a taxi to the train station and arranged a cheaper price for the 1 hour ride to Tetouan there.

Somewhat to our surprise, most Moroccans in Tangier (and some in Tetouan and Chefchaouen) spoke Spanish to us, so I started the trip using the little Spanish I still remember from my South America trip three years ago.

It was past 10pm when we arrived in Tetouan so we just checked into a hotel and called it a day.

Tetouan (April 28th, day 1)

Tetouan was founded in the 14th century and has always been a gateway between Morocco and Spain. From 1912 to 1956 it was the capital of the Spanish Protectorate, the small northern part of Morocco that was colonised by Spain (the greater part being occupied by France).

Nowadays the medina (walled historic city centre) of Tetouan is a Unesco World Heritage Site, but there is little tourism here. Almost all buildings are painted white, which gives the place a mediterranean feel.

In the medina of Tetouan In the medina of Tetouan
Bab el-Okla, the eastern gate of Tetouan's medina An alley in the medina

Artisanal School

Just outside the gate Bab el-Okla there is the Artisanal School, the most important one in northern Morocco. Watching masters and students at work creating ormantal woodwork, plaster and metal was especially interesting for Lotte.

The central treasury of the Artisanal School showcases the school's best work Student patiently sawing an ornamental pattern in a piece of wood - rather him than me

To Chefchaouen

Visiting Tetouan didn't take long. After buying lunch at a bakery and eating in the streets of the Spanish-built new town we picked up our stuff at the hotel, headed to a taxi stand and arranged a taxi ride to Chefchaouen. This ride through the Rif mountain range lasted an hour and a bit.

Driving through the Rif mountains between Tetouan and Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen (April 28th-30th, days 1-3)

Chefchaouen, a mountain town in the Rif, is generally considered one of Morocco's prettiest towns, partly because of its mountain setting but mostly because many walls of its medina are painted blue, which creates a lovely effect. This blue colour was introduced by jewish refugees in the 1930s and reminded me of Jodhpur in India.

Chefchaouen was our favourite place in Morocco, because it's such a lovely place and because we got the big room with balcony in the cosy and very friendly hotel Koutoubia and really enjoyed it. After we'd checked in there in the early afternoon, we explored the medina and then walked to the ruined mosque on a hill just outside of town. We were back well before dinner.

The old mosque on a hill just outside town, as seen from the balcony of our hotel room Chefchaouen as seen from the old mosque

This still being our first day in Morocco, we marvelled at how just 24 hours earlier we had still been in Belgium and now we'd already visited two lovely Moroccan towns. This first day was cloudy though, so most of the pictures below are from the morning of the third day when it was sunny and we walked around Chefchaouen one last time.

Chefchaouen, very much a mountain town Chefchaouen, near our hotel Chefchaouen, same spot as the previous picture
Lamps for sale at a crossroads in Chefchaouen Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen Chefchaouen Chefchaouen

I particularly loved the streets which had a mix of blue, white and brown colours, like the ones you can see in the above pictures. Some streets were just painted completely blue though, which probably looks the most special.

Black cat in blue Chefchaouen Black cat in blue Chefchaouen

The heart of the medina is the Plaza Uta el-Hammam, which has a kasbah and the grand mosquée on one side. After some searching in the side alleys we found the entrance to restaurant La Lampe Magique, which has a terrace with a great view high above the plaza.

The kasbah of Chefchaouen. This picture was taken during the 20 seconds of sunshine that we got on the first day. View from restaurant La Lampe Magique on the Plaza Uta el-Hammam after sunset. On the left are the kasbah and the grand mosquée.

Climbing Jebel el-Kelaa

The mountain which looms over Chefchaouen is called Jebel el-Kelaa. Though it looks like a steep rock, you can actually climb it in a day, and we set out to do just that.

Unfortunately, the route description in the Lonely Planet turned out to be completely inadequate, failing to describe the spot at which you have to start going straight up. As a result we spent half a day circling the mountain while going higher and higher, but ending up in a place from where reaching the summit was a hopeless endeavour. We most certainly passed the path to the summit, but even while walking back we couldn't find it.

We still had a great time though, as the mountain and the views on valley below were lovely and there were a lot of locals farming their little fields on the mountain. But that rocky summit looked very impressive and I would have really loved to stand on top of it and see the Rif mountains all around. Damn you LP. Somehow I managed not to make a single picture of the mountain itself, probably because the sun was always above it.

View on the valley A farming couple on their little field high up the mountain
A farmer working his field even higher up the mountain I could lie and tell you I'm standing on the summit here, but it was just a big rock high on the mountain

Something I haven't mentioned yet is that the Chefchaouen region is famous for its marihuana fields - it's probably the world's major pot-exporting region as the authorities turn a blind eye to this activity here.

Now I read a trip report from an Australian who encountered such a field at the beginning of this very same hike. He wrote "we didn't hesitate and immediately turned back" - the first time I've heard of someone fleeing from plants haha. Well he was afraid the farmers would shoot him because he'd seen that in the movie The Beach. We didn't see any marihuana plants ourselves though, or just failed to spot them.

Lovely tree on the mountain - this was on the highest spot I got to actually We passed this Stonehenge-like field while making a little shortcut during the walk back

Having made this long walk on day 2 of our trip when we'd had no exercise yet, our feet and legs felt painful by the time we got back. Another dinner in La Lampe Magique cured that quickly.

To Fez

On our third day in Chefchaouen - also day 3 of our trip - we spent the morning relaxing in our hotel and walking around the medina again.

I wasn't allowed to sleep late though. Lotte sunbathing on the balcony of our hotel room - painted blue of course.

At 1pm we got on the bus to Fez, a four hour ride. Fez will be the subject of the next part of this report.

Landscape between Chefchaouen and Fez Landscape between Chefchaouen and Fez
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Vivien Sat 13 Nov 2010 @ 21:36
Beautiful photos and well narrated travelog. It gave us a good preview of the trip we planned for this April. We are planning a twelve day trip to Morocco following a similar itinerary. Thank you for sharing.

Curtis Reynolds Wed 28 Jul 2010 @ 04:20
Great photos... However I lived in Morocco in 1973 and my photos are also impressive. Give me a little fed back.


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