Chefchaouen and Tangier Getaway
In this blog post I will share my Chefchaouen and Tangier Getaway. In 2019 I organized a long weekend in June to one of my top bucket list destinations, Chefchaouen in Morocco also known as “The Blue Pearl”. I combined it with the Mediterranean coastal city Tangier, which is easily accessible from Lisbon (less than 1h flight). If you have enough time I suggest to visit other cities nearby as Tetouan, Gibraltar or Arzila.
I decided to be based in Tangier during the whole stay and to take a day trip to Chefchaouen. But I recommend to spend at least one night in Chefchaouen because it was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip and I wish I had more time to explore it.
Also known as “The Blue Pearl”, Chefchaouen is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Located in the Riff Mountains and surrounded by green valleys and stunning waterfalls, it is worth visiting for a few days.
I’ve booked a day tour in Tangier which was an easy way to get to Chefchaouen. The roadtrip is around 2h and we stopped several times in scenic viewpoints in the mountains. In our way back, we also had a quick stop in Tetouan.
Chefchaouen was founded in the 15th century. In that period, Muslim and Jewish refugees from Granada decided to settle in the city and they built the typical houses with balconies, roofs and tiled roofs with Spanish influence.
But what stands out in Chefchaouen is the distinctive blue color of the houses that gives it an incomparable charm. No one really knows the reason why almost all houses are painted in blue. Some locals say the blue walls reminisce the striking colours of the Mediterranean Sea. Others believe that the Jewish community started painting the houses in blue because it represents the sky and afterwards the tradition spread throughout the Medina. Another theory has a more pragmatic approach and says that blue keeps the mosquitos away and it also keeps the houses cooler in the warmer months.
The truth is that walking around Chefchaouen’s Medina is getting lost in a blue labyrinth of narrow streets, alleys and stairways with beautiful details and hidden nooks. You can easily spend a few hours exploring every corner and every street.
I had researched about Chefchaouen prior to my trip and I had identified a few picturesque spots that I absolutely wanted to photograph. Our guide was extremely nice and knowledgeable and he took us to all those places plus some other unknown but equally beautiful corners.
Chefchaouen is also a great place for shopping from jewellery and caftans to traditional Morocco handcraft like carpets, leather goods or lamps. I have to confess that it was hard to stop myself from buying an item in every street, but I couldn’t resist a typical woven basket.
Stop by the lively main square, Plaza Uta El-Hamman, which is a meeting point for locals and visitors and offers many options of restaurants, coffees and shops. In the square is also located the Grand Mosque and the Kasbah, an old Moroccan fort which now hosts a museum and an art gallery.
Last but not least, don’t miss the Spanish Mosquee, built in the 1920s and located on a hill above Chefchaouen. You can easily get there hiking approximately 30m from the center and you will be rewarded on your way by the most amazing views to the blue city.
Located in the North of Morocco at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Tangier is a city full of history and charm that seems to preserve a certain atmosphere of the past. Tangier has been for centuries the European gateway for Africa, so it combines perfectly Arabic roots and culture with European influences, making it a very interesting melting pot and a great city to explore for a long weekend.
There are many things to visit in Tangier and I recommend to have a local guide to show you the city and to explain its history and stories. The hotel where I stayed recommended a guide for a walking tour and that was a good option as I made the most of my time in Tangier and had a great overview of the city. So the question is, what to see in Tangier?
Medina – Tangier’s Medina is the old part of the city and one of its most famous attractions with narrow and labyrinth streets and passageways heading to a cliff towards the ocean. Just walk around this area of the city to find beautiful Arabic details in each corner or door. Some of the streets are painted in different colours including blue, which reminded me of Chefchaouen. There are several sites not to be missed in the Medina like the Petit Socco square (the center of the Medina with several options of traditional cafes where locals meet), the Grand Socco (a large square with big palms and a central fountain which is the main entrance to the Medina) or the Grand Mosque.
Kasbah – The Kasbah is located in the northern part of the Medina and it also hosts the Kasbah Museum, located in a 17th century palace where Dar El Makhzen sultan once lived. This Museum showcases the history of this region from prehistoric times to the 19th century. In Kasbah area you can also visit Detroit Cafe, which became famous in the 1960s as one of the favourite places for artists and writers expats to meet.
Tangier American Legation Museum – Did you know that Morocco was the first country to recognise United States in 1777? This five-storey mansion which is now converted in a museum, was the first piece of American real estate abroad. The Museum is worth a visit for its historical symbolism and for some interesting exhibitions as Tangier’s paintings by the eyes of its artists. There is also an area dedicated to the American writer Paul Bowles, which lived in Tangier for a significant part of his life.
Tangier Corniche – Being a city located by the sea, don’t miss the opportunity to explore its waterfront. Having a walk in this area, you will be able to experience Nouvelle Tangier, the new part of the city where many hotels are located, and the city beach where you will probably encounter the famous Moroccan camels walking in the sand.
After an intense day exploring Tangiers’ streets and alleyways, have a deserved and refreshing drink in the famous Cafe Lhafa Tangier that opened exactly 100 years ago in 1921. Located along the cliff top of the city and overlooking the bay, this open door cafe still has its original decor and keeps the charm of the past. It also has several balconies with tables with privileged views to the sea.
Cap Spartel and Caves of Hercules
Combining Cap Spartel and Caves of Hercules is another great day trip from Tangier. In my last day in Tangier, I couldn’t miss the two famous landmarks that are located only 12km away from the city.
The drive to the cape is quite dramatic with scenic views to the sea and desert beaches, pine-covered hills and an exclusive neighbourhood of exquisite palaces and villas.
Cap Spartel is a geographical landmark and a must visit site in this area. It is not only one of the northernmost points in Africa, but it also marks the boundaries of Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea and the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar. There is a photogenic lighthouse at the end of the promontory.
Below Cap Spartel is possible to visit the Caves of Hercules, an archeological complex with two openings, one to the sea and another one to the land. It is called Caves of Hercules because according to the legends, Roman God Hercules slept in this cave before doing his 11th labour – getting golden apples from Hesperides Garden which was supposed to be located nearby. On his way to the Garden, instead of crossing Atlas mountains, he used his powers to smash through it, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and creating the Strait of Gibraltar.
Sitting below the Rif Mountains 60km away from Tangier, Tetouan is a beautiful white city which also deserves a visit. I only stopped there for an hour for a quick walking tour on my way back from Chefchaouen, but I recommend to spend there at least half a day.
This city is known as the “White Dove” due to the white buildings with a strong Spanish influence and its Medina area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In fact Tetouan is considered the Moroccan city with the strongest Hispano-Moorish influence in the country. For several decades in the 20th century Tetouan became the capital of the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco.
In my short walk around Tetouan I had the opportunity to visit the Medina area and Feddan Park, a popular meeting point facing the Medina with a cafe, a terrace, a playground and sitting area.
If you have enough time, visit other attractions like the Tetouan Archeological Museum or the Souk district for traditional shopping.
For more travel inspiration in Morocco, check my blog post Perfect Getaway in Marrakech.