City in the Clouds

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There may have been on and off rain for the whole day and a half we were there, with only slivers of blue sky and the slightest rays of sun able to peek out from behind the thick grey clouds, but the beautiful mountain town of Chefchaouen, Morocco did not fail to disappoint.

The blue- and white-washed city is not unlike those on the island of Santorini, Greece, but as opposed to pristine, porcelain-white buildings with immaculate sapphire-blue domes and doors, the blue- and white-washing of Chefchaouen’s buildings are much more…abstract?

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As if a flood of blue ran through the city and sporadically dyed parts of its walls, or as if the buildings were flipped upside down, dipped into an ocean of blue paint, and set back in their place. The coloring doesn’t seem to follow any given pattern, but the effect is the same. As the cities of Santorini like Oia and Fira dazzle, so does Chefchaouen.

While I loved the energy and vibrancy of Marrakech, and the laid-back atmosphere of the coast-town, Essaouira, Chefchaouen’s appeal was unique. It seems to have its own brand of charm and serenity.

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And it still found its way into my heart despite the rain and the chill. Not once did the rain bother us, as we wandered Chaouen’s cobblestone streets and steps, delighted in warm tajines and pastillas on covered rooftop terraces, sipped mint tea in the central square, and perused jewelry and scarves in the countless stands and shops.

And as if Chefchaouen by day isn’t gorgeous enough:

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Chefchaouen at sunset, albeit one with limited sunlight and rather with abundant cloud coverage, was breathtaking:

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And not only is the city idyllic, but the people we encountered, both Arabic- and Spanish-speaking, were truly lovely. From our hostel owner, to the café waiters, and to the street vendors, we had a most positive experience with the people of Chefchaouen.

The artisans and salesmen from the Ensemble Artisanal, for example, were warm, welcoming, and extremely friendly. Despite their limited Spanish and English vocabulary, and of course our inability to speak French and Arabic (besides the word for thank you, shukran), we all managed to communicate happily and effectively.

This was one of the few places in Morocco where prices of artisan goods were fixed, that is, the prices were final and these particular craftsmen would not lower their prices through the traditional custom of bargaining between vendor and tourist. However, both the hospitality of these craftsmen and the fact that we got to watch them work on their giant looms right there in the workshop, made our purchase of several of their woolen goods a no-brainer.

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The main salesman was a true gem. He was very helpful as we scoured the blankets and coats and other wool items, making sure to show us how one of the pieces is worn by women in Chaouen:

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And believe it or not we did see a woman dressed this way (sans the hat) as we walked up later to one of the viewpoints outside the medina.

Our salesman friend even let me scope out the largest loom, designed for two craftsmen to be weaving at once, and fashioned a purple and white wool bracelet for me on the spot, free of charge.

IMG_4780Our mere thirty minutes or so with these guys was probably one of the highlights of our time in Chefchaouen. While it often errs about its restaurant, hostel, or site recommendations, this time Lonely Planet got it right; the Ensemble Artisanal was well worth the visit.

Our time there was short, just like the rest of our city visits in Morocco, but this cloud-enshrouded city of Chefchaouen just may have been my favorite.

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