About Rif Mountains
The Rif Mountains of the north of Morocco hide impressive Roman ruins of immense scale at Volubilis, a thermal spa at Moulay Yacoub and a small town of laid-back tranquility a little further north - Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is a small tranquil town at the northern edge of the Rif Mountains. It appears as if it is protected by two mountainous peaks, which have given it its name meaning - "the horns" in Berber. Coming to Chefchaouen, in the Rif mountains, you will discover a preserved and little known Morocco. At the north-east exit of the medina, the Ras-El-Ma spring is a cool oasis offering a very good view over the valley. On foot or riding a donkey, let yourself be guided around the Talassemtane National Park, around the valley of the monkeys or even the Tissemlal falls. With its pure air, calmness, cleanliness, picturesque medina and attractive surrounding areas, Chefchaouen provides you with a complete and gentle break.
Stroll around its cobbled streets and you cannot fail to be enchanted by the simple and gracious white houses with blue doors. Cut into the sides of two mountains, Chefchaouen is a city with a powerful charm that you really can feel in the Outa-el-Hammam square, in the medina. The city received the influx of Arabs and Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and is now a city very welcoming and pleasant to the visitor.
Sat on the terrace of a cafe, you can enjoy the attractive view of the grand Tarik-Ben-Ziad mosque whose octagonal minaret is inspired by that of the Torre de Oro in Seville. This Andalousian architecture can be found in the kasbah and its gardens, at the centre of the medina. Its walls and its 11 crenellated towers, of which one used to be a dungeon, house an interesting ethnographic museum. The famous djellaba, this long and ample garment worn by the men and women of North Africa, was created here. The welcome and hospitality can be experienced during a visit to a traditional oil mill (there are more than 1500 of them) or a craftsman's workshop. Over and above its weaving, Chefchaouen is renowned for its basket-making and its pottery. Furthermore, you can take part in an introduction to pottery workshop in the pottery at Ghzaoua, and go away with your own berradas (water jugs) or a more simple goulla (jar). Finally, leaving the town without having first tried its goat's milk cottage cheese from the mountains is out of the question. It is perhaps the best in Morocco.
Ecotourism Chefchaouen is lucky to be ideally situated as a departure point for hiking or rambling in the surrounding parks. Its surrounding areas are crammed with natural curiosities, like the Pont de Dieu at Achkour, a rock archway above a 25m precipice. Springs, fir trees, cedar and native pine forests cover the national nature park of Talassemtane. The Talembote park, the mountains, forests and cliffs of Ghmara or the enormous regional nature park of Bouhachem complete this immense playground. Closer to the town, the spring at Ras El Maa, which supplies Chefchaouen with water, is a very pleasant place for a walk, as is the Toughoubit grotto or the refreshing waterfalls at Chrafate. The harrier, golden eagle, lynx, otter or even the macaque are some of the protected species.
Festivals in July Chaouen hosts the Alegria Festiva, an event which enables local, national and now international music to be joined together in the town's large and small squares. Several other festivals and moussems (Sidi Allal el Hadj in August) take place in a town which is imprinted with the soufi spirit. This mystical Islamic dimension manifests itself through singing, poetry and dances.
Volubilis is the largest Roman archeological site in Morocco. Ancient olive presses, mansions, incredible mosaics, monumental arches and Corinthian columns will give you a real sense of Roman lifestyle and of that of a subsequent medieval Berber town. The site contains the villa where you are able to view the mosaic of the Labours of Hercules, the Baths of Gallienus and the Forum with their fragmentary mosaics and the House of Orpheus and its Dolphin mosaic and Orpheus Myth. Also at this incredible site are the Triumphal Arch, capitol building and house of Bacchus – everything testifies to the city's ancient splendour.
High up in the Rif Mountains is the "Thermes de Moulay Yacoub" - the hot spa, where a large variety of treatments are on offer. Nearby is the purpose-built Moulay Yacoub Hotel.
Where to stay
A traditional Chaouen house with a friendly atmosphere, just 100 yards from Outa El Hammam Square.
A riad-style house in the centre of Chaouen, just a short walk from the main square.