Chefchaouen hamman © Vitecek
This beautiful medieval town, a short drive from Tangier in the mountain region, has a distinctive Spanish character, having been settled by Spanish refugees in the middle ages. The medina of the town has become renowned as one of the most charming in Morocco, with whitewashed gabled houses and blue-rinsed buildings where craftsmen sit in their shops sewing caftans and embroidering jellabahs. The medina is dominated by the 17th-century Great Mosque, which fronts a picturesque square dotted with mulberry trees and inviting restaurants. The square is surrounded by souks selling carpets, leather goods, pottery and copper ware. Chefchaouen has enough picturesque Moroccan charm to attract droves of tourists, but another aspect of the popularity of the tranquil town is its reputation as a place tolerant of recreational drug use (it is the centre of a marijuana producing region). There are a number of wonderful hiking trails in the mountains around the town and some delightful small villages in the Rif Mountains to trek to. It is possible to explore the region alone, but some prefer to hire local guides. There are several good tour operators offering hiking and cultural tours in Chefchaouen.
One of the best places to trek to is the tiny traditional village of Kalaa, hiding in the hills outside Chefchaouen. Here one can relax in the remote serenity of rural Moroccan life that has changed little over the centuries. The village is also a wonderful base for exploring the Rif Mountains and hikes can be arranged to other local villages in the area and all the way to the Mediterranean. As tourism increases more villagers are opening their doors to the trade and new guest houses are springing up in the area.