The only thing I knew about Chef (as we began to call it), was that it was blue and that we needed 2 nights there. We arrived after an afternoon of sightseeing at Volubilis’s Roman and Berber ruins built in the 3rd century BC:

and drove to an overlook framing the white and blue buildings dotting the 2 ‘horns’ of mountains, which make up the city namesake in Berber: Ashawen. When we dropped into the town and parked the car (no cars allowed in the medina and heart of the village), an excitement started to build. I could feel how easy-going and friendly the place was, it felt very different from the rest of Morocco. The vibe emanated from every smiling face we passed. The market vendors kept to themselves and didn’t push a sale.

We left our things at the hotel and made our way through the snaking streets, walls and doors painted blue, up the mountain. Every square inch of this mountain village was a perfect photo: 500+ years of history and popping blue colors (the buildings are ‘rinsed’ in blue, and the color is often applied the night before, even to the streets themselves).  It was the first time I felt truly relaxed and happy in Morocco.

We stumbled onto a Mediterranean restaurant (Molin’arte) that had tiers of outside levels above the restaurant itself.  Everything there made by the artistic owner, including the welded table and chair sets, candle holders and lanterns, statues and mosaics.  The tables were more spread apart the higher you climbed, surrounded by foliage and overhanging trestles.  A pair of cats patrolled the guests, a slight reminder that you were still in Morocco.  We sat for hours, soaking in the calmness of the mountain, the wonderful smell of the flowers, the kind people… and of course the incredible food. We befriended the manager of the restaurant, Simon, and subsequently went back for dinner and lunch the following 2 days- we were craving a break from Moroccan food and this was about as good as it could get. (If I didn’t leave Morocco the following week, I would have come back and rented a room from Simon until the end of the month.)

On my morning runs, I would run up the mountain and back down through the town. People who spotted me would clap. Heart caught in throat, I would wave and smile back. No one was glaring, no one was judging.  There will always be a special place in my heart for Chefchaouen.