Morocco Part 3: Mountain Air and Chefchaouen
I love The Netherlands. I can’t say enough about it. But, it’s flat. Like really, really flat. So, with my early morning Moroccan arrival, I went to the MOUNTAINS as soon as I stepped off the plane! And not just any mountains, the Atlas Mountains. I’m a sucker for a good Greek Myth, and a private tour.
As the road rose up away from the city, green and blue washed away the dust. Several times over the course of the day, we pulled over. Mehdi, my trusty guide, and I, strolled alongside the road taking in the green steppes, orchards, and finding little villages nestled in the mountainsides. There was a tiny Argan Oil Collective. We stopped for a coffee at Au Rocher, we crossed over a river on a seriously dubious bridge, we ate lunch on a sunny terrace. Up and down the mountains. We ended in the Ourika Valley, taking a light walk across farmlands to Mehdi’s friend Yusuf’s property. There I sat with the locals, drinking mint tea, checking out the organic vermiculture, and hearing plans of turning this beautiful spot into a small hotel at the base of the mountains. I hope that they make it work out.
Leaving the Atlas Mountains, Mehdi took me into Marrakech, where I anxiously awaited Angela’s arrival. I sat on the terrace drinking wine, eating delicious food, and waiting. And waiting. And waiting. My arrival into Marrakech had been so simple, that her four hour odyssey through Marrakeshian passport control was a surprise.
One morning, it was grey and rainy, and Angela and I weren’t feeling the medina, so after breakfast, we carried our coffee back down to our luxurious riad room, and curled up under blankets, reading books. Sometimes giggling, or sharing a story. This is what best friends do when they’ve been apart, “Oh, I forgot to tell you…” then we’d roll over for a bit, then “Oh did you hear?…”, and then giggle and gossip a bit, two grown women acting like ridiculous teenagers. Then she gasped, and turned to face me, and grabbed my hand across the gulf between our two little beds. A colleague of hers, and a dear friend of mine, had very suddenly, unexpectedly passed away. She hadn’t known him well, but she knew he was an important person in my life, and she held my hand, letting me be as sad as I needed to be. As grand and epic as the trip was, this message early on the third day couldn’t help but cover the rest of the trip with intermittent waves of despair.
By the time Christine arrived, the shock had worn off a bit, but she too, let me have my melancholy moments. The cacophony of Marrakech distracted me, filling my senses, while I accepted that there was barely a quiet moment to be had in the city. Soon enough we left the Red City, flying first to Fes and then driving through the Rcif mountains towards Chefchaouen. The drive allowed for quiet times that my heart needed, and looking out the windows at the empty landscapes. We stopped at Barrage Sidi Chahed, gazing out at the water, sitting on the cliffs, friends holding hands. Being happy in the moment, and yet still heartbroken.
Arriving in Chefchaouen, we got roadside pictures of the famous Blue City having to elbow our way through throngs of tour buses, selfie sticks, and instagram posers. UGH! I was immediately worried about our days in the highly instagrammable destination. But we turned off to the right,instead of left into the medina and didn’t stop. Our little car trucked up the windingest of winding roads, straight up the mountainside, away from the city and hoards of social media click-addicts. There were few people on this road, goats, donkeys, mosques, flowers, rocks, but no tourists. As we stepped out of the car at Dar Wadada, we didn’t see anything but a crumbling gate and path. A few more steps down, and we saw the guesthouse. Heaven. We were just above the city, looking down on divine views, cool mountain air breezing past us, and a fire burning in the hearth.
Words cannot describe the peace I found in those mountains. A lovely French/Dutch couple shared a glass of wine with us over dinner, Rachid’s home cooking warmed my soul with tangines, bissara, fava bean soup, bread steaming from the ovens, and stories shared around a fire. The view of Chefchaouen lit up at night was stunning. The call the prayer echoed through the mountains, and the dogs, cats, and donkeys joined in.
I woke up at dawn, and drank coffee in the sunrise. They drove us down into the city, which was GORGEOUS, and filled with people, lining up to take their blue staircase photos. We mostly skipped the pictures, instead winding our way through this beautiful little city. Carpet shopping. Wandering. Contemplating. Once we got off the main tourist drag, we found the nicest carpet shop, where Christine bought a wonderful Berber wedding carpet. We drank tea, and tried them all out. And then we went back to our mountain hideaway.
We threw open the sashes, napped, taking in the view, reading our books, walking through the grounds, and soaking up the sun. I spent time remembering my friend, wrapping my thoughts around favorite memories with him. Dar Wadada was the most perfect place for introspection.
So, reader, you might be asking yourself how this fits into a blog about spas, and hammams. Well, it doesn’t, not really. But the broader message is one of wellness, and pampering your soul. Take time out in your travels, or truly, your every day life, to fully appreciate who you are with, where you are, what is around you. Travel isn’t about getting the perfect social media photograph, just like 700,000 other tourists. Or touring every single historic or cultural must-see, must-do of a place. It’s about being in the moment. Finding places and people that soothe your soul.
And, just a quick laugh about the bathing part…the beautifully tiled shower whispered sumptuously, beckoning us after our long and dusty travels. Pause though, consider the mountain water, and melting snow, and absolute frigidness that is about to stream oh-so-refreshingly down upon your delicate, dainty skin. Thank God Christine went first and warned me.
Chefchaouen isn’t a big city, in reality an hour can do you if you’re just in it for the likes and followers, but, if you love the mountains, and relaxing, stay at Dar Wadada. Enjoy the hikes and peaceful moments. Rachid was so responsive, arranged for a great driver to save us bus time, and served up fantastic food. I would go back and stay here for the entirety of a trip, books, and blankets, and food for my soul.
My guide for the Atlas Mountains, El Mehdi, was wonderful, and made the start of my trip magical. As a solo female traveler, I felt 100% at ease, and taken care of, I can’t recommend him highly enough. Plus, his motto is Travel for Your Soul.
Stop and eat, or stay at Au Rocher, for stunning views and a great cup of coffee. Sorry, I didn’t try anything else.
You can take buses, trains, planes, or private cars. We ended up using private drivers and planes for most of our trip, simply based on time. The drivers are not tour guides, so make sure you ask first if you’re expecting something different. I’m so happy we chose to do the road trips through the mountains, and believe that my trip would have been lacking without seeing those grand vistas. Whatever you choose, make sure that you know that cities and medinas are not the only things to see in Morocco. We opted to skip the desert simply because all of us have seen many Middle East and North African deserts before, but if you haven’t please make sure you do.
Our other Moroccan Blogs:
Part 4: Coming soon!