Andalusia to Morocco – explore the Granada-Chefchaouen pathway
Insights from our go-to-Chefchaouen guide Imad, who was born and grew up there and, who travels between Spain and Morocco regularly.
You finally got on the plane and decided to visit Spain – the gem of Europe. Of course, you will mostly be having in mind to visit and explore Barcelona, Madrid, and perhaps, Ibiza for some little fun. However, for many travellers, the quintessence of Spain is found in Andalusia. The so-called Moorish heritage is represented alongside the local culture in the costumes, music, and of course the popular delicious Spanish food. These make Andalusia the gem of Spain indeed, and the favourite destination for numerous tourists worldwide.
The light blue lines between the tips of Spain and Morocco are the ferry routes.
Why stop with Spain?
Nonetheless, just south of Spain lies a no less valuable jewel. A city that is always ascribed with shininess – the blue pearl of Morocco, Chefchaouen. Having come from the other side of the world to explore the rich Moorish history, visiting the south of Spain reflected in Andalusia and sparing time to visit Africa through the north of Morocco via the gate of Chefchaouen is a one-time-life-experience that will surely be your best!
Today we will take you on a short journey into Spain and Morocco from elegant Granada and through the pathway of Malaga, Tarifa, and Tangier until we reach the ‘blue’ city, Chefchaouen.
It is a weekend journey connecting two different continents but with interrelated cultures and costumes. Yet, each is unique in its own way.
We begin our spectacular journey from Granada – surely a city that is worth the visit in all seasons and at every opportunity. The links between Spain and Morocco in general, and Granada and Chefchaouen in particular, can be far beyond the scope of history only. It can be seen in many other aspects; especially on the cultural and architectural levels. This journey will be eye-opening for you on how part of Africa can be so similar to Europe, and yet exotic in a special way.
Wander through Granada & Malaga…
Start your Granada visit from the dazzling street of Calle Calderería Nueva, which is also known as the “Marrakech of Granada”. The name comes from its resemblance to typical streets in Morocco so you can already start imagining how beautiful the journey will be. Of course, a visit to Granada is never complete without visiting the former Arabic quarter of Albamycin. Its white-washed buildings are a witness of the Moorish heritage that many Spanish people appreciate. Walking all the way up through those beautiful streets will eventually lead you to the mirador of San Nicolas that overlooks the city and its standing symbol, the Alhambra.
Visit Alhambra (if you book your ticket months in advance) and explore the beauty and elegance of the Moorish architecture, or simply start your drive towards Algeciras or Tarifa port where you will eventually take the ferry to Morocco.
One thing you may learn from visiting the Alhambra is how the Moorish aesthetic at least sometimes assumes a different position of the observer to western art. For example in garden design, the tops of orange trees and not their trunks are placed at eye-level. If you stay on the second floor in a riad with orange trees you will experience precisely this!
In Europe generally and Spain particularly, there are several ways to go from one city to another. Hence, from Granada to Malaga one can easily take the bus for the two-hour drive, but if you prefer to be flexible with your time, rent a car. On the other hand, if you travel on a budget, the cheapest way to travel is by shared-drive BlaBlacar, which is popular all over Europe. However, the most comfortable way remains to have your private driver.
Passing by Malaga, you can make a short stop to enjoy the lively atmosphere and probably have some sangria alongside their delicious tapas. I recommend yummy patatas bravas or a slice of Spanish/Iberian tortilla.
Is there anything more refreshing than a glass of Sangria on a hot summer’s evening?
Now to north Africa…
We will be taking off to marvellous Morocco in a minute. Two ports operate between Spain and Morocco. If you choose to go from Algeciras, the ferry will take about an hour to arrive at Tanger Med which is about half an hour drive from Tangier the city. On the other hand, if you prefer to go directly to the centre of Tangier, take the ferry from Tarifa port. You can get your ticket online in advance or wait until you arrive at the port to buy your ticket since there is a ferry going to Morocco almost every hour. However, in the northern hemisphere’s summer times, when the eager Moroccan diaspora is going back to its homeland, it is preferable to purchase your ticket in advance and get to the port a little earlier for the check-in as the ports tend to be at their busiest.
The feeling of freedom that you will receive aboard the ferry is far better than being locked in a plane seat with a tight belt fastened across your body.
Slowly you will start seeing the mountains of Spain disappearing into clouds while the mountains in Morocco will start showing off their glory.
The scene slowly becomes clearer, we are in Africa, but it does not look quite like Africa!! Where are the desert and palm trees? That’s because the north of Morocco is all green. Arriving at Tangier, the freshness of the air and the first vibes will surely make you happy that you decided to go on this journey.
This is where you could link up with your Aussies in Morocco Tours™ driver and guide. Cara has reliable choices on her team, including the only female certified guide in Chefchaouen – depending on availability, of course. Or perhaps, even the main writer of this blog, Imad, could be available when you tour.
As there might be a shortage in means of transportation in Morocco unlike in Spain, the best plan for you will be to ensure you have a private driver in advance. Moroccan drivers are experts, knowledgeable, communicative, and have a high level of customer service.
Getting off the ferry, your driver, whose name would probably be MUHAMMED, will be waiting for you with a smile on his face to show you true Moroccan hospitality. Being in Tangier, it is always a good idea to dedicate half a day to visiting some of the good places that will surely charm you with their beauty. By having your own driver, it could not be easier. Start your visit from the dazzling medina, the most vivid part of the city. Exploring all in one day is sort of impossible; especially if you decide to do it without a local guide. However, with or without a guide, the medina of Tangier along with its kind local souks and merchants will make you fall in love.
Since Tangier is open to two seas, having seafood is always a good idea for lunch, and at the eastern part of the medina overlooking the port is found one of the oldest local restaurants in Tangier whose specialty is fish only. There, fish is served in soup, typical tagine, and on plates. That is not to mention that the food there is far beyond delicious. (Just a heads up about a possible queue though. Maybe best to visit with a local who can help you out with this potential frustration).
Visitors to Tangier should not leave without spotting the glorious scenery of the baby Mediterranean embracing the mighty Atlantic at their meeting point of Cape Spartel. The best time to be there is upon the golden hour, when the sunrise or sunset create breathtaking vistas. However, coming from Australia all the way to Tangier/Africa, Cape Spartel will be a lasting memory of you standing in the spot where two of the major seas in the world meet!
Continue your drive along the golden-sanded beaches and through the high Rif Mountains towards the ultimate destination, Chefchaouen.
The drive from Tangier to Chefchaouen is two hours on average, but the beautiful scenery along the way will inspire you to stop and take some photos of your memories of Morocco. Hence, the drive might stretch out to three hours or more. On the way, you will pass a no less charming city called Tetouan.
Eugène Delacroix, the painter visited Tetouan in 1832. It was later the capital of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco.
If you have enough time, Tetouan is indeed worth the visit, if not, then just continue your way towards the beautiful Chefchaouen.
Nestled in the Rif mountains is Morocco’s blue city. Once you reach there, it will be easy for you to see how it got its nickname.
Chefchaouen is famous for its blue-washed buildings. Perhaps it represents the Mediterranean or sky?
The history behind this delightful colour is debatable; with the existence of many theories that for most go hand-in-hand to shape the stunning final result that never fails to impress visitors from around the globe. In fact, in the year 2016, Chefchaouen was proudly ranked sixth among the top 10 most beautiful cities in the world (released by Condé Nast Traveler). The rank was no surprise for the inhabitants who constantly work on cleaning, painting, and adorning their streets to not only meet the expectations of the tourists, but because they love to see their city as beautiful and elegant as it always has been – before even the tourism boom.
In Chefchaouen, there are certainly a few places one must visit. However, the best activity you can do is to get yourself lost in it, so you keep on coming across the hidden gems revealed as one surprise after another. Start your wander by exploring the ancient medina, entered by many doors. Tourists and locals alike prefer the gate of Bab al-Ain.
One of many blue-washed doors in Chefchaouen. This is actually two doors. The larger one that includes what appears to be the door frame, opens out too, when required.
Entering the city, memories from Granada will start roaming around your head as you note the similarities here, alongside the much more vivid Arabic community. The medina is filled with many hidden pieces of paradise such as the beautiful plaza Outa El Hammam that is centred by a humongous yet charming spruce tree whose age is as old as the city itself. It is considered the heart of the city, surrounded by many restaurants which offer a great selection of food.
PS We do not recommend eating in such a touristic place.
Instead, try either Bab Ssour or Triana restaurant as they are worth the taste. A few dishes that are highly recommended (which also happen to be the city’s specialties) are Bissara and Anchovy Tagine.
The main plaza of Chefchaouen, with the famous Spruce tree visible.
As you go along exploring the pathways until you get lost in the wonderful views, you will most predictably get inspired to take dozens of artistic photos; all of which will be worthy of an Instagram post. Eventually, you will reach the delightful waterfalls of Ras El Maa, with its many gift shops offering a great selection of souvenirs, where locals in their traditional dress generally welcome a photo shoot.
Continuing your path up the hill would lead you to the Spanish mosque; this vantage point is widely known for the mesmerizing sunsets manifested at different
times of the year. After sunset, returning down the hill you will find the plaza bustling with both tourists and locals alike who come to enjoy the different music shows held there every night.
Chefchaouen still offers many panoramic, delightful hikes that you might want to go for if you decide to stay for more than one day. The most popular one is a trip to Akchour Waterfalls where tourists choose to chill and swim in crystal clear water. However, if time does not allow for a hike on this trip, this is an incentive for you to revisit Chefchaouen soon to explore the Akchour paradise.
This version of the map shows more of Spain, Morocco and Portugal than the earlier one, in case you might be coming from Portugal or going in the opposite direction, say from Casablanca.