We left Rabat around 3pm to head northwards, passing by the residence of the king of Morocco on the way out, before heading into the dry Moroccan countryside. It was a long and, at times, slow trip as we crossed the rich agricultural region of El Gharb, fed by irrigated water from the Sebou River.

Then, slowly we entered the foothills of the Rif Mountains to follow the winding and narrow roads along the eroded valleys of dry oueds, lined with olive groves and steep hills. In the distance, the main ridge-lines of the Rif Mountains appeared and disappeared with the varying terrain to form a rugged horizon. The driving in this country was slow, but eventually, a distant cluster of white and blue houses clinging to the steep hillsides appeared. The sun was setting, but we had reached our destination of Chefchaouen - Morocco's famous "blue city".

Countryside on the road to the Rif Mountains

Rural landscape in El Gharb


From our hotel on its hilltop terrace we could look down onto the lights of Chefchaouen stretched out below us, as a large moon rose over the rocky two-pronged peak above the city - magical. However, we would have to wait until the day after our walk to explore the old town itself.

Night view over Chefchaouen from our hotel

Chefchaouen - the blue city

Looking up to the mountains behind the city

Fat-tailed sheep and sheepdog above the city

Rif landscape

The city wall of Chefchaouen

Entering through the ancient gate

Led by our local guided, we wandered down the hill to enter the 16th century ochre-coloured walls of the old medina and slowly meander down through the narrow streets, the walls, doors and windows of their houses toned in different shades of blue.

Architectural styles marked the history of the old town, the small doors and windows of the older Berber buildings contrasting withe the more ornate Andalusian style with its decorative doors and window frames and the simpler modern buildings - their one unifying feature, the colour blue.

Wandering through the blueness of Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is quite stunning in its blueness and its unique setting on a steep slope backed by peaks of the majestic Rif Mountains. The photos here show that better than any words.

Walk in the Farda Gorges (5.5 km - 220m ascent - 220m descent)

Today would be our first "real walk" in Morocco - to get to the starting point, our busload of walkers wound down the dry slopes from Chefchaouen and crossed a broad flat valley to go deeper into the Rif Mountains. The rocky peaks and ridges rose steeply, as we followed a narrow and sheer-walled valley to reach the village of Akchour. From here we would start our walk.

The Rif Mountains .....

.... where silted reservoirs provide rich farmland...

.... and deep gorges cut through the ranges

Higher up the valley, we could see the narrow opening of the Farda Gorges. However, on heading off, our local guide led our group of 15 in the opposite direction up a winding footpath to join a narrow dirt road that continued our climb of this slope. The road headed back towards the gorges, as it passed through olive groves and small farm plots, with melons, vegetables and a broad expanse of kif (cannabis). It was a bit of a shock to see its serrated five-fingered leaves waving in the breeze and an even bigger shock to hear that, in the Rif Mountains, it is mainly grown for stock feed (the beef from this region is apparently highly sought after).

Rif Mountain landscape

Entry to the Farda Gorges

Marijuana crop in the high mountain fields

As we climbed higher, views opened up of the surrounding ridges, with the houses of small Berber communities dotted high up the slopes. The Rif Mountains are Berber country. Nearing a cluster of houses on the ridge, we then descended steeply through the garden and cannabis plots to reach a point just above the clear waters of a spring-fed mountain stream.

Above the gorge


Looking back over the kif crops

Narrow track inside the gorge

We were now inside the gorge system and, after a short climbing detour to get a bird's eye view of the lower gorge, we started to pick our way up the rocky floor of the gorge. The precipitous rock walls quickly tightened as we made our way up the stream - boulder-hopping at times and crossing back and forth on small wooden bridges past a series of beautiful cascades and pools. The colour of the water in the pools was brilliant, ranging from clear turquoise to emerald green.

The colours of Rif mountain water ....

.... deep in the Fardes Gorge

The other interesting landcape feature was a series of plastic chairs and tables, some on rock platforms and some even in the shallows of the stream. They were all part of line of small tea-houses, set up by entrepreneurial locals, where visitors to the gorge could pick up a mint tea and even a tagine of tasty food cooked on the fire for lunch. We stopped at one for a mint tea, taking the opportunity to soak our feet in the icy waters of the stream - straight from the depths of the Rif Mountains.

Pont de Dieu - an 80m high natural arch

Time to relax at the riverside teahouse

Lunch and mint tea on the boil

Then it was on to the highlight of the canyon, the Pont de Dieu, a superb natural arch bridging the canyon walls some 80m above the stream, before returning to have our tasty lunch at the tea-house. This is a popular place for Moroccan tourists and we were not alone.

For the return trip, we retraced our steps to the point where we had entered the gorge from above, but this time, our guide continued on down the gorge to reach its junction with a second wider gorge. Not long after, we rounded the small lake held back by a weir and exited the sheer-walled narrow gap of this gorge. All that remained was a short walk back to the car park and our waiting van past the many street stalls selling a range of food, hats etc.

Wandering along the gorge floor


Stone bridge at the gorge exit

One last look back

The gorge was spectacular and well-worth the visit, though I'm not sure I can be as positive about the walking. With a group of 15, there is always bound to be some disparity in walking abilities. However, this was large enough to cause a lot of stop-start walking. Hesitation and waiting does not make for the best walking experience and some of the group were left hoping that this might be a one-off event. Only the next walk would tell. That remains a few days away, as we have a couple more historic cities to visit before finally getting in to some serious trekking.