‘Blue thou art, intensely blue; Flower, whence came thy dazzling hue?’ – James Montgomery.
I’ll admit it, hands up, guilty. Chefchaouen, or The Blue Pearl, is the first place that I’ve travelled to because Instagram inspired me.
This stunning city in the heart of the Rif mountains is every single shade of blue that you can imagine, and I wanted a slice of the pie. So, when £50 return flights to Fes came up one random weekend in April, I seized the chance and booked a short, four-night trip to Morocco so that I could see Chefchaouen with my own eyes.
As we wandered the cobbled alleys and lanes that twist and turn through the old medina at the very heart of the city, I knew that the impulse purchase had been worth it. Chefchaouen, or ‘Chaouen as the locals call it, was utterly beautiful, and much to my surprise and delight, quite devoid of tourists. Now, when I delve back through my photo archives, I think that a lot of my pictures make it look like we were walking around a movie set. Except for a few artfully placed individuals, the city looks like it was deserted!
Our rooftop terrace overlooked the entire medina, with the mountain backdrop in the distance. On our first evening in ‘Chaouen, we sat and watched the sunset and enjoyed the drop in temperature after the searing 35 degree heat of the day. As the sun disappeared, the sky faded to a beautiful tangerine peach glow, and the blue city seemed to really stand out against the almost purple mountains in the background. We listened as the call to prayer sounded and watched as people hurried off to pray. From our vantage point, the city seemed sleepy, but we knew better, aware that the narrow cobble lanes would be teaming with people scurrying this way and that, eager to break their Ramadan fast and catch up on the day’s news now that the heat was ebbing slowly away.
This is one of those pictures that makes ‘Chaouen look like a movie set. It was so easy to get photos like this, with nobody around, making the city look empty and, I think, slightly haunting. Even in busier areas, I had to wait very little to get clear shots or, sometimes, photos with just one ‘artfully’ placed individual who added something to the frame. This photo really illustrates the varying shades of blue that can be found around the city, set off by splashes of contrasting colours here and there, like the red on this Maroc Telecom sign. Elsewhere, multicoloured wall hangings, bright sacks of dye and vibrant pot plants offset the blue at various intervals.
Black Cat, Blue Walls
Cats were ubiquitous around Chefchaouen. They lazed in the sunshine, gazing imperiously at passersby and invariably turning tail to flee if anyone got too close. I really like how this black cat is framed by its surroundings, overcome by blue on every side. It watched me closely as I took photos from several angles, keeping a close eye and swishing its tail once or twice to warn me to keep my distance. As I wanted the cat in the shot, I kept back and managed to get a few photos, with this being my favourite of the bunch.
Night Time Shades
If you ever visit Chefchaouen, be sure to explore the medina at night too. The bright dazzling hues of the day mellow into gentler purple and indigo shades in the darkness, and the city feels all together cooler and calmer than it is during the day. Shadows lend mystery to corners that might otherwise be passed over. After dinner one evening, I spent a good couple of hours wandering the alleys with my camera. I didn’t have space to pack my tripod, so a lot of the images actually came out blurry or full of noise, but this is one of the better ones. I loved the city by night. The whole place seemed to come alive in the balmy evening air and kids ran around unchecked, shouting and screaming. They played noisy games fuelled by lower temperatures and full stomachs now that the day of fasting was broken.
Slipping Away into the Blue
These two images are my absolutely favourites from Chefchaouen. I feel extremely lucky to have got them – I am not a patient photographer and you’re unlikely to find me waiting around for hours on end to get the shot. But these two photos… They feel perfect. They kind of sum up ‘Chaouen – its secret alleys, hidden lanes, endless steps, friendly locals, the twists and turns, getting lost and suddenly coming out and knowing where you are again. A blink of the eye, a missed opportunity and these two women would have disappeared around their respective corners and the photographs would have been lost. For me, these images represent fleeting moments all too easily lost and a sense of calm when things come together just as they should.
We sat drinking mint day under a canopy to escape the burning midday sun and watched the world go by. Tourists, in varying states modesty – from the shortest of shorts to long skirts, from strappy tops to long sleeve shirts and flowing scarves. Locals idly perching here and there, lazily fanning themselves from time to time, occasionally hailing a passer by and briefly chatting. I’d just had an unfortunate ‘run-in’ with a local who had thought I was photographing him (I wasn’t – I had been taking photos of the wall and roof above his head, but I can see why he thought I was pointing my lens at him!) and felt wary about capturing these three men gossiping on a bench. I surrepticiously uncapped my lens and raised my camera to take the shot. I took two before my nerve broke and I turned off my camera once again, worried that they’d see me. However, I am glad I took the chance and got this image. The three seemed to be talking very animatedly about something – I can only imagine what!
I always try and remember to look up when I am wandering around a new place – or an old place for that matter! Sometimes, a new perspective can add another layer of interest and create new photo opportunities. I really loved the potted flowers that hung on walls all over Chefchaouen, adding splashes of bright, contrasting colour to the blue city. This is one of my favourite photos from our time in ‘Chaouen, mainly because of the slightly unexpected angle, the various layers and textures and, of course, that brilliant orange against the white wall, azure porch and cornflower sky.
Ready For My Close Up
We found this kitten on our last day, whilst exploring the oldest part of the city, just below the medina. It was absolutely tiny, and had the most gorgeous blue eyes. Luckily for me, it didn’t mind having its photo taken too much, and gazed straight into my lens whilst I zoomed in as close as possible. As we moved on, it followed us, jumping from step to step, meowing loudly. Further up, we found two more kittens, and we left the three of them together sitting on a step whilst we carried on, climbing higher.