After visiting Morocco’s greatest cities, I can now say with full confidence that I have found my favorite: Sefrou.
Rabat – Despite the privileges awarded to me by my youth and middle-class family, traveling has never come easy to me.
While I’ve been fortunate enough to study abroad (and now live) in Morocco and visit various cities throughout the country, I must admit that most of the traveling I’ve done here has not been due to my own initiatives–I always had someone telling me where to go and what to do. To be frank, had I been here alone, I probably would have done next to nothing with my time.
I won’t sugarcoat it: I’m very lazy and generally a difficult person to travel with. I hate sweating, crowds, loud noises, carrying heavy things, being looked at, and leaving the comfort of my own home. I know, I know. I’m a real catch.
My sweet fiancé, bless his heart, somehow managed to get me on a three-hour train ride from Rabat to Fes and a 40-minute bus ride from Fes to Sefrou, followed by a fifteen-minute walk from the bus stop to his family’s house.
Based on my pre-departure Google search results, I wasn’t expecting much from Sefrou. At most, I envisioned a small mountain town in the middle of nowhere speckled with dilapidated old buildings. Boy, was I wrong.
Everything I love about Morocco’s cities–the mountains of Chefchaouen, the medina of Fes, the artisans of Marrakech, the cool breezes of Rabat, the colors of Ouazzane, the gorgeous foliage of Ifrane, the warm hospitality of Errachidia–had been packaged up, tied with a bow, and presented to me in the form of Sefrou.
“Little Jerusalem of Morocco”
Unbeknownst to the average tourist and overshadowed by nearby Fes, Sefrou is actually a bastion of the country’s diverse heritage. Moroccan natives, of course, are generally more familiar with the city’s rich history.
At the foot of the Middle Atlas mountains, Sefrou boasts the perfect site for agriculture and trade. Fertile soil nourished by rivers and springs produced an abundance of food, and the city’s strategic location made it a hub for traders traveling from the Mediterranean to the Sahara.
Additionally, Sefrou was once home to one of Morocco’s largest Jewish communities.
It is estimated that the first Amazigh Jewish people in the area converted to Judaism 2,000 years ago, making Sefrou an ancient Jewish settlement. Although a portion of Sefrou’s Jewish community converted to Islam in the 8th century during the reign of Idris I, Jewish communities from the Tafilalt area and Southern Algeria migrated to Sefrou. In 1596, Jewish exiles from Spain settled in Sefrou as well.
By 1968, most of the descendants of Sefrou’s Jewish settlers emigrated to Israel and Europe. Once as high as 8,000, the exact number of Jewish people living in Sefrou today is unknown, although estimates are low.
The old Mellah, or Jewish quarter, still stands in Sefrou’s medina. It is distinguished by its low walls and reached by crossing a short bridge over Oued Aggai, which passes through the old medina. Today, this part of the city is mostly inhabited by Muslims.
Things to do in Sefrou
As travel blogger Vago Damitio put it, Sefrou is a city that “functions for its residents, not for tourists.”
In this regard, a day trip in the small city is a breath of fresh air.
Sefrou is best enjoyed through a professionally guided tour, but if you’re lucky enough to know a current or former resident, you hit the jackpot! Your experience in Sefrou will be even more fulfilling when hosted by one of the city’s natives.
If you’re looking for a place to relax off the beaten path, here are some things to do in Sefrou.
At the entrance of the city lies the Cave of the Believer, or Kef al Yahudi in Hebrew. This cave is supposedly the burial site of the Prophet Daniel, according to one Jewish tradition. Nearby is a desecrated cemetery where righteous Jews were once buried. There is not much to see or do here, but if you value Jewish traditions you will surely enjoy experiencing this piece of history.
A taxi to the Mausoleum of Sidi Ali Bosrgin is worth your time. At the peak of a formidable hill, the mausoleum offers a beautiful panoramic view of the city. After a brief walk north, you’ll find yourself at an abandoned French military base. If you wander farther west, you may find the ancient fountain of Lalla Rekia. The healing water from this fountain can supposedly cure both psychological and physical ailments–although most people now just use it to hydrate.
The Cascades at the edge of town present a gathering place for Sefrou’s families. There is a shallow pool at the base of the waterfall, which feeds a deeper reservoir just a few meters away. Overlooking the water is a multi-level terrace with tables and umbrellas where you can snack on popcorn and fresh orange juice.
Further downstream, families picnic on the shady riverbank. You may also see groups of women sitting at the edge of the water, laughing, chatting, and making laakad–the silk buttons used for djellabas and kaftans.
Nestled in a lush garden near Bab Imkam is Cafe Saqiya. The cafe itself does not offer anything extraordinary on the menu–the appeal is in the ambiance. The calming sounds of the Oued Aggai combined with a soft breeze and lush trees make this cafe the perfect place to unwind.
Just across the water from Cafe Saqiya is a children’s park that doubles as a small zoo. Ducks, gray geese, and other waterfowl patrol the grounds while pigeons and doves watch over the playground from the roof of a long shed. In the shed are individual stalls containing various types of birds.
As you venture into the medina, you’ll find it just as charming as that of Fes–and much easier to navigate. Relatively absent from the narrow streets of Sefrou’s medina are the working animals, motorcycles, and cars that disrupt foot traffic in places such as Rabat or Marrakech. You may also notice that the Sefrou medina is much cleaner than others, and the few stray cats and dogs wandering about appear happier and healthier than those in larger cities.
At the center of the medina lies Huddadine Square. This is where you can find Sefrou’s famed artisans: “weavers, blacksmiths, button makers, plough makers, ironmongers, and tinsmiths” are all stationed here, writes Damitio.
In the Mellah, you will note the unique Jewish architecture and cemetery, according to the Fez Guide travel website. The travel agency Morocco Off The Beaten Track will take you to the deserted school, orphanage, and synagogue of Em Habanim.
Last but certainly not least is Sefrou’s annual Cherry Festival. Every summer, foreign and domestic tourists alike flock to the city to witness the blossoming cherry trees and famed beauty pageant at one of Morocco’s oldest cultural festivals. Sefrou is widely known for this yearly event, which is recognized by UNESCO.
The jewel of Morocco
If you are traveling through Morocco in pursuit of some Orientalist fantasy, Sefrou is not the place for you. You will not find dancing monkeys, snake charmers, or magic carpets here.
Rather, Sefrou is a lovely family-friendly place that demands relaxation–quite the opposite of Morocco’s typical tourist hubs. Some residents claim that the air itself makes the food taste better and induces a calm sleepiness. I don’t know if this is backed by science, but I have personally never felt more at peace than I did in Sefrou. I’m so grateful that my fiancé brought me to his family’s beautiful home, and I can’t wait for my next visit.